Diary of a Novice Bow Hunter (By Margaret Dexter – WHF Charter Member)
As part of the Becoming an Outdoorswoman Learn to bow hunt series a shortage of mentors paired me with another first time hunter and one mentor. She and the mentor had tree stands and I had a ground blind. The first morning I was set up on one side of a field and they crossed over to the tree line and set up their stands. I could tell where they were by the red lights from their headlamps. After a few minutes the lights went out and I settled in to wait for it to get light. About an hour after sunrise I saw four deer coming through the field. They were headed straight for me! I tried to remain calm despite my increasing heart rate. I checked that my arrow was nocked and the release was securely attached. I had previously marked out shooting distances. If they passed in front my marked weed they would be in range. They kept coming closer oblivious to my presence. They were all does. Two adults with their yearlings. I drew back and waited. But then I discovered that I couldn’t see through the blind’s mesh window when looking through the bow site. Oh dear deer me. I looked around the site and could still see them approaching. I looked back through the site and could see nothing but the mesh. Sigh! What could I do?! It was too late to try to remove the screen. They would see me or the noise of the Velcro would spook them. I kept looking through the site and around the site… my eyes were starting to adjust like the focus on a camera. If I could just get my auto focusing eyes to move past the mesh and over to the trail the deer were coming up. And then it happened. I could see them through the site and all four does tripping along the trail only now wondering what the odd shape ahead was but still showing little concern. They were in range. I let one pass and then the next. Could I shoot? This is why I was here. If only my mentor wasn’t across the field. He would tell me when to let the arrow fly. But he wasn’t here so I had to tell myself. I let the arrow fly –thwack/fwoosh. It went right through the shoot- through mesh. It was heading at the last doe. It went under her belly and buried itself in the grass. She startled and looked around not knowing where the thwack/fwoosh came from. I held my breath. She looked around again and they all continued on their way just a bit more alert now. I let my breath out. A little later my companions came from across the field to collect me and head in for a break. They asked if I had seen the deer. Yes, I said. Did you shoot, they asked. “Yes”, I said,” but I missed”. We spent a few minutes looking for the arrow and the other mentee found it stuck deep in the grass up to its fletching. I described the whole event to them and my mentor then said “oh, that shoot through mesh. I don’t know how well that stuff really works. Next time you should just take the screens off.” Oh sure, now he tells me. Oh well, if I had gotten a deer on the first day of my first hunt I would think they were all going to be that easy. No one else in our group even saw deer that were close enough for a shot that weekend so I didn’t feel too bad. At least I had had a shot and I knew I could pull the trigger. Next time my dear deer. Next time.
Year 2 – A co-worker, who had listened to my tales of trial and tribulation with bow hunting for both deer and turkey, took pity on me and my hunting partner, the Crazy Cajun. He said, come on up and hunt behind my house. I’ve got deer that walk right through my yard all the time. He was an experienced and successful bow hunter and wanted us to be the same. We went up to his place a few weeks before the season opened and got the tour. He showed us the property boundaries and trails used by the deer. We talked about which wind direction would help or hinder us. He set up one of our blinds in the ‘ideal’ spot. This was going to be great. This was going to be the year. And as a back-up plan, we were also registered for another mentored hunt with the BOW group early in the season. And then it happened. I sprained my ankle in a skydiving accident that put me on crutches for about a month. Great, how am I going to get out to my blind in the dark when I can barely hobble. I informed the BOW coordinator of my predicament and she let my mentor know of my handicap. He was kind enough to set up his blind close to a trail and we left a little extra early to give me time to ooch and ouch into place. No one with the mentored hunt saw deer that year but there was lots of deer sign – tracks, scrapes, rubs, poop. We learned even more about hunting except for the kill part. Meanwhile back at the backyard blind, by then my ankle was better and I had gotten quite good at taping it up for support. We were determined that this would be the year so we watched the weather reports and made plans for early morning forays to catch the deer as they were heading out to feed or early afternoon hunts to get them when they came back to bed down. The first afternoon just before sunset we saw 3 deer come up along the far side of the house and pause for a moment. I had just stepped out of my blind and then dove back in but it was too late. They had caught my scent and were gone. We never saw another deer there over the next few weeks. Sigh.
The crazy Cajun sat up in the brush without a blind close to the end of the property. Propped between two large birch trees on an obvious trail she encountered her first deer, ever, on the wrong side on the trail. The sun was setting over her right shoulder. Making sure never to make sudden movements in the open with a slight turn of her head, there on a ridge with the sun behind it was a beautiful doe. They stared at each other and feeling no threat the doe, only 10 yards away continued a slow grazing walk across the ridge. Knowing the rules – “never shoot up hill”, and “know what was beyond your target” – she watched the doe disappear into the brush. Later she found out she was really over the edge of our friend’s property and she would have taken a deer without the property owners consent. Oops.
Year 3 – the Crazy Cajun and I both put in for a lottery hunt but only I got drawn for a permit. I had poked around this area before looking for turkeys in the Spring. Of course, in the Spring I saw deer almost every day that I was out looking for turkeys but never saw a turkey (heard them a lot though). I had some ideas about where to go and decided I would forego a blind and just get good at sitting very still. Opening day I could not believe how many hunters / cars were in the parking areas. You couldn’t throw a stick without hitting somebody’s set up. Saw some tracks that day but not much else. Again, I tried going early in the morning some days and later in the afternoon on other days but no luck. Other hunters out there pretty much said the same thing. One or two said they saw deer but never had a shot.
Year 4 – this is going to be the year – We found a new spot to hunt this year, private land with lots of woods surrounded by corn and bean fields. The landowners only hunt firearms season and no one else has permission. My hunting partner and I go down in late August to get a tour of the property and make plans for our epic hunt. We see deer. Early in September we go down again to put up our blinds (we have 3 doghouse blinds now) and some trail markers so we can find our way in the darkest hours before the dawn. We see deer. We set up two blinds in the woods near a ravine with trails coming in from all directions. The third blind we put up in an old field that is reverting to woods but still is fairly open – and has trails crossing every which way. Our first day to hunt we get out early in the afternoon on a beautiful fall day and settle into our blinds in the woods and wait. After a few hours of watching squirrels – there are three kinds down there, Gray, Fox and Red – we are rewarded with four does coming up the ravine. They are unaware of us hiding in our blinds and are heading up the draw between us. How far away is that one – I forgot to pace out my distances to trees and rocks. That tree has to be 20 yards and that deer is right next to it. I wonder how close they will get to the Cajun’s blind? Do I draw or do I wait? If I take a shot will it mess it up for her? I wait a little longer. I should take the shot. I should wait and let her take a shot. What if it doesn’t get within her range? It’s closer to me. It’s broadside to me and looking the other way. I draw. It looks towards me. I freeze. It looks away. I let fly with a thwack/ fwoosh. The doe startles and jumps back. Then all turn and trot back down the gully from whence they came. I set my bow down pretty sure I had missed again. I wait wondering if they will come back up. I text the Cajun “missed”. She texts back “darn”. I text “ I want to look for my arrow” She texts back “okay, I’ll help”. We emerge from our blinds and converge where the doe had been standing. I paced it out… 25 yards not 20. Rats! It must have gone under her. We search about kicking up leaves and looking back at the line of trajectory but no luck. Just to be sure we follow the trail of the deer checking for blood sign.