Fresh turkey tracks in my cousin’s field of corn stubble made me consider multi-tasking last week as I planned my final 2021 deer hunt for Richland County.
What if I donned my blaze orange, staked out some decoys, popped up a ground blind along the field edge within shotgun range, and kept my deer rifle and turkey shotgun handy while calling with a slate? Maybe I’d get lucky and end the year with a turkey or an antlerless deer. And if I were really lucky, both.
Well, I tried that double-dip Dec. 31 and — you guessed it — I called in nothing. In fact, I saw neither deer nor turkey from 10:45 a.m. till shooting hours ended roughly six hours later. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up, however. Logistically, the setup was manageable. I put the truck in 4-wheel drive, drove all my gear to a site in the stubble where my cousin saw turkeys two days earlier, and hammered four decoy stakes into the frozen ground.
And now that I’ve done my shakedown cruise and pinpointed what needs adjusting, I’ll try again next year. I’m assuming, of course, that those turkeys will keep visiting the same fields at midday that deer often visit near dusk.
My multi-tasking experiment served another purpose: It allowed my friend Jason Stein from Madison to hunker in my tripod stand elsewhere on the farm, and hope for a whitetail to paw through the stubble for kernels the combine left behind. Between us, Stein and I could cover much of the farm’s southern fields without irritating each other.
At 4:23 p.m., just when I surrendered hope of seeing turkeys, I heard Stein shoot 800 yards away. A second shot boomed a minute later. My mind crafted stories for the distant gunfire:
1. “He just finished off his deer.”
2. “A second deer stood around too long, offering another shot.”
3. “He missed the first shot, the deer fled the field, but presented a second shot by stepping into an opening.”
4. “A second deer ran after the first deer fell, but stopped before hopping the fence to the neighbor’s land.”
5. “He missed both shots.”
Stein sent a text message within a minute: “Two does down.”
With that, I collapsed my blind, pulled the decoys, hiked to the truck, and returned for my gear. After retrieving and stowing everything in the back seat, I drove the half-mile to Stein, helped him load his does into my truck’s bed, and hauled them to his car for the trip home.
“Two shots, two deer. You’re deadly,” I told him. “Congratulations.”
His success reminded me of another friend who, a week before Christmas, got two does with one shot while hunting in Michigan. Ten deer entered the field late in the afternoon after an ice storm ended. Ryan zeroed in on a big doe. He couldn’t shoot, however, because a fawn stood between him and the doe, and another adult doe stood behind her a few yards.
The fawn eventually trotted off, and the doe behind moved 15 yards to the right at a 45-degree angle from Ryan.
He slid off the safety on his .450 Bushmaster, aimed at the first big doe, and fired. Every deer fled the field, and Ryan watched his doe disappear over a nearby knoll. When he walked over the knoll, however, he saw two dead does 60 yards from where his doe had been feeding.
Ryan pulled out his smartphone and asked the landowner, “Did your nephew hunt back here and lose a deer?” Nope. The landowner knew nothing about it.
Ryan inspected the deer. Both were warm. Both had steaming bullet wounds. He had two antlerless deer tags, so he shrugged, tagged both deer and field-dressed them, even though he kept expecting someone to walk over and claim one.
After dragging both deer to his vehicle, Ryan felt a lump beneath the second doe’s hide. After a quick knife cut, he popped out a big rifle slug.
“It was undoubtedly the 300-grain .450 Bushmaster slug,” he said. After thinking about it for a couple of days, and studying the fully mushroomed slug under magnification, he decided it was his bullet.
“The bullet hit a rib bone on the first deer and deflected 30 to 45 degrees to the right,” he said. “Then it hit the second deer, exploded its liver, and took out the lower half of one lung. If I hadn’t found my bullet in that second deer, I probably would have convinced myself that someone else shot that deer before I showed up that day.
“I used to think lighter, faster bullets were more apt to ricochet,” Ryan continued. “I thought there was no way that a slow, heavy bullet would divert that much from a straight path. But now I think slower speeds produce ricochets instead of coming apart like fast bullets. Have you ever seen anything so bizarre?”
No, I haven’t, but the same thing happened to my late friend Charlie Alsheimer of Bath, New York, about 20 years ago. As I recall, Alsheimer was shooting a 12-gauge with saboted slugs. He, too, shot at a doe, killing her and another doe that stood about 25 yards away at a 45-degree angle.
Alsheimer, too, was baffled and mad at himself. But such ricochets aren’t shocking. After all, the late Larry Koller explained them nearly 75 years ago in “Shots at Whitetails,” a 1948 hunting classic:
“Low-velocity, heavyweight bullets … easily deflect or ricochet. Today's lighter bullets and stepped-up velocities create a different effect. The bullet’s fast drive keeps it steadily on course — even while ripping and tearing through leaves, twigs and grass. ... It's difficult to turn a high-velocity bullet from its intended path.”
Koller, however, didn’t offer any tips about multi-tasking hunts for turkeys and deer. Then again, hunters in Wisconsin, New York, Michigan and most northern states held few or no wild turkeys during Koller’s era.
Before long, most people won’t know that. They’ll assume deer hunters always saw turkeys and deer during fall hunts, and that many tried dual-pronged hunts late in the year.
When that era arrives, maybe Savage Arms will relaunch its .30-caliber, 20-gauge over/under gun for hunters who enjoy multi-tasking.
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Jason Stein of Madison field dresses two does he shot on New Year’s Eve in southwestern Wisconsin's Richland County. — Patrick Durkin photo