I simply needed some quiet time—what I like to call “me-time.” Time to chill out, reflect, think, and just relax. Everything seemed perfect that day. It was hot, sunny, and beautiful—my personal favorite time to hunt whitetails. Dressed in a camo T-shirt, sweatpants, and tennis shoes, I happily headed out the back door. The only missing part in the equation was Denny, my husband and “hunting guru,” who was off chasing wild beasts in British Columbia with his good friend Tom. This was an unusual hunt because it fell during early October. Obsessed as he is, Denny never misses whitetail season in Michigan. I felt somewhat put out by his absence, since early October is my time to shine. I freeze easily and consequently have to dress like a “bumble” when the weather turns chilly. Imagine trying to climb a tree when you are wearing every piece of clothing that you own.
That is why I believe that the early season is my time. Denny has always stayed around then to advise, teach, and generally help (and, of course, to hunt a “little” himself). As a result, I have never really tried hunting when he is out of town. However, he had left on October 3rd and wasn’t due to return until the 11th. Cold, windy, and rainy, the first week of season wasn’t hard for me to pass up. The second week was the challenge. Despite the gorgeous weather, I was unable to hit the woods due to work and kids’ football and volleyball. Finally, a schedule-free weekend rolled around.
I sat for the first time on Saturday afternoon, near a pond, even though I wasn’t sure of the wind direction. I had tried to prepare prior to Denny’s departure, quizzing him about wind direction and stand location. I had even stored some information safely in my cell phone in case I had a chance to sit. Unfortunately, I must have hit the wrong key and whoosh—the information was gone. Even I realize there is a science to wind and stand placement. This point is easily proven when a doe spends its evening blowing at your presence. I felt uncertain, but finally came to a decision about where to sit. Hot weather should equal thirsty deer.
My south pond stand proved to be a good choice. I saw a total of thirteen deer and could have shot at a couple of nice does. I really considered shooting one, but in the end I chickened out. I have never been alone to blood trail, gut, or drag a deer. Denny had always been faithfully at my side. Part of me wanted to be independent and try it on my own, but the other part was scared to death. “What if I can’t follow the blood trail?” and “Who will help me drag it if I am successful?” were only two of the many questions spinning in my mind. My final decision was not to shoot, but just to enjoy watching the
deer and relaxing.
I set my alarm for Sunday morning, but turned it off in the middle of the night. I was having trouble sleeping just thinking about hunting alone and decided that was a sign that it was best to wait. By Sunday afternoon, my attitude had changed. I had spent the day cleaning, doing laundry, watching football and hanging out with the kids. Frankly I was feeling a bit depressed, or maybe left out. Three teenagers can create a significant amount of stress. I made the decision to hunt that evening and instantly I felt relief. I really hadn’t planned on any action. I just wanted to get away and stay cool.
My evening sit began at the little pond. We have a beautiful farm in southwestern Michigan, with three small ponds on the acreage. A twinge of guilt hit me as I climbed the tree, since it is one of Denny’s favorites. I wasn’t sure again of the wind direction, but it seemed right. I was in the stand for exactly seventeen minutes when a doe came in and bedded not thirty yards away. She rested for about an hour before sauntering very slowly and carefully to the pond to drink. She cranked her head and sniffed the air with each step, but never noticed me. Again, I passed on the shooting opportunity.
I was thoroughly enjoying my peace when seven turkeys crunched their way through the surrounding woods. I nearly laughed out loud at their movements. I believe they spotted me as they passed. Not long after the turkey trot, I heard a steady crunching of leaves coming from the south. It sounded more like a deer than a squirrel, but I am still easily confused by those noises. I stood up and readied my bow just in case. A small 7-point appeared at the south end of the pond, carrying a tall rack that nearly touched in the center. He was a nice buck and one I would have liked to harvest.
As he approached the pond, he turned slightly broadside and offered a shot. I stood waiting, fearful to let the arrow fly. I hesitated too long, and the buck stepped up on the bank of the pond. Once again the deer provided a standing shot, but I still couldn’t shoot. Then as if to really test me, he trotted directly in front of me at eight yards and worked a scrape. I still couldn’t bring myself to shoot. I would just be sick if I were unable to locate him after a shot. The young buck then walked away into the woods. I thought I would feel sad and disappointed, but I didn’t. It felt so good just to be hunting.
Feeling content, I decided to sit a bit longer since it was just sunset. Leaves seemed to pour from the trees with the occasional gusts of wind, and the fall colors looked so vibrant and alive. Then in the distance, I faintly heard the bleat of a deer. It sounded like a fawn calling. I stood up to get a better view as the sound crept closer. Soon a doe and a button buck emerged from the woods. The doe seemed nervous and had her tail cocked straight back. The button buck continued to bleat and even tried to nurse as his mother slurped water from the pond. Momma seemed to have something else on her mind and quickly disappeared to the northwest with her young boy in tow. I grinned at his crying, as it somehow reminded me of my own kids.
Then as I looked out over the grassy field in front of me, I suddenly noted a mature buck’s white, shiny antlers bouncing through the weeds. I relaxed as he ran out thirty yards into the grassy field and stopped. My heart immediately started pounding, and my legs jerked as if I had just started to tap dance. Relax, I told myself, he isn’t even going to come my way. Suddenly, he turned and looked directly at the pond. I readied my bow, certain that I couldn’t pass on this opportunity if I were given a perfect shot.
