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Opening Day-Tom Lounsbury

Sun, 05 Jan 2014 15:35:15 EST


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                                               Opening Day
   By Tom Lounsbury

If you were to ask me, November 15th should be an official holiday in Michigan. When you realize more than 700,000 expectant deer hunters are out there waiting for the first rays of daylight on the dawn of that day, it represents something very important to a whole lot of folks. Maybe a reason for that seasonal anticipation is because 60 to 70 percent of the annual deer harvest in Michigan occurs on opening day.
For some, this means “deer camp” which entails years of tradition that combines a big dose of camaraderie, the smell of wood smoke, sizzling bacon, fresh coffee and gun oil, as well evening card games with participants sharing their hunting experiences of the day. Outside is usually the ever present “buck-pole”, with that first day representing the best opportunity to bag a deer, which relates to physics in a sense. When 700,000 deer hunters enter the woods before dawn on the same day, and the sun eases in with daylight (known as “shooting light”), things are about to happen.
Actually, I’ve never experienced a typical Michigan deer camp. Being a Thumb area deer hunter, I’ve always hunted out of my home. This began from my parent’s farmhouse in the early1960’s. My first “deer gun” was a single-shot .410 and I’ll always remember those Federal maroon paper shotgun slugs. I was given two 5-round boxes, and I used three of the slugs to discover my Grandpa Lounsbury’s old .410 with a deep rear sight groove and front brass bead allowed for accurate shot placement per point of aim. That left me with 7 rounds for deer hunting, which according to my parents was enough to bag one deer. I had already used this shotgun to bag my share of pheasants, cottontails and squirrels, and using it for whitetails as well was a no-brainer.
That first season found me on the banks of White Creek in the Deford State Game area, and I’ll always remember hearing that first shot and wondering how that hunter could even see to shoot. Seeing deer was not a common factor in those days, and I’ll never forget seeing the flags of deer tails as they bounded through the woods in the distance, and what a thrill it was.
It was mid-morning and my feet had become frozen (6-buckle rubber boots over leather work boots and wool socks didn’t seem to be enough insulation right then) when I heard what I naturally assumed was a noisy hunter stomping towards my way through the crisp fallen leaves on the opposite creek bank, and I thought this was one rude and careless hunter near primetime on opening day. That was my mindset anyway when the noisy hunter turned out to be a rather nice buck when it stepped into view directly across the creek from me.
To say I was stunned at that moment was an understatement, and I was totally mesmerized by the sudden appearance of the buck. I studied him while he stopped in front of me, to obviously assess his next move. Twenty-two rim fire rifles were allowed in those days, and someone in the distance was cracking away with one, and the buck put his total focus on that sound, with foggy breath escaping his nostrils as his ears perked up, and his eyes were unblinking while the muscles of his body quivered in anticipation of sudden flight. I remained transfixed and absorbed everything until the buck suddenly whirled and disappeared into the brush.
It was while I was listening to the buck’s noisy departure that I realized my .410 shotgun was laying in my lap, and that I was in fact, well, deer hunting. This would be my first, but certainly not last, experience with “buck fever”.
Buck fever brings up a point. Personally, if I ever get over it, I’ll quit deer hunting. There is something to be said about a quarry that creates a sensational thrill through a hunter whenever an encounter occurs. And the whitetail deer is the game animal that brought that seasonal, fall ailment into being. After all, the whitetail is the most popular big game animal in North America, actually ever since the Pilgrims kissed Plymouth Rock on their landing in the New World.
About 30 years ago, I planted a hybrid poplar seedling near my house with one purpose in mind, and that was to serve as a “deer tree” for eventually hanging the deer my three sons and I bagged. For more than a dozen years now, it has served that purpose well, and provides an array of stout limbs for hanging deer up. It is in essence our family buck-pole, and my wife Ginny and I look upon our home today as “deer camp”. Even though our sons are now grown and married, opening day is a bright beacon on the calendar that brings us all together.
I can remember each of my sons bagging their first buck, which occurred on an opening day. There was the 8-point buck that eased in front of me in the first rays of daylight while I sat with a large maple against my back. Since the buck was ambling toward my eldest son Jake sitting only a few feet away against another large maple, I left my Ruger Black Hawk revolver laying in my lap and let Jake take over. He had his own buck fever to deal with, and did fine without freezing up, as I had done the first time.
It was on an opening day afternoon when my middle son Josh and I were approaching a woodlot through some dense weedy cover. I had just explained to him in a whisper the importance of using a headwind for an approach to where we were going to sit together. A few yards further on, I picked up the musky odor of a rutting buck on that headwind, and I knew he had to be close for me to smell him. I made hand signals to Josh that I smelled a buck and to ready his shotgun that was slung on his shoulder. That is when the buck jumped out of his bed in the weeds just 10 yards away, and Josh methodically unslung his shotgun, shouldered it in one fluid movement, and dropped the leaping forkhorn on the spot with one shot. He obviously has inherited that steadfast nature from his mother because I’ve been known to miss those shots.
I was on crutches from some major knee/leg surgery at the time (I wore out two sets of rubber crutch-tips that season) and doing my best to keep up (it is amazing how far a cross country half mile can be in that condition) with youngest son Joe for his first opening day buck. Joe actually thought he was filling out his doe tag when he shot the large-bodied deer, and discovered it had very thick 5-inch stubs tucked into its ears. The buck had somehow sheered off both antlers, either in fighting or from running into something, such as a motor vehicle. Joe was real proud just the same, and so was I.
As I write this, opening day is only a couple days away and I am presently in the countdown mode. Actually the countdown mode started at the close of last year’s firearms deer season. First in months, then weeks, then days, and eventually hours until I’m in position and waiting in anticipation for the first rays of daylight.
Chances are, I won’t even go to bed the night before, because my anticipation has peaked to a point that trying to sleep is absolutely senseless. But that is how much the opening day truly represents to me. I have a feeling I’m not alone in this attitude and I’m sure plenty of avid deer hunters all over Michigan, whether in a traditional deer camp, or not, will be having a restless night in anticipation of the long awaited opening morning.
So here is wishing all deer hunters a happy and very safe hunting season and may your deer-poles be full of hanging deer this weekend.

Opening day in the Thumb is always a beacon that draws Tom Lounsbury and
his three sons together and home is deer camp.

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Brothers Josh (left) and Jake Lounsbury share opening morning experiences
under the family "deer tree".

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Jake Lounsbury hanging an opening morning Thumb 9-pointer on the family
deer tree.

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