Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Dream Bowhunt

Do I have all of my tackle packed in my boat?  I wondered what I had forgotten.  Last time out, I forgot my polarized sunglasses that would have helped spot sunken timber where we knew bass where waiting in ambush of unsuspecting shad.  Hey, there's my laptop on the boat deck displaying a spreadsheet that I had been working on the other day.



My body lurched upright as my instincts prevented me from falling over.  I nearly dropped my bow and almost snorted out loud.

I climbed into my Lone Wolf climbing treestand an hour earlier, pulled up my bow and set up for my hunt about twenty five feet up in the tree, but it was still too dark to legally shoot.  I must have dozed off.  That's never happened to me for this long before.  Usually I only doze for a matter of seconds or less than a minute at most.  I guess that's inevitable after staying up most of the night preparing for this hunt.
I wasn't in my boat after all!  I awoke to a bright forest in fall colors.  What a beautiful morning.
Whew, I'm glad that my safety harness was secured to the tree.  I always climb with it, and wear it.  In fact, I would feel naked hunting from a treestand without it.  The woods was quiet.  I know that if a deer had approached during that time, I would have heard it coming.  With a thick layer of fallen leaves displaying brown, red and yellow hues blanketing the forest floor, there would be no way even the smallest mammal could move across it without me hearing it.  Fresh Doritos would have been quieter to walk on.

Not much was moving, even now.  I hadn't seen nor heard even a squirrel.  It was seven thirty in the morning.  But, I was optimistic.  Yet, my mind wandered as I tried to stay alert for any movement in the distance.

I visualized my last fishing trip, where big largemouth bass and big chain pickerel pounced on my crankbaits. I can't get those images out of my head.  As if the experience the other day, having one of my best bass fishing days of the year, wasn't enough, the anticipation of my next trip the day after tomorrow to the same lake is an overwhelming distraction to the task at hand today.  Will I have another banner day of fishing?

"Snap out of it, Kevin!!!!", I thought as I tried to focus on the gaps between the trees in the distance. I scanned for movement, for anything white, for horizontal shapes that might be the backs of standing whitetails.  I need to pay attention.

It's late November, and in my neck of the woods (no pun intended...well, OK, maybe), the whitetail deer are well into the rut.  A couple weeks ago, bucks everywhere were competing for the attention of does in heat.  They chased each other.  They chased the does.  They chased the does from each other.  Live was hectic in whitetail world.

Now things have settled a bit.  The bucks are spending more and more time just hanging out with the loves of their life.  By now, the smaller bucks are hanging around for sloppy seconds.  Most of the young bucks know better now than to mess with the dominant buck in their territory.  They've lost battles, yet their hormones compel them to keep up the chase that they might sneak one opportunity in to mate.
In my younger days, this buck followed a doe to my tree stand grunting all the way.  It was his last mistake.  It was early December.  Certainly that could happen today.
It's still a great time to be in the woods.  I'm bowhunting today, only a few days away from the opening day of our gun season.  Maybe I'll get lucky like I've done before and kill a nice buck before the gunners have a shot at them.  There's still a great chance that the dominant buck will chase the younger ones off.  And, at the least, I might still have a chance at a decent buck trying to invade the dominant ones action.

I daydreamed about the day my brother, Kyle, shot a nice buck with his bow during late November on public land not far from my home.  I helped him drag it out of the woods.  I'll never forget the phone call from him asking for my help.  At first, it was like, "What the heck does he want now?".  All I heard at first was "Blah blah blah, blah blah blah", like the television cartoon, Peanuts, were the adults had that muffled sound.  But then I hear, "Kevin, I got a deer, a big buck!"  I jumped up, dressed, and met him at his truck as fast as you could read the last paragraph!
My brother Kyle shot this nice buck with his bow during late November.  I daydreamed about the experience afterwards, how much joy he had, how much joy I had being part of that evening.
Kyle was elated.  And who wouldn't be with a big bodied big rack buck like that?  I was elated!  Kyle was a heck of a bowhunter, killing many big bucks over the years with his bow, all on public land.  I learned a lot from him, how to do things right, to pay attention to detail.  To not stink and make sure to be scent free.  To practice and be a good shot.  You can read about Kyle, who passed away in 2007, in a tribute that I wrote not long after I began this blog.  Here's the link in case you missed it:  Tribute to My Brother Kyle

