dedicated to your love of the
American Whitetail Deer
Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks
Only three days left in the bow season. Shutout in my first deer season was all I kept thinking. This was harder than I thought. Suddenly, I heard the leaves crunching. I could hear them coming for some time. A doe stepped out from behind a 40 foot spruce, then two more, then a fork buck. But before I could draw, they broke into a run. Not expecting the tremendous acceleration, I shot over the buck. A minute later one more doe slowly worked her way through the leafless brush toward me. I decided to draw early... no matter how long I had to hold. She walked steadily to within 7 yards of my stand. I released, heard the arrow thud hard and watched as she trotted away. I let a half hour pass but I was still pretty pumped up. I looked for the arrow, but didn't see it. (Somehow I walked right by it in my excitement). I hunt in a small piece of woods, so I was very worried that I could find the deer quickly. I had never tracked any animal, so I didn't know if I could find it. I rushed the 300 yards home to call for help.
My first successful hunt, two days after Christmas, day one with a brand new Darton bow, only 6 weeks before my 40th birthday. I didn't grow up hunting. Wasn't opposed to it, but my dad didn't hunt and none of my friends thought to invite me. Suddenly, a project for Cabela's meant that I had to learn about hunting FAST.
In August, a friend offered me the use of an old 50# Darton bow. It was the first time I pulled a compound and could only shoot it three times. The bow was so slow I used newspaper filled cardboard boxes for targets. I started with three or four arrows, assorted lengths, shafts and field point weights. "These arrows won't really make a difference will they?" My archery pro just laughed and build six new ones for me.
Many hunting friends came by. We walked up and down, talked, looking for possible stand sites, trails, anything I could learn. One told me that there were no signs of deer. Others just laughed at my beginners ignorance. Hunting in the back yard after all. I did get lots of help from a high schooler who worked at the local hardware store.
My wife asked me how much this new hobby would cost. "Not more than a few dollars I guessed. After all, I got the bow free and a license is only about $20." I bought a single sale-priced camo jump suit, ladder stand and six new Easton Arrows.
Our house is in a narrow 8 acre wooded parcel between a subdivision and a dairy farm. I had seen a few does and a small buck, but didn't know anything about deer or hunting. The deer seemed to be moving north and south through a corridor of trees, through our land and into a group of mature oak trees. One neighbor put up electric fences because of white-tail damage to his garden.
The evening before the season, a doe and two fawns watched as I practiced setting up my stand. "This shouldn't be too hard," I thought to my self. I did not see one deer in the first 21 days of hunting. Where did they all go? I thought this was going to be easy. How come squirls sounded so big running over dry leaves? When deer finally did come by, there wasn't enough light to really see them (much less shoot). No matter how much I bundled up, I was always frozen. Since the kids would see deer come out after I went to work, one daughter suggested I have mom take my car to school so the deer would think I left. Needless to say, I read everything I could get my hands on and joined North American Hunting Club.
I decided to build a permanent stand in a big maple tree. The frame was already up before a friend suggested using a pallet for a sturdy floor. There was a heavy old one at work, they were glad to get rid of it. I was so exited I could hardly wait till the end of the day. I went home and drove right to my tree. I didn't even change my shirt and tie. I started sliding it up the old wooden ladder ahead of me. Almost to the top, it got stuck on a little branch. Thinking I could move it by, I shoved harder. Instead of the pallet moving up, I pushed myself back away from the ladder. In panick I grabbed for the rungs. The pallet came crushing down on both my arms and fell to my left. Not wanting to waste all this work, I grabbed it with my left arm holding the ladder with my right. It swung around behind me. Now I pulled it up backwards. After more struggle, the pallet fell into place. It was perfect! Not an inch too big or too small. What a great stand! With the house just a few hundred feet away, I could put up a TV and space heater (but I never did)
My expert hunting buddies told me not to draw until a deer looked away, was behind a tree or put their head down. Only later did I find out that few of them had actually gotten deer with a bow. My land was a freeway between feeding and bedding... the deer did not stop.
I started trying scents in film canisters. I might have put them a bit too close to the stand. One Saturday at about 10AM, a beautiful 8 point buck ran in very fast. I grabbed for my grunt call to get his attention before he went completely by. He stopped and looked me in the eye at 15 yards. For what seemed like minutes, I froze without moving or drawing. He turned and slowly ran about 50 yards through some woods, then stopped in a clearing and looked back right at me. I think he was laughing. "I need therapy," I sighed later to my wife. "How could I just sit there?"
As I watched him slowly trot away, I learned the Greatest Rule of Hunting:
OVER 90% of the deer you Don't Shoot at Will Get Away!
Months went by without getting anything. I told my wife, "Deer hunting isn't about killing little animals, its about being in nature, alone with your thoughts and your maker. Its sitting still and being quiet." "You won't be too good at this will you." She observed.
That fateful morning, my new bow wasn't completely sighted in, so the shot was almost instinctive. The doe went about 50 yards and bedded. My calls for help brought out my wife, three daughters, son, three neighbors and two friends with four kids. As we started looking for a blood trail, our tracking team accidently pushed her to move. Thinking we should leave her for a while longer, we headed home. My wife spotted one tiny drop of blood on a leaf. She looked up and her eyes met the eyes of the doe in a spruce just a few feet from her. Before she could get my attention, the deer bolted one last time, dropping only 25 yards from the original shot. Some coached, others watched as I dressed it. "My husband just brings home little white packages, I've never seen this part." One curious neighbor said. We dragged it home and hung it on the swing set.
