I was lucky enough to spend a Sunday hunting at the house of a new friend I had met for the first time last year at a "Beyond B.O.W." (Becoming an Outdoors Woman) ladies archery deer hunt on her property near Mora, MN.
Betty Wilkens and her husband, Dan, graciously opened up their home and land for me to "play the waiting game," as I often refer to hunting. She has 260 acres of "recreational" land, as she calls it, where the hunting is great, the tree-covered hills are awesome and the views of the winding Knife River are a beauty to behold.
This would be a management hunt where only antlerless deer could be taken. In Minnesota, that would mean any antlered deer that was three inches or less in length. Of course, that morning was to be a lesson in honor.
At first I had a yearling doe appear 50+ yards at the top of the ridge above me. She worked her way my direction, east, and I was ready with my bow in hand, anticipating that shot. Unfortunately, the middle floorboard of the permanent tree stand squeaked. I knew this as soon I got into the stand but told myself to keep my feet on either side of that board and hopefully all would be well. Well... as she came into an opening at 20 yards, I shifted my weight to get ready to draw on her, but my foot touched "that" board, she heard the sound, and she stopped and stared in my direction. I froze before I could even draw. I waited for her to make the first move. Finally, she took two steps but looked my way once again. I never moved and after a minute, she wagged her tail in confidence and continued walking eastward towards the river without ever looking back at me. Of course, there was now too much brush between the two of us to even attempt a good shot, and I lowered my bow and watched her disappear into the woods below me.
No more than five minutes later, I heard a noise behind me, and there, no more than eight yards beneath me, was a buck. I looked at his rack and counted eight points.
He was a young buck, as his rack was rather small, but it was still definitely more than three inches in length! Of course, he taunted me by stopping often and offering me broadside and quartering away shots at close distances.
"Oh man! I can't shoot him! Betty says I can't shoot him!" Then I got this idea. I'd shoot him with my camera!! I pulled the camera out of my backpack and got him that way. I watched as he started up the hill and then turned and headed north. He caught the doe's scent, changed course and followed in her path eastward through the woods. I never did second-guess myself whether or not I should have taken him as it was Betty's wishes on her property, and I would honor them.
I did see another doe later, at the top of the ridge again, but she was heading due north, well out of shooting range.
That afternoon before three o'clock, I headed out to the north field, less than 200 yards from the house. Betty said that deer were coming out almost every night in that area and were in bow range of the stand there. That was good news to me because I have sat there on a few occasions before and seen deer, but they were always well out of bow range, usually on a different side of the field from me.
As long as I was situated in the five-tree (platform was built in a tree that had a cluster of five trees, making it great to hide behind a certain tree if need be), I pulled out my laser range finder and notepad and drew a crude diagram of the area and the distance between my tree and several other trees that would make good landmarks. I even wrote the yardages down so if a deer ever appeared in a certain spot, I wouldn't have to second-guess the yardage. It worked wonderfully. Shortly thereafter, I saw two deer appear from the woods 55 yards away. They came out right where two huge popple trees were that I had previously taken a reading. I hoped they would work themselves my way. This they did, but they came to 30 yards and hung up on some tasty clover. It was just after 4:30, with plenty of daylight left, so I continued to wait. My eyes were diverted to movement farther back in the woods, 130 yards away, as three more deer stepped out of the woods from the west and worked their way my direction along the field's edge. Of course, I had no idea that those deer would reach me sooner than the first 2 deer, but I kept my eye on all five of them. One was now less than 20 yards away, but I needed her to come closer since there were too many tree limbs in the way. There was another cluster tree right off and to the front of mine, so I told myself to draw as soon as her head went behind it. That very moment it did, I drew and waited for her to step out the other side as I already had a little shooting window picked out that was 15 yards and right on the mowed path (from house to tree stand). Just like textbook, she stepped onto that path, right in my shooting window, and turned her head away from me, but I felt my draw arm slipping forward. "Don't shoot until you have the string ALL the way back," I told myself, and I pulled it back again to the wall, placed the pin behind her shoulder and told myself, "Now." I let the arrow fly and it hit its mark just where I aimed. I didn't see the arrow after that as she turned and ran in an arc, the direction from whence she came. I wasn't even sure at this point which deer she was because three other deer ran back into the northwest woods with her. Just one stayed back and tried to figure out what had happened. I made note of the time, 4:50 p.m., and then grabbed another arrow from my quiver and knocked it onto my string. I watched the remaining deer take a few quick trots to the east, the exact opposite of the others, and she came out of the woods that we were both in, to the field's edge 40 yards away, and slowly walked out of my life.
I didn't allow myself to get too excited just yet. I wanted to find her first. I stayed in that tree another five minutes. I could have stayed another half hour before legal shooting hours were up, but there were no deer visible now and I wanted to get back to the house while there was still light and share the news with Betty and Dan.
On entering the house, I told them I had gone out this afternoon with five arrows in my quiver and came back with just four.
"I hope one is in a deer," Betty said.
"Yep," I said with a big smile.
Betty got dressed for the cold and grabbed some flashlights, and we headed back out to the spot where I believed the deer went into the woods at. While walking the north/south field edge, parallel to the river below, we spotted two deer that were back in the field. When they spotted us, they ran back into the woods where we were headed.
I told Betty approximately where I thought the deer entered the woods. I heard a lot of crashing, so I didn’t think the deer had taken the easy tractor path to the neighbor's land but must have jumped the fence and crashed directly into the woods.
About 20 yards to the east from the tractor path entrance, we found splatterings of blood. This location was about 80 yards from where I shot her. There were also two big tufts of white hair that were on the other side of the barbed wire fence, which told us she did indeed jump it, as there was more blood on the other side. It wasn't hard finding the blood; it was sprayed everywhere in the path she took. We found her about 20 yards or so into the woods from the fence where we first picked up the trail.
I knelt down beside her and petted her. I could feel the emotions starting to well up inside me and thought I'd better speak before I couldn't say the words.
"Thank you God. Thank you Betty," and then I cried.
'This is your first, isn't it?"
"Yes," I managed to mumble, "and I've waited so long for this, and now I finally got one. She's so beautiful."
"Yes, she is. She's a nice fat doe."
I think Betty was truly as happy as I was.
It was a perfect hit behind the shoulder and exited out the other side in the same spot. I was sure glad of that for making the blood tracking easier.
While Betty held the flashlight for me, as she is allergic to deer dander, I field dressed the doe. Betty told me what to do and was very patient with me as it must have taken me an hour to gut the doe. She was a mama doe and it was her two fawns that were with her earlier.
When I finished, we attached my Treehopper climbing belt around her neck and the other end around my waist and dragged her out of the thick stuff and onto the cleared tractor path. We kept her there and walked back to the house so Dan could drive the jeep back to her and drag her the rest of the way through the field. We hosed her down to get off as much blood as we could before putting her in the bed of my truck. We never looked for the arrow in the dark, so Betty said she would look for it during the day and save it for me--my lucky arrow. I thanked Betty and Dan once again and gave them both hugs for all their help.
When I got home, we broke out a bottle of sweet Minnesota-made cherry wine that I had bought several years ago for this very occasion. It was well chilled by this time and ready to be enjoyed!
Now I can't wait to get a buck!