2015-11-10 21.07.43 IMG_20151110_161408 IMG_20151110_161907 IMG_20151124_115240

This story begins midsummer when I found out that I gained access to some private land down in South Central Minnesota.  Being this was super rare for me since I almost always hunt public land, I jumped at the chance since this year I wasn’t going to be the only one hunting from my household. This year my 11 year old Stepson Caleb joined me on his second firearms deer season, and after the season we struggled through last year, I knew he needed a fun place to hunt instead of the dense hardwoods way up North in the land of many wolves.

Knowing farmland areas produce large bucks every year, I was in a hurry to get trail cameras placed so we could start getting an inventory of what was roaming around the property. It didn’t take long before I started seeing a few bucks that I knew would be nice bucks come mid September, but still I had a good feeling there would be more and bigger bucks cruising the farm as we got closer to the rut.

Fast forward to mid September and the start of the Minnesota archery season, and you’d have found me perched high in a tree filled with anticipation and high hopes ready for the days adventures. My trail cameras still indicated there were a few good bucks in the area, but they were a lot harder to find than before. In fact it seemed as if they disappeared or just went nocturnal once the bow season started.  I know part of that was because of the miles and miles of standing corn in every direction, but also know it was at least partially because of the sudden increase in human presence with between 4 to 6 hunters working the same roughly 250 acre section of land almost every single day of the week. Never really all of us at once, but more or less almost always someone there. While 250 acres of land is fairly nice sized up North with dense cover and trees covering the entire property, it’s rather small in farm country when the trees are broken up into small partials surrounded by crops. In fact the biggest section of woods for miles was the 20 acre section I called home for most of my season.

As the pressure increased, the number of buck sightings dropped, but at least for the area was in, I still managed to see a few does almost every time I went out. As September turned into October,  and October rolled into November, Caleb started to get excited for his 2nd hunt. He had seen all of my trail camera pictures from the farm, and had high hopes he’d get to fill his first tag.

The opening of firearms season was fairly slow for us. We managed to see a couple of doe, but they stayed too far away for Caleb to take a shot he was comfortable with, and opted to pass on a shot I myself would have passed on as well because of a fawn walking almost side by side with the doe. Good judgment by Caleb, and I made sure to tell him he made the right call afterwards.

The following morning was uneventful with no deer sightings at all, but then again we also had 30+mph winds which didn’t help anything. After having one day off due to my work schedule, we found ourselves back in Caleb’s ground blind. The weather was a little cool, but nowhere near what our Typical Minnesota November temps are by any means. It was light for a total of about 15 minutes when 4 doe snuck in from out of nowhere. As I was reaching for my video camera to get things ready to film, I started to whisper to Caleb that this was his first deer, and that he did not have to wait for me to get it on video, and to shoot when he was ready. Good thing that was what I was in the middle of saying, because I got “Caleb, this is your first BOOOOOM…. Never mind” out of my mouth. lol. Needless to say he was one very happy kid, and I was one very happy Stepdad!

With Caleb’s first deer under his belt, and his season officially over, it was time I stepped up my game in search for a nice shooter buck. The plan was for me to bowhunt in between the 3A and 3B seasons since the pressure should be down a bit from all of the deer drives that took place from some of the other hunters in the area, but it seems as if someone else had other plans for me as I ended up sick, just as my truck started acting up leaving me home for a week, and my hunting plans placed on hold…

November 23rd on a whim I decided to buy my season 3B gun tag, and the next morning I was off bright and early with high hopes of at least shooting a doe for the freezer. As I started my walk in I noticed the creek which flows through the property was very high. I’ve seen it high before so I wasn’t really worried about it until I got to the final trail leading to the ground blind I had planned on sitting in for the morning hunt. Every step I took sounded like I was breaking through the ice on a lake, and what normally took me 10 minutes suddenly took 45. It was already getting light when I finally got to the blind only to see it sitting in a solid 3 to 4 inches of fragile ice. By now I am starting to get a little hot under the collar, and frustrated with my decision to walk to the blind. Knowing the blind is no longer an option, I turned around and crushed a loud path back to the beginning of the trail where there was an old ladder stand sitting. I crawled up into the old stand and sat about 20 minutes thinking about how unhappy I was with that spot. After a while against my better judgment, I started the walk back to another stand I had placed about 200 yards away on the other side of the hardwoods on some higher ground. I say against my better judgment only because I knew I would be about 16 feet in a tree this time, and my safety harness was all the way back in my truck.

