Over the years, I have heard a countless number of experts say that skill and perseverance will get you a deer, and luck has nothing to do with it. Obviously, these pros have never been around me. This last year’s archery season is proof that without some luck, you don’t get a deer. Don’t misunderstand, although I didn’t take a deer, I would not trade the season for anything different; it was a huge learning experience about woodland animals!
I must clarify one thing from the start; this year’s hunt was only for trophy bucks, at least eight points with antlers spreading outside the ears. While this may limit the opportunities, it wasn’t that the big bucks weren’t roaming the area when we were hunting. Lady luck just wasn’t with us.
September and early October were generally beautiful weather, just cool enough to get rid of most misquotes and other bugs, but not too cold to make it uncomfortable. There were plenty of does and fawns moving through the woods, and it was always a pleasure to have some stick around in the food plots to watch. Point one, when does and fawns are hanging around in the food plots, hunting became much easier, because those deer do the scouting for you, all one has to do is pay attention to them. Their ability to see and hear things makes you feel really inadequate.
Naturally deer are wary about anything and are continually checking out the surroundings, they will bite at some food and randomly, lift their heads, check things out and then go back to eating. This trait is nothing to get excited over, however, when the head comes up and stay up, looking in one direction, along with the tail flipping ever so lightly, get ready, something is going to happen. First, get ready for the “fake food take,” as the deer may slowly put its head back down like it is going to keep eating, only to have it jerk its head back up at break neck speed, to check things out again. This is a trick, and if you react during the process, the deer will catch your actions, no matter how small, and it will instantly disappear!
But enough on the traits of deer, for now it back to luck. If you haven’t hunted pre-rut and rutting times, somehow find a way. In the early season, the deer are looking for predators and danger. Oh, and don’t believe tree stand manufacturers, does, fawns and bucks do look up. Come late October and early November, when the “seek and chase” phase is occurring, looking up becomes less and less. For does and fawns during this time, random bucks all of a sudden become more like a predator and their eyes and noses are trained on head level activity. There are a lot of reasons why does and fawns avoid bucks at this time of year, but I am not a biological instructor, so I won’t go there.
Bucks on the other hand, must not see so well during the pre-rut and rut. Again, talk to a biology teacher or your parents to understand why. Bucks also keep their vision line at eye height, looking and sniffing only for the does to chase around, so being in a tree stand is quite ideal during these phases.
With that said, let’s move on to the luck factor.
Luck. That’s right, that’s is what this is all about. OK, first instance for the year. One stand I was in provided a very limited shooting area, but vision through the woods was quite nice, for the 220 degrees I could see when I sat in the stand facing forward (that’s about as far as I can turn my head side to side without moving my body). One evening about an hour before sunset, I had this creepy, crawly feeling as I kept watching the landscape side to side. Something wasn’t right and it really began to bother me, not necessary scary, I just was really uncomfortable that I was being watched. Slowly, I kept scanning the woods and trails in front of me, and movement was zero. Nothing, nothing, nothing, and then it happened. A very slight noise to my right, right behind me, made me freeze. Deer are a curious animal, humans are too, but humans are really, really smart, giving us the edge in these situations. (Those words are just so wrong to think, it was difficult putting them into print.)
After what seemed like hours, minutes ticked by, slowly, very slowly, and then I began to shift to my right just a bit, then even slower, I began to turn my head anticipating that big buck standing directly behind me. It took forever to may these simple moves, so much so, you can feel the cramping in your neck. As I was finally able to peer a bit behind me, where I heard the noise, I came face to face with the biggest gray squirrel about six feet behind me, sitting motionlessly, eyes locked on me. I still didn’t move, but allowed my blood pressure to slowly return to normal. Twisted in this convoluted position became overwhelming due to neck cramps, so I sort of adjusted my body by making a quick lift and turn, moving an inch or so. As I did, the squirrel scampered down the tree and a huge buck burst out of a tiny stand of brush about ten yards away from the squirrel. With just a little bit of luck, I could have had a trophy, but just no luck.