Again, my body lurched as I snapped out of my daydream.  I suddenly heard the cracking sound of a stick breaking behind me.  That sound in the woods can be good or bad.  It's either a hunter, a dog, or a deer.  I hope it's a deer.

Normally, I try and stand to get a shot long before the deer near my stand.  My form is better standing, and the trick is to see the deer first, and get into shooting position before they have a chance to see you.  I slowly stood up and looked over my shoulder.

Immediately a small button buck looks right up at me.  Holy cow, the deer were much closer than I thought! I froze praying that they'd ignore me.  The sun was at my back, maybe they didn't see me.  Obviously my movement, from standing, got his attention.  Miraculously, the little button buck thought I wasn't a threat and went back to feeding mode.  Right behind him was Mom, and two more does.

They all walked into my shooting lane.  At one point, not at the same time, each of them paused long enough broadside at ten, fifteen, and twenty yards for me to put them down.  I passed on the shot, wondering if I'd made a mistake since I have yet to put any venison in the freezer.  What little I had left went bad after losing power from hurricane Sandy.
I passed on the does hoping for a beast like this one.
Out of the corner of my left eye, over my left shoulder, I caught some more movement.  Two deer approached, not thirty yards behind the first four.  First, a doe followed by another button buck.  The doe moved into my shooting lane giving me another easy broadside shot.  Then, she turned and looked right up at me.

What?  I was scent free, I know it.  I was meticulous in my preparation, from my clothes, my shower, spraying down my equipment.  And, the wind was blowing in my favor. There's no way she winded me.  She's had experience with hunters in treestands before.  She recognized my silhouette.

She stomped several times, moved, then stomped some more trying to get me to move.  I stood as still as the oak I was sitting in.  She bobbed and weaved her head like a boxer ducking punches in defense, trying to get a better look at me.  She lifted her nose in the air, trying to smell me, as she marched around my tree.  Meanwhile, her son, presumably, fed unaware and unfettered by my presence.

The large doe all of a sudden lost interest in me and began feeding.

Whew!  I thought I had blown it.  Now I'm in a good situation.  All I need for them to do is to move far enough away without leaving the area entirely and bed down.  But they all lingered, feeding, and moving away ever so slowly.  I had within a forty yard shot at almost any of them for about a half hour.

I stood motionless for almost the entire time.  My arms and legs were cramping, but I knew if I moved, it would be all over.  I nearly prayed that they'd move off.  Finally, they did.  I saw them bed down about sixty yards away.

This was great!  Now I have the best bait there is for a big buck, a bunch of does!  All of a sudden, a small yearling comes hightailing it through the woods from whence the others came.  Not seconds later, it ran by at top speed right back where it came from behind a thicket behind me.  I heard it crashing through the woods. Not seconds later, here she came again, bounding full speed right through my shooting lane and toward the bedded does where she stopped, and bed down.

I quietly laughed inside.  I was wide awake now.  No more daydreaming or nodding off.  No more thoughts of fishing.  I was focused.  I was ready for the big buck to walk through at any moment.
While hunting in Ohio, this buck came walking in grunting, looking for a doe.  I put him down with my muzzleloader.  Would I have a chance today at a buck like this one?
Well, I stayed ready for two hours.  The does and button bucks that were bedded sixty yards away all stood up, as if their alarm clock went off, and walked away from me.  It was eleven in the morning, and I had to be home by one in the afternoon for a doctor's appointment.  I climbed down, and the big buck never showed.  Again, I wondered if I made a mistake by not putting a deer down for my freezer.

There will be other days, but not many more chances at a big buck.  I did the right thing.

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