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Have you ever had that feeling of knowing there were deer all around you but you just couldn’t track them? Maybe you’ve seen tracks and scrapes, or a nice big rub but there just isn’t any actual living, breathing deer in your sight. That’s how I felt around November 10. Deer season was 10-days-old already, and I had all the evidence that there were big ol’ bucks around but just nothing to aim my rifle at. 

At this time, I do what most hunters do and start changing my strategy. I know it’s early and I need to be patient, but who hasn’t panicked less than halfway through a hunting season? I moved around, checked for tracks elsewhere—probably tracking my scent everywhere—but hunting desperation will do weird things to a man. I decided to hunt right on the edge of a field.

The night was going like the others before, a few scattered does, maybe a spiker here or there. As final shooting light passed and the moon was the only thing lighting my path back, I saw a glimpse of a buck. It’s hard to judge the specifics of him, like number of points, estimated score, or even if he was a mule or whitetail. All I knew was that my hunter prayers had been answered and 500 yards away, standing in the dark, was an animal with a big rack of antlers. Hunting all my life, that’s become my favourite moment. It doesn’t matter the antler size, just that rush of adrenaline that hits when you see bone on top of a deer’s head and you think you might get to squeeze that dusty trigger.

Matt and hunting partner Dad.
That night I got on the phone with my hunting partner, a person I happen to call Dad. I informed him of the “Shadow Monster” that I saw and we set up a time and date to take another shot at him, or at the very least, to determine his species. 

Two days later, we were sitting on the edge of the field, waiting impatiently for my buck to arrive. I don’t know if everyone has the same hunting relationship with their dad as I do but mine still loves to give me “hunting tips and tricks.” He’ll tell me to “quit fidgeting” or “are you even paying attention.” These are tips that I hope to pass down to my future hunter someday. 

The same parade of characters showed up in their correct order. A few does trotted out onto the field and a small two-pointer trailed clumsily behind, not sure how to go about these mid-rut impulses coursing through his body. He chased the does around and as politely as deer can, the does told him to “get lost.”

About 20 minutes before dark, another buck showed up. My heart beat faster in anticipation that this could be the buck I saw in the dark. This could be “Shadow Monster!” I pointed him out to Dad and we both pulled up our binoculars to have a peek. The results were underwhelming. He may have been a shooter, but barely. Was this the buck I had seen in the dark? My dad gave me a pat on the shoulder, as though I’d gotten a cute girl’s number and called it only to find out it was Pizza Hut. He condescendingly told me, “Well, it would make for good rattlers.”

I couldn’t shoot him that night. When you have monsters on the brain, average bucks look as if they should have spots on them. We sat, too stubborn to leave before last light. But with five minutes left, my “Shadow Monster” finally step foot onto the field. Both Dad and I glassed him at the same time. Instinctively, I brought my gun up, ready to fire at 300 yards. When I looked through the scope, I gasped audibly. My scope was frosted completely. I desperately tried to wipe the frost away but it wasn’t enough to take an ethical shot. I told Dad and hesitantly told him to take the shot. I’m not even sure if I said the words; maybe I just grunted and pointed, heartbrokenly. 

He raised his gun, aimed at the now 400-yard buck, and fired! The entire group ran. We both looked at each other and I saw for the first time in my life the “I think I missed” look on my Dad’s face. We looked feverishly for blood but not a drop was found. It was one of those unique moments in life when you’re entirely relieved inside but have to put on that disappointed face. That shot meant that I had another chance!

Three days later, I discovered the best hunting strategy of my life. Have you ever tied one of the most momentous parts of your life back to one small event? Mine can be traced back to my wife and I sitting down for a meal of Mexican food with a craft beer. Delicious! We settled in for the night watching a movie and I set my alarm to have time for a quick coffee and be at my hunting spot 15 minutes before first light.

As I woke up, I knew right away that something was wrong. My body was in disarray. MEXICAN FOOD! No! This can’t be happening! I hurried as fast as I could but I was at nature’s mercy now. I hopped in my truck as fast as possible and sped to my hunting spot, pulling up as first light was passing. I got out and rushed down the path. As I turned the corner, to my surprise, there was the “Shadow Monster”, standing in the middle of the path 200-yards away.

Matt posing with his Shadow Monster.
I was completely not expecting this. I had no bullets in my gun yet. Luckily enough, he hadn’t seen me; he was on the hunt for does. He trotted across the path in front of a house and straight up the driveway—not the most ideal place to shoot a deer. I followed him as stealthy as I could. He dashed into the trees that divided the house from the field. I ran to the other side before he could get there and waited with bullets in my gun and a clear scope this time. I tried as hard as I could to slow my breathing. Then, ever so slowly, almost in slow motion, my buck stepped foot onto the snowy ground. I rested my gun on a tree branch, looked through the scope, gently put my finger on the trigger, exhaled slowly, and fired at 300 yards. 

Having just upgraded my gun to a 300 WIN MAG from a 25-06, the kick took me by surprise and I lost the deer in the scope. I frantically looked up but couldn’t see the deer. My heart sunk. I knew a big deer like this wouldn’t give me another shot after having been fired at twice.

I thought I had better check for blood and I made my “walk of shame”. As I neared the site, I saw a large lump laying in the deep snow. My heart slowly began beating blood through my veins once again. I had downed him with a heart shot.

Tracing it back, I can thank that Mexican food for throwing off my timing and letting me get my hands on my “Shadow Monster.” ■

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