Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bow Hunting Musings and Stories

It’s 6:08AM on Oct. 29th 2008 as I begin writing this off the light supplied by the laptop. Sunrise is still a good hour away. I awoke a little chilly and somewhat dehydrated from maybe one too many beers last night. The thermometer hanging on the burly hemlock out side my hunting shack door reads 22 degrees. A little below average for this time of year.
After reaching for the flashlight, as I don’t have electric or plumbing, I find my way to the door and a quick trip outside to get rid of some of that beer, I rekindle the fire in the small wood stove. It’s a fine line putting enough wood in the stove to try to last the night versus too much and waking up roasting in the middle of the night. I prefer to error on the cool side. I’ve learned to leave as much ash as possible in the bottom of the stove to allow the coals to last longer.
Once a flame starts and the wood pops I move over to the gas stove in the kitchen area of my 16x16 foot shack to get the morning java started. Looking out the back window to see if anything of interest is out there, which there isn’t, I turn the spout on the 5 gallon tote I have sitting on the shelf above the sink to fill the coffee pot. My version of running water. I hesitate to call it a cabin as the word cabin conjures up in my mind a romantic, quaint log sided affair deep in the woods on the shore of lake or river. Well, 0 out of 5 isn’t bad, is it?. Nix the romantic/quaint part and the river is about 300 yards away by choice as I didn’t want to disrupt the whitetail deer movement as they travel up and down the banks and there isn’t a lake within 15 miles of here. Being between ¼ and ½ a mile off the road isn’t exactly deep into the forest, either I guess. Anyway, I have a story started on The Shack, someday I’ll finish it. This story is about bow hunting and as form follows function up in the northland, the Shack and the 35 acres it’s on surrounded on 3 sides by acres and acres of woods land is a whitetail gold mine.
This is my 4th year bow hunting. After 40 years of rifle hunting and knowing many friends that do bow hunt, I decided by chance to give it a go. A friend I was rifle hunting with 5 years ago mentioned to me one day while we were chasing some deer around that he had an old bow he wanted to sell. He said there was nothing wrong with it and combined with the hard case he wanted $100 for it. I figured that wasn’t too much to risk and took him up on it. After taking it to a Gander Mountain and a couple local sporting good stores that gave it their approval I felt I got a good deal on the M-44 Martin Firecat. Although I gather it was around 12 years old when I bought, it has held up pretty good.
Fast forward to the next year and early fall, 2005
I go the local string of Man’s Mall here in WI called Fleet Farm that carries everything from tires to water heaters to a real good sporting goods selection. I told the guy across the counter I needed to talk to a bow hunter. He said I was lookin’ at one. So I said I don’t know a damn thing as I opened the case and showed him the bow, and what do I need to do to get started?
Well, we got going and by the time he got me fitted for the correct length arrows, found a decent finger release, picked out broadheads, practice tips and a target block I was chomping at the bit to get started.
He had instructed me how to look through the peep and line up the sight to my target.
Well, the dang bow had 4 of those sights! Which one to use for which distance just confused me so I just slid all but one down out of the way and backed up 10 yards, nock an arrow, clipped on the release and puulllled back the string, sighted her in through the peep and gently squeezed my finger. Damn! The arrow actually hit the block and didn’t go flying off never to be seen again! I did this a few more times to get a pattern figured out, moved the single brass sight up and down, forward and back till I was smacking the target pretty dang close to the bull. Well, to make a long story short, after adjusting it to dead on at 25 yards, I simply adjust my sight on the target up or down depending on distance. I’ve taken my target block in the woods and shot from the exact tree to the spot where I figure the deer to be standing to know how low to shoot.
I felt real comfortable I could hit a deer in the vital area after a number of practice sessions. Moving the target close and far gave me feedback how high or low I had to shoot based on distance and the one sight pin.
I’ve also learned from some experienced hunters to aim a little low as the whitetail deer has such good reflexes that it can hear or even see the arrow coming and it will crouch to start its jump, hence many guys shoot over the deer or will hit it too high for a killing shot.
Also, shooting on flat ground gravity will pull the arrow down, so that is adjusted for in the sight/pin position as one practice, but once you start shooting from a tree the angle is not 90 degrees to the ground anymore (max effect of gravity on the arrow in flight) and one will shoot high. Practicing with the portable block allows me to see exactly how I have to aim based on the height of the 3-4 tree stands I have and the distance and angle the deer is from various shooting spots.
So, I’m ready to hunt. I get a subscription to North American Whitetail mag to help figure out where to put up some tree stands. I have stands for rifle hunting, but for the bow I wanted to be much better hid and not concerned in seeing 100’s of yards necessarily. Bow hunting stands to me require a tighter, more confined approach.
