It was another opening morning in northern Michigan. This year, my youngest son would join the hunt and experience his first opening day of rifle season. Winding our way through a maze of forestry, we hiked in at least ½ a mile under the cover of darkness through 6” of slushy snow.
In order to meet the “Accompanied by” requirements for Youth Hunting, we purchased a 2-seater tree stand which we mounted to the straightest tree we could find alongside a huge huckleberry marsh. One at a time, we headed up the ladder, my son going first.
After he got situated, I headed up the frozen, metal rungs noticing the higher I climbed, the more the tree stand swayed in the wind. Stowing my bag in the rack next to the seat, I carefully turned myself around and buckled in hoping the safety straps hooked around the tree was enough to keep us from crashing to the ground.
We had made it! Now it was just a matter of waiting.
Hunting Michigan white-tailed deer required silence, stillness, and plenty of patience. A good hunting spot with signs of heavy deer traffic, like ours, really helped increase the odds of filling a deer tag.
We had been hunting in the same area of state land for years, mainly because it was conveniently close to the house. And since the area was swampy and thick with trees, we tended to have the place to ourselves as other hunters found the area undesirable.
Hunting hours began at 6:55am.
As the sun started its slow climb up the horizon, lighting the marshy field with dull, gray light, anticipation of seeing movement had us both on edge.
Besides the two of us, my husband sat in a tree stand approximately 300 yards beyond the marsh, and my brother-in-law sat another 200 yards further back in the swamp. On the other side of the marsh, my father-in-law sat directly across from us, approximately 500 yards away. If any one of us shot a deer this opening morning, we would ALL hear the gunshot.
As it turned out, it was just after first light that the first shot echoed across the marsh.
“Was that grandpa?” my son whispered.
“Sounds like it,” I replied.
Being too early to call it quits, we stayed put hoping to see something worth shooting.
For a kid, hunting has got to be the most boring sport, ever! Being my son was older, and now the one holding the rifle, I imagine he could tolerate the bore of hunting better now than when he was seven-years-old.
At least being in a tree stand allowed for a little more freedom to move as compared to being in a ground blind. But still, all you do is ‘hunt.’ That is… you scan and rescan your field of view for movement and hope to find a HUGE buck sporting a 3-foot-high tower of antlers.
Unfortunately, it has been my experience that the little movements caught out of the corner of your eye tended to belong to birds flying by, or a squirrel skittering up a nearby tree. It is a monotonous pursuit, this thing called hunting, and it replays the same old scene over and over again until your eyes ache from sorting out what caused a leaf to wiggle or a twig to snap when there is no deer in sight.
Sometimes it’s someone else’s lucky day.
About an hour after the first shot was fired, a second shot echoed across the marsh.
“Grandpa?” my son whispered.
I nodded my head in agreement.
“Did he get another one?”
Shrugging, I said, “Maybe he missed the first one.”
In our county, if you purchase a single, white-tailed deer license and fill your tag with a spikehorn or larger, you can purchase another license, but the second tag is restricted to a buck having 4 or more points on one side, each measuring at least 1” long. You can also choose to buy the combo license right from the start, which means you’re buying both tags at once. Whether or not you fill both tags depends on your luck.
Waiting until 10:00am to call it quits, we found our way safely down the tree stand and back to the main road where grandpa stood waiting.
“Was that you who shot twice?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “I got two deer!”
“Two!” my son exclaimed. “You really got two?!”
“Yep,” grandpa told him, and while my son stayed to hear all about the morning’s events, I drove home to get the buck buggy to aid in hauling his deer out of the woods.
While gone, my brother-in-law had also shot a deer, so by the time I got back, my husband was stowing his gear in the truck so he could hike back into the swamp and help drag it out.
The news didn’t sit so well with Grandpa since he needed help too.
“No problem,” I insisted. “We will help you drag your deer out with the buck buggy.”
