by Eric Hall
It was a “shotgun” start (literally) as the first shot echoed at 7 AM Monday, November 27, 2017. Ohio’s firearms season was upon us and excitement filled the air.
I settled into my ground blind early at 5:15 AM, well ahead of the first morning light. Checking the wind, I hung my Ozonics from the blind and rested my muzzleloader against the wall to my right and settled into my chair. Pouring a cup of coffee, I checked my phone anxiously awaiting legal shooting light to put the primer into the gun. The waiting game had begun.
In the darkness, I went through my mental checklist for this season. My plan was solid, hunting escape routes to thick cover always seemed to work out well on opening day. My blind was positioned between round bales in the hayfield adjacent to a thick overgrown field that the deer use to escape pressure. I was happy the farmer left the bales out this late. Deer were used to seeing the hay in the field and my blind blended in perfectly.
Greylight broke and the ominous howl of a coyote echoed through the landscape. This is never a good sign for seeing deer. I remained hopeful that adjacent pressure would get the deer on their feet looking to survive the early onslaught of blaze orange entering the woods. The coyote was the wildcard. I was counting on hunter pressure, but predator pressure could have pushed the deer onto neighboring properties and farther. I pondered this, sitting quietly, waiting and thinking.
The shooting began around 7 AM and continued throughout the morning. There were shots ringing out in all directions. Nothing too close to my position, but close enough that I was on high alert for deer seeking refuge. The morning would pass without a single deer being sighted. Was my plan flawed? Had the coyotes altered the deer movement? I exited the blind at noon and headed to the house for lunch.
2 PM I changed locations to another property that had little pressure directly on it. I am the only hunter allowed on the 40 acres with good pressure from all sides I was hopeful that the deer would be funneling into this property. Perched high in my treestand, I settled in with my shotgun in hand, phase two of my opening day plan was unfolding. Pre-season scouting had revealed the deer trails coming in and out of this thicket and down the ridge. We hung the ladder stand accordingly and I was excited to be hunting here opening day.
Forty-five minutes into the afternoon hunt, deer exploded up the ridge and crossed in front of me. Three doe were running from something. Minutes later, I heard deer running across the thicket behind me. Standing I readied for a shot. Something had the deer moving. My anticipation was high with this flurry of movement. I thought to myself, “man it was dead just seconds ago.” Then I heard it… Something was coming up the trail and it was BIG and it was loud.
The noise grew louder as I stood, hoping for the best. The sound reminded me of a buck chasing a doe in heat, frantic but steady. The sound came closer, but I quickly realized that something wasn’t right. Peering down the trail, I caught movement. Slowly, the form came into view, but instead of the dark brown I expected, a black shadow appeared heading straight for me. What was it? I pulled up my binoculars and started laughing, it was a cow. Not one cow, but two cows had escaped a pasture and decided my hunting spot was the best place to go. I sat down, hung up the gun, and began taking pictures as they walked directly behind my stand. In all my years of hunting farmland, I have never had a cow come through the timber. 2017 is a year of firsts indeed.
I began texting the pictures to my friends with the captions like “COW-A-BUNGA” when a third cow appeared coming straight up the ridgeline and walking right underneath the stand. This red cow was a bull and I was sure to snap and send his picture as well. The texts flew in with jokes like “What a spike”, and “I’ll help you drag”. Everyone was having a good time with my predicament and enjoying the good humor of the situation. Reaching out to friends, I notified the farmer of the prison break, and where his herd had headed.
At 3:30 I heard movement in front of me in the thicket. “Not another cow again”, I thought. This time a large doe appeared and moved into the flat, I slowly stood up, I guess 3:30 is “deer thirty” in this part of the woods. Slowly 11 deer would make their way into the flat to feed on the acorns. Four adult doe and seven fawns were within 20 yards of my stand. I stood in the stand waiting for a buck to appear, glad my Ozonics was on. All 11 deer would end up feeding to my downwind side with none alerting to my odor. A credit to the effectiveness of the in-field ozone machine.
The light was starting to fade over an hour later, and the deer were still up feeding all around my stand. I was stuck if it got dark. My exit would surely blow the deer out and alert the woods to my presence. While not wanting to harvest a doe here, I also didn’t want the herd to avoid the area because of my intrusion and ruin the spot. As if on cue, the farmer came in with his 4 wheeler to herd the cattle back to pasture. All 11 deer moved into the thicket as the cows and ATV entered the timber and headed back down the trail. I took that opportunity to slip out of the stand and exit the woods as the opening day of season faded into darkness.
No harvest, but eventful none the less.
Good Luck Everyone and Stay Afflicted with Whitetail OCD