It was cool for late September, the early morning air felt more like November than the ‘Indian Summer’ it should have. This time of year in Southeast Missouri is normally spent doing your best to be still while a horde of mosquitoes try to find a good vein like a Red Cross worker. Not this morning, I had on wool to cut the chill and was thankful for its warmth.
Working my way through woods in the early morning darkness, I found my way to the tree stand I had hung a month before. I was hunting a patch of mature timber, where it met an old overgrown pasture that was now more of a thicket full of multi-flora rose, maple trees and honeysuckle. This was an abandoned farmstead and it was interesting to see all the old implements that filled up the fence rows next to the tin roofed sheds about 50 yards to my north.
I selected this stand site based on the internal structure it provided and the fact that I had seen a couple of good bucks enter the pasture on more than one summer afternoon. My spotting scope verified that they were indeed nice deer for the area, but at that distance it was hard to tell just how big they were. The white oak that I had selected was full of mast and it wouldn’t be long until it started raining acorns. The creek to the west provided excellent bedding cover as did the old pasture I overlooked. I could envision bucks cruising the edge of the thicket, searching between two bedding areas looking for hot does, but this was September 30th and I simply couldn’t wait until November to hunt the stand.
As I got settled in the pre-dawn darkness, a couple of Great Horned owls began their serenade before it was time to roost. I was early, so I just sat and listened. There is something about being in a treestand that time of day that makes me feel like I’m part of the play and on stage, not an observer/predator sitting on a piece of steel chained to the tree. It’s a feeling that you only understand if you’ve experienced it countless times before. “I wonder what the rest of the world is doing right now”, I thought to myself, “It can’t be better than this!”
As the darkness gave way to pink light, one of the owls perched at the top of the white oak 10 yards from my vantage point. The only indication that he arrived was the swaying of the tree. How a bird that big can fly through the air and land in a tree with no noise is a mystery to me. He wasn’t there long and he pitched out down the ridge. Perhaps he saw me looking straight up at him. Again, no other indication that he was gone except the swaying tree. Shortly afterwards, a flurry of dry leaves erupted in the same direction. Thinking it might be a deer, my heart rate increased. As I looked up to find the source of the early morning disturbance, a gray squirrel came running directly towards me. This was not your typical evasive maneuver after a squirrel has seen something fishy; this guy was in a dead sprint with his tail in the air! I swear I could see a look of desperation on his face as he ran as fast as his little legs could carry him. Right behind him I could see my friend the owl was hot on his trail, flying mere inches from the ground like an F-16 swooping on a bombing mission. There was one exception, this attack was deadly quiet. Just as he was about to snag his prey, the squirrel made it into a knot hole at the base of an oak right next to mine. Overshooting his target, the owl landed in a tree to survey the situation and see if the squirrel would make another mistake.
Once inside the safe house, the squirrel began to bark incessantly at his nemesis. The sounds of a very upset squirrel reverberating through the hollow tree caused me to laugh to myself. Satisfied that the squirrel wasn’t coming back out and that he had now tattled on him to his squirrel buddies, the owl left for different hunting grounds. Several minutes passed and all the other squirrels went about their daily business, the one that was nearly owl breakfast never came out of the safe house.
“Wow that was cool!” I thought. “The people that are lying in bed have no idea what’s going on in the real world.” Why is it that when we’re alone we talk to ourselves? Perhaps I’m the only one.
As the commotion subsided and the stage calmed down, I noticed the thermals were moving up and the slight south wind was not beneficial to my position. The trail leading out of the thicket was to the north, just a few steps from the base of the tree. “Well, its early,” I thought, “as cool as it is surely there won’t be a south wind for long.” As soon as I had noticed it, it switched out of the north. “There we go, that’s more like it.” I would soon see that this wind shift was a ‘gift’.
Suddenly, I had the urge to look behind me. I hadn’t heard anything that I was aware of, I just got one of those feelings. As I slowly turned, deer were appearing like mirages. There were four bucks and I’m pretty sure there were a couple does, but my attention was focused on the largest buck that was no more than 20 feet from my tree. The first buck that came down the trail was a 2 ½ year old 8 point, the big boy was right behind him and they had no idea I was only 12-13 feet above their heads. As I slowly turned my body and shuffled my feet on the stand, the buck stopped right next to my tree, perhaps his 6th sense was also telling him to pay attention. As fate would have it, an acorn fell at that exact moment and landed on the roof of the abandoned shed only 50 yards away. Without too much alarm, the buck lifted and turned his head that direction giving me the opportunity I needed. Assuming that the other deer were distracted as well, now was the time to act.
I’ve read where the Native American Indians would describe an animal “offering itself” to the hunter. I suspect this is exactly what they were talking about. There seemed to be a script to how this was playing out and it wasn’t coincidental. With tension already on the string, the limbs of the recurve came to full draw launching an arrow shaft with near silence, much like the owl. The arrow found its mark, although a little high, and dropped the buck directly in his tracks. A follow up shot made the encounter seem over before it even started.
Twenty years of emotion and elation came flowing from my inner soul. I had been fortunate enough to arrow some smaller bucks and a few does over the years, but the big boys had evaded me and my arrows had missed more than one. My quest was finally realized and I had accomplished my goal of taking a mature deer! Thankfully, I was strapped in with a safety harness and had a good stand, because I was jumping up and down in my perch with joy.
It wasn’t until the adrenaline rush was over and I was getting my legs back that I climbed down and I realized what had taken place. As I wrapped my hands around a perfectly symmetrical 6×6 rack it was very apparent that this buck was much better than I had originally thought. Having shed his reddish summer hair, the short fall hair gave him the appearance of a thoroughbred and I couldn’t help but run my hands across his slick coat. The feelings of elation were soon mixed with a bit of sadness for taking the life of such a fine animal, a feeling that only hunters can describe. I admired the animal in the now silent wood lot and whispered a silent prayer of ‘thanks’.
I made my way back to the house to find my wife and son still asleep, it was only 6:45 a.m.! As they began to shake the cobwebs loose, I relayed the story to them and we went to retrieve the efforts of my 20 years of hard work as a family.
The dedication to lifestyle that I love had come full circle. I had finally achieved my goal of taking a mature whitetail, and with traditional equipment. The bonus was that I had watched an early morning show that many people in this world don’t take the time to see. I was not only the observer this morning; I was a player on the stage.
Geoff Parker lives in Jackson, Mo, is a banker by trade and started bow hunting at age 15, the last 10 of those years with traditional equipment. I’d like to thank my buddy Mike Goodwin at Southeast Taxidermy in Jackson for helping me with the pedestal mount of my first mature whitetail.
Equipment Note: Shafer Silvertip Takedown Recurve, 57# @ 27″, Archery Dynamics Trad Lite shafts and Wensel Woodsman 125gr broadheads.