Several years ago I had the opportunity to hunt Sika deer on Maryland’s eastern shore. I had seen pictures of Sika deer but never one in person and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When I found out that it was going to be a drive hunt, I was even more intrigued. I had “pushed” whitetails out of thickets and creek bottoms in Maryland’s piedmont but this was completely different terrain.
First lets set the scene. It was late season when an ex-boyfriend of my sister’s told me that he had an outfitter friend that was losing his lease and wanted to reduce the deer population for the new land owner while he still had the hunting rights. Sounds like a quality guy. So he was putting on a series of drive hunts for friends, free of charge. Having never hunted Sika deer, I thought I would give it a try. We showed up at first light with shot guns in hand to a heavy frost and 20 degree, overcast weather. Imagine 12 guys standing in a circle getting the instructions for the planned assault, dressed in hip waders and florescent orange, one half smoking cigarettes and the other half sucking down coffee, and you pretty much get the picture. I quickly learned that I was the only whitetail hunter in the group and most of these guys were weekend warriors at best. This had me a bit nervous as I started questioning their experience and gun safety knowledge. But nevertheless, we lined up along the road 20 yards apart, and readied ourselves for the march into battle.
Stepping off the road was leaving the last dry land of the morning. We had not gone more than 60 yards when the first deer jumped up and ran between myself and the hunter next to me. I held fire, but he let it fly once the deer had cleared us. I was still thinking that it was a rabbit that just blew by when he fired. It was very evident that 12 gauge buckshot will kill, gut, and skin the deer all at once if you do not allow the deer to gain some range before you fire. His animal weighed 30 lbs and was so mangled that I would not want to eat it.
As we continued on, the shouts of “Yip,” “Here deer,” “Ho,” “C’mon deer,” were heard throughout the swamp and broken only by the shots fired. When we left the pine swamp, we entered the needle grass. This stuff lives up to its name and is as sharply pointed as can be. But the deer find it to be a terrific refuge and the trails leading through it were worn 6″ deep in the mud. This makes shooting the tiny deer even more problematic as you rarely saw them. Finally, a deer leaped from its bed only a few feet in front of me and I was able to lead her by the wave of the grass. One shot….one kill baby! But the shot scared another deer up and I quickly bagged my limit in a matter of only a few seconds.
The funniest part of this ordeal is that the largest of the two deer that I killed may have weighed 60 lbs, and the other hunters were complaining about how heavy the deer was as they dragged it down the line to a 4-wheeler trail. This is a far cry from the 150+ lb whitetails I was used to back in Frederick County. The smallest deer of the day weighed when field dressed was 22 lbs, which was smaller than my cat at the time.
So, this experience was different to say the least, and although ……fun, it will most likely be a one-time experience. Not that Sika deer are not challenging to hunt, or a great trophy but this method was not my cup of tea. If anyone out there can promise a better experience, please let me know and I would gladly try it again preferrably wih bow in hand.
Photographs courtesy of Wanetta Ayers via Wikipedia (right) and the USFWS (left)