Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand

Help Support Ruger Forum:

Jeff Hoover

Feb 25, 2009

One of the coolest lines ever, in my opinion, and one that can sometimes sum up life, is from the movie “Cool Hand Luke” where Paul Newman portrays Luke Jackson, and bluffs is way to winning a hand in poker while in jail. He states, “Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand….”

Well, this favorite line of mine has pretty much summed up my deer season so far this year. After hunting in three different states, I have yet to tag a deer. I’ve hunted hard. I don’t know what is more frustrating, seeing deer and not getting a shot, or not seeing any deer at all? I guess not seeing any deer at all is worse. At least when we see deer, we get an adrenalin dump as we try to get our sights on the deer. And that is what we strive for, that dump, or excitement. When the old ticker quits beating like a flushed ruffed grouse at the sight of a buck, it’s time to hang up the gun belt.

Hunters are an optimistic lot. We wait all year long for opening day, with visions of getting a huge, gnarly buck in front of our sights, making that perfect shot and seeing what kind of damage was incurred to the buck by the hand load and bullet of our making. This is anti climatic to all the preparation that has taken place, load development, scouting, shooting, etc. If a deer is not taken, tomorrow is a new day, and we optimistically head out the next day as we dream of rutting bucks. Sometimes things just don’t seem to work out that way…..

My three state odyssey started on the Monday before Thanksgiving, opening day in WVA. For the past 25 years, I have hunted here with my Uncles and cousins. We hunt National Forest, and are usually pretty successful. It’s always nice to catch up with family, eat, tell stories, and reminisce. The older I get, the more I like this aspect of the hunt. There would be three generations hunting this year. My uncle, cousins, and my cousins son, Mason, who is 12. It was his first trip to the WVA. Deer camp. I think he got an earful, eyeful, and mouthful from all the stories and food shared.

Opening day was fairly mild, it would get up to near 50 degrees that day. With lunches and water packed in backpacks, we started our hike to our designated spots at 0515hrs. Every time I take a nature hike this early, in the dark, dodging windfall trees, rocks, hidden holes covered with leaves, back sprung branches whipping back at you from the person in front of you, I have to keep reminding myself how fun this is. After a 2 mile 45 minute obstacle course, dropping about 2,000 feet in elevation, I am finally at my spot. A deep hollow, with mountain laurel to my left, and a tangle of grape vine, brush, wild rose, and sticker bushes to my right, I find my oak tree, and sit against it. I have about 45 minutes to cool off, and melt into the environment. Steam rises from my body, as I wipe my glasses off from sweat. I look at the clear sky and brilliant stars and close my eyes for a power nap till first shooting light.

Opening day is always the same! High expectations rule the roost as the sun starts making day. Your senses start to take over, and become much more sensitive. Hearing becomes acute. The flick of a lone leaf on a bush or tree about sends you into cardiac arrest. Constant scanning strains your eyes, looking for any movement. You know you are on high alert when you notice a tail flick from a squirrel at 200 yds., or hear the same pesky rodents scurry in the leaves, causing you to nearly burst, thinking it is a buck creeping behind you. This is why we love to hunt!

Around 0900 hrs., I hear a crashing that could only be a deer running down the leaf laden ridge to my right, or perhaps a hunter with the same level of agility as me, rolling down the steep slope? Trying to dissect my view thru the tangle of grape vine and brush, I see a doe in a panic run. She is running 45 degrees towards me, down the 60 degree ridge. Close behind, is a lust crazed buck, tongue hanging out, chasing his new prospective girlfriend. She is playing hard to get, as they run right towards me, and they are moving! She to get away, him to consummate their relationship.

I’ve already had my Ruger SBH Bisley .45 colt lying next to me on top of my backpack. The gun is in hand, cocked, like me, as I try to get the sights on that buck! He must really be in love, for he never slows down. I try to stop him with a bleat, but know it is probably futile when there is a ripe doe for the picking in front of him. So I bleat anyway, nothing to lose, but he musta heard of that trick before, as he makes a hard right, leaving his doe, and running down the hollow, swallowed up in the rocks and mountain laurel, never to be seen again. Well, at least I stopped a possible sexual assault?!

On stand, down in the holler, Barranti NW Hunter and Ruger Bisley SBH Hunter

That pretty much summed up my day, besides seeing a few slick heads. Next stop was Saturday, opening day in Maryland.

After a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, my next hunt was opening day in Md. I would be hunting on public land, which is always tough, but hey, it’s opening day and you never know. I would be carrying my TC Muzzleloader for shotgun season, and handguns are not allowed in the county I was hunting.

It was a typical day hunting on public land. Expectations were high! The only movement seen till 1100 hrs, was other hunters, 2 to be exact. Around 1100, I had 9 does and fawns meander within 100 yds of me. Easy pickins for the TC, but being opening day, I chose to let them walk and was waiting on a buck. Mr. Buck was not cooperating that day, as my hunt wound down. Not to worry, I still had my favorite hunt coming up, PA.
Opening day in PA is always a homecoming for me. Arriving Sunday night, houses are decked out in Christmas lights, some the same decorations I remember as a kid. I always see a few horse and buggies on my trip up Sunday night, as that is when the Amish and Mennonites travel to a member’s home for church services and dinner. It always amazes me at the simple life style they live, and part of me is envious of it.

