RANDVILLE — It was cold opening morning in Dickinson County, perhaps not as cold as I’d have liked, but there was a thick layer of frost covering the stalks in the cut oat field I was watching.
As the sun climbed and the frost melted, each standing half-oat stalk turned into a prism, producing an explosion of color. Magic.
A short time later, a doe wandered into the oat field, which was over sown with clover, trailed by about 30 yards by a small buck. The buck, in clearly his first year with antlers, was a barely forked-horn dude; while the doe fed intermittently, presumably on clover, the buck just sort of stared at the doe. If she wandered a few steps away from the buck, he’d take a few steps also. He struck me if he were a high school freshman at his first dance, stunned by a cutie across the way, but absolutely in the dark about how to approach her.
I had no interest in shooting either deer; I’d sworn off 1 ½-year-old bucks years ago and though I had a doe permit for the management unit, I’d planned to size up the populations before I took une femme and, so far at least, I hadn’t seen any evidence that we have enough deer here to begin thinning the brood stock. I watched for a half hour as the drama played out in front of me. Once, when the buck took a few tentative steps toward the gal, she did likewise, maintaining the distance between them. Playing hard to get, eh? I kept hoping a senior buck would show up, stride right up to her and . . . well, it didn’t happen. After a while, she got a little spooky and ran off, her would-be suitor following at the prescribed distance.
A coyote entered the field, walking slowly, followed by a second. One kept moving but the second took its sweet time, even stopping in front of me at about 100 yards. It was a beautiful ‘yote; it would have made a nice trophy, skinned and tanned and draped over a couch or whatever. And while just about every sportsman I know has little use for ‘yotes, I was conflicted. As a ground-nesting birdaphile — I like hunting upland birds with a pointing dog more than just about any other sporting endeavor — I suspect coyotes are, on balance, good for pheasants and grouse, as they thin the ‘coon, and opossum, fox and skunk populations, all of which I’d guess are harder on ground-nesting birds (especially their eggs) than the coyotes. I decided to let the coyote go.
OK, so I’ve gone soft. So sue me.
My sister’s husband, Michael Hoganson, who started coming with us Gwizdzes about eight or 10 years ago, has a favorite blind — the one that’s come to be known as “Michael’s blind” — that has been very good to him over the years. Last year, he gave up his blind to his son, Eric, and instead, took up a post that has never produced a deer for any of us. Michael never saw a deer there last year, but he went back there again this opener. (Idle thought: Is Michael’s blind now Eric’s blind?) So who do you think killed our only buck on opening day, about a half hour before dark? And an honorable buck it was, a nice eight point, not only the best Mike’s ever taken, but, as he put it, the best he’s ever seen.
Karma? I like to think so.
One of my younger brothers helped load up the deer and take it to the camp buck pole where it was ceremoniously hoisted. (And toasted.) I volunteered to pick up some pizzas for a celebration. And here’s where the story gets weird: As I was leaving the carry-out shop, driving down the road, I guy pulled up next to me waving and honking. I pulled over. He told me I’d lost my sled, coming out the store parking lot.
I carry a plastic toboggan during deer season as it makes it so much easier to drag a deer out of the woods. Seems I’d driven from the hunting property to town with my tailgate down and the sled slid out as I left the pizza shop.
What I didn’t tell the guy who stopped me is that I had a shotgun nestled in the sled. (I’d stopped, on my way north, to hunt ducks with a buddy the day before the opener.) I did a quick U-turn, but my sled (and shotgun) was nowhere to be found.
Oh, well. We ate pizza. I called the city police department, explained what had happened and left my cell phone number.
Five minutes later, the phone rang. The lieutenant, who’d taken my call, said he’d just spoken to the county sheriff’s office and someone had turned in a sled — and a shotgun. When I went in I saw the sled — and a camo seat cushion, which I hadn’t even missed. The deputy asked me to describe the shotgun. No prob. He asked for ID; I guess when someone who looks like a character from Duck Dynasty shows up to claim a found shotgun, they want to know who he is.
I’d never expected to see that shotgun again.
More karma? I wouldn’t rule it out.