"This article was sent in to us from our Hunt Lift Eat team member Bill Berlin from up in Michigan. Bill connected on an awesome and unique buck with his .308 and that's all she wrote!! We want to give a special thanks to Bill for sharing your story with the Hunt Lift Eat Community!" -Josh
Like most good stories, I should probably start at the beginning.
For those of you who don’t know, opening day of rifle season in Michigan is November 15th. It could be a Saturday, or a Wednesday, doesn’t matter. North of US-10 (if you look at your right hand, palm facing in, US-10 is basically the line formed at the base of the first knuckle of your fingers), it is a holiday. Schools close, people travel in from all over kingdom come in search of Da Turdy Pointer. I was even told a couple years after I moved here that it would require an amendment to the state constitution to change the date of opening day. I have never confirmed this, but I do love the idea that this great tradition will never be altered in a world where it seems like sportsmen have increasingly more and more trouble finding footholds in this modern society.
In 2018, my wife and I bought our little piece of paradise; seventy-six acres with about a quarter mile of the Muskegon River flowing through it and a three-acre pond. The house she was raised in is a mile and a half or so as the crow flies away, as is the property where she killed her first deer before going shopping for a homecoming dress (Yes. Yes, I did hit the lottery y’all). We have managed to take some “pretty good” by northern Michigan standard bucks, but have had some really really nice by anywhere standard bucks on camera over the years. I’ve also managed to screw up on more than one occasion.
A case of buck fever brought on by a twelve point with a 20 inch inside spread if it was an inch caused me to cleanly miss at 60 yards with the .308 I’ve hunted with for going on 15 years in 2021. I was so shook up from the incident that I hunted with a different rifle for the rest of the season. On November 10th this year, I shot under a nine point with a kicker on his right side he could probably use to prop his head up with at 40 yards, standing completely broadside, with my crossbow (I had Covid, pulling my bow back made me so short of breath I almost passed out, and they’re legal during archery in Michigan.. get off me all you bow lunatics). Other years, I have had them inside 30 yards for 15 minutes at a time, meandering through the brush I had not had time to cut a shooting lane through. I have at least one story like this for every year, but you get the idea.
Opening morning is a time of excitement, and an almost child-like wonder.
Maybe, this WILL be the year. Even the most pessimistic hunter has at least a brief, fleeting hope of bagging a wall hanger. To quote Jeff Daniels’ Escanaba in Da Moonlight, “..Its like Christmas..with guns." For me, this year, Santa had the Red Ryder under the tree to keep the movie references going.
I am a flight nurse, doing fixed wing medical transports for a company about an hour away from our house. We do 120 hour shifts, where we go to the base to stay and then have ten days off. This was looking really swell as it meant I was going to have November 10th through the 19th off. If I could pick a stretch on the calendar to be off, I’m not sure I could do it any better. Unfortunately, my partner got Covid and he apparently shared before leaving sick- I woke up on “Go-Home” morning with a scratchy throat and a little bit of a headache. One nose swab later, sure enough, t'was the Rona.
My wife is a chiropractor and owns her own practice, so to keep her and our daughter away from the germs, my in-laws brought their camper over for me to stay in for a few days. Don’t feel too bad for me- it has leather couches and the bathroom is almost as big as the one in my first apartment. The hardest part was my garage outlet not being able to support the heat and heated blankets going at the same time, but I got a system down. I mentioned missing the deer Friday night, but at this point, I’m pretty well inoculated to me goofing up, so was in pretty high spirits.
Saturday morning, I woke up feeling like I had consumed a bottle of bourbon before helping the boys finish off a 30 rack (I obviously hadn’t, but that’s the best description I have for the head and body aches). Now, I’m not one afraid to hunt through a little hangover, but I just could not get out of bed. So, I decided to get some extra sleep and pull it together for a long afternoon hunt. At 0930, my wife called me to tell me to “look at that buck on the powerline." Side note- there’s a small hill that leads up to a powerline about 40 yards from our house, with a section of big hardwoods on one side and a stand of tag alders on the other, that deer love to run through. By the time I looked, there was nothing there, but she said “He has a funky looking rack he was HUGE." And of course walked right towards the stand I was going to hunt, with a perfect wind.
Flash forward to opening morning. I sneak back to my rifle blind, a little later than I wanted to, but it happens. In the dark I could hear rustling and running in the acorn trees about 50 yards from the blind, so took my time but eventually bumped into a deer coming down the trail towards me. It took off, which made everyone else take off, which gave me a chance to get in and get set up. Not fifteen minutes later I started hearing movement again. As the sun started to come up, I saw a doe walking off towards my left across our pond onto our neighbors. Pretty soon after, a spike came from across the river and started browsing. Then I saw a 4 point across the pond make a scrape. Then a fork horn came across the river and started browsing in the same area as the spike. A doe came around in the same area the first four point had made his scrape. Suddenly, the two bucks in front of me started looking back at where they had come from across the river.
I was pretty fired up already, as seeing four bucks on the same day, much less the same half hour just does not happen up here, but now I was really feeling excited. Out walks a wide, tall… fork horn. They all start doing young buck stuff, and sparring and carrying on. I start drinking my coffee and just sit back to enjoy the show. Then. I hear it. CRUNCH. CRUNCH. CRUNCH. CRUNCH. All three stop dead in their tracks, look back at the exact same spot they’ve all come from at this point, and all of their body language changes in a way I’ve never seen before and don’t have the words to describe adequately other than they looked like they wanted to be anywhere else in the world right then.
As he came up from the river bed, I had my .308 sliding through the blind window and was sliding my ear protection in. I got one look at him, and knew this was the buck my wife had called me about Saturday morning. He posed broadside at 60 yards, and I touched off the trigger. What followed I can only describe as mayhem. I’m trying to follow him in my scope, but there are bodies and antlers everywhere. All of a sudden, I see a flash of movement out of the window to my left. I look over, and there he is, standing at 7 yards. Before I can do anything, he starts to wobble, takes a step, then completely loses the fight with gravity and topples over.
At this point, the adrenaline that I had been able to repress up til now could no longer be contained. I started shaking like a maple leaf. My wife was in a blind about 400 yards away, and texted if I had shot or if it was the neighbors. I dropped my phone twice trying to respond and finally got out “you’re about to be mad at me. He’s awesome. I’m shaking so damn jaed (hard)."
One of the easiest tracking jobs I’ve had in awhile, but dragging him out required a jet sled, and the help of my wife with her sister and our 13 month old daughter there for moral support. By the time we completed the 300 or so yard death march to the garage and hung up, that hangover feeling was back with a vengeance. It was soon replaced with a sense of calm, glowing appreciation I think only comes from hard work paying off. This is my largest deer to date, 9.5 points (you can hang a ring on a second brow tine, but just barely), 175# dressed. I have never scored a deer, nor do I intend to with this one- he’s big enough for us and that’s all that matters. Cheers and happy hunting team!