This story was first written to its entirety as one, however due to the length of the article I realized it would be easier to read if it were broken down and published in separate chapters. I hope that you will read all parts of the article and understand that because it is a recounting of events there is a lot of detail that takes some time to draw to one main event near the end.
My deer hunting season of 2009 turned out to be brief and memorable, but not for reasons you would want. That year I had several "firsts" in my hunting experiences, even though I had been bow hunting for 15 years by then. I must warn you that the latter part of this story will not be entirely easy to read about and may not be suitable for children. I still have not disclosed the details to my 9 year old daughter because I do not want her to be afraid to go hunting with me in the future, or be fearful for me when I go hunting. It is an event that was difficult to write about because it brought back very intense fears. But it is something that must be told so that other hunters can become aware of certain rights for personal safety that still need to be fought for in many states. This article is a follow up to my series "When the Huntress Becomes the Hunted", which began in February of 2010.
My story began with me being able to take vacation to go hunting for 6 consecutive days, for the first time in since becoming a mother 8 years previously. With some very coordinated planning my husband, mother and sister-in-law all agreed to help watch our two young children while I was on my hunting trip. My destination was our family farm 150 miles away which I knew like the back of my hand, had played on since I was a little girl, hunted on since I received my first bow and cherished spending time at as my little piece of paradise. I had enjoyed several moments of excitement and hunting success here in prior years.
On my first morning out I was excited to spot a decent 150 class buck from about 500 yards away in a lower field coming my direction. I was positioned in a tree stand near the top of a hill and the sound easily echoed down into the field in a lower valley. I hoped to lure this nice buck closer to me and knew if I called the sound would travel quite a distance. I started to use a doe bleat, then after a short while used two different buck grunt calls alternately. After waiting a little I started to rattle. This sequence had worked well for me in the past. I lost sight of him as he went through a creek area still coming in my direction. Then, within about 3 minutes of finishing this call sequence, I heard from the field beyond the "Whack" sound of antlers from two large bucks that had began to fight. The sound was coming from the semi-wooded area on the edge of the field just past the creek bank which was out of my view. I could tell they were large bucks because of the difference in sound that you hear with the various sizes of tines. Larger tines have more of a "tink" sound to them where smaller, shorter tines do not. Thicker tines also have a louder, dense, resonating sound. If you ever fool around and practice with real rattling horns you will find how these differences sound. My heart jumped as I could hear the battle continue and I decided to quickly get down from my tree and get closer. I was no sooner down from my tree headed their direction when suddenly I was surprised by the sound of a coyote that began to bark and yip as it ran in their direction. It was on the same hillside as me and probably only about 100 yards away from me through the trees. I could tell from its vocals that we both had the same idea. So I tried to get through the woods faster, hoping to get at least a view of the two bucks before the coyote spoiled the scene. Soon the coyotes' yip stopped and so did the sound of the fight. By the time I arrived at the edge of the trees the deer had already fled. Only the coyote was there now, frantically pacing through the grassy area as if it hoped to spook something up from the brush. This was likely the area where the bucks had been fighting. The coyote did not prevail at finding anything, so it stopped to urinate there. Then it ran out into the field nearby and defecated. I assume this was some sort of territorial symbol but do not know enough about coyotes' behaviors to say for sure. I was shocked, disgusted, mad and frustrated all at the same time. This incident started the wheels to turning in my head, as I had never seen such aggressive or desperate behavior from a coyote before. About 3 years prior I had seen a coyote chasing after a small doe that had just emerged from the trees into a soybean field. I tried to hunt more that morning since it was still early, but there was nothing but silence in the woods after that.
That afternoon I set up a Wolf Stand ® in a tree line which looked over three fields. (I specifically like this brand of tree stand because they are easy for women to carry and put up or take down, due to how light weight they are.) I hoped this location would give me the opportunity to see more deer movement, though it would not necessarily give me a close shot one unless one came right under my stand. I also did a bit of scouting for tree stand placement. I located a spot for a climber stand. I placed it near an area where I had found a small doe trail, not far from where the bucks had been that morning. That evening I hunted the climber but I did not see any deer or anything. But I did enjoy the sounds of a hoot owl into the evening.
