Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.
Afternoon of the opening day of bow season…I step out of the truck, check the wind direction and weigh my options. The steady west wind made my decision easy. My evening sit would be in the stand my buddy and I have called the “dog house stand” for the past 15 years.
I quietly settled into the spot. It felt good to be hunting again after a long hot summer of waiting. The breeze rattled the leaves as the acorns dropped from the red and white oaks. Each time the nuts fell to the ground with a plop, I couldn’t help but grin and hoped that the noise would ring like a dinner bell for a passing deer.
I had gotten on stand early, probably too early, but the minutes passed by quickly. The woods were alive with squirrels and songbirds. A gray squirrel tempted fate and came close enough to warrant a shot. He rooted through the leaf litter for an acorn, just as one of my arrows zipped past him. The little rodent raced up a grape vine through a maple tree and leaps off to safety. A quick check of the time, I’m a couple hours into the hunt.
The floor of the woods is still soft and damp, no dry crunching leaves yet. A few minutes later, a slight noise, a soft foot fall of a deer. A young doe approaches from the front. She comes in on a rope, right to the white oak and its crop of nuts. The little doe eats her fill, oblivious to the hunter 15′ above her. The youngster gets a free pass and I’m content to watch the slick coated doe go on her way.
The minutes have turned into hours, the light beginning to dim. It’s that magical time in the woods for bowhunters. That last hour of daylight when the deer are on the move. My senses are piqued while I wait. Off to the right, movement catches my eye. Two fawns and a doe skirt the edge of the trees. Much too far for a shot, but the sight gets my heart racing in hopes the mature doe will circle around to the oaks. The threesome enter the woods, but head down the hillside to the rear and out of site into a thicket of cedars. A few minutes later, the sound of deer running through the woods. Three more deer pass by the tree line, but have no intention of heading my way.
The clouds have thickened hastening darkness.
By my estimation, I’ve got about 20 minutes left of shooting light. A noise the left catches my attention. Another squirrel bouncing along floor and skipping from the base of one tree to another.
A quick glance over my right shoulder – deer is moving towards me.
The dark coat and cautious steps tells me it’s a buck, but too far to see his headgear. He’s wary as he sneaks towards the oaks: 40 yards now and he clears the trees and I get my first good look, a nice buck by all measure. My heart pounds and I can feel my breathing quicken.
I tell myself to calm down, relax, breathe. I whisper to the fella to head my way, come on. Just then, another deer snorts and my buck’s attention is drawn away from the acorns and he’s on high alert. He looks towards the unseen deer and tries to find the cause of its alarm. Minutes pass as the light continues to fade. I look for my shot, nothing and it’s not worth the risk of a poorly placed arrow.
“Please, please”, I plead under my breath.
Finally, the buck settles down, his nerves relaxed. All I need is for him to take a few more steps to the white oak. But, as deer often do, for no reason, he decides to take a trail downhill, away from the acorns and away from me.
Deflated, I check his trail and find my spot.
“You can make this shot, pick a spot”, I subconsciously tell myself.
The deer clears a cherry tree with a dead snag coming from its base, that’s my opening, that’s the spot I want him in.
Quartering hard and downhill, I pick his last rib for my target and the bowstring comes back with no effort or conscious thought. I’m on auto pilot at the moment of truth. Just as the deer enters the shooting lane, the arrow slips free from my fingers and meets the buck in the same spot.
The hollow thud, that sound seasoned bowhunters know so well follows and everything is set into fast motion. The buck kicks hard and makes a few bounds downhill. He stops, looks around to see what stung him, he staggers a bit and falls. It’s over in 10 seconds or less from the impact to the finish. My legs shake and I sit down to collect myself.
A few minutes later finds me sitting on a log next to my prize. I admire the 10 pointer’s antlers and his shiny, gray coat and say my thanks Above and to the deer for giving me the opportunity and then just sit there quietly and soak in the moment and my thoughts.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my good friend Arthur for allowing me to hunt his place. For 15 years now, Arthur and I had struck up a deep friendship over our love of hunting and for a fellow hunter to be willing to share his own hunting ground, well that’s almost unheard of in today’s world and it is much appreciated..