Mike Wilson column: Gaga and the timberland buck
Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 14, 2021
You must first understand that Gaga — the moniker laid on my wife Sonia by our toddler grandson that seems now to have stuck for good — took a long sabbatical from hunting after our youngest daughter was born. Twenty-eight years, to be exact! When we used to live in rural Virginia, we often went out deer hunting after the older kids got on the school bus, but after the new arrival, she stayed home more. And after we moved to North Carolina, I too had less time to hunt because of my new administrative position. I am thankful that I was able to get “back in the game” after several years because my good friends Jon and John gave me permission to hunt their land, but it was only last December, when I asked her one day rather late in the deer season if she wanted to go with me, that she astonished me by answering in the affirmative.
Since she hadn’t handled any firearms for the longest time, I decided to outfit her with a 20-gauge single shot my granddaddy had given me when I was 12. We hunted a creek bottom where buckshot was the best choice. A couple of trips later, I got out the 20-gauge pump she used to use back in Virginia. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a single deer those last couple of weeks in December, but we then turned to ducks. She knocked down a beautiful hen mallard at Lake Norman one morning and was (I see it more clearly now) hooked on hunting! (For the record, I think that my professional credentials, coupled with my vital experience, may give me license to observe here that is somewhat rare for females of Caribbean descent to go out cheerfully in the freezing pre-dawn day after day…)
April found me converted into a full-time turkey guide … I had decided she needed better artillery, so I had the 12-gauge auto I inherited from my dad cut down to her size. She got two turkeys with two shots, one a very nice longbeard. She was quite eager for the next deer season to roll around, and we even practiced with a muzzleloader to give us a two-week head start. All along we talked about “timberland bucks,” those legendary Midwestern and North Country monsters of outdoor magazine fame that an old friend back in Virginia had always rhapsodized about, and she solemnly declared that she meant to get one for her first deer, even if we do live in North Carolina.
She — and I — missed some running does the first week of gun season. Then she missed two more the second week on a cut bean field, one with a youth rifle with iron sights and the other with a slug from her 12 gauge. Both were facing directly toward her and more than 75 yards away — a tough target. I figured she had better try my scoped .308 to stretch her range if we were going to be hunting big fields, but she was struggling with the eye relief, especially with so many layers of clothing. We soon concluded that it was about time to outfit her with a gun that fit her right!
Before our next afternoon hunt, we went to an outdoor store at about 2 and picked out a youth model Remington 783 in .243 — a real death ray I had used very successfully in Virginia — and Hornady American Whitetail ammo. The sales clerk took it to the back room and bore-sighted it. We hurried back to our range in Rowan County, and I found the bore sighting was nearly spot on; two shots and I was satisfied. I had Sonia try one shot on the bench. Bullseye! I decided that was enough: if she could shoot that straight, why sit there blasting away and develop a flinch for no reason?
We got to the field at about 4:15; we could hunt until 5:40. We sat with a slight breeze in our faces and the sun going down at our backs on the edge and at the midpoint of a 400-yard-long cut soybean field that was almost exactly 100 yards wide. All around the edges of this field we had seen fresh rubs and scrapes for weeks. She was facing the upper end of the field, where we had seen a big doe the second week late in the day, and I was scoping around the rest of the field with a monocular. And then, with 10 minutes of legal light left, there he was.
Directly across the field and staring straight at us was a white-faced buck with a thick neck and a large rack. He was completely motionless. I whispered to her, “To your left, straight across the field.” I watched her turn slowly to look and then raise her gun even more slowly to find him in her crosshairs. I had told her to aim at the white chest patch if she ever had another one facing her straight on, and I raised my monocular again to watch what would happen. I held my breath … She fired, and the buck just disappeared!
The way the field was somewhat crowned, I couldn’t see anything. I feared a miss, but my greater fear was that it had been hit but turned to run into the almost impenetrable wall of briars surrounding the field. We walked across the field with our hearts pounding in almost total darkness now, and there he lay. She had absolutely dropped him right in his tracks! Since he had come up out of a stand of tall pines, I think it is safe to say she had finally bagged heR timberland buck with only her second shot from her new rifle.
What ensued was rather comical: this was by far the biggest deer (175 pounds in late rut) I had ever dealt with in my hunting career. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get him up on my tailgate. I had to call a good friend — actually the landowner — to help me load him up and even the two of us had trouble. We were supposed to meet some friends at a popular barbecue restaurant, but I had to text them to delay meeting up by an hour to allow time to take the deer to the processor. I am certain I left a very dull impression on my fellow diners with a large blood spot on the leg of my jeans that I failed to notice until we had gotten back home. I also detected then an unfortunate whiff of “rut”…
After that deer, our third in the freezer, we turned to ducks and geese. Time for a guided hunt on the NC coast. Fortunately, I’ve created a monster!
Mike Wilson is chairman of Modern Foreign Languages at Catawba College.