Most everyone has had a case of the Fumble Fingers from time to time. Here are a few funny and frustrating fumbles by Robb Sager
The Startling “Bear”
I lowered the predator call from my lips while scanning the dense timber. A cool evening breeze rippled the leaves causing a sea of motion all around me. My eyes darted back and forth trying to spot the movement of an approaching bear. I was standing in my treestand, so I leaned forward using all of my senses, certain a bear had heard my call and was on the way. My heart skipped a beat when I heard a noise below me and my first thought was that a bear was climbing the tree where I was perched. Had it come from behind me? Why hadn’t I seen it coming? These thoughts raced through my head as adrenaline surged through my body. I now can say, for a moment I was frightened.
Early in September, I often end an evening of deer hunting by calling for bears. The deer are still on their summer patterns, so they are already out in the hay fields well before dark, leaving me with some remaining time. During the last half hour of legal shooting light, I wail away like a rabbit with his leg stuck in a fence. I use my voice to put as much feeling into the call as I can, imagining what a real rabbit would sound like, and even exaggerating to add emphasis. I put in so much feeling and emphasis that one evening, upon returning home, I received a phone call from the ranch owner asking if I had heard all the racket down in the river bottom. He was concerned for my safety and wasn’t sure what kind of animal would make such a noise. I thanked him and told him what I had been up to. He was glad I was alright and told me to keep at it until I got a bear.
The river bottom where I hunt is a mix of cottonwood and chokecherry trees. Ripened to a black color, the chokecherry berries hang in clusters and are a favorite fall food of black bears. Piles of seed-filled bear scat litter the ground. The bears gorge on the berries, trying to pack on weight before hibernating for the winter. I often find bushes broken halfway up the trunk from bears climbing to reach the berries. In fact, I was able to see two such bushes from the treestand I was sitting in this evening, indicating a bear had been in the area.
These circumstances had convinced me I was going to see a bear. When I heard the noise I immediately assumed a bear was below me about to climb my tree. Imagine my surprise when I saw my Traditional Bowhunter® Magazine lying on the ground below my stand. When I had leaned forward, the magazine had fallen out of my vest pocket. A surge of relief went through my body as I sat down, feeling my pulse rate begin to drop. Then I burst out laughing; a fallen magazine had scared me.
As I composed myself, I began reminiscing about all the things I have dropped in the twenty plus years I have been hunting from a treestand. Vividly, I remembered having to explain to my wife how our good family camera had stopped working after I dropped it from a height of 15 feet. I was trying to get a picture of a young buck as he walked by my treestand and didn’t think I had time to take off my wool gloves before he walked out of sight. Although I thought I had a good grip on the camera, wool gloves can be slippery. At least I was able to wind the film and save the pictures that were already on the camera. She wasn’t as excited about the few pictures I had saved as I was.
A Curious Arrow
Another time I had been hunting a nice buck with a distinctly deformed front leg. He hopped on three legs. Discovering him on a pre-season scouting trip, I set my sights on harvesting him. I hunted every evening for the first two weeks of the season without getting a shot opportunity at the buck. Despite placing several treestands along his various routes, I was always in the wrong spot. I gave up hunting for him, or rather I was drawn by bugling elk in the mountains surrounding the river bottom, so I didn’t hunt for him again until one mid-October evening. It was the first really cold fall day, and I hadn’t brought enough clothing. As the evening progressed I became very cold, I could barely feel my fingers, and I wondered if I would even be able to shoot, as I saw the hopping buck approaching.
I slipped an arrow on the string of my bow, put my left hand in my pocket to quickly warm it, and somehow fumbled the arrow off the string, sending it clanging though the branches of the tree below me, and sticking into the ground. Looking from the fallen arrow to the buck, I was surprised to see him still approaching. Then I slipped a second arrow out of my quiver and onto the string. As the buck continued toward me, I remember thinking my pointer finger on the other hand was falling asleep from the death grip I had on the arrow.
The buck was coming directly toward me, so I would have to let him pass before I had the proper angle for a shot. When he was right below my treestand I heard a car speeding down the gravel county road a half-mile away. I could hear gravel hitting the fenders and wondered what the big hurry was when the buck suddenly lay down. He was a smart old buck, obviously he knew to keep out of sight from cars on the road.
Time stood still as I watched him with my arrow stuck in the ground a mere two feet from his head. I wondered if he would smell my scent on the arrow. The car continued down the road and, as the sound faded, the buck stood up and continued on. I followed his progress with my bow until I had the right angle, at which time I shot him in the chest. The arrow went all the way through him and he piled up within sight. Shivering, I climbed out of the tree, picked up my arrow, and went to examine my buck.
A Noisy Fumble
I remembered the time I had a bad cold during the peak of the rut. In our area, the rut seems to start around the first week of November and it’s going strong by the third week. The weather was cold, and I was having a hard time controlling my coughing, but with the season winding down I wanted to go hunting anyway. I had brought along a bag of cough drops and was sucking on them, one after another, trying to limit my coughing so I might actually get to see a deer. Finally, I saw a doe coming my way while I was slipping yet another cough drop into my mouth. Somehow, my fumble fingers sent the cough drop tumbling down. Now, I don’t know how much a cough drop weighs, but I do know when one hits the expanded metal of a cold treestand on a still day it makes a sound that resonates like a symphony on a stage. Not to mention the noise it makes hitting branches all the way to the ground. The doe bounded away snorting her disapproval.
Next, I remembered the time I dropped my jacket. After climbing into my treestand, I had pulled it out of my backpack and hung it on a broken limb to minimize movement when I needed to put it on. As the evening temperature began to fall, I reached for the jacket, fumbled again, and dropped it out of the tree. As it sailed toward the ground it seemed to catch some air before landing with a muffled thump. I climbed down to get it, and upon reaching the ground I looked up to see a nice buck coming toward me. I tried climbing back up to the stand slowly and quietly, but the buck spotted me and spooked.
One Tough Bow
I will admit that I once dropped my bow out of a treestand. It happened as I was hanging up the bow after pulling it up with my haul rope. I had done this hundreds of times before, and I was relying mostly on feel as I thought I felt the treestep bow holder slip between the string and the bow tip. I let go of the bow, and it did what appeared to be a perfect slow motion swan dive as it fell toward the ground, only to end with a belly flop and a loud crash as it hit a log lying on the ground.
Now, I hope you never have a case of the fumble fingers. Some years I actually make it through most of the season without dropping anything. However, if you do, my advice is to climb down and retrieve the item right after you drop it, rather than waiting until the end of your hunt. I learned this after having a deer smell my scent on a glove I had dropped. Fortunately, the deer was a small two-point and I wasn’t going to shoot him anyway. I knew I had the wind right, but he was snorting and stamping below me. It took me a minute to realize that he smelled my human scent on the glove I had dropped not long after climbing into the stand. I now climb down and retrieve dropped items immediately.
As my mind plays back all the items I have fumbled from a treestand, I can’t help but feel thankful that only a few actually affected the hunt. Other than being annoyed at having to climb down and retrieve them, many other items such as my hat, book, granola bar wrappers, rattling horns, arm guard, and water bottle have fallen without any real harm being done.
While I wasn’t on the good-hands team of my high school football team, I am certain, even if I had been, the more time I spend high up in a tree, the longer the list of items I have dropped due to a case of the “Fumble Fingers.”
Robb Sager makes his home in Red Lodge, Montana with his very understanding wife and three daughters.