I got one of my fall to-do’s accomplished this weekend; I harvested next year’s meat supply. I hunted both days of Ohio’s first-ever two-day early muzzleloader season at my grandmother’s farm in Wayne County.
The season was for antlerless deer only, and although I hate to shoot does, they make for much better eating than the bucks.
The first day, Saturday, I watched a group of does walk under my tree stand but they were too small. That same evening, I returned to the woods only to watch a group of deer run out ahead of me before I even had the chance to aim.
Sunday evening, I found a large stump to hide behind and I sat behind it, waiting for something to happen. For the first couple hours, nothing happened, other than a bunch of squirrels that kept leaping from tree to tree and dropping nuts. I sat against the stump in a way that allowed me to scan the area around me as widely as possible, occasionally glancing behind me to check the area that I could not see.
And no doubt, it was the area behind me where a single doe came in. I don’t know how long she was there, but she was looking directly at me. When I turned around to see her, she was only about 15 yards away and appeared to be walking toward me. Our eyes were instantly locked and she started jerking her head and neck to see if I would move.
I thought about a quick draw, but I knew any quick movements would send her away running. So, with my gun still lowered and behind the stump, I put my finger on the safety and slowly started to raise it up. She began a light foot trot as I inched my gun upward, and then she stopped, giving me just enough time to pull the trigger.
The result: a lot of sparks and smoke, and a deer that dropped instantly. I wasn’t sure at first if I hit her, because I was overwhelmed by the yellow light coming out of my gun, but I did not see her running away, so I figured my shot must have been good.
The thing about muzzleloaders, of course, is that you only get one shot, so you have to make it count. With an empty gun, I fidgeted through my pockets for my reloading supplies and by the time I got reloaded, the deer was dead.
I like to let the does live, but when you rely on deer as your meat source — as I have for the past four years — then does are usually more favorable. They have a less gamey taste and are often more tender.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said more than 5,600 antlerless deer were killed with muzzleloaders during the early season. In Wayne County, where I hunted, 83 deer were checked in.
One of the nice things about the early season was that I didn’t have to dress quite as warmly. I felt comfortable with a light jacket and an orange cap, compared to the bitter cold days of regular gun season in December.
The other advantage is, hunters like myself were able to harvest our antlerless deer early, giving us more time to focus on bucks come the December gun season.
Every time you shoot at a doe during gun season, you’re potentially scaring away bucks. And if you do shoot a doe during regular gun season, you have to stop and dress it — again taking away your chances at a buck.
Now that I have my doe — for eating — I’m relieved. I can keep my eyes out for those deer with racks come December. Bucks make good deer bologna and deer jerky, and both of those would be a good dessert for what I already have!