It was one of those cold crisp fall mornings with calm winds and the promise of a warm sunny day to follow. I was spending the morning 20 feet up in my favorite red oak when a sound broke the morning silence. The sound was foot falls on the leaves and was coming from in front of me and off to my left and getting louder quickly. They were definitely being made by deer so I stood up, lifted my bow from its hook and positioned my feet for a shot in the direction I thought it would pass by.
Mike with one of the trout he caught on a fly the author tied.
This was occurring during the fall of 2020. Ya! One heck of a year! One none of us will ever forget, but one most of us would like to. My 2020 began with my good friend and elk hunting partner “Montana” Mike Hoffman losing his fight with cancer the first week of the year. Mike passed along a lot of elk hunting knowledge to me while we hunted his home state of Montana. He was there to help me get my first bow elk down from the Continental divide and we became lifelong friends.
Then two weeks later, while hunting in Texas I was stopped on a back road by a state police officer who claimed I was doing 83 and the speed limit was 60. I had just shot the biggest buck of my life and had the cruse set on 53 because I was still in the reliving mode. After running my license and checking inside the truck and looking in the bed she let me go without even a warning.
COVID-19 mania then started, and we were locked down by edict of the county judge. The Texas governor’s edict stated that hunting and fishing activities were allowed. So, every morning I would get up before daylight and go wade fishing in the Gulf of Mexico to get out of the house and get some exercise. After driving to the shore by myself I waded out and began working my streamer. It was a nice calm morning with a colorful sunrise and there was not another person for miles. Then I heard something down the shore behind me. Turning, I see three police cars with flashing lights blocking in my truck and an officer talking on a bull horn. There was a state, county and city police car. After wading in I was given a court appearance ticket with a potential fine of $500. They never did tell me what the ticket was for, and the ticket did not say. You are thinking this guy is a common criminal. Not really, I have only had one speeding ticket in my life.
Two weeks after the fishing incident a big windstorm blew shingles off our roof and a total roof replacement was required to put things right. With everything locked down because of COVID-19 just getting a quote was an issue, then the materials had to be found. Well $9,000 and two weeks later a new roof was on the house.
Spring rains were lighter than normal and then summer arrived, and every rain cloud went north or south of us. My son Geof, who was home from college and doing his classes online, my friend Phil and I planted 40 American chestnut trees in May as part of the American chestnut restoration program. We hauled water to them all summer and still 13 died. Try as we might we could not get a food plot to germinate let alone grow, and several of our apple trees even died. But hey, thru it all a couple of my friends and I were able to get together and shoot our homemade course one evening a week, respecting the 6 feet of separation guideline.
Then we received the terrible news, the annual Denton Hill traditional shoot was canceled. We would not get to see some of our friends that we visit with once a year at the annual shoot. Plus, there would be no “King of The Hill” Crowned in 2020. We shoot one of the courses as a group and the winner is king of the hill for a year, an honor we hold in high esteem. I believe the weekly shoot, even with just two or three friends, was appreciated more than normal due to the COVID-19 situation.
A very happy Chris with his first trad deer.
If enough bad had not already happened, three weeks before I was to leave to drive to Montana for my annual DIY elk hunt, my friend Chris’s bow began to delaminate. We patched it together to keep him shooting until we could make a replacement. We make our own reflex/deflex laminated bows. Then another friend, Bruce, had a limb delaminate. Now we had two bows to build in three weeks.
EVERYTHING TURNS POSITIVE
With our friend Mike’s help, we built a new bow for Bruce, modifying the design to strengthen the riser and adding some poundage for him. Next up was Chris’s bow, which we made with the same improved design, adding some poundage for Chris, too. Both bows shot well, and Bruce and Chris made them put arrows in the middle of the middle.
Mike and I headed to Montana where we had a chance at a nice bull and caught some nice trout with our fly rods. While there, Mike shot—or more accurately knocked some feathers off—a grouse. While looking for his arrow I picked up some of the fluffy feathers and put them into my pocket. When we got back to our motel room, I tied a couple of soft hackle trout flies and surprised Mike with them. Mike used them on the Blackfoot and caught some nice cutthroats. But it was not the same without Montana Mike. Then back east for the deer season.
Chris was the first to show his new bow could do its part, when he put a nice shot on a big doe. His first trad bow deer! We were as happy as he was, well maybe not because he was pretty darn happy. We have a tradition that Mike and I started years ago, we have a new bottle of whiskey each year and it does not get opened until one of us gets a deer. Then we get together and have a celebration toast.
