My 2001 deer season was going nowhere fast. Then, along came a special whitetail that must have been meant just for me.
"Jenna, wake up."
I groaned and rolled over. It was too early to wake up. Dad shook my shoulder again, and I opened my eyes. It was 6:30 a.m.: time to get ready to go deer hunting. I sat up to let Dad know I was awake. After Dad went to eat breakfast, I got dressed and headed out to the kitchen.
Dad was sitting in a chair, putting on his boots. I put in my contact lenses, pulled my hair into a ponytail and grabbed some breakfast. Then we grabbed our hunting gear and headed out.
Early morning is the best time to look for deer in our area of South Dakota, as they're still moving around after foraging for food all night. Between roughly 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., you need to walk through shelter belts and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grass; during that period, they're usually bedded.
At around 7 a.m., as Dad and I were driving about a mile and a half from home, we spotted a doe and two fawns. We stopped, and I took a couple of shots at the doe as she was running. I missed.
This wasn't my first missed deer of the season; in fact, since the opener I'd missed at least 11, all but which had been running. Dad already had taken his deer for the year, and the three guys who hunt with us had shot theirs on opening weekend. Yes, it was definitely getting frustrating.
Dad must have noticed that I was a little down, because after I'd missed the doe, he said, "Well, you're bound to hit something eventually. You can't miss many more."
Yeah, thanks, Dad. Very helpful. Stiil, I couldn't help but crack a smile. That was Dad's way of cheering me up, and it worked.
We now were driving on a road that separates Day and Codington counties. I glanced at a little stand of brushy trees,then glanced back, thinking my eyes were playing tricks on me.
"Wait!" I cried, just as Dad stepped on the brake. I had thought I'd seen a patch of white in the trees as we passed. We had heard there was an "albino" deer running around up in this area, and this could be it! Unfortunately, the grove of trees was on the Day County side of the road, and all I had was a Codington County license.
We back up, stopping at the stand of trees. Was it my imagination, or was that white patch now farther back in the cover? I grabbed my binoculars and looked closer.
"So it is the albino, or just a bag caught in the trees?" Dad asked.
"Just a bag, I think," I answered.
We backed up to make sure there were no deer running out the back side of the grove. Even if that white spot was only a bag, there could very well be deer hiding in there.
Nothing. We drove forward again. This time, I was sure the white spot had moved. It now was farther back in the trees. Once again, we backed up to check for other deer running.
Nothing. Dad sighed, and we moved forward again. Obviously, it was just a bag caught in the trees.
As Dad slowed the truck near the grove, I looked again for the white spot. This time it wasn't there at all! We looked out across the field, and there running were five deer: four of regular brown deer and one that was mostly white! The white deer stood out like a sore thumb against the black dirt of the field. There was only one problem: The herd was on the Day County side of the line.
Suddenly, all of the deer whirled around and began running back toward the grove we'd scared them from . . . and that meant they were coming toward Codington County. They were heading for a shelter belt across the road from the other grove.
At this point we were near an approach, so Dad pulled in and quickly turned the truck around. In the mirror, I saw a black Jeep turn around in an approach farther ahead and start to follow us back in the direction from which we'd come.
Dad stopped the pickup and jumped out, binoculars in hand. I grabbed my grandpa's .270, hopped out, shut the pickup door behind me and ran down into the ditch just as the pack of deer started running toward the shelter belt. If the white one got there before I could get a shot off, this rare chance could be lost forever.
I raised my rifle and focused through the scope as I tried to steady my trembling arm. Every second counts . . . .
The white deer was running straight away from me, but then turned slightly. That gave me a better shot angle, but it was still running and getting closer to the trees with each passing second. I release the rifle's safety, focused and slowly pulled the trigger.
The rifle kicked a bit, and I lowered it, grabbed the bolt and flipped out the empty shell. When I looked up again, I couldn't see the white deer anywhere. "It's gone," I whispered to myself. Then I slowly turned and began walking back up the ditch toward Dad.
I noticed that the men in the black Jeep had stepped out of it and were talking to him. They evidently were fellow hunters, judging from the fluorescent orange they wore.
"I think it dropped somewhere along the outside edge of the shelter belt," I heard the older man say as I approached. My eyes widened. Had he just said what I thought he said?
Then the man turned to me. "I'm Doug DeVille," he said with a friendly smile, "and this is my son, Corey." I vaguely remembered having met Corey about a mile up this same road the previous weekend.
"Jenna Halse," I said, shaking hands. "So you actually think I got it?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes," Doug answered. "We were watching through the binoculars."
We talked for a few more minutes, then Dad and I said goodbye to Doug and Corey and climbed back into the pickup. We drove to the edge of the shelter belt . . . and there, nearly three-fourths of the way up the row we saw it, lying just inside the trees. The animal's white hair contrasted clearly against the dead brown of the grass in the shelter belt.
It was the most amazing deer I'd ever seen, and believe me, I've seen plenty. Its head was the normal brown, and then most of the rest of it was white, including the tail. There were a few brown patches scattered here and there.
Dad gave me a hug, then went over to inspect the deer more closely. I was so overcome with amazement that I could only stare at it. How had I, who couldn't hit anything, managed to get this?
I walked over to look at the deer myself. It was what's commonly called a "button buck," a male fawn. Dad was looking for the bullet hole, and he found it on the deer's left side. Amazingly, the bullet had hit the piebald in the heart. For once, my aim had been true; if I'd pulled the barrel to the left much at all, the shot would have missed him completely.
"You got lucky," Dad commented. "You were supposed to gut your own deer this year."
"Yeah, but you won't let me gut this one, will you?" I asked with a smile.
"No," he answered. "I'm not even going to gut this deer. We'll take it to a taxidermist. It may be worth mounting."
Wow. That was pretty serious.
After tagging and loading my deer, we headed home to show Mom, Jill and Justin. We then took a bunch of photos, because this was pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime thing. The previous year I'd shot a 2x3 buck, and now, in only my second year of deer hunting, I'd tagged this. I'm sure I'll continue to look forward to hunting season, but I don't think it ever could match 2001!