As I climbed into my deer stand for a day of bow hunting yesterday, Nov. 6, I was greeted with a spectacular sight – a fresh layer of snow on the ground.
It had snowed overnight, creating a winter wonderland. It was cold, quiet and beautiful, and I was very thankful to be enjoying God’s work of art on this crisp fall morning.
Of course, I was hoping the icing on the cake would be the sight of a deer walking past my stand and giving me an opportunity to harvest my first whitetail with a bow.
It didn’t take long for the landscape to come to life. Less than an hour into the hunt, I saw a doe racing into the field just to the south of me. She circled around, then dashed back into the woods. I knew what was going on – she was being chased by a buck.
A very good sign! The rut seemed to be taking longer to kick in this year, and this was an indication that things were finally happening. My optimism skyrocketed as I continued my vigil.
Only about 15 or 20 minutes later, another doe came racing out into the field, this time with two fawns in tow. Then, a fourth deer came out behind her. This one was a small buck, and it was grunting as it tried to keep pace with the doe.
This was going to be a good day, I figured. Although I was planning to sit all day, I had a feeling I wouldn’t have to wait that long for a deer to come close enough for a shot.
A third sighting
Would I see something close enough for a shot? That’s the question I asked myself as I continued standing watch over the trail coming east from a thicket nearby. I just had a sense that something might come out of there.
As the clouds cleared around 8 a.m. and the sun made an appearance, the snow began to melt. The snow that had coated tree branches began sounding like rain as it let go and fell to the ground. It was a lot of noise, and I wondered if it might make the deer nervous.
I also knew it would make it harder to hear whitetails approach. So, I would have to be on my toes. As the minutes ticked by and it got close to 9, I thought I heard some noise coming from the thicket. It seemed like more than just the snow melting and landing on the ground like raindrops.
I decided to keep an eye on the thicket, and continued looking that way. Then, when I looked back there to my left once again, I was startled by the sight of a deer walking from the thicket toward me. Its head was down, so I didn’t know if it was a buck or doe at first. After a few seconds, it looked up and I saw antlers. A buck!
My heart raced momentarily, then my mind kicked in and started thinking about what to do next. With the buck’s head down as he continued to walk, I slowly reached over and grabbed my bow, which was sitting strategically in front of me on a holder. As soon as I put my left hand around the grip, the buck shot his head up and looked right at me – pretty unnerving at only about 15 yards!
Fortunately, I remembered what my friend and mentor Steve Huettl had told me to do when this happens – freeze and wait for the deer to lower its head and resume walking. I did so, and the buck eventually dropped its head and kept coming toward me. He looked up one more time, then worked his way to a perfect broadside position.
He stopped one last time just before getting even with me, and I knew I was just seconds away from a shot opportunity. I could have thought about all of the other shots I have taken at deer over these last three seasons – eight total, with five hitting the deer, but zero recoveries. But, I pushed all of the previous failures out of my mind and got ready to draw.
The moment of truth
After nibling on a small bush almost barren of leaves, the buck slowly took a couple of steps and drew even with me. I could have drawn and shot at this point, but I decided to let him walk a step or two past me. This does two important things: 1. Gets that pesky front shoulder out of the way, and 2. Puts me out of the deer’s field of view, allowing movement of drawing back without being seen.
This is a point that I think some bow hunters miss, but it is such a tremendous advantage. The buck got past me and stopped. I drew back, anchored my 20-yard pin behind his front leg and released the arrow. Thanks to a lighted nock with my NuFletch system, I saw that the arrow had passed through the deer. It was sticking in the ground, clearly visible in the snow. Also, I happened to catch a spot of red on the deer’s body as it jumped and bounded off.
Everything looked and felt right. Would this be the time that I would finally recover a deer and put a tag on it?
Time for tracking
Experienced bow hunters will say it is after the shot that the hunt actually begins. I watched the buck run out of sight, then I sat still for a minute to contemplate what had just happened. Then, I called Steve and told him the news. He suggested that I take my binoculars out and look at the arrow to see if there was any blood.
I pulled them out of my backpack and locked the lenses onto the arrow. Sure enough, there were drops of blood under the fletching that were easily visible in the snow. This is a GREAT sign, and my hopes soared after seeing this.
I waited for about 45 minutes, then climbed down to start tracking. The first thing I did was go over to my arrow and take a look at it. I pulled it out of the ground and saw that it was soaked in blood from end to end. I had a very good feeling about this!
I went over to the last place I saw the deer and began looking at the ground for blood. I saw a few drops in the snow right away and started following them. There wasn’t a lot of blood, but it left a steady trail that I was able to follow without too much trouble. Then, I hit a large spot where the snow had melted, and my heart sank. Had I waited too long to track?
I called Steve and asked him what to do. He told me that it’s not uncommon for deer not to bleed too much, and said I just need to keep looking for more blood, and to take my time. So, I paused, took a deep breath, and walked past the bare spot to the snow beyond it.
Not this time
But, a question started to nag at me: Would this search for a deer turn up empty like all the others? It was hard to shake this doubt, even though there were plenty of encouraging signs. I decided to take Steve’s advice and work slowly and methodically, even if it meant getting down on my hands and knees.
That maneuver proved unnecessary. I spotted blood quickly after that, and there seemed to be more of it. Then, I got to a thicker spot of woods, and looked at a couple of downed branches covered with snow. There was blood on the branches, and I started to develop a clear sense of anticipation. The buck couldn’t be far away, I thought.
I spotted more blood as I continued walking, and finally noticed it higher up on some shrubs. It was glistening against the snow, and I just felt I would find the buck soon. I plowed ahead, picking up the pace a bit as the blood trail started to get heavier.
Finally, I looked ahead and saw something brown laying on the ground. I stepped ahead quickly, still not fully committed to believing it was my buck. After all, I had been fooled by logs before.
This was no log. It was him! I knelt down and put my hands on him. Shortly after that came my prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord, which is my custom. In that joyful moment, three seasons of frustration melted away along with the shrinking snow pack on the ground. A beautiful morning just became perfect for this hunter!
Hardest task ever
I have always had a deep respect for bow hunters, especially those who are able to harvest a deer. I found out firsthand how difficult this can be. I was just hoping that on one magical occasion, things would all come together and I could have a successful bow hunt. This was the day. Thanks be to God!
Of course, with the deer recovered, the real work began. I went back to my car and got my camera. I took some pictures, field dressed the deer, then began the journey back to the car. Fortunately, my good friend Bernie Schwab had loaned me his deer cart. Otherwise, I might still be dragging that buck out.
I got it back to car, then went home and exchanged the car for our van and hooked up the trailer. I picked up the deer, then headed to Stasny’s Food Market on Western Avenue in St. Paul for processing. The owner of the store, Jim Stasny, was there, and I gladly ordered some of his awesome summer sausage.
A happy ending to a wonderful day in the woods!