Deer Grandma, Story Eight
This deer hunting thing has to be an obsession. What other explanation could there be for . . .
Purchasing a crossbow. Climbing up the ladder and into the deer stand with one properly-operating arm. Sitting on a damp chair in the light drizzle.
Finally settled, with the crossbow cocked and hung near me on the large ash tree, I realized how fortunate I was to be hunting at all. My recovery from rotator cuff surgery in March had been slow and painful due to the large tears the doctor had to repair in my right shoulder.
“No bow hunting and you should not shoot your rifle until November; then, don’t shoot any more than you absolutely have to,” were his instructions.
An understanding man, perhaps with an obsession or two of his own, the doctor agreed that it would be okay for me to shoot a crossbow in October. After submitting the required paperwork, I received my permit in the mail.
Practicing with the crossbow had been fun. Instead of the normal 50 feet, the target was set at 100. The impact on my right shoulder was light. I would shoot two or three arrows a day. My husband, Dan, would draw the bow for me as he did for me today.
“What are you going to do if you have to shoot a second time?” he asked with a smile as I readied myself to climb.
That was a good question. I had no reasonable answer. Reason and obsession don’t fit together very well in a sentence. All I could do is thank him for drawing the bow and hope for the best.
The Knife River stand is one of my favorite year-around spots. Because it is so close to the water, my eyes can follow the river a couple hundred yards north to our property line and at least a hundred yards south to the shallow area where the ski trail crosses. The terrain on the west side is low and swampy. The land on the east side rises quickly as a steep hillside. Both sides are covered with tall trees and pockets of brush. It is a good place for a camera.
Numerous ruffled grouse live in the area and, towards evening, they will sit in the brush and trees, feeding or resting. Ducks, coots, and occasional geese paddle around, looking for food or preening themselves. Many species of songbirds flit around in the trees, bushes, and tall grasses. Squirrels and chipmunks scurry around and scold other creatures. Rodents such as moles, shrews and mice are plentiful, running in short bursts on the ground and over decaying logs and branches.
Predators take advantage of the wildlife in the river and in the surrounding mixed hardwood and the conifer forest. Occasionally, I see a fox or coyote. Osprey, hawks and bald eagles fly over frequently. Otters look for food when they aren’t playing in the river or sliding down the banks.
Deer use the river for a variety of purposes. It is a way to get from the bedding area on the west to the clover field on top of the hill to the east. It is a good place to get a drink and, in the late summer months, eat some water plants. In the frigid months of January and February, the ice creates a smooth and solid footing for eating brush buds hanging over the river. In the shallows, it is a place to splash, run, and play on a summer evening. In hot months when the bugs are bad, it is a breezy corridor relatively free from mosquitoes and other biting insects.
Although tricky to hunt because of fickle wind patterns caused by the river corridor and steep hillside, family and friends who hunt on our farm had harvested a number of does and bucks from this spot during previous rifle seasons. Because of the height of the stand and the shooting rail, I had not hunted here with my compound bow. The crossbow, however, seemed just right for this spot.
Now if only that big, fat doe will come to visit me on her way to the field.
Last year during archery season, I had been visited frequently by a large dry doe. She was always just a little out of range. It was almost as if she knew where I was and how far I would shoot. This year, I spotted her several times along the river and in the nearby field. She seemed even tall, longer, and fatter than the previous year.
Could that noise belong to her?
To the southwest, across the river and moving my direction, I could hear an animal or two running. The running turned into splashing. A fawn. Close behind, a medium-size doe entered the river. She kept looking behind her, nervous and agitated. Over seventy yards to the south, both deer started walking up the river toward me. The doe was walking briskly while the fawn moved slowly, looking back into the wooded area beyond the west bank.
Get the bow into position just in case she comes close enough.
Watching the doe, I reached for the crossbow. I stopped, left arm in the air.
WOW! Look who is coming to visit . . .
A nice-size buck pranced into the river and turned his head to look at the doe. As he spotted her, he stopped, put his head down, and shook his antlers.
Why did I leave the camera at home?
The buck picked his feet high into the air, prancing and splashing his way to the doe. The fawn ran excitedly in the shallow water, first close to the buck, then up towards the doe, then circling back to the buck. The doe watched nervously for a short while, then looked for an escape route.
Oh, no, she’s going back into the woods.
She took off, back towards the west. With three large splashes, she was on the bank and into the woods, moving away quickly. The fawn, near the buck stopped and watched his mother run away, then decided to follow her. The buck, very intent on keeping close to the doe, turned to continue the merry chase.
It was fun while it lasted. At least I had the opportunity to see it.
The buck was close to the west bank.
Wait a minute. The Buck! Why can’t I try for him?
I had been thinking in my normal October mode. Compound bow set at 45 pounds. Shoot no farther than 50-60 feet. Don’t shoot at large-bodied bucks.
DO something. Try to call him back.
Not thinking bucks, my grunt call was at home.
Can I imitate a grunt with my mouth?
I doubt it. My voice isn’t low enough.
What Have I got to lose?
Opening my mouth as wide as possible, I drew in a short burst of air. As I listened to the low, burp-like sound, I thought
The ninth-grade boys in the school lunchroom would be proud of me.
Amazingly, the buck stopped. He looked back toward the sound. Then he turned and slowly walked back to the river. About halfway across, he stopped to shake his antlers.
Keep coming, big guy. No way can I make that weird sound again.
After looking around a bit, he cautiously walked across the rest of the river. As he climbed the brushy bank on my side of the river, I took the crossbow down and got it positioned on the shooting rail.
Upon reaching the trail south of the stand, he turned and looked my way. Very alert to his environment, with head held high, he made his way north, facing me every cautious step of the way.
If he continues to look and walk this direction, he won’t expose a vulnerable spot to shoot at.
As the buck came within range, I lowered my head to look through the sight and reposition the bow in the event he would turn and present a broadside shot.
Oh, oh. There is a branch in the way. I’ll have to raise the bow off the rail. I can’t shoot sitting down.
The buck stopped at thirty yards. There was a noise in the hillside to his right. He turned his head to look. By stretching and turning his head and neck, the soft area between his shoulders where neck entered body was exposed.
Move slowly. Aim carefully. Don’t wound him.
I raised my body enough to get the bow up to where it would miss the branch. The arrow flew. As much as I concentrated on watching it, I could not tell exactly where it hit.
What happened to that bolt? I heard it hit, but he didn’t react like it hit him.
The buck had turned and ran south along the trail, then up the hillside. I could not tell if he had stopped, dropped, laid down, or ran on. The wet leaves dampened the sound and he had run far enough so that I could not see him.
Sit here a while. Watch and listen.
And what do I do if he appears again or he is wounded?
It seemed futile to wait in the tree, knowing that I could not draw the crossbow to shoot again. By now, however, I was so wound up and nervous that I needed time just to get my mind and body working again.
Eventually, I lowered the bow, climbed down out of the tree, and walked directly up the hill. After I reached the field, I turned to go south.
Should I avoid the area where I last saw him, go home and wait a while, or should I take a chance that the shot was good and try to find him.
As I reached the top of the hill directly above where the buck was the last time I saw and heard him, I decided to take a chance. I left the crossbow on the field and slowly walked down the hill, stopping frequently to listen. The buck was lying at the spot I last heard him. The head and antlers that had been held so proudly were still.