A Small Price

A Small Price

You don't need a lot of time to fill a deer tag. You just need to take the time to do it.

The little button buck was wandering in my direction, and although I had no intention of doing him any harm, I stood and got my longbow in hand. While I was really quite exhausted -- and remaining seated sounded a whole lot better at the moment -- I sighed inaudibly and got ready.

I took this Nebraska 5x5 on a quick hunt after work in November. An easy-to-access stand I'd placed especially for short-duration hunts proved to do the trick.

I've always tried not to let my career as a schoolteacher deter me from reaching important goals, bowhunting and otherwise. However, even I had to admit that my current routine was starting to wear me down, physically and mentally.

It was Friday afternoon, and the early Nebraska archery season was melting away. For the fifth day of this work week, I had made a beeline for the exit after school, jumped into my strategically parked rig, and begun a careful yet hurried drive 20 miles to my hunting spot.

Upon arrival, I threw a layer of camouflage over my teaching duds, all of which had been carefully washed in unscented soap. I then grabbed my bow and CatQuiver, briskly marched to the woods, and climbed into my closest stand for a hunt that would last 90 minutes or less.

Daylight hours were getting shorter, of course, and the return to Standard Time had shortened my hunting day even more. The extra effort required to glean a hunt out of the workday was taking its toll. But I'm not willing to gamble the best part of the season away, watching the sun set from my living room window Monday through Friday, while hoping for weather and fate to serve me well on the weekend. And I can't shift teachers' summer vacation to fall.

Even after losing nearly two weeks of the early season to kidney stones, I had already logged 41 hunts in the 35 days since my return to the field. I was paying a price, and it was starting to show.

While it was early November, I'd not seen a single buck in the previous four days I'd drop the string on. My futility was compounded by a group of overexuberant waterfowlers on the same property.

They seemed to spend more time operating a Bobcat tractor and shoring up their makeshift pond out near the center pivot -- or driving the perimeter of the property -- than they did hunkered down and scanning the horizon. The racket had largely turned the deer nocturnal, despite the best efforts of my hunting partner and me to create the illusion that the boogeyman wasn't there.

On stand, I wondered if this was how gambling addicts view the lottery -- impossibly long odds but with the insistence that you can't win if you don't play the game. Perhaps there was something to my wife's assertion that I was as addicted to hunting.

My stand sat in a finger of timber that ran to the west and eventually gave way to a picked cornfield. Walking in, I had bumped a trio of does, but they moved off without snorting.

The next hour was uneventful, and I was already deep into plans for tomorrow's morning hunt and not far from getting my things together for a quick exit when that button buck meandered my way. As I looked him over, a grunt snapped me out of my scheming.

There, not 15 yards away, a nice 5x5 stood precisely over my entry trail and directly in a shooting lane I'd trimmed only as an afterthought. Silently cursing my poor hearing, I felt fortunate for having laid down a little scent the last few yards of my entry path. Maybe it would hold him for a few seconds.

This appeared to be the same buck I'd passed on early in the season -- and then kicked myself ever since for not shooting. Then, six days before this evening hunt, I'd again had him at handshaking distance but could not swing far enough around my stand tree to shoot as he stood directly behind me.

My second buck of the season appeared on my Digital CamTrakker several times during the summer. Evidence like this motivated me even more than normal to milk every possible hunt out of November.

Now he'd come within range for a third time, and as he stood broadside, weighing his own options, I eased back the string of my Pronghorn takedown longbow, touched anchor, and sent an arrow cleanly through his lungs. He lurched away but made it barely 40 yards before hitting the deck among the yellow cottonwood leaves surrounding some scrapes he'd probably just visited or scent-checked. Perhaps my initial estimations of 125 inches gross had been a little generous, but he was a fine buck, nonetheless. Suddenly, all the effort I'd been putting into my daily hunts seemed like no big deal at all.

Quickly, I fetched my Silverado; snapped a few pictures of me with the deer; loaded the corn-fed buck into my vehicle; and took him out into the picked ag fields, far from my treestand, to field dress. After all, I still had a week before rifle season, and one more either-sex tag to fill. Suddenly, my fatigue was gone, replaced with optimism.

The extra effort to milk precious minutes out of the all-too-short October and November workdays is an endeavor requiring perseverance, organization, and a single-minded purpose that may not be for everyone. Someone once defined dedication along the lines of, "Dedication is remembering what it is you want, and being willing to do what it takes to achieve that."

That pretty well describes my mission. As long as something can be done about it, I cannot accept the thought of burning daylight hours during the prime window of the season. This has meant turning down coaching opportunities during the fall, grading papers and doing other schoolwork long after dark, and making the most of my sick days.

