Early-season buck

Archery season brings new excitement to the fall woods and the opportunity to hunt in warmer weather. The author shows off a beautiful 8-point he was fortunate enough to bag this fall.

As I grow a bit older I find myself developing many of the likes and dislikes my grandfather, then my father and uncles, acquired regarding hunting as they grew increasingly mature and less physical.

It can’t be helped, I guess, age struggling with drive, desire and practicality; it’s a wrestle to strike a balance one can live with.

Last year, especially, I became increasingly aware that the lousy weather deer season often brings wasn’t nearly as much fun as it used to be. There were very few warm, balmy days during archery season; it was always windy it seemed and colder than usual. The hours and hours I spent in the stand were memorable more for being cold and bored than anything else. In preceding years there were warm mornings and afternoons when it was a pleasure to be in the woods, but not 2018.

On a Missouri deer hunt it was actually 14 degrees one morning — not enjoyable at all.

I’m sure we all remember the high winds, rain and misery associated with rifle season last year. Hunting was an endurance contest in such miserable conditions.

So, when archery season rolled around this year, I couldn’t help but think it sure would be nice to get a buck when it was warm and balmy rather than endure the pain and misery colder weather brings later in the season. The reticence Grandad showed in his later years during inclement weather made a lot more sense to me now than it did then. So, with such sobering thoughts in mind I determined to hunt harder in the early season and hope for the best.

Another reason to concentrate the first week of archery are the deer themselves.

I’ve noticed over the years that bucks especially changed their routine early in October. During the late summer up to and including September they have a fairly regular feeding pattern. If you’re lucky that pattern continues up until the first week of archery. Then, with the rut approaching, bucks simply stop becoming predictable. Some bucks still hang in bachelor groups, but all in all they feel the approaching season of romance and heaven knows where they may be at any given time.

Also, acorns begin falling along with other mast crops and the changing food patterns affect deer movements. With luck the first few days may find the bucks still in the summer pattern.

Another thing I love about the first weekend of archery is returning to the camaraderie of deer camp. The welcomes, teasing, brotherly atmosphere of friends with a common love getting together once again. Building the traditional wood fire to take the chill and dampness out of the cabin, gazing again at the familiar pictures, mounts and antlers from previous years on the walls. Sitting back in the overstuffed chairs and simply relaxing.

Of course, we eat quite well at camp, you never know what someone may bring, and on the TV there’s playoff baseball games, football and, naturally, hunting channels.

Oh, to sit back and simply relax — there’s nothing like it.

The first morning we all dragged ourselves out of bed, ate a hurried breakfast of peanut butter toast and headed to our stands. I spooked five deer on the way in, but didn’t see any antlers in the dim light.

Once I was comfortably 20 feet in the air I realized I’d forgotten my binoculars. Drat! I saw two does, then another deer. He was a shooter — nice horns — but too far away. At 10 I climbed down and returned to camp for breakfast.

In the evening I saw a spike, two does and passed on a 7-point with nice beams but short points. By next year he’ll be respectable.

I was busy the next morning, but in the stand by 4 p.m. To my surprise there were already deer in the field. Good sign or bad? Time would tell. I settled in for the last couple hours.

After a short wait a one-horned spike materialized and stared me down for 15 uncomfortable minutes. I never twitched. He relaxed, fed for a while and left, but returned with another tiny spike. Then two does appeared with a huge 4-point. He must have winded me and they all trotted slowly away.

Darn wind, anyway, but at least the deer were on their feet and moving.

Twilight approached and suddenly two larger spikes appeared in the growing darkness. One was very alert and on edge, the other simply ate clover as fast as possible. Suddenly, they both snapped their heads up and stared into the goldenrod. Something about their attitude told me another buck was coming. I stared hard, but was unable to see another deer.

I better be prepared, though, and slowly and silently grabbed my bow. When I glanced back up a big 8-point stepped into the field. He’d been standing right where I’d been looking, but was so perfectly camouflaged as to be invisible.

My heart leaped into my throat and I trembled with excitement. What a buck! I was afraid to even breathe and remained absolutely motionless. He stared carefully around and then walked arrogantly at the spikes, which danced nervously out of his way. Keeping a sharp eye on all three deer I began raising the bow and, of all things, didn’t my boot slip and strike the stand with a light thud.

Are you kidding me?

All three heads snapped up and stared in my direction. I looked to the side, not wanting to even make eye contact, but the sound had been slight and after 30 seconds or so they went back to feeding.

Ever so slowly I raised the bow, freezing whenever one of the bucks looked up. Finally, I aimed, used the 30-yard holdover and squeezed. The arrow struck a little high and the buck dropped instantly.

I couldn’t believe it. I’d got him! Rushing out of the stand, hardly believing my good fortune, I was elated not to have a difficult tracking job through the thick cover surrounding the field. This time of year tracking can be extremely difficult in goldenrod.

Once the buck was gutted and tagged I got on the cell phone and spread the good news. Man, how lucky can you get? This all seemed too good to be true. As I waited in the gathering darkness for help in getting the buck out I was smiling — Grandad and Dad would certainly have loved experiencing a short season like this.

It seemed I could feel them around me smiling and shaking their heads in approval saying, “You’re beginning to understand now, boy, beginning to understand!”

(Wade Robertson is an award-winning outdoor writer whose articles have been published in Pennsylvania Outdoor News, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur, Fish & Game and other publications. His email is wj.robertson@netzero.net.)