It was the first Wednesday of November – Archery Deer Season. As a minimalist archer, I tend to do things the hard way. It’s a long stretch from my recurve bow and cedar arrows that Genghis Khan would recognize to the space-age compounds with peep sights and carbon fiber arrows.
In keeping with my minimalist approach, I had foregone a tree stand or manufactured blind. That’s how I came to be sitting in the dark between two blown-down trees waiting for the notoriously elusive whitetail deer.
In the pre-dawn darkness of the woods, the world is alive with potential. There is an energy that is released – like the creation story repeating itself. I listened to the turkeys coming off the roost. The chattering of songbirds just picking up. Coyotes wailing in the near distance.
And the rustling of leaves - animals walking through the woods.
The silhouette of a mature buck up on the ridge behind me told me that this was a good spot. I hoped he would come back.
Just after sunrise two does came running down the hill on my right side, then stopped short about fifty yards from where I was sitting. Funny thing about deer when they THINK there is danger, but don’t KNOW – they will go through numerous “fake-out” attempts to draw out the predator.
The larger, more mature doe began to stamp her feet, looking in my direction and waiting for movement. I remained stock still, my heart pounding.
She walked a bit closer, moving behind a large tree. I took that opportunity to stand.
Her next gambit was the “head fake” – dropping her head as if she were grazing, then lifting it quickly to try to catch movement. Still nothing.
The smaller doe, bored at this point turned to walk off and the larger doe to follow her into the thick brushy cover.
My turn. I lifted the grunt tube to my lips and blew a short buck grunt. The larger does stopped, turned around and started walking towards me. For what seemed like an eternity, she strolled slowly across the hillside. It was an intense contest of caution as she scanned for danger, her curiosity clear in her eyes. Deer can quickly spot movement, but are not good about picking up stationary objects. At one point we were in what felt like an intense staring contest and I was stunned that she didn’t bolt.
Finally, at about twenty five yards, the doe’s curiosity waned and she turned around and trotted away. Not spooked, she just had better things to do.
That deer never came into my shooting lane and I never even drew my bow that day. But I still consider that encounter the highlight of my season. I was a hunter using traditional methods against an animal that had every evolutionary advantage and managed to get her within twenty five yards without having her positively identify me as a threat.
There are hunters with big buck trophies on the wall who will never know that kind of success.