The Lows and Highs of a Deer Hunt

After a potential trip-ending mishap, a hunter recovers and finds success in the wilds of Northwest Ontario.

With an eight-point buck and a large and shapely doe resting in the back of my truck, I’m heading home along Highway 17, flush with the gratefulness that accompanies a successful hunt. As most hunters will attest, the deer hunt is rarely easy. Even when we do everything right, there’s just no telling what these agile and wary animals will do. While it’s always a challenge to anticipate the behavior of deer, it’s even more difficult to foresee the mistakes we make as hunters. Common errors include carrying scent and being winded, missing a shot with a gun or bow, or simply being too noisy when stalking. I hadn't committed any of these errors this time, yet, a few days ago, I was on the brink of scuttling the entire hunt. As I drive home I replay the sorted events of the chase:

Primed and Ready

I’m well prepared for the hunt, having secured a buck license and an antlerless deer tag for a four-day hunt in Northwestern Ontario with friends Gord Ellis and Tom Armstrong. Both men are much more experienced than I am, but I like to think I’ve picked up a thing or two over the years. As I cruise past the unique mix of boreal forest and flat-topped mountains interspersed with agricultural fields, I’m secure in the knowledge that my hunting clothes have been washed with scent-free soap, my grunting and bleating calling is adequate, and time on the range has ensured I’m shooting straight and with confidence. As it turns out, I wouldn’t fall short in any of these areas. But I would fall short.


It’s mid-November and there’s about 15 cm of snow covering a field where Gord and I spend the first morning of the hunt sequestered in ground blinds. In the afternoon we head to another beautiful property with bush, swamp, a meandering creek bottom, and a series of openings. As evening approaches, a small doe appears in a clearing and wanders into Gord’s crosshairs. Darkness has fallen by the time we converge on the animal. As Ellis affixes his doe tag to the beast, I instinctively reach into the right side pocket of my wool pants to ensure the re-sealable plastic envelope containing my outdoors card, license, and tag is still there.


Doom and Gloom

It’s something I habitually check on to ensure these important documents are accounted for. And they always are. Except this time, when all I find is my phone. This is when a pall of darkness and uncertainty descends upon the hunt.

Every pocket of every pack is checked. We detour back to our morning location for a fruitless search of the ground around our blind. Fully aware that my sloppiness is impacting the hunt for all of us, I spend the next morning where Gord shot his doe and retrace every step through the light fluffy snow. I return to Gord’s around lunch hour empty-handed and long of face. It’s now Saturday, and although it’s possible to replace my lost documents at a Service Ontario Centre, a statutory holiday means government offices are not open until Tuesday, the day I am scheduled to drive home.


With nothing left to lose I return in the light of day to the field we first hunted. Optimism is running low but I park and follow our footprints from the morning before. Not five paces away I see my envelope of documents, lying in plain sight in the snow. A sense of elation accompanies my drive back to Gord’s and I announce that our hunt is on for Sunday. In hindsight it appears that I pulled my phone out of my pocket to text and inadvertently pulled my license package, which became sandwiched between my wool pants and outer camouflage pants before sliding down my pant leg during our walk to the blind.


Bouncing Back

The next morning I’m pleased to be settled into one of Tom Armstrong’s ground blinds rather than driving home with my tail between my legs. I’m at the edge of a wooded clearing and Tom is in a tree stand about a kilometer away. I barely have time to settle into the blind and size up the lay of the land before an eight point buck steps out of the woods, and moves with alarming swiftness across the field. I quickly raise my rifle and drop the hammer on the gorgeous animal that ultimately folds at the edge of the woods. After Tom and I field dress the buck, we spot another animal in the same clearing. She’s about 600 yards away and we begin a slow and careful approach, resulting in a perfect heart shot from 100 yards out. The corpulent doe becomes part of one of my most memorable mornings of deer hunting.


As I cruise home with my bounty, I feel fortunate that a low in my deer hunting career was eclipsed soon after by a high. It’s still impossible to predict just what deer will do and just what kind of mistakes deer hunters will make, but one thing is certain: my license and phone will never inhabit the same pocket.

About James Smedley

Professional photographer and writer James Smedley’s contributions—more than 400 pieces and close to 1,000 images—to U.S. and Canadian books, magazines, and newspapers have earned him over 40 national and international awards. In addition to teaching photography workshops, James is the travel editor at Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine. James has fly-fished for brook trout and arctic grayling in far northern rivers and continues to cast for trout, bass, and steelhead near his home in the northern Ontario town of Wawa where he lives with his wife Francine and daughters Islay and Lillian.


Visit James at

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