Being on the cusp of something implies being on the cutting edge, which can be either the edge of success or failure.

Deer hunting is like that. 

Hunters ply a lot of different skills, tactics and strategies all aimed at the same goal. What hunter is going to deny their primary goal is to collect a trophy buck?

We all want one. Some hunters want one, if not several, every year. A few are able to do that one way or the other and usually keep their best tricks to themselves. Buck hunting competition is fierce whether we like to admit it or not. 

If you doubt that, just stand aside at the annual wall of bucks at the Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s Extravaganza held in Jackson at the Mississippi Trade Mart Center every August. Hunters, families, spouses and kids eventually end up there, usually gawking at the size of some of the bucks. Every one of them is thinking the same thing, wishing they had some bragging rights on a big buck hanging on that wall. It’s human nature and it’s the realistic nature of deer hunting these days. 

Best laid plans

Clearly as the opening day of deer hunting season approaches, especially the gun seasons in November, the excitement and high hopes for a great year abound. Bow hunters and gun hunters alike get their gear ready. The food plots are in place and prayers said for rain. Trail cameras are up and flashing away. Some hunters will risk walking their hunting grounds on first-hand scouting missions.

The clock is ticking. 

They slip in quietly and as unobtrusively as possible to recover the data cards out of their cameras to be replaced with empty ones and fresh batteries if needed. They wear rubber boots and gloves, and spray down with scent eliminator chemicals. In the early days of the season and before, they are particularly meticulous. They add more corn to the feeders by the cameras to ensure visitations. 

Back home or at camp they review the photos on the data cards. They post the best shots on social media sources to insinuate to their hunting buddy community that these are the bucks they will be hunting this season. In many cases, the hunters are surely counting their eggs before they are hatched.

They start out the opening day on the cusp. 

And then reality sets in, sometimes much too quickly. There are early stories of trophy bucks taken in the first few minutes of the opening day. For the majority, they early dreams are foiled, some time and time again. Sometimes conditions, circumstances, and situations out of our control can often get in the way. 

The irony though is that, when it comes to deer hunting, we are all always just on the cusp of great success or disheartening failures.

Welcome to deer hunting.

So, let’s hear about some of these stories that some hunters were willing to share with the idea to learn from them. More than half of what it takes to become a great hunter is to learn from others. The other half is just getting out there ever so closer to the cusp of it all. 

Pestered by a nuisance 

Call them whatever you want, varmints, nuisance wildlife, wild dogs, “skag” poodles or just plain coyotes, they are playing an ever-increasing role in screwing up deer hunting is some sectors of the state. Just ask Jack Hust his tale of from his hunting club south of Pelahatchie in Southeast Rankin County. 

“This past season after all the plans, camp work, putting in food plots and everything else, we were really pumped for a good season,” said Hust, an avid hunter and director of security and physical plant for the Rankin County campus of Hinds Community College in Pearl. “However, most of our hunting was rudely interrupted by what seems to be a substantially increasing population of coyotes. Every night I hear packs of coyotes howling in our area. 

“We are now seeing more coyotes and we kill more each year during the deer season.This past season during the first weekend of primitive season, I had my own encounter. I was on a newly cut logging lane in an area being thinned. I could see a far distance in the fresh cuts and noticed a spotted fawn running wildly across a lane just at sunrise. I saw no mother deer, but I picked out other movement along the same track. It was a coyote about 60 yards behind the fawn and gaining ground fast.”

Hust decided to take the coyote and protect the fawn.

“The coyote paused momentarily at the edge of the lane at about 150 yards. I squeezed off a shot with my .44 Magnum, open sighted, single shot primitive weapon,” he said. “I could see the dust rise just under his belly from the missed shot, but luck was with me. He circled around and came back out in the lane at about 60 yards. This time I was ready and rolled him over backwards when he stopped. 

“Our club members were reporting seeing a lot fewer deer this past season, too. It makes me wonder if the blossoming coyote population may be having a negative impact on the deer herd. I certainly am no scientist but I read a lot about fawn predation and coyote impact on deer hunting overall. I spend a lot of time in our woods and I am seeing and hearing a lot more coyotes. The deer must be, too. Maybe they have moved out for a while and this is why our deer hunting has been on the decline as well.” 

It’s difficult enough to be a successful deer hunter working to be on the cusp by doing everything you can by the book. When another factor comes into play, like a growing, active and much more prevalent coyote population, it can sure rain on the parade. 

Much research has been done on the coyote’s impact on deer herds, and it isn’t good news. They can definitely reduce fawn numbers and make deer shy away from areas overrun by coyotes. 

It sounds like Hust and his deer club members need to step up the pace to turn the coyote situation around by spending more time dedicated to hunting them. If they can effectively knock the numbers of coyotes back, it can make a different for the deer down the road. 

This situation might also warrant a call to a state wildlife biologist. 

Trail cam captures no guarantee 

With a new hunting property of over 200 acres acquired in Holmes County south of Lexington, James French was excited for the buck potential he knew his new land held. During the land buying process and walking the property he had already spotted numerous big buck landmarks — rubs and old scrapes left behind from the previous season. 

“So I set my plan in motion. I reworked two existing food plots into better ones,” French said. I made them larger, added more edges and altered the shapes to give bucks more security near the woods line. I planted prime wildlife foods.

“Before the hunting season opened, I set up cameras over the plots, along trails and the main camp road down from our log cabin home. I put corn and rice bran out via spin feeders to bring the deer to the camera so I could see what buck potential there might really be on the place.” 

Early on, French began to reap the evidence of his efforts. He sent me trail camera photos of a very nice 10-point buck with heavy beams and tines. It was probably a 150-class buck. Then he sent trail cam photos of the biggest 7-point he had ever seen. It had the proverbial “Coke can” bases. Unfortunately photographs of both bucks consistently were captured during non-hunting hours. But still, he knew the bucks were there. 

“I put in more butt time this past season than ever trying to collect one or both of those bucks,” French admitted.

In mid-January he called me to ask when bucks were supposed to start shedding their racks, and I told him March.

French was in his hunting stand at near dusk when the 10-point came up out of the bottom to the edge of the plot. The hunter got his rifle ready, but when the buck turned his head, one side of the rack had apparently already been shed. Talk about being right on the cusp. 

On Feb. 2, 2015 French called again.

“I just drove into my cabin and there standing in the middle of the road was the huge 7-point two days after the season ended,” he said. “This was the only time I saw this buck in the daylight. I won’t lie, I thought about it, but I did not run to get my rifle from the house. Even my grandson asked me why I did not shoot the buck.

It was because of him that I did not shoot it. I wanted him to learn the lesson, too. I figure Lord willing, next year we’ll finish this story.”

He told me, too, that remember, just because you catch a huge buck on your camera does not guarantee a trip to the taxidermist. You can be right on the cusp, yet so far away.