Bowhunting never becomes mundane. Even after nearly three decades of climbing trees and chasing deer I’m still amazed at how the thrill never goes away. Each encounter is its own story because no two are exactly alike. That’s one of the many things that make bowhunting so special. A hunt from this past season is proof that once lit the fire rarely dies.
It was late December–New Year’s eve in fact–and I was hunting a friend’s farm not far from my home. Because of excessive deer numbers we had made an arrangement that I would be limited to a doe only, and preferably a large, mature one. That was fine by me. With two archery tags to start each season my usual modus operandi is to put a doe in the freezer early and hold out for a good buck with my remaining tag until after gun season. If I don’t kill a good buck, which is usually the case, then anything is fair game during the waning weeks of the season.
As I hooked my climbing stand around a large red oak where a narrow strip of woods leads out of a huge bedding thicket and into some agricultural fields, I couldn’t help but take note of what prime deer habitat comprised this farm. Heavily logged ridges provided thick security cover and sloped gently down into fertile bottoms perfect for growing soybeans and winter wheat A meandering stream and numerous fence rows created plenty of funnels and other obvious travel corridors. It was enough to make your mouth water. It was easy to see why this place grows so many deer, and yes, it grows some large ones too. I had seen several bruiser bucks over the years while on “doe patrol” on this property.
Once up the tree and secure I scarcely had time to settle in before I began seeing deer. Ten does had worked their way out into a food plot a hundred yards to my east. I studied them for a few minutes until I was sure they weren’t coming my way. Three bucks–one of which was a real dandy–soon joined them and together they worked their way down the food plot and away from me. I’d gotten so wrapped up watching this bunch that I was surprised when I looked back to the west a few hundred yards and saw another dozen or so that had ventured out for an early supper. I was happy to be seeing deer, but with none of them in bow range I was beginning to question my stand placement.
The sun was casting long rays when I finally heard deer in the direction I needed them to come from. The crisp bed of leaves made it easy to track their progress and all indications were that the approaching procession was a long one. Hearing so many deer coming for so long had me a bit worked up. The anticipation was overwhelming and by the time I finally began to see movement I had a full blown case of the shakes. It was good to know that even after all these years a bunch of old does could still get me rattled.
The first deer in line was just what the doctor ordered, a massive old matriarch with several years of avoiding hunters under her belt and a lot of good meat on her bones. She would fill the freezer as well as my obligation to the landowner for the privilege of hunting such a fine place. With my bow at the ready and the doe only fifteen yards and closing everything was looking good–too good. Inexplicably she craned her neck upward and fixed me with a stare that told me in no uncertain terms that she had seen this before and wanted no part of it. The stark winter landscape and my inability to keep from sky-lining myself in the narrow fence row had been my undoing. I felt sure I’d ruined the entire evening when she bolted back into the thicket taking several other deer with her. Luckily there were so many deer still coming out of the thicket that most had no idea that anything was amiss. The spooked doe’s body language caused several others to get edgy and many began to circle downwind of my stand to try and figure things out. Hopefully my scent control efforts would hold up under their scrutiny. Before I knew it I had deer all around me, including a half dozen that had come from behind that I hadn’t noticed. With numerous deer within ten yards on all sides you would think a shot would be no problem. That was far from the case. The few times that I did get a deer in the open, at the proper shot angle and separated enough to avoid hitting multiple deer, I couldn’t draw the bow because one or more of the others were casting evil glances in my direction and looking for any reason to explode away. I frantically looked for the right opportunity knowing full well that I was already operating on borrowed time. Finally I saw my chance, a huge doe broadside at seven steps. I eased my Black Widow recurve to full draw, fully expecting deer to start retreating in every direction and was quite surprised when I anchored and everything seemed to be proceeding as normal. As the string slipped away I watched the slow motion flight of my arrow and was surprised to see it take a sudden nose dive into the dirt. Somehow in all the excitement I had looked right through a tree limb that was as big as a broom handle. As the lucky doe bounded off I instinctively nocked another arrow.
The scene around my stand was one of chaos and confusion. While a few deer that had witnessed my errant shot were running away, others were still coming out of the thicket en route to the fields. I started to think there was a slim chance I could still pull this off. Sure enough, just a few minutes later another group of does were filing past in nearly the same spot where I’d just shot. Looking closely this time for any limbs that may spring from hiding to intercept my arrow, I picked a hole in the brush in front of the biggest doe and eased the bow back again. This time my bright yellow fletching disappeared perfectly where I was looking and buried into the ground. The doe tore out, but five seconds and sixty yards later she started to falter. A loud crash and a flash of her white belly through the thick brush confirmed that she was down for good.
Quaking and trembling like a beginner I collapsed into my seat, limp as a dish rag. I was absolutely drained. A check of my watch revealed the reason why. For over thirty-five minutes I had been standing with my bow arm extended and the string at a quarter draw with deer in bow range the entire time. The mental intensity combined with the half hour adrenaline rush had robbed me of my strength and left me quivering like an oak leaf in a stiff breeze. I couldn’t remember when I’d had more fun and all of it at the hand of a bunch of does. I’m not sure that taking a monster buck could have been any more exciting, although I’d like to try it once just to be sure! In a world filled with routines, I’m glad that bowhunting never becomes “old hat”, even after all this time.