After about five minutes of banging my head against the tree and filling my thoughts with the, “but ifs” of all the things I could have did different, I sat ready to redeem myself until sunset, with not another deer passing by. Dejected with the evening’s events, I consoled myself on the walk back to the cabin by mentally asserting an incident like that will never happen again. (And again, that statement is a bold faced lie.)
Time for number two. We had seen this ten point buck several times, where its antlers went straight up for 6-8 inches and then spread out into a nice rack. While its width may have not have been indisputably outside the ears, we decided the uniqueness of the rack justified our trophy requirements.
It was later in the season and I was in the same stand where I was squirreled, and the day was absolutely beautiful, nice sun, but not overly warm. About a half hour before sunset, I spotted a deer walking toward me through the brush in front of me. It appeared to be on a trail leading to the food plot about 30 yards from me, but I couldn’t tell if it was a buck or a doe. As it came closer, however, I was able to determine it was the unique buck, but by that time, it was so close that any movement by me may have spooked it. It came straight on toward the food plot, but then ten yards from there, it stopped, backed up a bit and then veered off to it right for a step or two, then basically jumped into the food plot.
As it put its head down to graze, I was able to slowly begin lifting my crossbow to a shooting position. I was about half way into shooting position when the sling on my crossbow gently scraped against the tree stands guardrail, which made a slight sound, like running the palm of your hand against a pair of jeans. (Try it and see how little sound that really is.) While to humans, it was just hardly audible, to that buck it must have been sounded like a fire truck siren, as it was gone in a millisecond. After a couple of deep breaths and saying a few unprintable words to myself, I sat back in the stand and took that (censored) sling off the crossbow. Obviously, this was a mechanical error and I couldn’t blame myself. But believe me on this, just a tiny bit of luck could have prevented that equipment error.
Number three, the classic “caught in the middle,” problem. This time, I was in a comfortable stand with a good 40 yards of open area in front of me, with a food plot at the far side of the opening. There was 3-4 inches of snow on the ground, but the temperature was very comfortable and the sun shining warm and brightly. Roughly an hour before sunset a doe and a fawn came in to eat. Given it was full on rutting time, they both were cautious, taking a bite of food and raising their heads to check out the surroundings. I was able to sit back and enjoy the entertainment. Just as I was getting comfortable, the two deer started to get nervous, alert to something to the side of them, which caused me to make sure my crossbow was in my hands and resting on the shooting rail. (Yes, that stupid sling was removed from the crossbow immediately upon entering the stand. I may be a bit slow at times, but the same mistake twice was not going to happen.)
Soon, out of the thick woods, I saw what the two deer were watching. A lone doe was carefully making her way to the food plot, and as she came closer, the doe and fawn at the food plot quickly lost interest in the approaching deer. When the doe finally made it into the food plot, I became aware that the mother deer was sort of pushing her fawn away from the new visitor, and within five minutes, those two left the area, leaving only the lone doe. Again, however, I was able to relax a bit and just keep my eye on her actions. Somehow or another, I kept the crossbow ready.
And then it happened. That doe began staring in my direction and I thought she had spotted me, but I remained absolutely motionless for fear of scaring her off. She was able to perfectly execute four or five perfect fake food takes, and every time her head came up, she was staring in my direction. It was then that I realized what was going on, there was a deer somewhere behind me, and I was caught in the middle. I couldn’t turn my head backwards to see what was there, without spooking the doe, so I hoped whatever was back there would come up on a trail along side of me. Behind me was a beautiful shooting lane that went down the hillside, and I was disappointed that I couldn’t get into position.
For a good five minutes or so, the doe continued her fake food takes, all the while becoming more and more agitated. Slowly, she began to move away to the right, moving toward the four wheeler trail we call the loop. (Because it goes in a circle.) She wasn’t quite out of my sight before I started to slowly turn to my right to see what was behind me when I saw movement coming onto the loop trail about 30 yards away. We hadn’t made a shooting lane for this area and brush and tree branches littered my view, but as I move a bit more, I was able to make out half of a very huge rack on the deer slowly walking away from me. Absolutely no shot, no luck.
The next morning we went and checked the loop trail where I thought the buck had been and found some really large tracks in the snow. We followed them back into the woods, to a point that was about 25 yards from my stand. So to all those experts, let me just say, a little bit of luck is needed for a successful hunt.