Four Point Down
Updated: Feb 12
“We passed on a nice seven."
That’s how the text read. It was September 17, 2016 and I was between planes returning home from a week-long backpacking and fly-fishing trip in Idaho. I needed more info. “Passed?”, “Why?”, “Hello!?”. Nothing. Radio silence.
You may wonder why the urgency. Let me give you the backstory.
September 17 was the 2016 opener of the two-day Michigan Youth Hunt and because I was out of the state, my dad had taken my younger son up to Shastaland, our hunting property in Northern Michigan. My oldest had to work and he and I would be heading up together later that night to catch up with them for Sunday's hunt. I had another flight and at least 5 hours before I would be home, where I would quickly unpack, repack and make the 2-hour drive to the property. If my math was right that meant I’d be arriving sometime after 11 PM. That was too long and I was desperate for more information.
The text had come from my dad and I was, of course, excited. But he was not responding. Turns out dad and the boy had decided to do some mid-day fishing and weren’t nearly as responsive to texts as my needs demanded. Also turns out, after what seemed like an impossibly long period of communication blackout, that “passed on a nice seven” more accurately translated to “weren’t ready for a nice seven that appeared out of nowhere at 18 yards." Tomato. Tomato.
They were back in the blind and I was getting back on a plane. I wished them luck, switched the phone into airplane mode and made a mental checklist of everything I needed to do between landing and leaving to head up to the property. I was exhausted from the hiking, the travel and the sinus infection that would not succumb to any form of medicine I had purchased and ingested, but I knew my older son would be in a hurry to leave as soon as my boots hit the doormat.
My plane touched down around 7:30 PM Michigan time and I switched my phone off airplane mode to text my wife that I had landed and check any messages from my dad and son. Nothing. I shot a quick text to my dad as I made my way to the luggage carousel “any luck?”. By the time I got my bags loaded into the car it was just after 8 and I still hadn’t heard anything. Not good. It was pretty dark.
I got home and began to unpack and repack. I was grabbing a quick bite before hitting the road when suddenly my phone starting vibrating. Some news? From my dad: “he shot a 4”, from my son: “this sucks." Uh-oh. Something was amiss. The time for texting was done. I picked up the phone and made a call.
It turned out that my son had shot a four point that night – made a good shot – but they lost the blood trail in the swamp that makes up our hunting properties’ midsection and they were going to stop tracking for the night. Damn. Now I was the one in a hurry to get up north. I wanted to find this thing.
My older son and I arrived at Shastaland a little after 11 PM. We unpacked and found the lights out and the guys in bed. WHAT? I was exhausted but pretty fired up to go find this deer. We woke them up and talked it over for a while. They slowly talked me off the ledge and convinced me we could resume the search in the morning. Fine. But it wasn’t. I barely slept thinking about an un-recovered deer.
Good news (sarcasm), the alarm went off at 5:30 and my oldest and I prepared for the last Youth Hunt he would be able to participate in. We dressed and made our way out to the stand while my dad and other son slept – their work apparently done.
We sat until 10 with no real activity and decided to head back and have some breakfast, grab the guys and then pick up the tracking in daylight. But, I had a hunch and wanted to walk a section of the swamp before we headed back to camp.
We found the orange markers where they had lost blood the night before. The trail was marked well. In daylight you could clearly see the line the deer was taking. I followed the extension of that imaginary line and soon cut some tracks. I followed for about 30 yards and found the expired deer tucked into a group of small pines. Four point down! The boy had made a great shot. The deer hadn’t traveled far and I could finally take a breath. My older son and I shared a high five as we called back to camp to share the good news.
So, a four point is a young and small deer and normally one that we would pass on. In fact, the area we hunt enforces strict antler point restrictions of three or more on one side for the entire deer season with the exception of the Youth Hunt weekend. Additionally, we have been practicing self-imposed QDM strategies, along with our neighbors, since acquiring the property in 2012. The good news – we have seen a dramatic increase in bucks and a few 140+ inch deer have been spotted on our cameras and taken in nearby properties recently. The bad news - we had only put one deer in the freezer since acquiring the property – and this was a doe off my buddy’s property a few miles away.
For this year’s hunt I spoke with the neighbor and decided that we would loosen our requirements a little so we could put something in the win column. Although my son was reluctant to take this smaller buck at first, his grandfather encouraged him to make the shot. Based on what we had on camera the area could handle it – in fact our buck-to-doe ratio was starting to get out of whack. And this would not only be his first buck, but his first deer and the very first deer taken off our hunting property. He made a clean, ethical kill and we had harvested our first fresh, organic meat off our own land. I could not have been more proud.
Though I regret not being there for the hunt, sharing that moment of recovery with my dad and two boys in that special place "up north" is a moment that would be difficult to ever top - this deer lives larger in our memories than any "trophy" ever could.