It is October in New Hampshire. I reflect on a past October bowhunt that was perfect in every way. The forest is alive with a kaleidoscope of color, a slice of heaven as it were, as the leaves turn crimson and gold. The air was crisp and cool. You could almost hear a pin drop as the oak leaves on the tree nearest me rustled ever so slightly. I was settled in my tree stand, all was quiet, my bow at the ready. I was well practiced and confident. The fall rut would begin in earnest in only a few weeks. The October air had the pungent aroma of pine, earth and oak leaves. I yearn for the smell of fall in the woods; I just can’t get enough of it. A cluster of neurons in my brain fire off dozens of fall images and smells in eager agreement.
It was wise to get my tree stand up more than a month earlier. I painstakingly avoided visiting my perch to allow the deer, especially wary bucks, to criss-cross my stand area without ever detecting so much as a molecule of my scent. It took many years of mistakes to learn to stay out of my direct core hunting areas except to verify from a distance that all was well just prior to hunting them. I like to hunt after mid October as the first of the mature does may come into estrous and the largest of bucks have yet to see pressure from hunters. This is when bucks are highly vulnerable. If Mr. Big shows up, I’m ready. However my freezer was almost bare from the previous years venison (taken with Muzzleloader) thus any respectable deer would do. My hunting set up was geared for bucks with mock scrapes and scent wicks in view. My tree stand was located in an ever so slight saddle of oak trees that was bounded on one side by a large pool of swamp water. The saddle was a great revelation, found in preseason scouting, as it funneled deer via three intersecting trails that were relatively close to adjacent bedding areas. Getting in the stand undetected was the key.
It was late afternoon when I was settled in my tree stand and comfortable with my state of the art safety harness on. I always feel like I just need the parachute to complete the harness. No, I wasn’t quite high enough for that I mused. The wind wasn’t perfect but it was good enough to carry my scent away from the bedding area. I covered all bases as I also had doe-in-estrous scent that was strategically placed below in scent canisters. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a “bleat call in a can” and rotated it so the weight sucked air into and out of the diaphragm. Baaaaaaa went the bleat call. Again Baaaaaaa. The call was then nestled back into my pocket so it would not bleat inadvertently. I stood at the ready, my eyes scanning for movement of any kind. (Let your eyes look right before moving your body right). A slight rush of anticipation ensued as my heartbeat and breathing stepped up a notch, but then settled back down again. Something is going to happen at any moment, I kept thinking. After about 20 minutes I took out my call and let out a few more seductive bleats. Directly in front of me a deer appeared, like stepping from behind an invisible curtain. Where did he come from? It was a nice 5-point with a small basket rack. Instantly, a shot of adrenaline kicked my heart into gear. The buck stood there for a moment that seemed like eternity. He began to meander my way, smelling the air and bobbing his head around looking here and there trying to see the doe that was cuing sweet nothings in his ear. I carefully reached into my pocket and rotated the bleat call again. This way, I beckoned him in silence. This way…. Perhaps the last bleat was a mistake, I thought. His head went up sharply as if to smell the air looking my way and he came walking toward my stand. At 20 yards he was still coming. He was intent on finding that bleating doe. Just don’t look up, I kept thinking. As he passed behind a tree and some brush, I drew my bow. The cams on the bow rolled over silently and evenly as my high back muscles took over the job of holding the string against the invisible wall at full draw. The arrow slid rearward undetected on the arrow rest like rattlesnake coiling in preparation to strike. My heart was thumping so loud that perhaps the deer could hear it.
He stopped behind the brush momentarily causing me to question my wisdom of drawing, but then he continued his inquisitive approach. My mental check list goes off just before launching an arrow; all is safe to shoot, check the arrow, arm guard/clothing not in the way, bow clear of branches, bend at the waist with your bow then pick a hair to aim at. Aim small; miss small is my mantra. My finger squeezed the release. Thumm went the string and an instantaneous thwack, reported back! The arrow struck low in the chest and disappeared. The deer kicked his rear legs as they so often do and ran around 20 yards away and spun around to face where the sound had come from. Too much brush in the way for a follow up shot, I thought. He turned away and walked into the swamp water. His tail down, gave no indication of panic or that he was even hit except that he was walking slowly. At around 50 yards, I could still see him in the water. As he began to disappear in the brush, I noticed the tops of the bushes swaying, a sure indicator that he needed support to stay on his feet. Now I knew he was hit hard. I mentally marked the spot he was last seen. After about 20 minutes I climbed down and located the arrow dug into the muddy soil. It had some blood on it and totally coated with brisket fat. But not totally red with blood as is often the case with a double lung hit. I decided that it was best not to take the trail immediately, besides I would need my waders. I decided to pick up the trail at first light. That evening I enlisted my son Jason and a hunting friend in blood trailing and the retrieve. We found him shortly the next morning after applying good blood trailing techniques. The buck went 150 yards before piling up on the banks of the swamp. We all whooped and hollered at finding him so quickly. The arrow did strike low in the chest taking out a lung and just missed the other lung.
Let me tell you, I don’t know what that buck was feeding on but he was butterball fat dressing out at around 137 lbs. The meat was absolutely delicious.
My heart quickens as I write this in anticipation of another season. Mr. Big is still out there too. Isn’t anticipation grand? © 2013