Closing the Distance
Nov 4th, 2010 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Nov 20th, 2018 at 6:08 AM
Geez that was quick”, I thought to myself. Not twenty yards away, in one final effort of life, the big eight point raised his head and slowly lowered it to the autumn leaves. Knocking another arrow, a natural impulse I suppose, I watched the fallen deer for several minutes, silently praying that he was done and that this was the finale to a long but enjoyable two weeks of bowhunting. Legs just a little wobbly from the adrenaline rush, I carefully sat down in the Summit climber. I had to. Head tilted back, I smiled to myself, took a deep breath and silently whispered a thank you to the maker above. Opening my eyes, I found the spot where the buck lay. He had piled up amongst a thick patch of prickly pear. Confident that the buck had expired, I lowered my bow and pack to the ground below. Feet positioned in the climber, I slowly started the twenty two foot descent to the base of the old mid-ridge white oak.
Things had happened so quickly that the only thing I was sure of was that this was a good buck. As I approached I could see that this buck was the double curl brow tined eight that I had been watching the last few days. Kneeling at his side, I admired his tall tines and large body. I couldn’t believe how he had changed in just a couple short months. He was no longer the lean deer that I had first seen in late July. Sporting a large swollen neck and the classic roman nose of an older buck; a fall diet of acorns, field corn and pre-rut hormones had transformed him into an absolute brute. It had been a clean pass through and a quick death. The muzzy broad head had done its job and I made a mental note to retrieve the arrow later. I wanted to get the buck taken care of before dark.
As is the reality of a solitary hunter, there are no high fives and slaps on the back. But it has always been that way with me and to all of us out there that prefer to hunt alone. The hunt is what it is all about, and at this stage of my hunting journey, I find my thoughts usually concentrated on the life that I just took, and honoring the animal that was just harvested. Taking care of the deer, it dawned on me that that bow hunting for me was done for the year, for bucks anyway, and the many hours and long days in the stand hunting this particular buck were over. Just like that, in less than a minute, the hunt was over.
This hunt actually started back in the summer. One July night I decided to take a late evening walk and spotted several deer crossing the road just east of our building site. Kneeling down in the ditch at the end of our driveway I watched their dark forms wander across the road and up into the neighbors soybean field. Several appeared to be bucks. So maybe there were deer around after all! Neither my wife nor I had seen more than one or two does all summer from our building site and I was starting to wonder if the farm held any deer this year. The very next morning I took my trail camera down a long draw leading out of a large forty acre woodlot. There was a pretty good trail coming out of the draw, so I thought what the heck; hang a camera and see what is out there. Using cameras on a property can not only give you an idea what animals lived on your property, but also give you a good idea where they lived as well. They are on duty 24/7, when I cannot in the busy lives that we all seem to lead these days.
I was absolutely thrilled when I downloaded the camera in mid August. There were over two thousand pictures on it after only a week and a half in the field. At first glance at the camera counter that day, I couldn’t help but think that the camera had been fooled on windy days and I would be stuck with hundreds of pictures of nothing but blowing grass and moving nearby branches. Boy was I wrong! Hanging a camera in that area turned out to be a good move. Several animals had been using this draw to cross the road. There were of pictures of coyotes, raccoons, possums, does, fawns, and of course bucks. In fact, there were pictures of several good bucks that appeared to be hanging out together in bachelor groups. Even though my wife and I spent hundreds of daytime hours all over our farm, unbeknownst to us there was tons of activity over the hill, just out of site of our cabin! New to using trail cameras, I was hooked.
Out of all of the bucks on camera, there was one, a very symmetrical eight point that seemed to pose every time he came by the camera. Beautiful in velvet, I found myself dreaming of this buck. Although there were other nice bucks on camera, this one seemed to posture and show dominance with the others. If I was lucky, he would be the one to stake claim to the farm this fall. Our place had always seemed to hold bachelor groups of bucks in the summer. However every year, just like clockwork, the shortening of the days that signals the approaching fall would send the majority of them down the valley to claim their own territory.
This year was no exception. Once the soybeans started to turn and harden, pictures of deer on the camera were far and few between. In fact, I had no bucks on this particular camera after the first week in September. So once the bow season started, I decided to take the camera down and hunted my usual spots on the farm, concentrating on field edges and water. Spotting would have to suffice for the next few weeks. If any of the big bucks were around, I would be limited to spotting them right at dark or would have to wait to judge scrapes and rubs come early October. This year it was to be the latter.
Scraping activity picked up a bit in early October. I found lots of rubs and small scrapes along the edges. However, none were big enough to alert me to the presence of a large deer. Being careful not to intrude on any possible bedding areas, I stuck to scouting the fringe areas. As far as I could tell, none of the big bucks had taken up residence in the forty acres behind the building site. However, I had seen this before. Sometimes the big guys are a little slow getting their motors started. If I was patient, things may work out.
One mid October Sunday morning while trailing an arrowed
doe, I came upon a scrape that was made by a serious sized
deer. Near the scrape were rubs on several five and six inch small elm and ironwood trees. Strong scent of a mature buck filled the cool morning air. Whatever deer had made the scrape had to have been there the night before. However, which deer was it? If it was one of the big guys, I would have to be careful. At this time of year, there is nothing as shy and spooky as a mature whitetail buck. I decided to continue hunting the fringe areas next to food sources for the rest of October, ever watchful of increased scraping activity.
