Saturday, September 22, 2012, 3 p.m., I call my son Hunter on the phone.
Me: Hey dude.
Me: You gonna hunt in the morning?
Hunter: I guess (that's teenager-speak for "if nothing better comes up.")
Me: I think you ought to.
Me: Lemme put it this way, if you don't come hunt this dominant tree I just found for you, I'm going to hunt it myself and I'm going to kill your deer.
Hunter: Looks good hunh?
Me: Uhh Yea! You wouldn't believe this spot. The ground is all churned up and the leaves look like powder.
There are white oak acorns and deer droppings everywhere
There are a bunch of scrapes, including one where a buck was sparring with a limb and broke it off.
You'll kill a deer here in the morning!
To say I was excited would be a huge understatement. I had spent the entire prior day and most of that day scouting. I had walked many miles and checked hundreds of trees. This was the first place I had found that looked worth hunting. If it had been a mediocre-looking spot, I would have been excited, but this was the kind of hot spot that keeps me up at night before a hunt.
Hunter had heard all he needed to hear. He was looking to kill his first deer with a bow, and he was in.
I marked the dominant tree with a 2 inch section of flagging tape tacked to the trunk with two reflective tacks so I could find it in the dark or in the daylight. I picked out the best climbing tree for the current wind, marked it too, and got out of there.
Sunday, 3:25 a.m.
I wake up five minutes before the alarm goes off. Funny that never happens on a work day.
We need to get an early start because our spot is only a couple hundred yards from a field where I think the deer would be feeding during the night. I don't want to take a chance on them beating us there.
We arrive at the parking spot. The thermometer on the truck reads 45 degrees. The coldest morning of the year so far. We're pumped up by the cool temps and discuss what to wear for the four wheeler ride, the steep uphill walk with forty pounds of climber and gear, and in the stand.
We step out of the truck and into the cool night air. Not good! Every coyote in the county is howling, every dog in the county is barking at the coyotes, and all the commotion is coming from the direction we are headed.
We arrive at the dominant tree, sweating profusely after climbing the steep trail up to the top of the ridge. We check the wind to see if we need to climb a different tree than the one I had picked out the day before, but the wind is still blowing straight down the ridge.
I get my climber on the tree, give Hunter a few last minute safety reminders followed by our customary good-luck handshake, then head up the tree. The Hickory bark is hard so I go slow to make sure that the climber gets a good bite. I have to cut about a half dozen limbs on the way up. Luckily they are pretty small and my folding saw is sharp so it goes quickly. The smell of the freshly cut wood reminds me of cutting firewood in the winter.
I finally get settled in and discover that the battery in my video camera microphone is dead. Not only had I forgotten to check the mic before I left home, I also forgot to grab some spare batteries out of my main camera bag when I transferred my camera into my camo bag. Crap! Video without sound sucks. What a beginning-of-the-season rookie mistake. I start to beat myself up over it but decide not to let it ruin my day.
Daylight breaks. I listen carefully for the slow crunch, crunch, crunch of deer walking from the nearby field. Nothing. Fifteen minutes go by. Nothing. A half hour. Still nothing. "The deer should be coming," I think. "Did the coyotes run them all out of here?" "Did I pick the wrong spot?" Doubt starts to creep in along with that little gnawing sensation I get when I feel like I've let my son down. I know he has been hunting long enough to realize that you can't expect to kill something every time. I still want him to though. I start to beat myself up again.
A slight noise on the far side of the ridge catches my attention. I turn my head slowly and catch movement in the trees about 75 yards away. All I can make out is legs, but they definitely belong to a deer. Tap, Tap, Tap! I give Hunter our "I see a deer" signal of three raps on the stand with the knuckles. He looks up and I signal for him to stand up and get ready.
I fire up the video camera and zoom in on the deer. Holy Crap! He's huge! He feeds around on acorns exactly where I expected him to be. Notice my flagging tape/reflective tack marker on the white oak tree in the foreground of this frame I grabbed from the video.
At one point, the deer looks straight at us and I just know we are busted. By that time, I'm twisted around shooting over my left shoulder and my ab muscles are starting to scream while I struggle to hold still. The camera moves up and down with each breath I take and there is nothing I can do about it.
Meanwhile, Hunter is caught with his bow arm fully extended ready to draw. He has to remain that way the entire time the deer is looking our way.
Eventually the buck continues moving to our left. I run out of flexibility to keep turning with him and I can't see the viewfinder unless I adjust my position. Rather than take a chance of spooking the deer by moving I decide to just zoom out and hope that the wider view will capture the action.
Just seconds later, the deer steps into an opening 35 yards away and Hunter lets an arrow fly. Here's the video.
"Oh... My... Gosh," said Hunter after the deer had run off, "that was the coolest thing I've ever done! My kneecaps are shaking so hard I can barely stand up. Now I get what you've been telling me about what an adrenaline rush bowhunting is. That was unbelieveable."
I just smile and try to pretend I'm less shaken up than him.
We wait as long as we can stand it before getting down. Our goal is thirty minutes. We might have made it fifteen. We search around for Hunter's arrow, but all we find is the nock lying on the ground. We know the arrow hadn't passed through but we had no way of knowing whether he had hit shoulder bone.
Fortunately we find good blood and take up the trail. The deer had headed downhill then turned onto a deer trail that ran along the side of the ridge. About a hundred yards down that trail, we find a pool of blood and nothing beyond it. Figuring he had backtracked, we parallel the blood trail we had been following and eventually find where he had peeled off down the hill toward a large creek.
As Hunter and I are standing on the creek bank trying to figure out whether he has entered the creek, we hear crashing on the other side of the creek and look up to see the buck run up the hill and over the next ridge.
We look at each other. "What do we do now?" Hunter asks. "I don't know," I say. "I don't know whether to back off or keep pushing him." We talk about it for a couple minutes and decide to keep pushing him.
As we get over the ridge we had seen him cross and head down the other side into a large creek bottom, the blood trail starts getting more sparse. At one point, the trail heads into some tall weeds and we lose the trail.
As we stand there searching for the next drop of blood, wondering whether we had made the right decision to keep up the chase, two separate groups of four does trot through the bottoms less that fifteen yards away from us and never know we are there. One doe stops, puts her nose to the ground and sniffs something nervously. We watch silently, enjoying the experience.
When the does had moved on, I tell Hunter that we will find blood where the doe had stopped and sniffed the ground. Sure enough, we did.
From there, the blood trail heads toward another creek. As I'm looking down at the ground for blood, Hunter whispers, "there he is, lying in that grass beside the creek." We approach him slowly. Hunter has an arrow nocked and ready to shoot if he gets up again, but there is no need. He is dead.
After about a dozen high fives, back slaps, and hugs, we get on with texting buddies and taking photos. This photo is taken exactly where we found him.
He green scored 165 5/8 gross and 156 6/8 net. Not a bad first bow kill. I told Hunter that he just saved me a bunch of money in taxidermy bills since we have a rule that in order to mount a buck it has to be larger than the prior best deer.
I got the jawbones back from the taxidermist and cleaned them up. I'm hoping to have them aged by someone with more experience than I have. Looks like 4.5 years to me, but I'm likely wrong.