The buck walked directly toward me and rubbed his horns on the bushes. He was presenting a head on shot—nothing I would even think about attempting. He then walked directly under my stand, so close that I could count his vertebrae—again no shot for me. As he approached the pond I began to get worried—maybe I would get a shot after all. I kept repeating a mantra in my head: “Do everything right, pick a spot, follow through, pretend he is a 3-D target.” The entire time he drank, he actually kept his rump facing my direction and denying me a shot, but I realized that he would have to turn to walk away. Fear gripped me and I began to salivate as I experienced that queasy feeling you get before you vomit. In my spinning mind I could remember Denny saying, “We really ought to get your hunting stuff organized before I leave for BC.”
My instant reply was: “I’m ready. I still have my broadheads in my quiver from turkey season.”
“Those should be re-sharpened,” he quickly snipped.
“Naw, they will be fine,” I replied, since I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be used anyway.
The buck finally walked away from the water and acted as if he would leave. I almost felt relieved. If I don’t get a shot then I can’t screw up, I thought. Abruptly, the buck raised his head to sniff the air and then decided to check out the scrape that the other buck had worked earlier. Before I could even realize what I was doing, I drew and released: no mantra, no worries. I watched in shock as my pink fletched arrow sailed toward the beautiful deer. My arrow seemed to strike true, but didn’t penetrate as well as I would have liked.
“I should have re-sharpened my broadheads!” I silently yelled to myself.
The wounded buck took off and ran high speed out into the tall weeds, where he disappeared behind some bushes within seconds. I quickly grabbed my binoculars and strained to see any movement of deer or pink feathers—nothing. I did hear a single cough that sounded moist, but that was all. I sat as long as I could stand it. It was now dark, and I needed to climb safely to the ground. Half way down the tree I could make out two deer staring at me from ten feet away. I tried to remain still, but my shaking had grown so out of control that I spooked them out of the area.
I returned to the house. No expert was around. My teenagers listened, but were definitely not interested. “Mom, are you going to cook supper?” was their only reply to the report that I had shot a deer.
I nervously paced the house, measuring the penetration I thought my arrow had achieved and scrutinizing the many deer trophies in our living room. I kept reliving the few seconds of my shot and still felt uncertain of the outcome. I needed someone to listen to my story. Eventually, I called our oldest son John who attends law school in Iowa. He had done some hunting in the past and offered some encouraging remarks to try to calm me. In the end, weighing my fear of the “dark” and the solo blood trail, I decided it would be best to give the deer until morning. As a result, I endured a very restless and sleepless night despite two glasses of wine.
I set my alarm for 0800, but was up drinking coffee well before that. It had been over twelve hours since my shot, and I would be blood trailing alone. Slowly and carefully I made my way to the little pond. My heart fell as I got closer to the weeds, whose tops reached my chest. The fall leaves had turned many colors including red, and it looked like blood everywhere. In reality, I saw no blood. I could have cried as I fought my way through weeds, bushes, and briars. There was no way to walk quietly, and it was difficult just to step without falling. I slowly made my way behind the bushes where I last saw the buck run—nothing! Then, just when I was giving up hope, I caught a glimpse of a white belly. Lo and behold, there lay my beautiful buck. My oldest son had been right—the arrow did penetrate the chest and was stopped by the far leg. The buck had died immediately after passing the bushes. Luckily, I was alone to do my victory dance. Had I been a professional football player, I am sure I would have been fined for “excessive celebration.”
I took a moment to enjoy the satisfaction I felt by accomplishing such a task on my own. My emotions ranged from elation to sadness. The one person I really wanted to share my story and pictures with was not by my side. Fortunately, my sadness didn’t last long as I pondered the “how” of getting my deer to the house. My first call was to Denny’s friend and employee Curt, who is always there to help me out when Denny is away on a trip. As expected, he agreed to help me if I needed him to, and I told him I would call if I did.
Determined to do this alone, I hurriedly dressed the deer. Then I managed to tug and drag the buck thirty yards to the grassy area surrounding the pond. I pride myself in being in shape, but I was huffing and puffing like a train by the time I reached my destination. Then I rigged a plastic tarp to the back of our lawn mower and rolled the deer onto the tarp. Thankfully, I was able to drag the deer to the house on this contraption. I still needed a little help to complete my mission, and my next phone call was to my in-laws. My father-in-law happened to be hunting in our area, and he eagerly agreed to come and assist. I’m sure he felt somewhat embarrassed when I met him at the driveway jumping up and down, clapping my hands, and squealing like a schoolgirl. Luckily, my mother-in-law jumped into her car, brought the camera and provided some “girl” support. Between the three of us, we managed to obtain pictures and load my buck into the pickup truck.
As we worked, I realized how blessed I am to have a husband who has taught me to enjoy bowhunting and given me the confidence to be independent enough to hunt even in his absence. I pulled out my cell phone and sent him the following text: “When the cat is away, the mouse will play.” Maybe that will keep him home next October!
Equipment Notes: On this hunt, Marie carried a 62” Black Widow takedown PLX longbow and carbon shafts tipped with Grizzly broadheads.