If I had to choose one single word to describe this year's deer season so far it would be maddening. Truthfully I could come up with some more colourfull words to describe it but I'm afraid of melting the screen. I had high hopes for it. Got some new Ninja deer hunting stuff over the spring and summer, read some books, pestered some experienced hunters with countless questions and practiced, practiced, practiced.
Opening day started with the usual heady anticipation we all feel. I hung suspended from my tree saddle waiting patiently for my spot to produce results. It was a nice little funnel that divided a hay field from a corn field. I could see deer on the far side of the hay field all morning but it wasn't until the evening that I finally saw something come of my efforts. In the last moments of the shootable light I had deer everywhere around me. Sadly I couldn't reach my range finder and made my best estimate based on an earlier reading I had taken of some weeds. This was the beginning of what has truly been an educational year. The first lesson was that things look different without light. I didn't just miss. I MISSED!!!! I suppose that I could have claimed some trophy earth worms but they horrible eating and even harder to mount on the wall.
That spot, predictably, didn't produce again but I could still see the deer moving in and out of the hay field farther along. After a particularly quiet morning hunt I slipped over to where I saw them entering and exiting the forest and chose a likely tree. A quick pruning with a hand saw to try and make some shooting lanes and I was set to move in the next morning.
I planned to be in the tree at least 2 hours before legal shooting I figured that left me time to put some steps in, get settled and allow the bush to settle down from my movements. I hoped that it would be early enough that the deer would still be in the corn and allow me to slip across the hay field without being noticed. I'm sure I was un-noticed by some deer somewhere but the three that bolted as walked past them along the forest edge certainly knew I was there. II was very frustrated and convinced I had ruined my chances but I soldiered on. Fifteen minutes before first light my perseverance was rewarded with a buck wandering around under my stand. He strolled out into the field and wandered back in as the clock clicked into the land of legal.
Naturally he didn't make it easy. He wandered deeper into the forest and looked like he was wandering off. I gave a little grunt and a gentle rattle on my rattle bag. I was trying to sound like two young bucks fiddling with each other before the rut as opposed to a full blown battle. I don't know if I accomplished the sound I was looking for but the buck turned and started to circle back towards me. I slowly swung around the tree a bit to improve my position in relation to this new approach he was using. He came in fits and starts and just as I was certain he was going to step out from behind the tree I came to full draw.
Clearly this day wasn't going to work at all like I had envisioned. He only stuck his nose out from behind the tree and all the important bits I needed for the shot were still protected. Let me tell you that even with a 4 pound bow and the let off on a 60 pound draw it gets a little uncomfortable very very quickly. I didn't dare move now though. He would see it and was only 15 yards away. As my arm started to shake like the San Francisco Earth quake I started to panic a little. Trophyline to the rescue. I dropped my arm slightly and used the straps of the tree saddle to brace my right wrist. It wasn't a perfect solution but it sure helped. A few moments later he stepped from behind the tree and I raised my fully drawn bow for the shot.
I didn't actually see it. I certainly heard it. The disheartening sound of carbon on tree branch. I'm still not sure which one I hit. I couldn't see it in the murky light of early morning. It didn't take a lot of imagination on my part to realize that this shot wasn't going to be anything like last year's shot. There would be no 70 yard dash to collapse dead a few moments later. My heart fell into my shoes as the buck departed deeper into the bush. Out came the blackberry and my game of digital poker became the thing I tried to distract myself with while I waited.
The long and the short of this story is that I never saw the buck again. 4 hours later and two farms away I couldn't find any more trail to follow. I was upset on many levels. Upset that I was two farms away. Upset that it wasn't within yards of where we started with the result a nice quick end. Upset at the waste of it all. In the end I was forced to give up my search without success. I can tell you that the area around that tree looks almost like it's been hit by agent orange. My sage and experienced friends commiserated with me and tried to reassure me by mentioning that, while unfortunate, sometimes happens to the best of them.
Not completely daunted I was back in that tree a week later. This story is much shorter. The deer busted me 2 hours early as per the last time. This time a young buck walked the edge of the field and presented me with a lovely broadside shot at 15 yards. Maybe it was the last shot, maybe bad luck. I was a little high and a little forward. I heard the smack of steel on bone as the broadhead hit his shoulder blade. I could see my shaft on the ground where he used to be standing. I could see the fact that it was on my side of him and not the other side. I could see the lack of a broadhead attached. I think it was an understatement to say that I was an unhappy boy. I might not know a lot about physics but I know that energy can only be spent once. If it's being spent breaking steel then it isn't being spent going through bone to be where it needs to be.
So that's essentially the sum total of my deer season to date. Disheartening to say the least. I have friends who keep encouraging me. I must have sounded like I was going to give up. I considered it briefly. Instead I climbed up onto the roof of a large truck in my driveway and practiced some more. Shotgun season started and forced me to take a break. I chased some geese and ducks a bit and decompressed. I reflected on why I chose the path I did and contemplated the depth and breadth of the responsibility I took on when I committed to being the one responsible for killing his own meat. It was a sad experience but in the end…I'll be in the tree come Friday.