The first deer I shoot is a doe. Wasn’t a real good shot, actually a gut shot. If it had been a rifle shot I maybe wouldn’t have even have gotten the deer. But the nature of bow hunting is different in many ways. For one, the deer aren’t near as panicky and nervous as during rifle season. They aren’t being chased around by an army of guys shooting at them with loud, thunderous bang sticks. Secondly, the broadhead acts much differently than bullet. Where the bullet tears and causes mass shock the broadhead passes through silently and gently, so to speak. Sometimes it appears that the deer doesn’t even know it just took an arrow. If no bones are hit and it passes clear through, which to me is the best shot as it does the most damage across the whole body, the deer will normally bound off 30-50 yards and if not pursued, stand there or lay down and quietly pass out from loss of blood and die.
The sharp broadhead slices through tissue and hopefully organs like the lungs, heart or liver and cuts it so precisely that the tissue will not clot. If the broadhead is dull or has a nick it will tear the tissue and it will clot. That is why a broadside shot is preferred to get double lung penetration. The lungs are the largest organ so they have the largest margin of error, so that is what I shot for. If I miss the lungs, the heat and liver are close by and hitting either is fatal to the deer.
Back to the doe. After about 30 minutes I go looking for it and find it laying dead about 30 yards away. No lungs or other organs hit. I’m impressed with the killing potential of an arrow.
Later in the season I get a chance at my first buck. I hear deer coming from my left as they trot through the dry, crisp fall leaves. I get ready by bringing my bow up and getting my feet set pointing to where they need to be so as to shot through the one opening I have and without sound snap on the release.
The first 2 deer are a doe and fawn but the 3rd has antlers. I can see them coming 50 yards away as he pass through the brush and standing trees. Looks like a 6 or 8 point. If I can see him he can see me, so I don’t make a move until he passes behind a large balsam tree immediately to the left of my shooting lane then I pull back. He starts to slow down and is walking/stopping. He may have seen my movement or smelled me. Somehow he knows there is some danger, but not enough to bolt. As he slowly enters the shooting lane I wait till my pin is on his shoulder. As I am about 35 yards away and not super high in the tree, I aim very slightly low and release the arrow.
Bang! It hit with a thud and the buck drops like a ton of bricks! What! That’s not supposed to happen with a bow, they’re supposed to run! I try to quickly notch another arrow to hit him again as he is picking up his head and trying to get up. Within seconds he gets his front legs under him self and is trying to get away. Swimming with his front legs he moves out of my shooting lane. He can’t stand on his back legs. I figure it will only be seconds before the cobwebs clear and he gets up and runs off so I scramble down out of my stand. The buck is still doing it’s best to make an escape. I get to him in a few seconds and see that the arrow has hit his spine. A half inch up or down and he would have been gone. In one case a complete miss and the other the arrow passing through the back and not hitting any organs nor not bleeding enough to do much injury to the deer. I guess sometimes life and death is a matter of inches.
It appears his back legs are paralyzed, but don’t know for sure and if it is permanent. I consider trying to cut his throat to allow him to die as quickly as possible, but he’s much too alive to get close to his head. His front hooves and antlers could injure me. I do the only thing I believe I can. I pull back and step to within a few feet of him and release a second arrow into his neck.
Within 90 seconds the ordeal is over.
A decent 8 point. Some guys go years before the get a shot at a buck and even longer sometimes before they get their first buck. I got lucky.
I have the utmost respect for the deer and his struggle. It wasn’t what I expected, especially for my first buck taken with a bow, but when dealing with nature, there are no hard and fast rules, sometimes. You deal with it as it comes as best you can in the moment.

Buck number 2. My brother, Pat, invites me to hunt in MN. Camp Ripley. They have 2, 2day seasons an early and a late. Many of the biggest bucks in MN are taken here. My brother has been coming here bow hunting for 12 years or so. No rifles are allowed in any of the hunts. We get there the night before and meet a few of my brothers friends and we make a friendly bet on the biggest deer by weight, buck or doe. We go over the rules of the Camp and the hunt. As it’s National Guard base, there are many. Pat had been in the guards and with the advantage of coming for years, he knows the ropes. I decide just to do what I’m told and not worry about anything else. Then it’s to the camper trailer to try to get some sleep.
Our truck is in line and we awaken, throw down some breakfast and 2-3 hours before daylight the gates are opened and it’s like an Oklahoma land rush! My brother has been going to basically the same area for years. He’s going to give me his spot. I don’t think he’s ever bagged a deer there, but he’s seen a number of them. He has a secondary spot not too far away he’s going to setup in.
We pull off the road and a continuous convoy of pick-ups, campers and various and assorted trucks stream past us. I grab my stuff and head lamp and follow Pat to “the spot”. Well, kind of the spot. After 2 years and in total dark Pat just kinda gets me down to a low area and says, “find a tree and get your stand up it and have fun” and off he goes back to his truck to head to his spot to do the same.