I would be hunting on my cousin’s farm, a 4th generation operation. My maternal Great Grandfather purchased the farm, sold it to my Grandfather, who sold it to his sons, who then sold it to my cousin. A dairy farm, rich in corn, soybean, and alfalfa, for the cows, the deer help themselves to the fixins, also. The tract of land I would be hunting was timbered out the two summers ago and was getting really thick. In fact, I was pretty surprised how thick it got!

After a nice leisurely dinner with my aunt and uncle, it off to bed for opening day. After all these years, I still have trouble sleeping the night before opening day. Worries of over sleeping and excitement are the demons to be battled, along with the steel bar digging in my back on the pull out sofa bed.

For years, I had a tree stand to hunt out of. But the years took their toll, and it eventually collapsed from age and weather. Recently, I started hunting at the base of a grand old hemlock tree that is huge! I can’t even get my 73” wingspan halfway around this tree. Sitting under it, I really feel connected to the land. I wonder how old this tree is and how big was it when my Great Grandfather bought the farm. Did he ever hunt under it? I know one thing. It is a magnet for activity. The birds squirrels, chipmunks, and deer love it. The small critters love the small cones, or nuts that come off the tree, and my uncle always said the deer feel secure when standing under it.

Here’s the grand old hemlock and my Barranti rig with Ruger SBH Hunter.

I saw my first buck, or I should say antlers at 0800 hrs. Being so thick, that is all I saw! The antlers just kind of floated above the brush, choke berry, and treetops that were timbered. Never saw his body for a shot, but it was early. About an hour and a half later, I saw a nice rack bouncing above brush about every 3rd or 4th bound. Dang! At lunchtime, I saw another buck creeping thru the brush with no shot offered. By now, I am really keyed up and frustrated. Why the heck didn’t I bring my climbing tree stand with me?

This is what surrounded me by the hemlock tree. Great buck habitat, but I needed to be in a tree stand!

No other bucks were seen, but three bucks in a day is pretty good! On a more positive note, I got a text from good friend Doc Barranti! Doc has been wanting a hand gunned deer with a six shooter and he finally got one! I was so happy for him! He’s put in a lot of time to reach this goal, and he stuck with it and got it! Way to go Doc!

My cousins son, 12 yr. old Mason also did well on opening day! He took a nice 9 pointer! He said he wants to mount it for his Christmas present this year! I don’t blame him! It tickles my heart to see a young one get a nice deer! I wish we could bottle the excitement and enthusiasm they have!

Though empty-handed, it was a great day afield, and I was very happy and content for my friend Doc and Mason getting deer. That night, it was to my cousins make shift butcher shop. Here, deer are hung, skinned, quartered, butchered, and people gather to see who got what, and stories are swapped, food is eaten and a few beverages consumed. A home made double barrel wood stove keeps the butcher shop warm, as do the stories and beverages. Youngsters who tagged out are honing there storytelling skills and the elders smile and remember, making a big deal out of their harvest. Stories of past hunts and hunters are told, good memories rekindled, and for a brief period, all is right with the world. Some of us realize we are slowly becoming the “old” guys, as the old youngsters are grown men, and a new bunch of youngsters are taking to the woods. This is the cycle of life, and one that I am happy to partake in. Empty handed yes! Full of rich memories? You better believe it!

Next Saturday, late muzzleloader season begins, and this deer hunter is already getting excited about it! Let the cycle begin…..


Jun 8, 2003
Single Chute, SD USA
TANK, there is a very good and compelling reason why it is called " hunting ' and not ' killing.'

I've amost forgottern all the details of hunts where I scored and remember in minute detail the hunts where I got nothing but two weeks of memories, and i mean to say I can remember everything of everyday from before sunup to after sunset.


May 4, 2010
"TANK, there is a very good and compelling reason why it is called " hunting ' and not ' killing"

Spent opening day here in a coffee shop in town with a longtime friend and landowner whose place I've hunted 30yrs reminiscing about all the past deer camps, memories of friends no longer with us....... wasn't many 'deer kills' mention in all that.


Jan 31, 2011
Very nicely written. Captured the spirit of deer hunting very well - I can relate with many of your experiences.

Nice job - and thanks for posting!


Ruger Guru
Sep 18, 2002
Lake Lure NC USA
Tank, I can relate, as can so many others. You know, as well as all of us who truly enjoy the time we spend in the wonderful outdoors, we just understand.
I have had a frustrating season as well, in the respect of tagging deer. In fact, I've only seen 3 deer total, all 3 bucks, killed one, let one button head walk, and the one I wanted, just hasn't given me a shot.
Yet, it's not the kill that's important. It's the time spent watching the wildlife. It's the quiet time, reflecting on past seasons, or sharing the hunt with someone new. In a few days, my granddaughter will be staying with us for a few days, hunting with paw-paw. I look forward to these times, and even if we get nothing, we still leave rewarded for the experiences.
Sometimes, nothing can be a cool hand!
Nov 30, 2022
Long time ago with my son.


  • IMG_20140518_153530_504.jpg
    794.4 KB · Views: 22

Latest posts