Next, Bruce scored a pass thru on a doe with his new bow while hunting a short distance from his house. The doe dropped in sight and was and easy retrieve.
BUDDY ENTERS THE PICTURE
Bet you thought I forgot about the deer at the start of the story. Well, one sunny afternoon about the third time I went hunting, as I hiked up the hill to my stand a ruffed grouse came out of the brush and began following me; keeping its distance but definitely following me. At one time I had a bird dog and grouse hunting was my passion, so I thought about taking the grouse home for dinner. I was running a little late and dinner was already in a crock pot, so I just continued hiking up the hill to my stand. After climbing up into my tree stand the grouse showed up and walked around under my stand like it was looking for me. After a while it wandered off and I switched my mind to deer hunting.
The remade bow Chris took his deer with.
The next time my hunting partner, Phil, and I went hunting he dropped me off and he went to the parking spot and headed up the hill. You guessed it, the grouse was waiting in the brush and followed him all the way up to his tree. This time I guess he looked up because he flew up into the tree and sat on a limb next to Phil before getting bored and flying down and wandering off. These two events are unusual enough, but it did not stop there. It seemed like every time we went hunting Buddy showed up when we were walking up the hill to our stands. He got so friendly that one time he was pecking at Phil’s sleeve. One afternoon when he did not follow me to my stand he was walking around in front of my truck when I returned.
After telling several people about Buddy, their opinion was that Buddy was my elk hunting friend “Montana” Mike that passed away in January still wanting to hunt with me. I am not really a believer in reincarnation, but I have never had anything like this happen in my 50 years of hunting.
Monday morning November 9th Phil was hunting with me on the other side of the ridge and Buddy followed him up the hill. Phil had something to do midday, so he wanted us to climb down at 10:30. I always take a practice shot before I climb down, so at 10:25 I took my practice shot at a leaf that was lying by a spot where I thought there was a good chance of a deer walking by. No, I did not hit the leaf, but I came darn close.
Standing on my stand admiring my shot I heard something coming in the leaves, it sounded like a person walking in the leaves. Next, a mature buck appeared walking on a trail that would take him past two pine trees, near where I had shot two bucks over the years, plus that was where I had just taken my practice shot. I was briming with confidence. I picked my bow off its hook, positioned my feet, and thought about how I would prepare the tenderloins. Well, he kept coming until his head entered the shooting lane, then he saw my practice arrow…and stopped…and got nervous. Looking down through the pine branches I could see an opening and I thought, “I can put an arrow through there.” No, I could not! I drew, aimed and released. The arrow ticked a branch and went just under the buck, who lit out fast for other parts of the forest. I could have used a little help from Buddy on that buck.
Author with his Buddy assisted (maybe) doe.
Back to those foot falls from the start of the story, as they got closer, I could hear two deer, so my thoughts immediately jumped to thinking a doe is coming followed by a BIG buck. As the first deer came into view, I could clearly see it was a big doe. Now I know a BIG buck will be following her. Then the second deer came into view…not a BIG buck, another doe. Having a doe tag in my pocket I did not hesitate. Focusing on the first doe, I put my fingers on the string below the arrow and put some tension on the string. I focused on a shooting lane in front of the doe and waited. I did not have to wait long. The deer were moving right along headed for someplace they wanted to be, not taking any time to feed. When the first doe entered the shooting lane I drew, anchored, adjusted my aim and released.
The shot was true, hitting the doe in the shoulder with a loud crack and passing through. I watched the doe run out of sight, then heard her go down. I waited an hour, then quietly climbed down and slipped over to tell Phil I had a deer down. Heading back to my stand I picked up the easy-to-follow blood trail and 40 yards later found the deer where it went down in seconds. Sitting down beside her I gave thanks and thought about all the excellent meals she will provide.
Buddy was not with me or Phil that morning, which was unusual. Maybe he was moving deer around this morning trying to give me a second chance.
2020 was a way tougher year than I experienced for a whole lot of people. As I write this, a vaccine is on the horizon. We can only hope it returns us to normal…or close.
Equipment Note: Clint used Gold Tip Traditional Classic shafts tipped with VPA 175 grain 3-blade broadheads for a 625-grain arrow. A 45#, 58” recurve that he built was used, and a Selway bow quiver.