I just finished my third season deer hunting and I’m having a hard time deciding how I feel about the outcome it. For the most part, I’m very disappointed. I came home empty handed after spending about eight days in the field altogether between the two seasons. And that doesn’t even count my scouting time out there. But on the other hand, I experienced a lot of pretty cool things. So let me start from the beginning.

I started out in September during Kansas’ muzzleloading season. We had scoped out a couple of good looking spots, seen some deer and lots of sign. My first four days of that season were a bust. The prairie seemed to swallow all the deer we had seen through out the summer. I went back out the last weekend of muzzleloading season only to blow a great shot at a 10 point just 30 yards out. I won’t go through it again, you can read about it here.

OK, learn my lessons, spend some more time at the gun range, there’s always rifle season in December.

Two long months later I’m back out in the field. I’m still using the 50 caliber plains rifle as I have a muzzleloader only any species tag. My first morning out, I go back to the spot of the blown September shot and sure enough, I rattle an eight point in right at sun up.

It was my first time with rattling. Plus I wasn’t sure if there was still enough rut going on for it to work. The whitetail buck came up from my right (south of me) and I was looking away for the most part as generally, the deer come from the north on this stand. I didn’t realize he was even there until he was about 10 feet from me. I realized he was there when I saw deer tail running away from me. He ran about 30 yards out up on top of the ridge, stopped and watched me from head on.

Now, it took me a few minutes to get my heart out of my throat. Well, actually, I never did. The buck shook me so much by just appearing like that. It’s amazing how they can appear like phantoms some times. So now the buck is just standing there watching me and I’m trying to do a 180 degree turn so I can get my rifle up on him. And how is it they always come up from the way I’m not looking?

It took me a few minutes of moving very slowly between times of him looking away or down. I was moving in fractions of an inch sometimes. I finally get to where I’ve got him in my sites, but I’m a nervous wreck after all that and my heart is still beating like mad in my ears. Plus, he’s still head on at me. I’m a little panicky because I can’t decide where to aim. I know what to do when they’re broadside, but hadn’t considered a head on shot. So I just keep aiming and waiting to see if he’ll turn.

He finally turns and gives me a beauty of a shot. I aim… BLAM! He disappears over the ridge and I sit and wait for a minute then decide to belly crawl up the ridge so I can see over. I glass him down in the valley (or what passes for one in SW KS) and watch him for about 15-20 minutes. I watch him lay down in this draw and I’m elated thinking I took him down.

I mark the spot, sit down and drink a cup of coffee. Take care of some other business (you know) and decide to go investigate. I marked him about 300 yards out. I’m getting a little nervous walking towards him because I’m not picking up a blood trail but hope that maybe he ran a little erratic rather than the direct route I’m going. I’m walking up to the spot I marked only to see him jump up and run off over another ridge (in a field I don’t have permission on). He had jumped a fence prior to laying down, so I back track to see if I can pick up a blood trail but I can’t find one. I go back to where I shot at him and can’t pick up one there either. I missed again.

I managed to rattle another buck in the next evening at another stand. This one was a smaller mule deer, probably a 3×3 (which still looks pretty impressive). I was amazed it worked really. He came in over a ridge and was very cautious. I could only see him from the neck up for quite awhile. Funny thing, as soon as I saw his head, my heart is banging back in my ears again. I’m trying to calm myself down but all I can think is “here we go again” and for a moment, I almost decide to not shoot. Not sure I can take the disappointment of missing again.

But that only lasts for a moment.

I try to settle down as he approaches my stand. I’m going through all the stuff to remember… aim off his shoulder… keep it low… squeeze don’t pull… calm down, you know what to do. You know, all the stuff everyone tells you to do.

Finally the buck is broadside and in my sweet spot again, probably just under 40 yards. I set up my shot, squeeze the trigger… BLAM! The muley scampers off back the way he came. And no blood trail again. I look for quite awhile but the sun had since gone down. I can’t find anything remotely looking like a blood trail.

Dejected, I walk back to deer camp. I actually think about telling everyone I didn’t see anything, but I come clean. The next morning I go back out for the last time this year. This is it. About an hour after sun up the rain and sleet starts coming down. Black powder doesn’t do to well in the wet. The stuff wasn’t supposed to show until later in the day and I didn’t have any of my rain gear with me. I walk back to camp again truly disappointed.

I’ve thought about those three missed shots a lot and played them over in my head again and again trying to figure out what I did wrong. I’m sure it all comes down to my marksmanship. I’m totally amazed that I was able to rattle those two bucks in, that was first and definitely a thrill.

All three times I had a hard time getting my breathing under control and that heart-beating-in-my-ears thing is a bit distracting when trying to concentrate on shot placement. The other thing that I’m wondering is if I’m just not that confident with this rifle yet. The doe I took during my first season hunting was with my Enfield and I had put a ton of lead down range with it before taking it out in the field. I’m pretty confident with shot placement on that gun. Not so much with the Plains rifle. I’ve shot a lot with it, but I’m no where near as confident with it compared to the Enfield.

So that’s what I’m going with and that’s what I’m going to work on before next September in 2010. I’m planning on doing some work to it, changing the sites to a more traditional site and reworking the stock finish. Hopefully the new sites will help and I can get more comfortable with it.

So my seasons over, there isn’t any meat in the freezer – at least not venison. But, I’ll be back next year, because I’ve got a fever and the only cure is more deer hunting.

Keep your powder dry and “watch your top knot”.