I walk around for a few yards and discover there is a small creek which I can easily jump over. I decide that the deer maybe travel the creek bottom so find a 14-18” ash tree and start screwing in my pegs. After I have 10 or so in and am 12-15 feet off the ground I decide that’s high enough. I get my stand up there and the bow and am situated and still before it’s light enough to shoot. Perfect.
The sun starts coming up and within 30 minutes I hear something off to my right, toward the road. It’s 2 deer and they're making their way down the creek. Only problem, they are behind me. My only shot would be to wait till they cross behind me past my tree and try a quartering shot from there. They are 2 small bucks, both spikes. I’m not too interested and they pass behind me too far out for a shot anyway, but still a good sign.
About noon I go back to where the truck was and Pat is there. We have some lunch compare notes and I head back out. Pat hadn’t seen anything.
Early in the afternoon a buck and a doe pop out of the woods coming straight at me! They are moving fast. With no limb cover they pick me out in front of the tree and steer wide of me to my right. I try a doe bleat can to try to lure the buck back once he passes me, but although he stops and seems interested, he doesn’t come back.
After about 3-4 minutes another doe comes from the same direction. She is going to pass under me and she gets much closer than the other 2 before she picks up my silhouette standing out from the tree and freezes. I have a shot so I take it. She runs under my tree and up the creek out of my sight but I don’t hear here run further. I feel she probably laid down, a good sign.
After a bit I hear another deer behind me. It seems to be the same buck that had passed under me earlier in the day, coming back from where it went. This time it passes wide on the other side of me.
About an hour before I was to meet Pat, I get down and go look for the doe. It’s been a couple hours so I figured it’s now or never. I start where I shot her and find blood easily. I then walk slowly up to where I heard the last sound and she jumps up. No shot is available, so I decide not to go after her and head back to the meeting place to wait for Pat. He comes in after a little bit and we decide that he will drive down the road to stand at a location we think she will run when I start to track her. I go back to the spot I last saw here and I start tracking. Again, blood easy to find and follow. I look ahead and I see she’s laying down watching me about 70 yards ahead. When I get within 50 or so she bolts and instead of running parallel to the road where Pat is waiting, she crosses.
I signal to Pat and we go after her. Pat is a little ahead of me when we finally see her after a few minutes. She is lying down but her head is up. Pat tries to take a head shot from 40 yards and misses. She jumps up and starts to run but she’s weak. I just take after her as fast as I can and basically run her down and get close enough to get a killing shot.
Again, not the most humane thing to some I’m sure but in the least we ended up getting her.
We weigh here at the registration station, I think she was 120 lbs or so. When the other guys come in I’m the only one that got a deer and by far saw the most. Nobody else even saw a buck.
The next day wasn’t as busy. By the rules of the hunt, we have to be out the main gate by 6pm, no exceptions, or we’re locked in. So, we decide to meet at 4 or so to make sure we’re out in time. Once past the gate, we can take as much time as needed to break camp and get on the road.
4pm comes and goes and at 4:15 I’m just about ready to come down when a nice buck starts making his way down to the creek. He’s just browsing as he comes, not a care in the world. When he gets almost in range he turns broadside and starts to make his way across in front of me. It will be a nice 25-30 yard shot. As he starts to come out from behind a large tree, he turns his head and picks me out. Busted! He jumps back the way he came and bounds 2-3 times to my right and stops. He’s quartered away from my looking back watching me. I had already pulled back when he bounded away in the hopes he would stop for a second, just as he did. I sight in and trip the release. The arrow makes it’s way through a couple trees at the only open spot I had and the buck takes off. Again, he makes a lot of noise like the doe, but then it gets quiet quickly.
As time is now against me, I immediately get down from the tree and go look where I shot. Blood! And lots of it! I stop and head back to the meeting place to meet Pat. He’s all ready to go but he sees my haste from a distance as I make my way to him with no gear. He knows something is up.
He grabs his bow and we head back to my tree. We decide to give the buck more time in the hopes he’ll laid down. We remove my tree stand and get everything packed up and head out after him. It’s easy to follow the blood and within 50 yards we jump him. We are moving fast after him and at the top of the rise, 100 yards from my stand a hunter is there not 50 yards to the left of where the buck went, He didn’t see nor hear him go by. Maybe he was sleeping? Moving fast now we can easily track the buck. We see more hunters but no one has notice the buck weaving it’s way through them.
We come to spot where again, it seems smart to send Pat ahead to ambush the buck. I wait 5 minutes to give Pat a chance to get into position and I don’t go 30 yards to find the buck had been laying in a thicket hiding. He bolts out and goes off to the right from where Pat went. I yell to Pat to come back and I start running down the buck. After about 2 minutes of a full run I hear a guy yell “I got him!” I’m to the buck before the guy is out of his stand.