It has entailed weeks of using the green soap for all showers, abstaining completely from cologne and other sweet-smelling products for work, and sacrificing the social life. It has meant weeks of feeling weary beyond comprehension, cursing the working man's hours, and wishing I had extended leave time instead of a measly three personal days per year.

Your ability to find a narrow sliver of opportunity before or after work depends on several variables. First are reasonable working hours. Second are places to hunt close to work or home, preferably both. If you can milk as much as an hour of hunting time, you can kill a quality deer. Even if you have enough time only to drive to your whitetail spot to glass a

t dusk, you can gain enough knowledge from your observations to structure a successful weekend of hunting.

Making the most of your time can sometimes call for extreme measures. On Thursday, November 10, 1992, two days before the Saturday rifle opener in Nebraska, I arrived at the woods with just an hour to hunt. The air was calm, the fallen leaves were extra crunchy, and I could ill afford the 15 minutes of pussyfooting required to sneak in properly. Besides, the deer were probably already up and about, and I was likely to spook them regardless.

So I simply galloped 200 yards to a waiting portable stand and quickly climbed in. I'd scarcely got my safety harness attached when a curious young buck trotted right in, looking to see what had caused all the commotion, and the next half hour featured literally nonstop action. When a stout 4x4 cruised in looking for a fight, I interrupted those plans with a Zwickey-tipped wood arrow launched from my longbow.

Another time, on November 6, 1995, my school had a teacher workday planned, which delayed my actual reporting time a half hour, giving me just enough time for a 40-minute morning hunt. With just a few minutes remaining in my crazy plan, a nice 4x4 came along the trail headed toward his bed. With my Schafer Silvertip recurve, I put a Magnus two-blade head through both lungs, and he went down within sight. Quickly I tagged and field-dressed the buck, jogged out to my rig, and returned at noon with a fellow hunting fanatic. We loaded the buck into my rig, hung the carcass in my garage, and returned for the second half of our in-service day.

Those routines might seem like a lot of work with low odds for success, but had I not made the effort, those seasons and many others would have ended without my taking a buck. Not that eating "tag soup" means failure, but I've found hard-won successes taste all the sweeter.

Speaking of sweet, my 2005 season wasn't over with the tagging of that first 5x5. The next week saw me doing the same routine, keeping in mind that I could always catch up on work and sleep the following week when the gun hunters were in the field.

So, on November 10, I was burning half a personal day on the Thursday before the Saturday rifle opener. Early in the morning a decent 4x4 tempted me, but I was not ready to cancel my final tag with him just yet. He rounded up the doe he was following and herded her back the way they'd come, retreating back west to a tip of the woods.

By midmorning, I was contemplating my next move -- later tonight or tomorrow's last ditch effort -- when the same buck and doe came back through, this time drawing a lot of company. No fewer than six bucks were circling the amorous pair, scurrying out of reach each time the big 8-pointer made a bluff charge.

While I didn't want to shoot any of these bucks, the commotion drew another buck looking to investigate, and this buck had been an object of my desire ever since a Digital CamTrakker photo in July had revealed the 5x5's presence on the property. Then I had seen him at least twice during the season. He'd been walking right toward me both times until fate intervened and took him down a different path.

But now I was between him and the mating ritual going on just 30 yards away, and as he strode by at 16 yards, I loosed an arrow that hit tight behind the shoulder. Soon I was standing over the 140-inch buck thinking, This sure beats teaching journalism classes back at the high school.

A cell phone call later to my boss (he's a bird hunter/fisherman who "understands"), and I had extended the half day into a full one that would allow me to complete the hunt appropriately. Then I was able to raise my father from across the river, who said he would join me soon to lend a hand.

As I waited, the thought occurred to me just how fragile this whole business was. If I'd hunted only at times convenient for me, this season likely would have ended up as a goose egg. As it was, I'd put two nice bucks in the freezer. They had exacted a price, but, in retrospect, it was small.

The author lives in Fremont, Nebraska, with his wife and two daughters. He writes a weekly outdoor column for the Fremont Tribune and teaches at the local high school.

Author's Notes: My equipment included a 55-lb. Herb Meland Pronghorn takedown longbow; Easton 2018 arrows fletched with four, 5-inch shield feathers; and Wensel Woodsman broadheads.

My new book, My Neck of the Woods, will further help you take big whitetails. To order, send $20 (post-paid) to Hermit House -- Wary Buck Publishing, Bryce Lambley, 720 Boulevard St., Lot 31, Fremont, NE 68059.

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