The adrenaline of a successful hunt for our party was quickly wearing off. The early morning hiking and biting cold was whittling away at remaining energy stores, but I knew my husband would be completely exhausted after helping his brother, so it was up to my son and I to help grandpa get his deer out… no matter what.
One would think that wheels would make deer hauling a ton easier… right?
Having a wheeled cart for hauling deer out of the woods seemed like a great solution to a very difficult job because a dead deer is HEAVY! Even if there is snow on the ground to aid the carcass in sliding easier, dragging one over uneven ground through a forest was hard work.
Pulling the cart out of the back of the truck, we headed back into the woods with grandpa in the lead.
The area we walked into the woods was an area I used to hunt. I would sit down at the base of a tree about 200 yards off of the main road facing what we endearingly referred to as “the sippy hole.” It was a boggy trail that ran about 15 feet through the middle of a thicket where my husband had cut a path. On the other side of the sippy hole, the deer would bed down every night in a field thick with tall grass. Grandpa’s tree stand was set up at the south end of that field.
The trail through the sippy hole was always wet, but some years were wetter than others. This year, the 6 inches of slushy snow camouflaged the trail making it appear solid except for the holes in the surface where grandpa had hiked through. Not having any idea how deep it was until you got into it, we quickly found out when the water slurped into the tops of our boots.
Being the small stumps in the trail were hidden from view under all the water, if you weren’t careful where you stepped, the stumps would throw you off balance. Wearing giant, insulated boots that grandpa liked to call ‘Mickey Mouse Boots’ didn’t help. Neither did dragging the buck buggy through when the wheels got stuck.
Beyond the sippy hole, we continued due west on a trampled down deer trail through thick, brown grass standing 6-foot tall all around us. The wheels of the empty buck buggy constantly snagged on big tufts of grass that we had to wrestle free every few steps.
After another 25 yards we turned south where the trail forked, and I wondered how long it would take us to maneuver one dead deer out of this maze, let alone go back for a second. So when we came upon the first buck lying dead in the path, I asked, “Where’s the second one?”
“It’s on the other side of the tree stand,” grandpa replied, pointing over the tall grass. The base of the stand sat just above the long fronds only 20 feet away.
Leaving the buck buggy where it was, we walked over to the other downed buck and drug it back by the first. After getting them both together, I convinced my father-in-law that we should try and get them both on the cart, so we hoisted them one by one onto the buck buggy and made our first attempt at getting them out.
I had hoped that the weight of the deer was enough to keep them on the cart, but at the first bump in the road, the deer on top rolled off.
“This will never work,” grandpa complained. “We will have to make two trips.”
Knowing I didn’t have enough steam left in me to make two trips, and also knowing that my father-in-law would call upon my husband to finish the job, I dug in my heels and insisted we could do it.
“How to you propose we keep the deer on the buggy?” he asked.
Hauling out a handful of bungee cords I had stuffed in my pocket back at the house, I proceeded to lash the deer onto the buggy as tight as I could get them. Even though the buck on top would try slipping off while the buggy bounced through the trail, the bungee cords held… BUT WAS THAT CART EVER HEAVY!
My father-in-law pushed, while my son and I pulled, yanking and pulling, huffing and puffing… we finally got to the west side of the sippy hole where we stopped for a break eyeing the huge obstacle before us. If we could get the buck buggy through the sippy hole, we would be able to get the two deer the rest of the way out of the woods with ease.
Determined we would do it no matter what, I prepared the others with my plan.
“Okay,” I said, “Let’s make a run at it and get the cart through as far as we can,” I said.
It must’ve sounded like an okay plan because the next thing you know, we were counting in unison, “One, two, THREE!” and off we went like a huge, lumbering buffalo attempting to blast through a patch of quicksand.
My son and I pulled, but soon began stumbling across the first line of stumps. I hadn’t realized how much power my father-in-law had left in him until the buck buggy rolled up the back of my boots attempting to overtake us.
