Minnesota forests become magic places at various times of year. In early August, the chirping of crickets in the fields are the harbingers of hunting seasons, just like the honking of Canada geese in April are the harbingers of spring. Those crickets also stir memories of my gathering Velveeta cheese boxes full of them as a kid and trying to keep them as pets.
My portable stands this year were mostly in place, and the results of three years of food plot planning were about to be tested. Last year, I had harvested a nice eight point buck on the Minnesota archery opener. He met my arrow on the edge of a clover field on a farm 20 miles from my land. The crickets were chirping in waves that day. Watching that group of deer enter the field and the twenty minutes it took for the buck to graze to within shooting distance are scenes indelibly etched in my memory. I was determined to recreate that scenario on my own land. This would be a formidable task, since my woods was thick and largely undeveloped for any sort of wildlife management. In my two previous articles, "Changes" and "Food Plots Part 2", I overviewed the efforts involved in creating an open grazing field habitat out of dense forest. This year, and today, I would put three years of planning and effort to the test.
As I walked to my stand in the darkness and silently climbed to my tree stand perch at the edge of my own little clover field, I was praying that history might repeat itself. The woods were pitch black as I nocked an arrow by feel and not by sight, then settled comfortably into what has to be one of my favorite places in the world to be. The haunting call of a hoot owl echoed through the woods. Acorns were dropping now, with a bumper crop from our wet summer. The woods went from dark, to gray, to the heavy dew veiled air of morning. The crickets started singing from the little one-acre field, slowly at first and then in irregular crescendos. A red squirrel leaped from a nearby tree to mine, within inches of my face and hung there upside down staring at me, spasmodically twitching as red squirrels do. A gray squirrel did a similar routine on a tree three feet away, making little clucking noises and then corkscrewed down the tree when he saw my eyes moving. I heard deer movement to the east of me and then heard them wheeze in alarm. This was small game opener for firearms season, as well and perhaps they were spooked by other hunters in the area. The deer circled to the south and I could not hear them anymore. Nearly an hour later, I caught movement out of my right peripheral vision. I froze. An adult doe and yearling were coming up the trail from my bear bait station to the south and into the clover field to graze. Deer movement was usually from the north in the morning, so this entrance route caught me by surprise. I ranged the deer and they would soon be at 20 yards. Bow in position, I poised ready to draw as they made their way to my first shooting lane. They passed through it too quickly so I got ready for a seated shot at the next window through the trees. As the doe approached the perfect spot, I pulled to full draw. My adrenalin was peaking and I suppressed my shaking muscles with sheer will power. There she was.... I readied to release the arrow. At the same moment, squirrels knocked acorns from a nearby tree and both deer jumped suddenly and turned. The arrow leaped from my bow string hitting the doe further back than I had intended. She flinched and ran off into the woods. It was 7:40 AM and while the shot was not the greatest, I was hopeful that if I waited at least an hour, she would bed down and bleed out. After waiting, I descended and started to track the animal. The blood trail was good, but with the thick canopied forest and overcast sky, I had to use a flashlight to see the blood trail as I marked my progress with FireTape. About 80 yards into the woods, it started to rain. Now 9:40 AM, I abandoned tracking to get my hunting partner Deb to help before the rain washed away the blood trail. I figured two sets of eyes were better than one. At about 150 yards out we found the doe, quite lifeless, but with some residual muscle twitching. I thanked God for the privilege of taking the animal and that even though the shot could have been better, the doe had been retrieved. Just to make certain she was done, I bled her, which is something I had never done before. After field dressing, I dragged her to my waiting ATV and then back to put her on ice at camp.
As I sat there in my stand that morning, I marveled at how we humans can manipulate the habits of wildlife by altering their environment somewhat. My property had been a transition area mostly, with deer traveling from the neighboring fields at night, to their bedding areas in the huge thick swamp on my south 40. By clearing two one acre patches of woods in the center of my land, and planting food plots using food plot seed products, I had created a destination point. Strategically placed infrared cameras proved it. The food plots had the tracks of both deer and bear, and trails fanned out from the plots in all directions like the spokes of a wagon wheel. My goal for this archery opener was to harvest a doe, since there were a great many more of them than bucks. This would take the pressure off me so I could enjoy hunting the rest of the season and could concentrate on finding that old multi-tined swamp buck that I'd heard about and that my son had seen only once.
Yes, today it was "just a doe". But I worked very hard for her. I was more satisfied with her harvest than with any deer I had taken since the first buck I killed on public land with a Remington Model 7, .308 bolt action rifle years ago. After three years and thousands of hours invested in wildlife management, this was more than "just a doe". To me, she was trophy.
© Sept. 2002