I'll never forget that fateful morning, Awakened out of a dead sleep, I sat up straight in bed. There was my husband - decked out in camo from head to toe at the foot of the bed. "Sus - I got a doe," he said. "What?" Rubbing my eyes, - "Oh no!!... you didn't" I said covering my mouth with my hands. "I thought you'd be excited for me." "I am, only, I don't know, I just wanted you to get the chances to shoot at them... I never really wanted you to hit one! Oh, the poor thing."
Sleepy eyed, our 3 daughters and son rushed into the bedroom after overhearing the conversation. "Can I help track it, Dad?" "Me too, Dad!" "I want to come too!" "I've got good eyes Dad."
They all caught the hunting bug over the past few months - each one taking their turn going with Dad in the big tree stand. They had prayed for this moment. I was sure that once they actually saw the poor animal, their sympathies would take over and that would be the end of it. I was wrong! Now they help with the processing and are all working toward the day when they can really join their Dad in the hunting fraternity.
Since that time, we've gotten three more bows for wife and kids. All have participated in archery leagues and 3D. The kids walk the woods with me, looking for prints and sign. They already know more about white-tail behavior than I learned in 39 years. My oldest is practicing so she will have enough draw weight to hunt when she turns 12. We now enjoy the woods in ways I missed all my life. Only once did I try venison; over cooked and sauced, it was terrible. I gave my deer to the friend who lent me his bow. He insisted I take a few steaks. We tricked the kids the first time, telling them it was regular steak. They were generous with A1sauce. Only after they finished did we tell them what it was. They seemed to appreciate where it came from and how it got to the table. After all the game was gone, I grilled some top sirloin (beef). Our pickiest eater mumbled, "This is good Dad, but it sure isn't deer!"
Life has changed since that first season. Hunting and practice has given our family a new shared interest. Each of the kids has gone out with me, sometimes they have even seen deer (though they are still a bit young to sit still and be quiet). Megan (7 years old) and I drew on a small buck, then spotted a doe. This year, we needed to get a doe to earn a buck tag. The doe was out of range to I explained how she could walk back toward the house then come back to the stand to move the doe back. Though she had never heard of a drive, she caught on quickly. She headed off through the back yard wearing one of my camo T-shirts with the sleaves dragging on the ground. She looked like a little green dwarf. Susan spotted her as she approached the house and called her in. Megan started frantically waving her sleaves in the direction of her mission and signalling for quiet. Susan got the idea (but couldn't stop laughing). Sure enough, as she turned back, she scared up the little buck right toward me. I never though kids in the tree stand would be a definite asset.
In Wisconsin, it is easier to get both gun and bow permits. Last year, I decided to try gun hunting. My Uncle Ace gave me a Remington 870. My wife wasn't excited about having a gun in our house with all the kids around. I promised to keep it in a locked case... separate from the ammunition... in the garage... in the rafters... taken apart... with a trigger lock on it. That seemed to satisfy her. So when the big day came, I was putting the gun together. Not only didn't I have a chance to sight it in... I hadn't even shot it.
I put the case in my buddy's car, pulled on my new blase orange and we drove out across a field to the woods. They walked me through a swamp, through the woods to the tree stand. After pulling up my gun, getting settled, zipping up my coat, putting on my hat, I started to load up. That's when I realized that I still had the trigger lock on! I had to climb down, retrace my steps, walk the half mile or so across a plowed, frozen field (which is a lot like rock climbing) to my car to get my key. By the time I headed back, shots were starting to ring out. Needless to say, I didn't get back in the stand before sun rise. I did actually see 4 does, but didn't have a hunter's choice for this area. I put the gun away... still un-fired. This year, I got a scope and actually sighted it in. But I still didn't fire a shot while hunting. Who says bow hunting is harder.
I haven't learned everything yet. I satisfied my antlerless requirement this year but I still haven't gotten a trophy. This week a mature 10 point walked in. I was turned away because light sleet was getting in my eyes... so I was a bit surprised to hear him within 10 yards of my stand. He slowly trotted past. I read that you could stop a deer by saying , "whoa." (Page 161, Complete Bowhunting, published by NAHC). I might have done it wrong, but he pretty much bolted. After a few bounds, I grunted and he stopped at about 30 yards. He was behind a bush and I need to make pretty much perfect shots, so I didn't draw. "You're shooting deer not horses!" my wife reminded me when I got home. The next morning I drew on a 6 point at 23 yards... but I want his older brother so I let him go. The late season hasn't started yet.
We look forward to sharing this even more as they grow... for many years to come. Oh, I have spent more than I expected, closer to a thousand than a hundred dollars. But not so very much for some really great joys together.
John Miglautsch has now taken 3 deer in his first 3 seasons... all with a bow in his back yard in suburban Milwaukee. He shoots a 67# Darton Mustang, Cabela's SST carbon arrows with Rocky Mountain Assasin 100 grain broadheads.
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