Today’s reader success story comes from Chad Everaert, as he recalls his first trip up to his family deer camp, known as Tin Shack 1, and the big Ontario buck that found it’s way in front of his rifle scope. Congrats Chad! – MK
By Chad Everaert
They call it Tin Shack 1 and it was just that; a steel walled, one room box reminiscent of the portable classrooms that schools use when they run out of space. This would be my home for the next seven days while I made my best attempt to assimilate with the veterans of this deer hunting outfit that I would be sharing the cramped quarters with.
For 15 years my family and close friends had been coming to this particular spot for the first week of the Ontario whitetail rifle season. I, however, wasn’t bitten by the hunting bug until the previous year, so, at 33 years old this would be my first experience in the north as an outdoorsman. Upon stepping out of the truck, I was overcome with the smell of the fresh, northern air and splendor of the land, and I quickly found myself wishing I had become part of the group much sooner than I did. Not only because this place felt so “right”, but, due to the passing of my grandfather a couple years earlier, I would never get to experience the beauty of this place while he was here. Or so I thought.
Rounding out the remainder of the fearsome five-some were my father, my brother, my uncle and a close friend of the family. A loud bunch by nature, it wasn’t long after unpacking that the stories of past seasons began to fly around the room from all directions. In the midst of the chaotic conversation I couldn’t help but notice that all of the tales ending in success appeared to have taken place several years earlier. “When was the last time anyone shot a deer up here”, I asked. After much deliberation the group finally agreed that it had been six years since the last time the buck pole was put to use. Six years!
Surprised, yet undeterred by this revelation I was eager to get acquainted with the area. Our land consisted of 400 acres of mostly thick, hilly hardwood forest bisected by the dirt road that serviced the seasonal cottages and hunt camps in the area. We broke off into two groups to cover more ground and I tagged along with my brother and uncle towards the southern border of the property. Our plan was to walk the roadway up the handful of hills to the summit which marked the southern border of the property, and then make our way back down through the snowmobile trails searching for fresh sign.
At the top of the second hill was a brief plateau where the road bent just enough to the left to create a blind curve. In the day old snow and dirt were the obvious signs that a vehicle had entered the shallow ditch sometime within the last 24 hours. Amidst the skid marks we spotted the deep hoof prints of a heavy bodied, fast moving deer; clearly the cause of the incident. A brief survey of the surrounding area revealed that loggers had carved a semi-circular clearing up the hill to the right side of the road that previous summer. Fresh sign began to appear in the new undergrowth and along with it, so did my hopes of success. We continued to scout the remainder of the property but as far as I was concerned, I already knew where I was headed opening morning.
The sound of the alarm flooded our little shack from wall to wall and would have surely startled me were I not already awake. I’m not sure if it was the excitement of opening day, the excessive heat of the woodstove, or the medley of snoring hunters but I don’t think my eyes stayed shut for longer than a few consecutive moments all night. Still, I was pumped. I happily rolled out of the top bunk, put on my base layer and made a beeline for the coffee pot. Had I been more schooled in the ways of Tin Shack 1 I would have used my youthful exuberance to take first turn in the outhouse. But that’s an entirely different story.
With a few cups of coffee in us we began discussing where we would all be setting up. After 15 years the elders all had their well-worn “*ss grooves” and my brother was heading to a location that he had scouted so I was delighted that nobody else was planning on hunting the clear cut up the hill. A quick snack and a few “good luck” fist bumps and I was suited up and heading up the hill well before daylight.
Due to the sparsely populated area we were in, there was very little artificial light and I quickly learned that it truly is darkest just before dawn. Nevertheless, I pulled out my flashlight and located the path to the clear cut. To my luck, the path led me right past a fallen oak tree that was leaning against another; creating just the right amount of cover while still providing me with a clear view of the road below and the cedar line at the back of the clear cut. I settled in, pulled my hat over my eyes and waited. And waited. And waited.
To say things started out slowly would be an understatement. A warm front moved in and we began with the usual accusations: the deer are nocturnal, it’s too warm, it’s too windy, the bucks have the does locked down, etc. etc. I couldn’t believe that 5 sets of eyes over three days of hunting and scouting had not led to one single deer sighting. Our spirits were starting to drop and I was beginning to understand how our camp hadn’t had any success for several years. This was some tough hunting. If grandpa were here he would know what to do.
