Deer Grandma, Story Three
Pleasant daytime temperatures, cool nights. The dull green of late summer foliage was turning into shades of brown, yellow and red. It was a weekday in early October. With less than two hours to sunset, the sun was low in the sky and the air starting to chill. Although I could not see the river below the hill where I was sitting, I could hear it running through and over the many rocks in the shallow areas.
What a delightful day, and what a blessing to be able to sit here and enjoy the sights and sounds of plants and animals preparing for winter. The children were old enough so that I could leave the farmstead without worrying about them. No fuss or muss, just pick up my bow, arrows, and start walking.
The wind was perfect for this spot. Coming from the northwest, my scent would not alarm any deer that crossed the river in order to eat clover in the field to my east. My bow stand was set into the woods and brush. It had been an easy stand to build; two rough-sawn white pines 2x4s between two large popple trees with more 2x4s to make up the floor. A short ladder made of white pine made climbing up to it safe and easy.
After standing for a while, I sat down on my chair, an old white bucket, and leaned against one of the popples. I could see part of the field where twelve deer were grazing. Deer were plentiful this year, and my husband, Dan, had coined the phrase “long-legged rats” to describe the herds that we would see on the clover, alfalfa, and corn fields. One DNR official who occasionally visited us estimated that the deer on our 480 acres would probably eat over $3000 worth of crops.
This is a good year to take a doe; if I don’t, somebody is going to be awful grumpy, I thought to myself.
I looked at the bow hanging from a limb close to where I would stand if I had an opportunity to shoot. It was a recent purchase, a Golden Eagle compound that I had traded in my old recurve along with a considerable amount of cash. The previous fall, after shooting a doe that suffered before dying, I decided to invest in a quality bow I could handle more easily. Along with the bow purchase, I received three lessons from the owners of the shop. Award-winning archers, this husband and wife team helped me improve my shooting. These lessons, followed by nearly daily practice at home on targets made from straw bales and cow mats, should have made me confident in my shooting ability. However, I still had the nagging fear that I would again put an animal through agony. I had to practice one more time.
I stood up, took the bow off the limb, pulled the arrow back, tipped my body at the hips so my shoulders stayed in alignment, aimed at the opening in the brush I imaged a deer would come through, held it for a while, and then brought the string back to its resting place. Somewhat relieved, I put the bow and nocked arrow back on the limb. With less than an hour until sunset, I decided to stay standing.
The tinkling sound of the river turned to splashed. It was the familiar sound of deer crossing. By the amount of noise they made, it would probably be more than one. The animals moved slowly. With the leaves so plentiful and dry, I could hear each footstep. They were coming up the hill, going from northwest to southeast. The noise of my heartbeat in my ears was keeping pace with the deer, getting louder as they got closer. I wanted to look down the hill, but was afraid to make any movement. Anxiety started creeping up my arms and down my legs, as I realized the deer took the fork in the trail that would go through the brush by my stand.
Very slowly, I put my left hand on the grip of the bow. My right hand followed, and the three fingers behind the leather tab circled around the string just below the nocked arrow.
Should I take the bow off the hanger now? Will the deer see me? Are they looking my direction, or is this a good time to get ready? What if they see me when I turn my head to answer these questions?
I rotated my head just enough to see the first deer. A good-sized doe, she was about 40 yards away. She was moving cautiously, but didn’t seem nervous or aware of my presence. How many more were there. Turning my eyes down the trail behind her, I could see another doe. The second one was slightly larger than the first and seemed a bit more wary; she was scanning the area in front and to the sides of her as she walked. I tried to stand very still and keep my eyes on the trail to see if any more deer followed the first two. There didn’t appear to be any noise or movement farther down the trail.
Now what? If I draw the bow to shoot at the first deer, the second one will probably see the movement and do the blowing, stamping, routine. If I wait for the first deer to go through and she looks back, she’ll see me draw, alert the second one and I’ll be stuck in a stare-down routine.
Wait a minute – – if I shoot at the first one and miss, it might be possible to get another arrow ready and have a shot at the second one.
Well, not really, because if I shoot at the first one and miss, the second one will certainly see something and be smart enough to stop, take a different route, or run off.
All this arguing with myself is taking a lot of time and I need to make a decision. Go for the second one. Take your time and make it a good shot.
The first doe passed through the opening in the brush and entered the grassy area between the brush and the field. She continued to walk straight ahead, intent on getting to clover and into a grazing mode. As the second doe hit the dense brush, I took the bow off the hanger and brought it to a full draw. My eyes could see her form moving along the trail. She moved slowly, but did not hesitate when I drew the bow. I tipped my body so that the arrow was pointed at the spot I thought her lung-heart area would pass through.
Is my anchor point correct? Is my right arm in a relaxed position? Is my grip on the bow too tight? Am I worrying too much?
Finally. She walked through the opening at a perfect angle, just quarter away from me a little. She was going slowly enough so I could take time to readjust my aim. I released the arrow and saw it fly. A solid, but sickening, sound followed.
The doe ran about forty yards and fell in the field. I had to sit down. My legs were shaking and my entire body felt week. After fifteen minutes, with no movement coming from the downed deer, and strength returning, I lowered the bow, climbed down the ladder and walked toward the deer. As I approached and looked at her head, I noticed two small and dark crusty bumps between the ears.
Upon returning to the house, my husband asked me how hunting was. I told him I had good news and bad news.
“The good news is that I shot at a large doe and she died right away. I cleaned out the deer and its laying right out in the open for us to pick up with the truck.”
He asked me what the bad news was.
“Well, that doe had some very unusual characteristics, especially between its hind legs. Although it was definitely old enough to breed, I don’t think shooting it will greatly reduce the number of fawns next spring.”
When is a doe not a doe? When it is an antlerless buck.