One bowhunter breaks out of bondage to savor the full measure of whitetail success.
For 15 years I've been a bowhunter, and some people would say I'm obsessed with the sport. I grew up hunting pheasants and fishing with my dad, Paul, but it wasn't until my first year out of college that I picked up a bow.
Over the years, I've bowhunted primarily with Dad. We both love spending time preparing for the season, analyzing the movements of deer, and putting up ladder stands.
I'm blessed to hunt Dad's property just north of the Wisconsin Dells where he has a cabin on 800 acres. I spend almost every weekend in the fall at the cabin, and I often make the three-hour round-trip drive during the week just to sit on stand for a couple of hours.
This past Valentine's Day my husband, Bruce, gave me a Summit climbing treestand, and I couldn't wait to try it out. Typically, I hunt out of permanent stands or ladder stands, which are nearly impossible for me to move on my own. Since I often hunt alone during the week, I am limited to the stands that are already in place. My new climber represented freedom to me -- freedom to set up wherever I wanted.
In early August, I started practicing with my climber, and right away I was a little concerned that I wouldn't be strong enough to use it and wouldn't feel stable enough to stand and shoot. So, with the climber on my back, I walked into the nature preserve that borders our house and practiced attaching it to trees and climbing up and down. I felt a bit awkward at first, but I soon got the hang of it.
Opening weekend I started out sitting in a permanent stand at the edge of a pond. I wanted to do more scouting before deciding where to put my climber. In the past, the deer seemed to hit the pond for a drink right after sunrise on their way to their bedding areas. A few years earlier I had shot a nice 10-pointer from this stand, and it has been a favorite spot of mine ever since.
During opening weekend, I didn't see much from this stand -- or any others, for that matter. Deer movement was slow compared to other years. In fact, "slow" accurately describes the first six weeks of the 2008 bow season for me. By the end of October, I had logged over 65 hours of hunting but had seen only one shooter buck. With the rut approaching, I was hopeful things would turn around.
On Thursday afternoon, November 6, I decided to set up my climber 15 yards off a fresh scrape. After clearing some limbs with my hand saw, I ascended a big pine tree and within 30 minutes could see deer chasing in the distance. None of those had antlers, but with less than an hour of light left, I saw a white rack about 100 yards away through the pines.
As the buck walked casually in my direction, I watched hopefully, but when he was 60 yards from my stand, he abruptly turned. Quickly I made a couple of short grunts with my call. The buck paused and stared in my direction and, then, in typical buck fashion, made a big loop to get downwind of the grunts he had just heard. Finally, he re-emerged from the brush, heading straight for my stand, but when he was 35 yards away, he spotted a doe to his right and bolted after her. My heart sank.
For Valentine's Day, my husband gave me a new Summit climber treestand. I couldn't wait to put it together and start practicing with it.
The disappointment was short-lived, however, as I heard some rustling behind me and turned to see another nice buck, 70 yards from my stand, with his nose to the ground. He was rooting around, pawing at the ground where some does had bedded earlier. One time he looked up at the sound of my grunt call, but he seemed unimpressed. He spent a couple of minutes with his nose tight to the ground and then casually walked away.
That scenario was awesome as well as frustrating. And it told me exactly where I was going to set up the next day.
However, when friday morning greeted me with sleet and rain, I decided to forgo my climber in the wet and icy weather in favor of a permanent stand. I made a mock scrape about 15 yards in front of me in hopes of luring in one of the bucks I'd seen the previous night. About 7 a.m., a young eight-point came darting under my stand with only one thing on his mind -- a nearby doe. Desperately he tried to catch her by running her in circles until they disappeared over a ridge. Those were the last deer I saw that morning.
After drying out my gear and downing a bowl of chili, I headed back out. My afternoon consisted mostly of counting squirrels in soggy camo. With the change in weather and the signs of the rut, I was surprised to see only a few does and no bucks.
When I woke up Saturday to a couple inches of fresh snow, I again chose a ladder stand.
Again, no deer came close to my stand, and I was feeling the need to be more flexible.
While the ladder stands gave me a sense of security, they also seemed to imprison me in fixed locations.
After taking the hairdryer to my fletchings, I headed back out about 2:30 Saturday afternoon. With the drizzle finally tapering off and things drying out, I decided to use my climber. I craved the freedom to move around and knew exactly where I would go -- where I'd seen the buck rooting around two days before.
No sooner had I got situated when I saw his beautiful white rack headed right toward my stand. When he was 40 yards away, he must have sensed something wrong, because he stared straight up at me. Fortunately, his desire to check the doe beds was strong, and he soon continued on his way.
When his head went behind a pine tree, I drew my bow, and as he stepped back into the open, I grunted. The crack of the arrow echoed as it struck the buck's body, but it happened so fast I wasn't sure exactly where the arrow had hit.
The arrow had passed through him -- I could see it sticking in the ground where the buck had stood -- but how far had he run? I waited 15 minutes before attempting to shimmy down the tree, shaking from the cold and anticipation.
Upon close inspection of the arrow, my excitement plummeted. It had penetrated only about eight inches and backed out. I decided to return to the cabin and wait two hours before tracking.
Then, with flashlight in hand, I headed back out with a hunting buddy in hopes of find
ing a good trail. Where the deer had entered a thick pine patch, we found good blood and tracked him for over an hour. At that point we scanned the woods with our light, hoping to see a dead deer, but instead we saw eyes -- 25 yards away! Slowly and quietly we backed away and went back to the cabin.
In my 16 years of bowhunting, I'd never faced this situation before, and I didn't know what to expect. Would he die exactly where we had left him? If he were still alive, would I be able to stalk close for another shot? Would the coyotes get him first?
The morning couldn't come soon enough, and with little sleep and even less hope we picked up the blood trail. An hour later, I spotted a buck's tail ahead in the brown leaves and let out a scream of excitement as I ran ahead to inspect my 11-point buck!
Over the years, I've been blessed with many bucks with my bow, but I've never been more excited than this. I had put in more time in the woods than during any other year, and I had done it on my own. Better yet, I wasn't confined to the existing permanent stands and did not have to rely on other hunters to help me move the heavy ladder stands.
Rather, I could freely go where my scouting and instincts told me. Not only was the 11-pointer a beautiful deer, but he represented independence and freedom, which will only make my passion for bowhunting stronger -- and my potential for success far greater.
Jana Waller lives in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. When she's not in the woods, bowhunting for deer, Jana most likely will be painting big game skulls. To learn more about her artwork, go to www.paintedskulls.com.
Author's Notes: To take my 11-pointer, I used a Renegade LSII set at 50 lbs. draw weight, Rage two-blade broadhead, Tru-Fire release, Carbon Express arrows, single-pin Vital Gear sight, Summit climbing stand, and Prois Hunting jacket and pants.