Deer hunting in the Hoosier state has been a father and son tradition for me since 2008. I shot my first deer that year, a 10pt buck. It feels like yesterday and I’m amazed at how far I’ve come as a hunter and student of the gun. First experiences in the field are moments of both emotion and education. This is what drives hunters to do what they do. Last year’s Indiana deer hunt was no exception. A major cold front drove temperatures to 25 degrees below normal and blanketed the state with snow. The bitter cold changed the game plan and tested me physically and mentally. It had a major impact on deer behavior and gear performance. A Miami resident, I was not equipped for the weather and it was painfully obvious. In the end, patience, determination and a bit of luck would affect the outcome on the last hour of the last day in Indiana.
Preparation for the yearly Indiana hunt usually starts several months in advance. My first priority was to upgrade my weapon system. A few years ago, Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) added the 450 Bushmaster, 458 SOCOM and 50 Beowulf to the approved list for deer firearm calibers. Without hesitation, I retired my highly successful 44 mag single shot Rossi for the power of the 450 Bushmaster AR Weapon System. I ordered the 450 Bushmaster upper and 100 rounds of Hornady Bushmaster 250g FTX ammo. The 450 is often called the “Thumper” due to its knock down power and its capability of taking out any game animal in North America. It’s extremely accurate and provides an effective kill range up to 300 yards.
Mid November weather conditions in southern Indiana are pretty consistent year to year. Just before sunrise the temperature is in the low 30s and it’ll warm up to somewhere in the mid to high 40s in the afternoon. Standard thermals and your camo of choice is all you need.
I arrived in Indiana the day before opening day. My father and I drove to Kelly’s place to drop my gear and headed over to the Richards’ farm to set up my dad’s blind. Kelly and his wife Peggy are long-time family friends and Kelly is our inside connection to the local farmers there. As we drove up to the farm, we were greeted by an amazing sight. Just across the recently combined corn field, a mature 8pt buck was running after a doe as if his life depended on it. The rut was on! I’d never before seen a pursuit like that. They must have run 200 yards before we lost sight of them in the woods. A little while later we caught a closer look at this magnificent animal after we finished setting up. He was hidden behind some dead tree limbs just off the field’s edge. We could still make out his impressive rack. Wow! It was an omen of good things to come, or so I thought.
It was opening morning and we were out the door an hour before sunrise. It was roughly 15 degrees and was expected to warm only to the high 30’s. Perfect! We arrived at the Richards’ farm and were surprised to see another truck parked next to the farm house. Kelly didn’t recognize it the vehicle. Apparently, without the owner’s knowledge, her son invited one of his buddies and his two kids to hunt on the property. Unfortunately, they set up their blind just yards away from my dad’s blind. Kelly briefly introduced himself and we proceeded to relocate my dad a little further down the field’s edge. The unwelcome delay meant that it was sunrise by the time I got to my spot. To avoid spooking any deer, I didn’t use my Summit climber but decided to sit just off the field, camouflaged by the tall grass and dead tree limbs. I glassed the field all day looking for that mature eight point buck.
Kelly was the first to draw blood. On a hill just behind my location he shot a doe near its roughly 50” x 50’ bedding area. Dad and I plowed through the tall grass and thorns for more than an hour searching for the doe, but no luck. It apparently ran to an adjacent property, and was not recovered.
Opening day was not a complete loss, though. The eight point appeared again just after 4:00PM, chasing several doe just yards away from Dad’s blind. He said it sounded like a thundering herd as they sprinted by. By the time he was able to grab his rifle they were gone, but a young four point buck showed up and gave my dad a perfect broadside shot. The 44mag bullet hit the deer perfectly the four point dropped where it stood.
If I’d known what was to follow, I assure you I would have prepared differently.