Just when I thought my morning couldn’t possibly get any worse, I jumped a big buck while walking into my stand that had been bedded only 10 yards in front of my stand, sending him running into the thick cover long before I could get my muzzleloader up for a shot.  So now I’m really hot thinking I just blew my entire morning, and struggling more than ever with the next decision. Do I walk to another part of the farm and try again, or do I say heck with it and just climb up and sit for the morning. Well, I opted to climb into my stand and sit, and I sure am glad I make that choice.

I was in the stand about 2 minutes when the woods became alive with a never ending performance by the million squirrel Army chasing each other all over the place. Yes a million is a bit high, but there was at least 20 different squirrel that I seen at any given time, so it sure sounded like a million. 

As I watched the squirrels doing their thing, I heard a very loud crash behind me which I knew could not have been made by a squirrel. I slowly turned around looking off at a distance to find absolutely nothing. Just as I was about to dismiss the sounds, I happened to look straight down and seen a doe standing right up against my tree. I immediately started questioning whether or not I wanted to just fill my tag on a doe and close out my season when I decided to try to figure out what she was staring at. Following her line of sight I found another doe which would have been an easier shot than the one straight below me, but then I noticed now they both were looking at something, so I again looked to see what they were looking at. Turned out there was a third doe, and she too was also looking back at yet another deer. I thought it was nice to at least see deer, so I opted to watch them for a couple of minutes before I shot one of the doe. Thirty seconds into my decision to sit I seen movement coming my way with a whole lot of deep grunts, and seen antlers coming through the thick brush. As soon as I was sure none of the deer were looking my way, I grabbed my muzzleloader and prepared for a shot. 

Once the buck closed the distance, he stopped dead in his tracks still deep inside the thicket. Unsure of what way he might head, I started to look around for potential shot openings, and only found one about the size of a dinner plate. As luck would have it, that was the direction he turned, and also as if it was written in a script, he stopped dead in his tracks once again which turned out to be his one and only bad decision that day. When the big cloud of smoke from my muzzleloader was gone, all of the doe still stood exactly where they were before the shot, including the one right below my stand. I was a bit confused by that and simply couldn’t see which direction my buck could have ran. I reloaded the muzzleloader in preparation for my search, all the while the does stayed put watching me get my stuff together. It wasn’t until I started my decent to the bottom of my tree that they finally walked casually off into the thicket. 

I walked over to where I thought I shot the deer, and just as I started to look for blood, I looked up to my left and found him laying up against a thick bush only 10 yards away laying as still as can be. I walked up to him to confirm he was dead before moving him out of the bush for a picture, and to get him ready for his ride home. 

A lot of people will claim this deer to be a non shooter by their standards, and after watching many of the hunting shows out there, it’s easy to see why they’d say that. Sure he’s not a 180″ monster, but what he is to me is proof that persistence pays off.  I hunted 3 or 4 days every single week since Mid September , and actually started my all day sits the very first day. There was no sliding out for lunch on every hunt as I just wanted to learn as much about the new farm as possible. This deer comes with a lot of good memories from the last couple of months. New friendships were made this year, and completely different hunting styles of everyone on the farm made for one heck of a challenging year. In the end however I came out on top, with my freezer filled by not only myself, but with Caleb’s doe as well.

This hunt also was very special to me because of the landowner Jerry. Jerry actually loves military veterans so much, that he opened his property up to us this year and is allowing us to take other veterans along on a few hunts throughout the season. Over the next year we’ll be building a few ground blinds that will be wheelchair accessible, and as we refine our management strategies, with any luck it’s be a place  where many disabled veterans will get back into the great outdoors.  

Normally mounts are something done when you shoot a true monster, but a monster is in the eye of the beholder. We opted to have a European mount done with Caleb’s doe, and my buck will find himself on my wall as well in a full shoulder mount. I’ve shot a lot of bucks over the last 28 years, but until this one, I’ve never even thought about getting one mounted.  With any luck my wife Nikki will take her first deer next season as she begins her journey into becoming a hunter herself. 

If you would like to help out with getting veterans back into the outdoors, whether it be hunting, fishing, running a trap line, or any other outdoor related event, feel free to drop us an email and we’ll see what we can do.

Thank you for taking the time to read our long story, and we look forward to sharing many more memories with you down the road. 

David Enstad

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