Although both my son and I tried to stay upright, the force of the weighted, buck buggy won out, throwing us face first into the slog. If it wasn’t for the wheel getting caught on a stump, we would have been run over like a hit and run victim. Instead the buggy bounced backwards with such force it knocked my father-in-law into the bog at the other end.
I couldn’t help myself… the situation was just so ridiculous I howled, laughing as my father-in-law attempted to right himself, but couldn’t. And as he landed face first into that gooey mess, the scene tickled me to no end! Here we were, the three of us lying in the mud with this stupid buck buggy overloaded with two, massive deer that I had insisted we could get out of the woods in one trip. Unfortunately, my father-in-law did not find the situation very funny at all!
Seeing that he needed to get the hell out of the woods, FAST, or he’d be calling in the national guard for help, I fumbled for a tree to hang onto and pulled myself upright. It was time to get down to the business at hand.
Calculating how successful our plan was, I quickly determined that the sippy hole had one this round, and it appeared as though we would be traversing through it the hard way… one ankle-twisting step at a time.
Besides trying to keep our balance, the buck buggy wheels kept catching on stumps which made for a long and difficult haul through the slog. Yanking and pushing, huffing and puffing, we had used about every ounce of energy to get through it.
My coat hung open in the attempt to cool down sweat-soaked clothes, and my heart pounded with exertion to the point of feeling faint, but finally, one more yank should do it…
The buck buggy lurched forward with all the energy we could muster, and as the wheels finally broke free of the leaching glop, we all fell to solid ground just trying to catch our breath.
Yanking off my hat, I could feel the steam rising off my wet hair as the cold air absorbed the heat. “Are you okay?” I asked my father-in-law, wondering if I hadn’t pushed his stamina just a bit too far.
Never one to show weakness, at my inquiry he suddenly stood up and started walking away toward the road.
“Hey, wait!” I said. “Where are you going?” At first, I thought he was giving up, and we really needed his help!
My legs were trembling when I pulled myself back up and I wondered if I would be able to take another step. Grabbing the rear handlebar, I asked my son, “Ready?”
"I don't know if I can pull anymore," he said, grabbing hold of the front handlebar.
As he started pulling, I made an attempt at pushing, but it was more like falling against the cart and letting my weight push it ahead. I was just about to give up when my father-in-law pulled out his wallet and began laying dollar bills down in the trail.
“Come on,” he said to my son, “A buck for a buck.”
Taking a few more steps, he laid more money in the trail, saying, “You can do it.”
I couldn’t stop laughing wondering if bribery would work on someone that was clearly worn out. But the energy reserves sparked to life just enough to keep going as my son pulled and pulled, collecting all the bills from the trail.
After a few more steps, my father-in-law took out the remaining wad of bills from his wallet and waved them in the air saying, “It’s all yours if you can get those deer out.” Then he strode off down the trail.
When my husband made it back out of the woods, we were all resting silently on the tailgate of the truck… the two deer sat atop the buck buggy in the edge of the woods.
“You pulled them both out at once?!” he exclaimed.
“Yep!” I said, wondering how we ever made it.
“It was HER idea!” my father-in-law groaned.
And my son proudly fanned out the wad of cash he had collected, and retold his dad our adventure.
I will never forget that moment when we all fell in the sippy hole. And even though I thought my father-in-law wasn't too happy about the whole ordeal, I learned later that he had retold the tale to his shooting buddies over the telephone all that evening.
Maybe he wasn’t as upset about falling in the mud as I thought.
I suppose it’s moments like these that bind us. I sure hope there are more fun adventures to come!
Thanks so much for reading!
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Michigan Hunter Digest, 2020, Youth Hunting, Page 26, https://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/hunting_and_trapping_digest_461177_7.pdf
Michigan Hunter Digest, 2020, Deer, Lower Peninsula, Page 42, https://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/hunting_and_trapping_digest_461177_7.pdf
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