Friday, November 18, 2011

The Thirty Minute Eight Point Whitetail Buck

It was the Tuesday before thanksgiving, and with firearms season approaching in Maryland the following Saturday, I wanted to get in the woods with my bow for a shot at a rutting whitetail buck.  The previous day, I informed my boss that I wouldn't be at work the next day.  November is a busy time in my business, but I made sure that my schedule was clear and that all due dates were met or would easily be met.  When I take a day off to hunt, I want my mind to be free from the worries of work, so I can lose myself and be at peace with the woods.

I really enjoy bowhunting for many reasons.  Obviously, it's a challenge.  Scouting, stand placement, preparation, and shooting accuracy are all things that need to fall into place prior to your hunt which contribute to the success of a good bow hunt.  But most of all, I enjoy blending in with nature, having creatures do their thing as if I'm not even there.  I once had a Carolina wren land on my nocked arrow while in a tree stand.  It's common for grey squirrels to climb trees that your sitting in. On another occasion when I first took up bowhunting, while hunting on the ground, seated in a folding stool, I had a groundhog actually walk between my legs.  But the best aspect of blending in is obviously to be invisible in every way to the quarry that you seek, and in my case, it's whitetail deer.

Prior to bow season, if I'm hunting an unfamilar area, I scout the property seeking out potential hot spots.  Hot spots to me include areas of much deer activity, plenty of sign, and obviously a good tree for my tree stand.  You may need to find multiple spots that would be best given the time of day you'll be hunting.  Some locations are better morning spots, others are better in the evening, and some work all day long.  I also look for areas that may be hot spots later in the season.  You have to imagine what deer would be doing in the future.  For example, areas that intercept deer on their travel routes to and from bedding and feeding areas can be hot.  Stands close or in bedding areas can be hot morning spots if you get in the woods early enough.  Likewise, stands near feeding areas are productive in the late afternoon hunts.

Of course, scouting never stops for me.  I'm always looking for a better spot.  Sometimes, it may not be obvious based on deer sign.  It could be simply a place where you've spotted deer repeatedly, almost predictably.  Many of my successful hunts were spots where I remembered kicking out deer while either scouting or hunting in the past.  Often, places like those are bedding areas.

The previous night, it rained pretty hard.  I expected the woods to be quiet despite the fact that almost all of the leaves had fallen.  On days like that, usually you can often sneak into the woods quietly, and I had a spot in mind that I knew was a bedding area.  I've hunted this spot before in years past, and had yet to see a deer before nine in the morning.  This particular plot of land is on public property.  In my state, it's illegal to hang or build permanent stands or leave temporary ones in the woods unattended.  So, I have to get in the woods early enough to set up my portable tree stand and climb.  I was very optimistic that I could get to this area before the deer arrived and be undetected.  The problem with this spot is that they feed fairly close by, so when the leaves are dry and crunchy, it's impossible to sneak in and get close enough to hang your stand.

I awoke knowing that I took plenty of pre-hunt preparation to be scent free.  If  you're going to blend in as a bow hunter, it takes more than just camo clothing to be successful at it.  You can't smell like a skunk and be noisy, and properly preparing yourself includes being clean and scent free.  As illustrated in previous posts, I take a shower with scent free soap and shampoo.  I wash my clothes in scent free detergent and store them in plastic bags.  I wear scent free hunters deodorant, and brush my teeth with baking soda.  When I get to my spot, I don an outer layer from head to toe with Scent-Lok clothing.  And finally, I spray my equipment and boots with scent eliminator spray.

When I arrived to the hunting property, I had about a half mile walk to the spot that I had scouted back in August.  Because of the rains the previous night, figuring the forest floor would be quiet, I planned my arrival right before first light.  Often, when you can see where you're going and sneak in without a flashlight, and the woods is quiet, you can set up before the deer return to their bedding area.  The added light actually gives you visibility to more effectively sneak, a few steps at a time, watching to avoid stepping on and snapping sticks, and watching for movement ahead.  My tree was right smack in a place where they like to bed, about two hundred yards from the edge of a field, which during this year grew a crop of soy beans.

This property has trails intersecting the land that are popular with the horseback riding community.  The ground was still damp from the previous nights rain, at least on the horse trail that I was walking on.  The horse trail meanders beside a medium sized freestone stream that has a good population of wild brown trout, some of them that are real brutes.  I followed the horse trail until I arrived to the section of woods, passing a small pond along the way.  My spot is about half way up the side of a hill, along side a stand of pine trees.  I don't leave reflective pins along the horse trail to find my spot so that others don't catch my spot.  Instead, I remember natural landmarks to clue me as to when I should cut into the woods.  I leave on reflective pin in my tree, that's all, and it's far enough away from the trail that a passing flashlight won't see it.

