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What Makes A Bowhunter?

For a serious whitetail hunter, extreme conditions call for extreme measures.

This 8-pointer was the first buck to investigate my "liquid gold." Judging from his appearance, he was a real scrapper.

What makes a person a real bowhunter? Is it the number of days spent in the field, no matter the weather? Is it the number of animals killed? Is it the choice of equipment, and the price?

A grade-school student asked me this very question. And my answer concluded with a statement that my Indian Grand-father, Wolf, used. "You (the hunter) must give of yourself. You have to show the 'spirits' you are worthy of the gift of life that this animal is about to give. The hunter might have to walk a long way; climb high hills or mountains; hunt in rain, snow, or severe cold. The hunter might have to hunt days, weeks, or months before succeeding."


The 2007-2008 Illinois archery season became my "what makes a bowhunter" year. That year, Illinois was plagued with drought from spring to early fall. My husband, Herm, and I disked and worked the soil, only to have the dry, unforgiving heat scorch almost everything we had planted to attract whitetails to our farm. So we got new seed and continued to plant crops into the fall.

I filled three six-gallon water containers and drove them to the farm daily to refill the three small, clay-lined waterholes I had dug by hand. Was it necessary? To me, yes. And when I watched a doe with fawns coming to the water within minutes of my pouring, I knew just how right it was.

Bow season opened October 1, with oppressive heat and hordes of tiny buffalo gnats. The gnats bit hard and often, making hunting almost impossible, and no bug repellent seemed to work. Every day I watched the soybean fields as the doe brought the little fawns out for daily excursions. And the bachelor group of bucks was awesome. I felt that we had been successful in attracting and holding deer on our farm, so we continued disking, planting, and hauling water.

Herm saw a couple of "shooter" bucks from his stand, but distance or conditions kept him from releasing an arrow. One afternoon, my eyes connected on a heavy, 190-class buck. I called Herm from my Primos Double Bull blind, and he thought I was having a heart attack. He said my words weren't making any sense, and my breathing was short and raspy. All he could make out was my saying, "He's the biggest whitetail I've seen in a long time!"

With this sighting, I began a campaign to achieve a particular goal -- I would hunt every spare moment at the farm, trying to find any pattern that the 190-inch buck might have.

By January 2008, I still had not taken a buck. But during that last month of the season, I saw the big buck, the focus of my campaign, at least seven times within two weeks -- just never within bow range.

Almost every evening after arriving home, Herm and I compared notes and thoughts. My solution to our quest was to set up one more ground blind. Perhaps I was getting a little carried away. One day, when our son Jeff accompanied Herm to the farm, he said, "Dad, there are so many blinds out, the farm looks like a Primos Double Bull showroom."

With the bow season ending in just a few short days, it was time for this lady bowhunter to step up the action. When friends Scott and Rich came to visit, I learned that Scott was raising and herding a few whitetails. Scott explained that many whitetail herders cannot afford the cost of a buck, and that he had enlisted a veterinarian to tranquilize the does and ready them for an estrous cycle. He then told me about the CIDR (Cervical Implant Drug Release) plugs, which contain the hormone progesterone. The plugs are made of a spongy, lightweight plastic shaped somewhat like a butterfly.

Even though the date was January 17, well after the rut, this old warrior could not resist the sexy smelling trap I had laid for him. Unfortunately, my camera went on the fritz when my husband, Herm, and I recovered the deer. So we had to rely on the talents of taxidermist Jeremy Priest to help us display my trophy.

Here's how the process works: the veterinarian sedates the doe (some choose not to sedate) and inserts the CIDR plug into the doe's vagina with a special applicator. The CIDR plug releases hormones that will cause the doe to stop the estrous cycle. But when removed, the doe will restart her cycle within hours, at which time the vet inseminates the doe with semen drawn from a "stud" whitetail.

