October is in the rearview mirror and getting smaller by the day. Did you miss it? I keep emphasizing the fact that the best time of year will be gone in a flash and so it passes. We have had several beautiful weeks of fall-like weather and I must say I have enjoyed it immensely.
The first morning I walked out and encountered temperatures in the 40s here at home, a shiver was sent through my bones. I must admit, I almost went back inside for a light jacket, but the better part of valor prevailed, and I just “shook” it off. How else is one to get accustomed to what we yearn for most of the year? It would almost be like a slap in the face to don a jacket or pullover after begging for what has finally arrived. So, to the coffee shop I did travel enjoying watching the temperature fluctuate as I drove.
Speaking of missing October, I have yet to sit in one of my haunts with stick and string. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, it’s just been very hectic with crop harvest in full swing, addressing supply chain issues with insecticides, soil sampling, and pre-emerging lawns for those pesky weeds that will rear their ugly sprouts in early February. On top of these deterrents, I’m still unpacking from my recent move.
While unpacking one of the many boxes, I found something that provided hope that in the somewhat near future, I would penetrate the swamp for a much-needed sit in my climber. I found my bow release. This should be enough information for you to conclude that I haven’t even shot my bow thus far. JH and I did make it to the bow shop to add a few arrows to our quivers, along with a new target, but that’s as far as we have made it. And as the world turns, this too is about to change.
I thought it might be entertaining, at least for you, to hear an account of a few bucks that still haunt me due to a multitude of factors. Of course, the blame lies upon me, and I will not make excuses for the lack of execution on my part. So, sit back and relax and try not to point at me and laugh the next time you see me. Who knows, you may even learn something from my mistakes, and if you do, you can send me photos. Let’s start at Willow Point on the Mississippi River.
Many moons ago I was afforded the opportunity to be invited to bow hunt on this premier archery destination. It was mid-December, and the bucks were in full rut. Daylight found me perched in a lock on overlooking a bramble of briars and vines. I must digress and reveal the fact that I was still progressing from rotator cuff surgery due to an old baseball injury and chasing down a crippled gobbler for Dr. Charles Neill. Never mind that it was several months ago, just know I was still recovering. Max Thomas was doing all he could for me with what he had to work with. That didn’t sound like “excuses” did it? Now back to the hunt.
Around mid-morning I watched one of the largest white-tailed bucks I have ever seen make his way to me. It was as if he had a string tied from his nose to the bottom of my stand. Remember, I was still struggling from shoulder surgery. He stopped 13 steps from me and began to make a scrape. When he looked over his back at some other deer, I made my draw. At least I attempted to draw. I groaned, I strained, and I yanked, and I could not get my bow drawn. He sensed something and looked straight up at me. I froze and the deer gods smiled upon me as if to say, “Jeffrey, we’re gonna give you one more chance.” The behemoth of a buck dropped his head and continued pawing the soil.
With another mighty heave and groan, the wheels of the bow slowly turned over and I came to full draw. Are you with me now? Here’s the buck of a lifetime standing at 13 steps, me at full draw, and he has no idea I am anywhere in the world. It doesn’t get any better than this. I began my push-pull of the bow and ever so gently touched the release. The razor tipped shaft headed towards its mark. I watched in horror as the arrow zipped over the buck’s back and buried in the delta gumbo beyond my quarry. I was sick to the point of nausea.
To add insult to injury, he stopped to look back at 35 yards and though I nocked another arrow, I was spent and couldn’t draw my bow….again. I still dream of that buck. Wait, there are more bucks to dream about. Let’s go to Kansas now.
Once again, daylight found me guarding a pristine, clear-running stream between two harvested soybean fields in the breadbasket of America. The temperature was a crisp nine degrees with very little wind. Such a rarity it is when the wind doesn’t blow in the Midwest. I had been sitting in a ladder stand for three to four hours with not much activity to show. My bones were brittle from the “lack” of temperature. I was restless and tried to get the blood to flow inch by inch to any part of my anatomy. It was not working. Do you feel an excuse arriving in the picture? Around 10:30 I watched a buck walk out of the timber and start his way down the edge of the field towards me. If he continued his route, he would pass by me at 25 yards.
The wind was blowing perpendicular to his path and he wouldn’t pick me up with that keen sense of smell until it was too late. Remember, I had been there for almost five hours and when I stood to prepare for the moment at hand, my bones sounded like that of the Tin Man. I attached my release and waited for him to close the distance before I made my final draw...75 yards, 65 yards, 55 yards, 45 yards... I prepared to draw. The time was thus when he broke forty and still coming.
Was the string locked? Did a stick lodge in the cams of my bow? I groaned to the point of almost pulling a muscle in my back. By the way, it had been 20 years since my surgery. Once again, I could not, for the life of me draw my bow. Too cold, too stiff, too nervous, probably some of it all. You know the rest of the story. He kept coming, crossed my wind and bounded to the next thicket. Another buck in the mid-60s, gone. I had to tell the truth and made no excuses. I couldn’t close the deal on a wonderful opportunity. Should we try for the trifecta? Why not? Let’s stay in Kansas.
The afternoon found me in a ladder stand overlooking a secluded little bottom surrounded by several thickets. This was a tight spot, and I knew several bucks were bedded very close to me. I slipped into the oasis like a cat. I even impressed myself how stealthy I was climbing up. My bow didn’t clang the rungs of the ladder, I didn’t drop my release or arrow, and mud didn’t drop from my boots to the mass of leaf litter below me. All afternoon, I had that sixth sense that something magical was about to happen.
As the sun dipped below the tree line, a doe emerged from the thicket in front of me and fed my way. A moment later not one, but two, beautiful bucks entered the opening and slowly followed her. One was a tall ten-pointer, and the other buck was a massive eight-pointer with bases the size of a tennis ball. You know which one I locked on to. The doe and the 10-pointer fed by me at 20 yards and continued on their way. The larger buck made his way across the field and picked his way to me along the edge of the field. His path would bring him under me at just three yards. I prepared for the moment.
He was less than ten yards from me when I made my draw. My anchor was solid and with two more steps he would be in the opening offering a clear shot. For some reason, he stopped with only his head and neck exposed in the opening. I held and held and held and held. I felt panic begin to move in. I began to tremble from holding the bow for so long. It had to have been two or three minutes. I couldn’t hold any longer but at three yards, surely, I could make the grade. I settled the pin in the center of his huge neck and released. I still don’t know where I hit. He trotted off following the other buck and doe. I must have shot high. I did find just a bit of fat on the arrow but that was the extent of it.
To this day, I still question what I should have done. Should I have held low at that close range or should I have held high? I have asked more than several experienced bow hunters and their answers vary. I tend to think I should have held low, but I still don’t know. I suppose I could climb in a stand and place a target at three yards and find out for myself. Regardless, he continued to roam the prairies of Kansas and live out his life.
To my fellow bowhunters, do these accounts of miscues resonate with you? Am I bringing up skeletons that you prefer to remain buried? Maybe we think about those that got away more than we think we do. It’s all part of the game that keeps us going and driven for our incurable passion. Let me know if you have similar stories, for you know I would love to listen. And if you have thoughts on hold high, or hold low, please let me know. I am still haunted today.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.