Everything seemed right until I took four steps off the horse trail, and the leaves were still crunchy.  Two more steps, crunch, crunch, and the woods erupted.   White tails danced away in all directions about two hundred yards away, with snorts sounding from all directions.  I was busted.  I was dejected.  The woods weren't as quiet as I had hoped, and the crunchy leaves were like an alarm to the deer feeding in the distance.  I was so ticked off that I didn't even feel like hunting any more, so I left.  I know, I should have just moved and set up somewhere else, but I wasn't thinking rationally at the time.  I let me emotions get to me.

Upon my arrival back home, I took a nap then woke up around lunch time and, while eating lunch, started watching a movie that was on TV.  It was one of my favorite movies, Barbarosa, with Willie Nelson and Gary Busey, about two outlaw legends that resemble 1800's Robin Hood types except that they're a bit greedier.  Half way through the movie, I thought to myself, "Kevin, what the heck are you doing?  You dummy, you have a day off to hunt and you're wasting it on television?  What are you thinking?"

By that time it was about 2:30 PM, and if I hurried, I could be back in the woods in time to salvage my day.  I had another spot in mind that I found earlier in the season, like a bench along a hill side hidden by another stand of pine trees on one side, and another small rise in the hill, with a ravine on the other side, all well away from the horse trail.  It was a nice funnel, where I imagined deer using the ravine like a road, right to my tree.  I threw my Scent-Lok outer layers in the dryer to activate the carbone lining, and quickly jumped in the shower.  Twenty minutes elapsed and I was finally ready.  I had to hurry as I still had a half hour drive to the propery.

I arrived at the property at about 3:40 PM, and still had a twenty minute hike to my tree.  I followed the horse trail up and down several hills, along the river to my left.  Normally, if I have time, there are a couple spots along the river that I like to take a peek at the big brown trout that live in there.  And also, normally, I'll really take my time to be as quiet as possible even on the horse trail.  But on this afternoon, I didn't have time.  I had to hurry.

When I reached the point where I had to leave the horse trail, I really slowed my pace down.  I didn't want to make too much noise, and the sun came out earlier today and along with the wind, really dried things out.  The leaves were really crunchy.  I was careful not to crack sticks, and eventually made my way to my tree.  The time on my watch said 4:00 PM and I still had to set my stand up and climb the tree.

Back then, I used a stand up sit down type of climbing tree, called the Old Man tree stand.  It has a large platform and, at that time, innovative rubber coated heavy wire bands to attache the stand to the tree.  It's easy and fast to set up, and I had it on the tree ready to climb in less that a few minutes.  I attached my backpack and bow to my pull line (a cord used to pull your stuff up into a tree), crawled into my stand, attached my safety harness, and began to climb.

A few minutes later, at 4:10 PM and I was twenty feet up in my tree.  I attached my gear hook, a hanger that I can strap around the tree, kind of a hook with a belt that attaches to the tree.  I use that to hang my gear, like my backpack.  The tree had a huge pine tree behind it, providing a great background to prevent deer from looking up and seeing my silhouette highlighted against the sky.  I had great shooting lanes to my left at about ten o'clock, straight ahead, and at two o'clock toward the ravine.  I pulled up my backpack and bow, and hung both of them on the hanger.

I was in the process of getting my Scent-Lok gloves and head cover out, when I heard something moving through the crunchy forest floor coming from behind me from on top of the hill.  Wouldn't you know it?  This deer was moving down the steepest part of the hill right toward me, about fifty yards away and closing.  It was a nice eight point buck, not huge, but nice.  For me, that was a shooter.  The only problem was, my bow and gear were hanging on the tree over my right shoulder, and the deer was heading right to me at walking pace, just above eye level to my stand.

How was I going to get a shot when I didn't even have my gear and bow in hand?  Every time the buck went behind a tree in this mature woodland forest, I made a move, one at a time, to get my stuff.  First, I unzipped my bag, then after the next tree, I grabbed my release.  Then, strapped it to my wrist as the deer moved behind another tree.  Then, when the deer moved behind a large oak about thirty yards away, it stopped, now eye level with me.

I was able to grab my bow and quickly nock an arrow.  The buck moved again, still unaware of my presence.  There was one more large tree about twenty yards away from me before the deer would reach my first shooting lane, and that was my last chance to position my body for a shot and draw.  The buck moved a bit quicker than I had hoped, and even though my body was now in a position to shoot, I hadn't drawn, and the deer was already in my shooting lane, about fifteen yards away.

