A hurricane, a first hunt, and a persistent daughter lead to this bowhunter's best in-state buck ever!
It was Friday night. I had just returned home from work and walked into the kitchen when my seven-year old daughter, Abigail, ran into the room. Every day for the past week Abby had held up 10 fingers and asked: "How many more days, Daddy?"
Gently, with each passing day I folded one additional finger down and said, "This many, Sweetcakes." Tonight, only one finger remained. She was very excited. Tomorrow was our first hunt together. Unfortunately, I had bad news.
"Abby, the weather people say Hurricane Noel is heading up the East Coast and will be here tomorrow morning. That means high winds and soaking rains. The deer will not move, and it will be miserable for both of us."
"That's Ok. We can still go," she said confidently.
"Abby, I hate to tell you this, but we may not be able to go. Hunting in a hurricane is not smart. And I want your first hunt to be a great experience. It is going to be cold, windy, and wet."
None of what I said fazed her.
"Why don't you just put on your raincoat, Daddy? That's what I'm going to do!"
Persistence is one of Abby's personality traits -- along with a healthy dose of self-confidence and no reluctance to offer an opinion. Her opinion about bowhunting tomorrow was simple -- we were going, and I had to man-up.
Earlier in the season, we would have postponed our first hunt together for the following Saturday. But we had used up that option due to a soaker the previous weekend, and Sunday hunting is prohibited here in Connecticut. So tomorrow was it -- the last weekend of bow season.
Abby had one more arrow in her quiver, and she flung it with precision. "Can we check in the morning, and go if the weather is okay?"
I laughed. She was not giving up without a fight. "Okay, Honey, we'll do that." As a responsible parent, I knew the idea of going was stupid. My passion obviously had rubbed off on her. Deep down, I wanted to go as badly as she did.
We laid out her new Realtree coveralls, hat, boots, and gloves before my wife, Julie, and I tucked her into bed. She was wearing a huge smile. I did not share her optimism.
At 4 a.m., the alarm woke Julie and me. We could hear the wind howling outside.
"You're not thinking about going -- are you"? Julie said.
"Probably not," I said. Still, I got up and checked the forecast. The weather had changed.
Hurricane winds were just starting to hit Connecticut. Rain was not expected until midmorning.
My daughter was going to be crushed if we didn't go, but if we did go, we would be miserable. However, the forecast gave me a splinter of hope. I'd let Abby decide. I knew what was going to happen anyway -- her rolling back into bed was the odds-on favorite.
Gently I woke Abby and gave her the choice: "Get out of bed and hunt, or go back to your warm, comfy bed." She listened with one eye half open.
No seven-year old is programmed to wake up at 4 a.m. So you can imagine my conflict when the other eye opened and she said, "Let's hunt!" as she jumped out of bed.
Twenty minutes later we were heading down the highway, and 90 minutes after that we arrived at the property. Getting a seven-year-old girl dressed in a T-shirt and shorts is an ordeal. Throw in long underwear, coveralls, headcover, mittens, handmuffs, winter boots, a headlamp, and a safety harness (all in the dark), and you can imagine the scene. It took more time to get her dressed than to walk to our stands. As soon as we got there, Abby announced that she had to go to the bathroom.
I didn't question why she hadn't thought of that 10 minutes earlier. Instead, we simply walked to a large rock, 10 yards downwind of my tree. "Ok, off with all your stuff again, Abby," I said. When she was finished I helped her get all of her gear back on and clipped her into the Seat-O-The-Pants (SOP) Climbing System. Up we went.
This was quite an experience for her. Together we watched the woods come alive -- while I kept watch on the weather. The winds were 30 mph sustained with the occasional gusts above 40. Abby seemed to enjoy it and never complained. Thinking back to my first time in a tree, I recalled what a great experience it had been for me. I had expected to see lots of deer. Unfortunately, I was not so confident this day with Abby.
The hours ticked by without a sighting. The rains were holding off, but the wind was getting worse. I told Abby we needed to go.
"Just a little longer, Daddy?" she pleaded.
"Ok, another 20 minutes," I agreed. My watch read 9 a.m.
For the next 10 minutes Abby sat quietly, facing the direction of the main deer trail. From my stand next to hers, I could see every direction except the downwind trail. Every so often I'd check there too -- just in case. Finally, it was time to go. One last time, I scanned the main areas and looked back over my shoulder to check the downwind trail -- and froze like a statue.
Standing 10 yards away was a massive eight-point buck, quite possibly the largest deer I'd ever seen in 25 Connecticut bowhunting seasons.
The buck was on red-alert, testing the wind. What could be wrong? From where he was standing he could not scent us, and with these wind gusts he'd never spot us up here in the branches. Then it struck me -- he was standing where Abby had relieved herself. His body language spoke loudly. He was not hanging around.
As the buck moved quickly past our tree, I grabbed my bow, stood, and drew. He was now in a slow run toward the swamp. I knew it was over but kept the pin on him, just in case. When he hit a hole in the mountain laurels, he stopped for one last look back. His mistake! I sent the arrow through his lungs, and he crashed 50 yards away.
Abby's first words were, "Let's go bloodtrail him!"
"We need to wait a few minutes," I said.
Inside of her mittens the fingers went up. "How many minutes?"
It all happened so fast she couldn't quite comprehend it, so
I explained, "We just shot the biggest Connecticut buck ever! We did it in a hurricane and on our very first hunt together. That makes you my good luck charm!"
Her smile grew wide. "Aren't you glad we came, Daddy?"
I smiled at her and said, "OH, YEAH!"
Pat Lefemine is a regular Bowhunter Contributor and the founder of Bowsite.com. He lives with his family in Union, Connecticut.
Author's Notes: I used a BowTech Guardian at 72 pounds draw weight, Muzzy MX-3 broadhead, Realtree HD Green Camo, Summit SOP Climbing System and safety harnesses for complete fall protection while climbing.