With the coming of the second morning I put myself up in a different stand that was off of a trail between a bedding and feeding area, intersected by a creek crossing and was 20 yards from a fence line. But for the first time I notice that the creek crossing did not indicate the same sort of dense traffic I had seen in years past. It showed only a few hoof prints from deer, but did show some prints that were coyotes. I assumed that the deer were possibly crossing in a dry part of the stream farther up and more secluded. Early that morning a shy spike buck came by and grazed on the tips of the seeded grass stems from 15 yards away. After that it was a quiet morning with no movement.
That afternoon I worked on cutting open a deer trail that had been previously well-traveled but I found had become more sparsely used. I hoped to open up more to encourage more traffic again. This was a technique I had learned from a state wildlife biologist. He had explained that contrary to some belief that deer often prefer the path of least resistance, they don’t always. As I was cutting this trail I was stunned to come across some sort of den area, about 10 yards from the trail. At that point I was not sure this trail would be well used by deer at all. Nonetheless, I decided that the next morning I would set up in a tree stand nearby to see what was using this travel route.
Later in the evening, I was up in the Wolf Stand ® and watched for a glimpse of any deer coming into the fields or walking the edges, to get a sense of their travel patterns which I felt had changed. I still do my scouting the old fashioned way and have not yet purchased a game camera, but feel these could be a very valuable tool to use. However, budget being what it is, I had yet to add this to my hunting supplies’ collection. I was surprised that I did not see any movement from deer whatsoever. Towards dusk I heard one turkey gobbling and then at dark I heard the sound of a hoot owl again. I still had a positive attitude about the days to come though.
On the third morning I made my way up to the stand near the trail I had cut the previous afternoon. This had been a main travel corridor located on a hillside, which in years past had typically been heavily used by bucks and does seeking a mate. I have found that unless something changes in their environment or hunting pressure that deer are creatures of habit and will use trails they are accustomed to and feel secluded and safe in. I was settled in and waited for light. This time I intended to be mostly silent and use an occasional doe and fawn bleat. By 8:30 there was still no sign of life: no birds, rabbits, squirrels, turkeys and certainly no deer yet. I decided it was time to try to call and first used a fawn bleat, I then waited 15 minutes and used a doe bleat. I then continued with a few more doe bleats about 10 minutes apart. To my surprise it brought in something I had not expected: a coyote. It came sneaking in as though it were stalking something. Once it got closer to me it stopped near a downed tree that had heavy grass growing around it and spent a lot of time sniffing the area over. Then it began to go underneath the cedar trees nearby smelling for fresh signs of a deer, as they will often bed under the protection of a cedar tree. I hoped that it would come closer and give me a chance to shoot. Coyotes can definitely become a nuisance and an over population of them can affect hunting pressure. There was a point that it was only 25 yards away and I pulled back my bow, yet a tree and some ground brush kept me from taking a shot, but I kept hoping for a shot. Then the coyote left from the same direction that it came from, so I let off. It seemed to follow the trail down that went back down the hill. I decided to wait it out a little longer that morning, but no other animals ever came into the area.
At late morning I decided to go back to my camper for a hot lunch and walked back to the truck. Driving down the road past a nearby rural house I noticed that their dogs were all gone. In years past they had always had up to 3 dogs at a time, so I wondered about this. My first thought was if the coyotes had gotten them, as is common in the country if dogs are not brought in at dusk.
That evening I used a stand in a more secluded area, near a field that had previously been a food plot. Once again I found the woods were silent, though a few times I heard the snapping of a few branches in the distance, yet never saw an animal. It was a considerable walk of almost an hour back, so I left just before the sun set entirely. My hands were swollen and sore from the hard work I had done in previous days and my body was very tired from the long walk. The combination of exhaustion and lack of deer activity made me discouraged and feeling disappointed. I had never before seen my property so still and without life. That evening as I walked back to my truck in the dark I could hear a couple coyotes calling from different directions off in the distance. It did not bother me, but just was a reminder of their presence.