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At 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning we started the six-hour drive to Manitoulin Island and arrived early enough to have lots of time to resight the rifles and get settled in camp. We did our customary walk-around to try to gauge the amount of deer sign and identify which stand looked 'hot'. Then we retired to camp and had a great Atlantic salmon dinner, a few drams, and began the important task of picking our stands. We do this by picking numbers from a hat, and, low and behold, I picked number one! Contrary to logic of lesser-perceived activity, I picked the stand where I missed the big one last year.
We then went to bed in an attempt to get some sleep before the 5:00 a.m. wake up. We were all pretty excited and it took some time to get settled. One member of the group was snoring so loudly I was convinced the deer would be scared for miles around. I eventually got enough clothes packed around my head to drown out the noise enough to allow me some sleep. Coupled with little sleep on Saturday night and the snoring induced daze Sunday night, when I awoke at 5:00 a.m. on Monday morning I was not at all sure where I was. Four coffees and a hearty breakfast later, the excitement was rekindled and I was set to hit the trail.
My stand was furthest from the camp, so I left first. There is always an eerie feeling heading down the trail in the false dawn, especially when I had to cross several water holes. I got to my stand and, not five minutes later, I heard a deer coming my way. It kept coming straight at my stand and crossed not ten feet from me. I was able to get it in my scope but could not tell if it was a buck or doe. It continued on its way and I settled in hoping for more sightings.
A doe came by about 8:30 a.m. and wandered toward my stand. She was downwind as she passed and must have picked up my scent because she loped off mighty quick. An hour later a six-point buck came along the same trail as the doe and presented me with the perfect shot. We had made an agreement that the limit was eight-pointers for the first day, so I let him continue. He also scented me and retreated from whence he came. Another six-pointer skirted my stand area but tucked behind some bush not three minutes later. As I had to be back for lunch, I packed up and headed back to camp.
My friend Oliver had seen a good buck come out to his stand about 9:30 a.m. He made a perfect shoulder shot and scored an eight-pointer. Quite a start to the hunt! After a quick lunch we again picked numbers and this time I got the number two pick! I chose the "blue box" stand (named after the plastic milk box), a stand that has produced many bucks over the years. The early afternoon was spent sighting in my scope on several whiskey jacks, bluejays and the fastest moving red squirrel I had ever seen. No deer were moving, so I settled in to wait for dark.
About 2:30 p.m., I heard a rustling sound over my right shoulder and turned back to see a buck working his way across the hardwood. Since we still had the eight-point rule in effect, I tried to determine what kind of a rack he had. I was concerned it was another six-pointer. He continued on his way until he was parallel to me. I had a fresh tarsal gland hanging nearby and the deer, either winding the gland or me, retreated 25 yards back from where he came. I had a dilemma. I wasn't sure whether he met the eight-point criteria and, worse yet, I couldn't turn around to aim and fire without spooking the buck. I switched my gun to my left shoulder and lined him up. He ran about twenty yards and dropped. I paused for about two minutes, packed up my belongings and headed to where I had shot him. I followed a small blood line to where he had fallen. One antler was buried, but I could see that he was a ten-pointer. I couldn't believe I had almost passed him up!
I spent the next ten minutes admiring the buck and took some great pictures. I was amazed to see that he was missing his right eye. This might have explained his spookiness when he first scented the gland or me.
I finished gutting him and returned to camp. Oliver was still there, so he went back with me and helped retrieve the buck. While showing Oliver where I had shot the buck, he leaned down and pointed. There was my bullet, lying on a leaf as if placed there. We will never know how the bullet passed through the buck and came to lie so openly on the leaf.
My hunt was over but for the memories and the oddities of this buck. I had almost let him go, a wrong shouldered shot (my second in three deer I have taken), a one-eyed buck, and that bullet.
Quite a 1996 hunt!