As I crept along my stand approach trail in the dark, last years archery opener seemed like a forever ago. I had spent the last two years, and the better part of last six months grooming this primitive patch of woods for deer and bear hunting. I knew every trail, swamp, thicket and elevation. Turning off my flashlight, I stood still for a few moments at the base of my tree on this very dark morning. The pungent smell of the wet leaves, the earth underfoot, and the fragrant moist oak bark of my stand tree combined with the patter of drizzle on the tree canopy gave me a sudden chill of enjoyment. How I revel in the rhythm of the wild. Due to various circumstances, I was hunting the Minnesota archery opener alone for the first time this year. But, the rhythm of the wild is a part of my soul and just being here is enough. Gear ready, I ascended the tree in silence and settled in for the morning hunt. The steady drizzle pooled on the surrounding basswood leaves, and they occasionally let loose of their water load to pour on the forest floor below. This effect made the woods alive with movement and sound, even though the air was still. The rhythm again became obvious, as the rhythmic movement of water rivulets, combined with various birds echoing calls to each became almost musical when combined with the rain. By 10:30am I quite was sure every deer for miles was wisely bedded down, so I still-hunted back to camp.
Camp this year had shaped up to be a nearly finished two bedroom log sided hunting shack and was truly a place that brought out my nesting instinct. A friend and I continued to bear hunt in the evenings here, and my three baits were being systematically emptied by bruins who had patterned me and gone nocturnal. I was excited to check them today, since I had been baiting but not hunting for the last week. With one bait hit and two ignored, I reset trail timers and an infrared camera, finished chores at camp and readied for the evening hunt. While I was disappointed at the conspicuous absence of deer in the woods compared to last years archery opener, I was excited for the evening hunt since I had been asked to be an instructor/mentor for the Becoming an Outdoors Woman hunt at a 260 acre farm ten miles south of my land.
Arriving at the farm and stepping out of my truck, I found myself stepping into the picturesque landscape of an oil painting. The meandering Knife River bifurcated a setting laced with trails, wildflowers, woods and meadows. A glacier carved this area into many undulating hills and deep swales. The owners were a gracious, educated and wise couple who knew their property as a mother knows her child. After reviewing a map and the locations of the other women who were hunting, I chose an unoccupied stand set on the edge of a fifteen acre clover field. As I made the long walk across the field, I wondered how the almost deafening din of chirping crickets would effect deer behavior. Once at the stand, I knew the light south wind would keep my scent off the clover field. I flicked a dab of Trails End 307 out 15 feet on the ground to my downwind side with the thought that it would be an olfactory diversion to any approaching whitetails.
After three hours of alternating between sitting and standing, the wind settled down and the evening at once had that magic of seeming perfect for deer movement. Sure enough, a doe and a fawn approached from directly downwind of me. When they hit the scent I dropped, they stopped, sniffed and ruffled their noses in the leaves, seeming oblivious to me as they passed directly under my stand.
Sensing movement in my right peripheral vision, I slowly torqued my head around to see a fawn and a doe emerge from the woods 70 yards away from and behind me. They both still had much of their red summer coloring. I suddenly realized that this was a right handed tree stand and being a left handed shooter, I was completely backward and sitting down when I should be standing and turned if I was to make a prudent shot.
As I continued to observe the duo, a gray deer nose poked out of the woods from the same spot and remained motionless. "That is a big doe", I thought to myself. A fork buck went past the hidden deer, and joined the others grazing in the field. The gray nose emerged further, and my heart began to race as I saw the large gray body of an eight point buck. He strutted slowly into the field, scanning back and forth as a king would scan his holdings. Again I sensed that rhythm of the wild as crescendos crickets seemed to keep cadence with the buck as he performed a hesitation strut into the field, eyeing the other deer for any sign of alarm. As I strained to see him through the leaves, he caught my movement. I froze and diverted my eyes. I could see from my peripheral vision that he continued to stare at me. The other three deer walked slowly in a circle with their tails straight out and I silently prayed that I wasnt busted. Oh, and he was such a pretty boy too, with a sleek muzzle, chiseled cheekbones, beautiful body definition, and graceful yet powerful. I wanted him.
After several minutes passed, he looked away, relaxed and buried his snout in the clover to eat. I let out a silent sigh of relief as I felt a blush of sweat form all over my body. I began a slow motion effort to remove the release from my bowstring, stand up, and turn 180 degrees to prepare for a shot. The basswood cluster was tight enough that I also needed to rotate my bow with its nocked arrow skyward and bring it back down into the intended shooting lanes not once, but twice. And I needed to do all of this without alarming the two deer passing under my stand. They were headed for the clover field too, but if they spooked, the party would be over. It took twenty five minutes to execute the turn and by this time my buck had grazed to within 30 yards of my stand. I carefully placed my feet, and slowly began to draw. The crickets covered the sound of my aluminum arrow sliding on my rest. I hovered at full draw for nearly two minutes, trying to control my breathing and watching the tip of my broadhead bob slightly with each beat of my now pounding heart. Now he had grazed to within 20 yards of me. He took one more step and was right in the sweet spot of my shooting lane as I put my twenty yard pin on his lungs, tightening my muscles so I wouldnt shake. As I readied to squeezed off my release, he took another half step. Thwack! The arrow was gone and I watched the buck leap, whirl and bolt for cover with the bright orange and yellow fletching firmly planted in his side. It was a little further back than I had in mind, but it seemed like a liver and lung shot. I lowered my bow and began to shake as I memorized the shot location and his escape trajectory back into the woods. I heard crashing and then silence. I quietly thanked God for having the privilege of taking a shot at such a fine animal.
I was too full of adrenalin to sit on stand, so I climbed down and went back to my truck to change into my tracking clothes and wait in case my shot placement was off and the buck needed time to lay down and stay down. Another of the ladies, Lisa, returned from her stand and I invited her to accompany me and Betty, the landowner, to track and dress the deer. We found the blood trail, bright red and sprayed either side on the foliage at thigh level, so we knew the shot was good. Marking the blood trail with tape, we together followed the blood trail down a deep ravine. Lisa spotted the buck first. At first I could not believe it. We raced to the site and found him crumpled in the leaves. My aluminum arrow had broken into three pieces with the Steel Force broadhead still embedded. After carefully removing the broadhead, Lisa observed and Betty coached while I field dressed the animal. I went to get my ATV to drag him out and once back with all the ladies who had returned from their evening hunts, the excitement was electric. This was the biggest buck I had ever seen in the woods, the biggest buck I had ever killed, and my first retrieved bow kill. I was ecstatic. My non-hunting husband had driven up to rendezvous with our group for our game feed that night, and joined me later that evening at the hunting shack. We stayed up late as I recounted every detail of the hunt for him.
The following day, I opted not to hunt as the other ladies chose their stands. I had the pleasure of spending many hours walking and chatting with Betty. At dusk, another of the ladies arrowed a doe. We spent considerable time tracking the deer, but it started to rain so we gave up for the evening.
Yes, there is a rhythm to wild nature, from the predictable cycles of the seasons, to the feeding cycles of wildlife. From the sounds of animals going through the forest, to the echoes of birds calling to each other from different parts of the woods. The rustle of leaves, the crack of thunder, the leaping antics of red squirrels, the honking of geese in their first Fall flights, or the approach of a rain shower as it dances across the tree tops like a wave on the ocean. Once a hunter becomes familiar with, and becomes a part of these rhythms, hunting becomes not only an adventure, but a fulfillment of ones primal nature to which little else can compare.
© September 2001