Scott said that when the veterinarian handed him the used plugs, he informed him that he had "liquid gold" in his hands. So, upon returning home, Scott sent them to me. Seven days remained of our bow season, and I was now armed with a new weapon. Could a hormone-laden plug give me the edge I need in tempting the huge whitetail? Yes, the Indian was going to try the "smell good and look sexy" theory.

At an old scrape, left long ago by a younger buck, I worked the dirt up with my rattling antlers. Then, from the sealed bag, I removed one of the precious plugs and tied it high in the branches above the now-open scrape.

As I settled into my blind, late-morning rays of sunlight scattered across the picked beanstalks. My eyes caught movement from the dry pond to my right. The wind was carrying the "liquid gold" right to that location. Soon, eight does were feeding in front of my blind, but they all kept looking back at the dry pond. Just as quickly as the does appeared, so did a buck. It wasn't the 190-inch buck. This guy looked like a scrapper, with a battle-rough coat. He soon showed interest in a small doe fawn.

From that point on, everything happened fast. As the buck stood broadside, my arrow sliced through the 8-pointer and fell into the field. Shortly after the arrowed buck and one of the does had walked into the woods, I began following his deep tracks and soon found my fallen buck.

On january 17, the last day of the Illinois deer season, I went to the freezer and removed a CIDR plug from a 41„2-year-old doe, along with some real buck semen I had bought from a whitetail herdsman. At the scrape site, I again worked the soil and hung the plug. I then took the first plug, dipped it into the semen, and hung it just one tree away from the now sweetened and sexy-smelling scrape.

Entering my blind, I waited with anticipation, and with first light, eight does arrived on the scene. Two older does proceeded straight to the scrape and smelled it, and then they reared and fought for a brief moment over who was going

to get to smell again.

At about the same time, a dark, big-bodied buck emerged from the deepest and steepest ravine on the farm. Again, this wasn't the 190-inch buck, but he had equally unbelievable mass and tine length. I had trouble watching the buck as he stayed in the early morning shadows, feeding.

Suddenly the wind lightly kicked up and took that sexy smell right to him. His head snapped to attention, and here he came. He checked each of the does as he traveled across the field. Broadside, he stood facing the sweetened scrape, but before he could take another step, I released, and my arrow blew through his dark coat. His front knees buckled, and I thought he might go down, but the buck regained his footing and slowly began to walk parallel to the woods and out of sight.

I had never seen this buck on the farm before, and he had never appeared on any of our scouting cameras. It was the last day of the season, and I had just killed a beautiful mainframe 10-pointer with 13 total points and a spread of 18 6„8 inches. I couldn't keep my hands away from his massive antlers. You might think this whole CIDR plug thing a little odd, or even gross, but this Indian is always looking for a new angle to fool a monster whitetail buck. Although it needs more research and proof, I think the CIDR plug has a place in bowhunting.

I can't prove that the CIDR plugs led to my harvest of two bucks, but I know what I saw. I saw a dominant buck stand feet from the plug, lip-curl, moisten his nose, and start checking does that were in the field. I watched two does fight for a smell at the scrape. I saw a yearling doe lie next to the scrape.

Looking back, I would like to think that the many hours and days of planting, carrying water, and creating brushy fawn nurseries paid off. Herm and I worked harder this year than we ever have. Was it my devotion to the whitetail that led to success? Or my dedication to archery? Perhaps, as Grandfather Wolf would say, "The work was awarded with great reverence and respect."

So what makes a bowhunter? I think Herm described it best. "Only a bowhunter could see a use for these...plugs. And only an Indian, or a particular Indian lady bow-hunter, could fall in love with such a thing." Author's Notes: On this hunt, I used a Martin Cougar bow at 57 pounds draw weight; Muzzy Phantom broadheads, with no bleeder blades; a TruFire release; and Primos Double Bull Matrix blinds. I wore TimberFleece and BaseSlayers clothing by ScentLok.

The author is a regular Bowhunter Contributor. She and her husband live in Hardin, Illinois.

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