We both know I think someone is going to be disappointed. He claims he killed the deer, which Pat and I don’t disagree with, but the buck was staggering down the trail and I was in hot pursuit. After a few pictures I take of the deer with the guys camera I say that I’ll gut it out and he can put his tag on it and we’ll let the Game Wardens. One rule I did remember was that in any dispute over who owns a deer a Game Warden will decide. In some cases they decide no one gets it.
As I was out of state and would not be using my tag anymore I didn’t care if my tag got wasted but the other guy was from MN and if he used his tag and the Warden took the deer, he wouldn’t be able to hunt in MN the rest of the season. After some thought, the guy decided to let me have it. I gutted out the deer to discover one lung was gone from the effect of my arrow. A big buck can run a long way on one lung and there was no guarantee that we’d have been able to run it down, but I do think we would have had a good chance to seeing as how close we’d gotten to it.
We made the gate closing by 30 minutes or so with the 9 pointer.
My brother posing with #2.

A few days later I was back on my land in the same stand where I had bagged the 8 pointer the year before. Within 2 hours of sitting there I heard a deer coming, just as I had before. I wasn’t going to shoot anything but a big guy, so I just sat there and didn’t bring up my bow. It was a buck, but I couldn’t see how big it was until it got almost to the same large balsam that I use as a shield from sight. It was a keeper, for sure. I raised the bow up and was ready to draw back but the buck never continued on past the balsam. Again, whether it heard, smelled or saw me raise up it knew I was there and it back straight back from keeping the balsam between us.
A month later on the opening of rifle season, I shot one of the biggest bucks I’ve taken not 30 minutes after getting in my stand. I think it was the same buck I encountered that day bow hunting.
Buck 3.
I got to see buck 3 of the 3rd year of bow hunting on the wildlife camera I received from my boys as a Christmas present. He got captured late Sept. coming into the food plot I planted in mid August.
By early Nov. I got a shot at him. I was hunting in the same spot in a new stand I built across the game trail from original stand. I decided to have a stand on either side of the trail and depending how the wind blew determined which stand I’d use.
I was in the stand late one morning on or around Nov. 10th which is supposed to be peak deer activity pre-rut. I had a combination moose/whitetail antler set that I decided to use to try to rattle a buck in. Nothing was happening and about 2pm a buddy of mine came into camp so I got down from the stand and walked to the hunting shack to meet my friend and get him setup in a stand by the shack. After that I walked back down to my stand and heard a loud ruckus in the brush 30-40 yards into the woods straight west of my stand. I though it could be one of the bears that had been around all fall but then I realized it was a buck “fighting” with a tree. I hurried to get setup and realized I had forgotten my release at the shack, so I ran back up to the shack and back, not taking more than 5-6 minutes total to get back. After I was up in the tree for a bit I realized that the buck wasn’t going to come out even though he was keeping up with the onslaught on the tree, so I rattle the antlers. Nothing happened for around 15 minutes. I was concentrating on the west side of the stand and decided to rattle again. I slowly turned my head to scan all around me before I began to rattle more there he was, just his head visible as he was making his way up out of the swamp southeast of my stand. A nice buck. I figured it was the same one that had been west of my stand making noise and that he had circled around to figure out what the rattling was. As he walked slowly toward me and my 2 shooting lanes I recognized the rack as the nice 9 point that I had captured in my camera in late Sept. As he kept coming within feet of the first shooting lane I timed my draw in that he’d be where he needed to be for me to make a clear shot. He stopped and started smelling the ground. I had to make a decision whether to shoot or release the string as I couldn’t hold it back any longer. I figured I’d be taking a chance of being seen or noticed if I released and then drew back again, so I decided to take the shot. Well, I was so tired that I didn’t take a good enough aim and the arrow hit the buck high and well to the back. It was 3pm. About 4 pm the same deer vs. tree noise started up. The buck I had shot was a different deer than as out there making that noise. There were 2 bucks and I was between them. I don’t know for sure if the buck I shot at was going into my rattling or the aggressive behavior of the buck attacking the tree. After a bit, the buck mover to the north and must have smelled me as he snorted/blew and ran off.
I knew I didn’t hit the buck well, so I decided not to go after the deer that afternoon at all and just stay in the tree. I went back to the shack and told my friend about it. The next morning I say for 90 minutes in the same stand and nothing came out. My friend and I then went into the swamp to look for the buck I had shot. We searched for a couple hours to no avail. I could not find the arrow or any blood. I feel at this time he had taken off after the shot and crossed the river that was no more than 100 yards away.
He would have been my 3rd buck in 3 years.

Some guys that came out last year, hope they return this year.

To be continued after this season…………

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