November is always the best time to be in the whitetail woods in just about anywhere in the United States. Almost every die hard whitetail deer hunter, including myself, uses up at least a week of their vacation during the rut, increasing their odds on harvesting a mature buck. We have two pieces of property we hunt in Georgia, one we lease and the other is our family farm.
We spent the first half of the week on our lease in South Georgia battling extremely warm weather with very little deer movement. In fact, a record was set! It actually hit 80 degrees in the middle of November. The last time it was that hot was back in 1955. Some big bucks were harvested here in there, but nothing like the norm, especially for the week of Thanksgiving. My father and I both seen deer just about on every sit, all bucks still 3 to 4 years from being in their prime. We were still seeing mature does with their young, one clue the rut was still not in full swing.
A great hunter does their best to manage all the elements within their control. We knew we were positioned in great locations with multiple sources of food, great signs of scrapes and rubs, and the wind in our favor. We were settled in our stand well before daylight and sat until noon, came out for a bite to eat, and back in till dark. Arrows were knocked, bullets were chambered, but opportunities were not presented. There was going to be a front moving through and the rain along with strong winds, so we decided to head north to hunt our family farm.
It’s always nice going to hunt with my family on our farm. One reason I enjoy hunting our property is because the deer use the same travel corridors year after year, so seeing deer is never an issue. That night, I decided I was going to go hunt just behind our pasture the following morning, no more than 300 yards from one of my family’s house. Several big mature bucks have been taken back in this hardwood bottom along a creek, which runs right through the middle of it. There are several oaks including some white oaks where deer graze for acorns. I knew just for sure I would at least get a shot at healthy mature doe.
My alarm, Brantley Gilbert’s Kick It In The Sticks, sounds off at 5 a.m. for me to get up and prepare for the morning hunt. It’s Thanksgiving Eve, the weather is 40 degrees with a slight wind coming form the north, northeast. It’s seven egg whites, a cup of coffee, and I am out the door. When I first started deer hunting with my dad, we always sat on the ground with a makeshift natural ground blind and were successful on multiple occasions. I thought to myself, I am going to sit on the ground along the creek with great visibility just like the ole’ days. I ease through the damp leaves, clear out a spot with my back alongside a sweet gum just 30 yards from where my father took a 130 inch class deer 10 years ago. I was looking to bag one just like he did in the same spot, on the same exact day, 10 years later.
At about 7:30 a.m., I had a young buck feed just 5 yards from my feet and he had no clue I was even there. Thankfully I was using Lethal Scent Elimination to cover my scent. It reminded me of when I was just 12 years old and a big mature doe was in arms reach of both my father and I, and how cool that was. If there was a tick on the year old buck, I would have been able to see it without squinting. As he fed on I began thinking of how blessed I am to have hunting as a huge part of my life. I have harvested some mature bucks and experienced some interesting things and situations.
I looked down at my watch just as it turned 8:11. I planned on leaving at lunch so I sat peacefully, as still as can be. As I looked up, movement caught my eye, it was a deer. I studied the deer and noticed something was not right. It could hardly walk, using only three legs. I immediately grabbed my Hawke Binoculars for a closer look. I could see it was a buck, with little to no rack at all. He had a mature body, a long face but was very skinny. I began looking for blood, thinking maybe he was previously shot, but no sign of an open wound. His tongue was hanging out and it took everything he had to take a step, thrusting his head forward. This deer was suffering and if I didn’t do something quick, the evil side of mother nature would eat this deer alive.
In Georgia, you can harvest two bucks, one of which must have at least four points on one side. I had not filled any of my buck tags yet so as an ethical hunter, I took the saftey off, aimed, and sqeezed. The bullet enetered the deer’s neck knocking him completely out of misery. I sat there for a moment with multiple emotions. I wonder how long this deer had been hurt or sick or if another hunter had an encounter with him. It was my first ever encounter with a deer in such shape, but I knew what I did was right.
Just a few minutes later, my phone vibrated with a text from my dad, “Was that you?” I called him, told him the story and to go ahead and make his way towards me. When we approached the deer, it was very evident that he was injured. There were no open wounds, but he did have a huge knot on the inside of his front right leg, hence why he would not put weight on it. We came to the conclusion that he was either shot the year prior or was hit by a car maybe as late as July or August. His antlers were not broken off, it was just deformed from an injury which affected his antler growth. His tarsal glands were black and he smelled as if he was in full rut. He could have been limping from a fight with another mature buck and panting from exhaustion. We guessed the deer to be around 5 or 6 years old based on worn down teethe on molars.
As a hunter and a sportsman, it’s our job to conserve and protect wildlife. I felt deep inside my heart, putting the old buck out of misery was nothing more than the right thing to do. What would have been worse, is for this deer to be eaten alive from a pack of coyotes, which I am sure happens many times in the wild outdoors. Sure, I used one of my buck tags, but I will get the shot at many more with many more seasons to come.