Since I’ve written so many articles about Africa lately, I figured that I should write about some good old American white tail deer hunting as a change of pace. In honor of the impending start of deer season in many parts of the United States, I’ve decided to write about the story of the first doe I ever shot.
She was not my first deer; the story of that 6 point buck is a tale for another day. However, in addition to being the first doe I shot, she was one of the first deer I shot while hunting on my own and to date she is the only deer I’ve shot while using a deer decoy. There was not much remarkable about her (unfortunately, I do not even have a photo of her), but the tale of the hunt is interesting and I learned a few valuable lessons from it that have helped me grow and mature as a hunter.
During my second year of college, my father and I were able to make it out to our land in east Texas for a deer hunting trip at the end of the Thanksgiving holiday. The weather was typical for late November in Texas: in the mid 40s and crisp with a light breeze blowing out of the north. I decided to hunt one of what would become one of more productive clearing at the northern edge of the land. It was at this stand where I would shoot my first trophy deer and where my friend David would shoot his first deer the next year.
The clearing was about 40 yards across and had a tripod feeder on the northern edge. The clearing had a few trees and bushes near the center, but was otherwise open. I hunted from a folding chair set up behind a simple ground blind just inside the woods on the southern edge of the clearing. The blind was made out of PVC pipe that stood about three feet tall and had camouflage netting hanging from it. We had recently clear-cut several acres of land to the northwest of the stand and it provided a great travel corridor for deer moving from west to east.
On this particular hunt, I was carrying one of my favorite rifles of all time: a Marlin Model 1895 chambered in .45-70 Government. My father found and managed to purchase a special edition of the rifle that had a full length tubular magazine along with a half round, half octagon barrel and gave it to me for Christmas one year. While the Model 1895 is a relatively common gun, I have never seen another one quite like this one. I have done quite a bit of hunting with that rifle and it has served me well on game from white-tailed deer and feral hogs to African plains game. Believe it or not, I made my longest ever shot on an animal with this rifle, using iron sights no less, on a beautiful Red Hartebeest in Namibia.
My father had recently purchased a deer decoy and we decided to give using it a shot. Having no idea how best to use it, I simply set it up in the middle of the clearing next to the bushes there and decided to see how things worked out. I then settled into my blind and tried to stay warm. The feeder went off shortly after 7 am, just as planned. Not long after that, two does entered the clearing from the northeast and immediately began eating corn from below the feeder.
After eating for a few minutes, the larger of the two does noticed the deer decoy. At first she seemed curious and perplexed. She kept looking at the decoy and then stomping one of her front hooves into the ground. When she got no reaction from the decoy, she started to get more and more agitated. She then began leaping up into the air and loudly snorting. Each time she leaped in the air she seemed to go higher and higher off of the ground as she grew more and more frustrated with the lack of response from the deer decoy. Alarmed at the situation, the other doe bolted into the woods the same way that she entered.
Afraid that this doe would quickly follow her counterpart, I decided to take the first good shot I could on her. Luckily, her attention was completely focused on the decoy and I was not very concerned about her seeing me move. I carefully readied my rifle and used the rail of the ground blind as a rest. After each leap into the air, she would pause for a few seconds on the ground while waiting for a response from the decoy. I decided to shoot her while she was in the middle of one of those pauses.
I tried to control my breathing as I looked through the peep sight on my rifle. I watched her move almost in slow motion as she leaped into the air and snort after she hit the ground with her right side quartering towards me as she paused. Her hooves kicked up the soft dirt and chunks of it rose a few feet into the air in front of her while her nostrils spewed a white cloud of condensed breath. I put the gold bead of the front sight just in front of her front shoulder and squeezed the trigger.
The silence of the crisp morning air was shattered by the report of my rifle. The doe staggered in surprise as the 300 grain Nosler Partition crashed into her chest at over 1600 feet per second. Quickly recovering from her shock, she bolted off into the woods to the northeast. I knew that I had made a good shot and I now trembled with excitement as I walked over to the feeder. Sure enough, there was a large splatter of bright red, frothy blood on the ground indicating a good lung hit.
The ground to the northeast of the clearing has a gradual, but still significant slope down toward a small creek. I easily followed her blood trail and tracks down the hill. I found the doe about 100 yards from the clearing all the way at the bottom of the hill. She had expired in the creek and her blood had just started to turn the clear, shallow water crimson red. Having found her, I had to begin the laborious process of dragging her all the way back up to the top of the hill where the clearing was. This was the first time I had ever dragged a deer a significant distance. Even though she was not overly heavy (we later weighed her at 100 pounds) and the distance was not extremely far, it was significantly more work than I thought it would be.
Once we got her back to the cabin, I got a chance to examine her in more detail. My shot hit right where I was aiming and obliterated the right lung, nicked the rear of the left, and punctured the length of the liver before exiting her left side. She was obviously hit very hard and I was a little surprised that she ran as far as she did with such a severe wound. The only explanation that I could come up with was that her adrenaline was pumping full bore when I shot her and this enabled her to cover more distance than she would have been able to otherwise.
I hunted using the decoy a couple more times after this experience and all of the does I encountered (I never had a buck come in while I was using the decoy) reacted to it in much the same way: by getting very agitated and then running away. A little bit of research confirmed that many other hunters have experienced the same results that I did with a decoy. While bucks will often show interest in a doe or challenge a buck decoy, does will often be frightened off by it. As a result, I decided that the decoy was actually doing more harm than good and stopped using it.
In the future, I may attempt to use the decoy again. If I do, I’ll be sure to do it right make some basic preparations for using it. For example, spray it with a scent eliminating spray and use the decoy in combination with a Scent Bomb. In addition, using it in combination with rattling and a grunt call can also be a great way to attract a lonely buck during the rut. There are also some simple ways to get the decoy to move and add to the realism of it in order to perhaps calm a nervous doe down. One way to accomplish this is to attach something white, like a paper towel or part of a kitchen trash bag to the tail of the decoy that can blow in the wind. Finally, while exact placement of a decoy is not as important when rifle hunting, it is essential to place the decoy close enough and oriented correctly (often better to have the decoy face you) to bring a buck in close enough for a good shot when bow hunting. By doing these things, hopefully I can lure in a curious buck
Whatever you do, ensure that you learn from my mistake and do not just throw a deer decoy out there and see what happens. Do a little planning and preparation before you use it and you may just get some good results. However, if you fail to plan and execute properly, I think that you stand a much higher chance of blowing a hunt than shooting a big buck.