Chasing a dream, part of a nightmare — the reality of deer hunting

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The screenshot from a trail camera video shows a giant buck walking towards freshly-planted clover on Aug. 3. Times Herald sports editor Morgan Rode went into the hunting season hoping to cross paths with the big buck, but instead endured the worst hunting season of his life. (Contributed photo)

At the end of each hunting season, I always love to think back on all the hunts I had and new memories I’ve made.

With the deer hunting season, both gun and bow, having ended, I recently took a trip down memory lane in search of my favorite moments from the fall and winter season. Unfortunately, it took me all of about five minutes to recall the highlights of my season.

Living nearly three hours from the land I hunt on, trail cameras are a big resource for me in locating deer and staying in tune with how deer are moving about the property.

Just days after I had made a trip to the hunting property to lay down some clover seed, I received a phone call from my parents with news that was almost too good to be true.

They informed me that a trail camera I had set up over one of the spots I spread clover seed had captured a video of an absolute giant buck, easily the biggest I had ever seen on a property I hunted. While the video took place in early August, it got me amped up for the start of bowhunting.

For both the archery and gun seasons, I only carried a buck tag in my pocket for the first time in my life. As you might expect, I saw plenty of does during September and October, but not a single legal buck.

As was the case a year ago, the end of October brought several bucks to the property, littering our cameras with several jaw-dropping photos. With a better understanding of how the deer used the property and the main travel routes, I fully anticipated my November hunts to be action packed.

Instead, the most interesting hunt in November came on a bowhunt on Nov. 3, when an eight-point buck walked out to the spot my brother, Sawyer, and I had just walked past moments before. The almost unbelievable video was caught on the same trail camera that produced the mega-giant back in early August, but instead of being thrilled to see a buck on camera, I was devastated.

The nightmare lingered in my mind for the remainder of the season and still irks me today.

The rest of November was uninspiring, as the only time I managed to see deer, all does, during the bow or gun seasons is when I was walking around the property, trying to learn more about where the deer seemed to be hiding.

By the time the gun season ended, I was flat-out exhausted and never could get quite fired up enough to tough out several cold December hunts.

Never had I spent so many hours out in the woods and come up so empty.

That’s the reality of hunting. Sometimes you spend countless hours out in the woods and never harvest your target animal. Other times you spend less than an hour in the woods to get the job done — as I did last spring to fill my turkey tag.

Yet, even after what was easily my most forgettable season, I still wouldn’t trade those days in the woods for anything and will be itching to get back out come next deer season.

You could say I’m crazy for saying that, but its the challenge of hunting that appeals to me most. I would honestly rather hunt extremely hard for several days a year and not harvest an animal than tag out on the first day of every season.

When the fortunes do align in your favor, like they did for me last spring, I chalked it up to work I put in the previous seasons that made the feat possible.

So while many would scoff at the deer season I just endured, I’m instead going to use all the information I gathered from my hunts and use that knowledge to have an unforgettable season this coming fall.