The buck worked its way out of that lane and stopped behind a medium sized oak, which perfectly hid me from its vision.  I drew back my bow, and waited for the deer to move out from the tree.  If the buck took two more steps, then I'd have a small window for a shot if the deer would stop, otherwise, I'd have to wait for it to pass through a thicket and into the next shooting lane.  As you know, they don't always do what you want, and I didn't want to risk that buck changing direction.  I had to take a shot.

I drew back my Matthews Z-Max bow, and waited for what seemed like an eternity.  I wasn't sure how much longer I could hold my 70 pound draw without shaking before having to let off.  But the buck stepped out from the tree and stopped, just in time, giving me a quartering away twelve yard shot with a window between the oak and saplings about three feet wide.  I placed my pin on where I thought it's heart would be, and gently squeezed the trigger on my release.  My arrow flew true, and struck the buck with what looked like a well placed shot.  The buck didn't even flinch.  It acted like nothing happened.

Huh?  I heard the sound of the arrow striking the deer.  Did I miss?  I thought for sure that I hit that buck right where my sight pin was zeroed in on its heart.  The deer walked away in the ravine with it's nose down, as if still looking for acorns, and then moved around the corner, and out of site.  I heard a big thud, and, in my mind, knew that was my buck falling down.

Still, my mind raced as I worried about missing.  I couldn't have missed.  I knew it was a good shot, but now I'm confused, and a bit neurotic.  I wanted to climb down so badly to check my arrow.  But, experience taught me to be patient, to wait at least thirty minutes before tracking my game.  I looked at my watch, 4:25 PM.  I hadn't been in my tree for fifteen minutes and I had a shot.  I almost felt ripped off, not being able to blend in and see all the birds, squirrels and other wildlife that normally pass by.  I like that relaxation, the wait, the anticipation, and then the excitement.  This was anything but that.  It was frantic, it was exciting.  So, at the same time, I was pumped.  Adrenaline flowed through my veins and was telling me to get down.

I checked my watch, thinking that time was ticking away in my favor.  4:30 PM.  Oh my gosh!  I can't wait up here!!!!!  I tried to just calm down and rest a bit.  I closed my eyes, trying to relax, and all I heard was rustling leaves in the distance.  Was that my buck trying to get up?  Or, was it those pesky squirrels chasing each other in a nut gathering competition.  It was the latter, but my neurosis kept telling me otherwise.

4:40 PM.  I couldn't stand it any longer.  Maybe I could just climb down and get my arrow.  After all, it couldn't be that far away.  Then, I could get my orange tape out and begin to mark the blood trail, not track the deer mind you, but just get the trail marked.  So, I gathered my gear up, lowered my bow and backpack, and climbed down.

Now on the ground, I was still worried about kicking out my buck, but decided to at least prepare for the track.  I wanted to see my arrow, to confirm the hit, and get an idea how much longer to wait.  I took a little time to get my knife, my orange tape, and get my bone saw out of my backpack.  I put on my backpack, grabbed my bow, and nocked an arrow, and was ready for tracking my deer. 

To track a deer shot with an arrow, you need something to mark your trail.  I use orange tape.  Just make sure that when you're done tracking that you go back and gather up your tape to prevent littering the woods.  I always carry enough water in my backpack to drink, but it also comes in handy when you dress out your deer.

I moved to where the deer was when I took my shot, and looked beyond that spot a bit, and there was my arrow a few yards away.  I picked it up and it was soaked with bright red blood, a good sign that it was a good shot.  I found spot of blood and the blood trail within seconds, and tied a piece of orange tape to a tree to mark the beginning of the trail.  I moved a few feet, another spot.  Then a few feet more, and a few bigger spots.  Then, the spots grew and became more frequent.  I was now at the beginning of the ravine, and the blood trail took a right turn.  As I looked into the ravine, it looked as if the woods was painted red, and thirty yards away, there was my buck.  It was almost five o'clock now, and daylight was just about over.  I had a lot of work to do, and about a half mile drag back to my truck.  I tagged my deer and dressed out my buck and dragged it back, taking nearly and hour to get it out of the woods.

I couldn't believe that had just happened.  I blew my morning hunt.  Then, I almost gave up and became a couch potato.  Then hurried into an afternoon hunt and, within thirty minutes of getting to my spot, shot a decent eight point buck.  I learned a valuable lesson that day, and that was to not give up when you know it's prime time for bowhunting.  Get off the couch and get into the woods!!!!!!

Note:  Picture of this buck forthcoming...

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