One late October Saturday afternoon while pulling a log out of the woods with the tractor, I spied a fresh scrape along a bottom area flanked by two ridges. It was about seventy yards from the big scrape that I had seen earlier. It was a pretty good sized scrape and had a tell tail ‘licking branch’ above. Pulling up next to the scrape with the tractor, I could see that the size of the hoof drags in the scrape was made by a pretty good sized deer. Again, I don’t like to hang around an area that may hold a big buck too long, so I decided that my only option would be to place a trail camera fifty feet from the scrape to see what type of buck was in the area. I came back on the four-wheeler before going to bed that night and hung the camera in the dark. I left pretty excited that night, hoping that at the very least, I might get a glimpse of the buck or bucks that were using the scrape.
Returning on October 27th, I had my pictures of the phantom buck. I was absolutely thrilled to see that among the many deer using the scrape, both does and bucks; one was indeed the large eight that I had seen in the summer. There was no mistaking those curled brow tines. However, all of the pictures of the eight-point were at night. I wasn’t too concerned though. I was just starting a two week long vacation at the farm: combining fall chores with bow hunting. I had never taken two weeks vacation in my life, let alone to hunt. Needless to say, I was pretty excited about the days ahead. With any luck, maybe me and the old buck’s path would eventually cross a time or two in the upcoming days afield.
Normally bucks in this area bed in the vicinity of a cedar ridge about three hundred yards to the west of the two scrapes that he was using. There may have been some scrapes and rubs closer, but I was not prepared to blow this deer out of the area snooping around. For the next few days I hunted high on a ridge opposite of where I thought the deer might be coming. On October 29th, I thought that I spotted him on the opposite ridge just after shooting light. The next night was the same. At least now I knew which direction he was coming from! My hunch at been right; he was emerging from the area of the cedar ridge and headed east along a thick white oak ridge following his scrape line. He was alone, which was a good thing. He wasn’t with a hot doe yet. So now what? I seemed to have him somewhat patterned, but the area was small and hard to approach unnoticed. I would have to be careful.
On the afternoon of November 2nd I was blessed with a warm westerly wind and I grabbed my climber and headed to the bottoms. I set up halfway up the ridge, seventy five yards from the first scrape that I was sure he was visiting after dark. Two things had to happen for this hunt to work out. First, I needed a wind straight out of the west, so one down. Next, and this was a long shot, the deer would have to leave his bedding area early, much earlier that I had ever seen him do. I figured it was worth a try. What did I have to lose? The weatherman was predicting winds out NNW the next couple of days, and a straight west wind was my best chance. If he came late, after shooting light as he had the past few nights, I would simply stay in the tree and get the chance to see and hear a trophy eight point walk by. If for some reason he was restless and came my way earlier, then good for me too. Not a bad deal either way in my book. For some reason I felt good about this hunt!
Situated around two-thirty that afternoon, at four-ten I stood up in the climber and faced the direction that I expected the deer to come. Not knowing exactly how high or low the deer would be traveling along the ridge; I had positioned the climbing stand so that the white oak was actually between me and his expected route of travel. I figured I needed all the help that I could get at this point. It turned out to be a good move.
At quarter after four, that’s right, just five minutes after I had stood up, peering around the old oak, I spotted a large set of antlers slowly bobbing back and forth coming towards me along the ridge. My mind raced as I realized that he was above me, and not traveling on the well worn trail that I had expected him to come. He was farther up the ridge coming through the thick brushy ridge top. Typical buck behavior, I thought to myself. As often happens when the human predator is on high alert, time seems to slow down and instincts take over. Glancing ahead, back to the deer, and glancing ahead again, I strained to see an opening in the brush. One thing was clear; I would not try to stop him. He was walking slowly and there was only one opening that would work… I just didn’t want to take the chance of him stopping in the wrong spot…
At the shot he bounded to my right and stopped not twenty yards from my stand. Facing uphill and looking around, he seemed to be trying to figure out what the heck had just happened. Spreading his hind legs, trying to keep his balance on the steep ridge, it only took seconds for him to start to wobble and for me to realize that he was going down, that he was done…the benefit of a well placed shot and a sharp broad head.
Yes, it was a great season. But not because it ended with me harvesting a nice buck. It was a great season because of the many reasons that I elected to sit in a tree stand all those hours and days. Not thinking about checking email at work…answering pages, or even making an appointment for that long put off five year physical. That is why it was a great season. Why do you do it? Why do we do it? You do it because you enjoy the silence of the woods and the challenge of hunting all day on two apples and a bottle of water. You do it in anticipation of dragging that two hundred pound deer out of the woods yourself with nothing more than an old rope tied to a stick and a flashlight stuck in your mouth lighting the way. You do it for the cold beer you placed in the fridge before the hunt, knowing that even though you do not prefer beer, this one will taste especially good. You do it for that special few minutes that you sit in front of the woodstove with that cold beer, feet up, the fire of the woodstove slowly warming your soul, recalling the previous days afield, replaying every single minute in your minds eye right up until that magical moment you loosed the arrow into the bucks vitals. You do it in anticipation of grilled venison, perfectly seared on each side, served with sweet Vidalia onions and your favorite red wine.
The reasons we hunt are probably as numerous as the stars in the sky. Each one of us has our own reasons. Family, camaraderie, tradition, or the need to “get away” is but a few. For me, it is the solitude, the chance to become one with nature. Sure, I like to get away, and like the challenge. But I can’t help but think that there is something more at work here. Sometimes when I am asked “why do I hunt”, I want to give all of the standard reasons, and often do. However, down deep, I never really have an answer that I am truly comfortable with. Sometimes I feel that the true reason borders on the metaphysical, something primal… Something absolutely unexplainable…