Wednesday morning came with a bite. A cold front had moved in overnight giving birth to the glorious cold, calm, crispy morning that hunters dream of. It was a welcomed surprise. Persistent in my efforts I decided to stay the course and make my way back up towards the fallen oak that I had been spending all of my days at.
It was a noisy walk with the leaves crunching beneath every step. I was sure that every animal within a 100 yard radius was well aware of my presence. Arriving at the stand, I zipped up my coat, loaded my rifle and listened as the rest of the woods began to wake up.
At first light I noticed some movement along the cedars. Raising my rifle to peer through the scope, I spotted a Pine Marten quickly heading my way. It wasn’t until he was a few yards from my boots that he became aware of my intrusion and retreated. This confirmed two things for me: first, that the wind direction was still in my favour, and secondly, that there were other animals in these woods besides red squirrels.
The sun was now above the horizon and much like the previous two days, I began to hear distant shots ringing out from the other camps in the area. It seemed that everyone was having opportunities except for us. Feeling envious, I started weighing out my options. I was becoming tired of the same scenery, perhaps it was time to move to a new location? Not knowing the whereabouts of my team members I decided to stay put so as to not disturb the calm. There were several days left to try another area anyhow.
About an hour had passed and still no movement. I started going over the stories I had heard from the others the first day in camp and fantasized about being a part of those successful hunts. It was then that I realized I was going to need some help to get this done. I looked up to the sky and quietly began to whisper. “Hey, Grandpa, if you are watching up there, we could really use your help. Send one over my way if you can”.
It was about 8:30 when I heard the snap. Having bowhunted for whitetail the previous season I was no stranger to that magical sound. I slowly turned my head to the left to locate the source of the break. There he stood, directly between me and the spot on the road where we had found the tracks on the first day.
His body was massive and his neck thick and muscular like a bodybuilder’s legs. Topping it all off was a very symmetrical 8 point rack. This was the first mature buck that I had ever laid eyes on so naturally my heart began to pound and I started to shake as if I were freezing to death. By contrast, the buck was completely at ease and fully unaware of my presence. As he put his head down and continued to browse, I shifted my body on the fallen trunk, raised my rifle and began taking long deep breaths to steady myself. After what seemed like an eternity but was realistically about 10 seconds, he was finally up the hill and clear of the road. With the other end of the semicircular cedar line as a backdrop, he paused behind a large, bent aspen for one last mouthful of browse. This was it. Only 50 yards separating us, he took that final step into the open and I squeezed the trigger. The buck instantly humped up and began to run. In a mixture of surprise, excitement and inexperience I wasn’t completely sure about the location of the hit so I instinctively chambered another round, took aim at the running deer, and fired again. He disappeared down an embankment at the edge of the cedars and my excitement quickly shifted to concern.
I reached into my pocket, pulled out my radio and turned it on to discover the other guys chattering about where the shots came from. “It was me”, I said, speaking as calmly as I could, “he’s hit but he’s on the run….going to need some help”. My brother agreed to assist while the others remained on stand. In a mild panic, I stood up and slowly crept toward the spot where I thought the buck had entered the cedars. After only ten steps I was amazed to see him laying 30 yards in front of me. He had fallen dead not 20 yards from where he stood when I took my second shot. I keyed in my radio to my brother again. “He’s down, and he’s big. Get over here.” I was blown away, and couldn’t believe what had just happened. I knelt down next to the buck, looked up to the sky again and yelled “thank you!” Grandpa had come through.
Upon hearing that we had a deer down, everyone abandoned their hunt and came to take part in the recovery. After several overdue hugs and high fives, field dressing the animal revealed that my first shot had been a perfect double lung and that the second had taken out the heart. Things couldn’t have gone more smoothly and I was very pleased with my performance.
The buck weighed in at over 200 lbs dressed and had a typical antler score of 134″. Not a monster by Ontario standards but surely a terrific trophy and memory for me. I still wish that I had become part of the group earlier in my life, but this experience has made me feel like I have been a part of it all along.
– Chad Everaert