In slow motion, I climbed silently down from my tree stand, carefully placing each boot on the step sticks in time with the wind intermittently tossing the tree tops. One squeak of my rubber boots on the metal, or the crunching sound of oak bark, and I would be busted. Once on the ground, I stood still for a few seconds checking the area for critters. The oak ridge was a magnet for deer and squirrels with the acorn crop having just dropped, and the west food plot was only 100 yards to the south. Placing the food plot there funneled deer through this area. A squirrel barking at me would be an alarm call and there were squirrels all over the place. I felt like a burglar in a spotlight. I took two steps, slowly scanning the woods again for movement and caught sight of a doe feeding 30 yards right behind me at seven o’clock. I had missed her the first time I looked. After the heavy rain the day before, the leaves were wet and quiet so deer seemed to appear like ghosts out of nowhere. The doe looked my direction, but did not seem alarmed. I felt invisible. This was fun! I carefully took two more steps, keeping my eye on the doe. She now had fed to within twenty yards of me and was closing fast. I did not want to booger up the woods by startling her and wished she would go away. Once 12 feet from me, she caught my eyes blink, startled, ran off, and stopped. I froze and averted my eyes. She stared me down, and then sauntered off, seemingly content that I was simply the next bit of brush moving in the wind gusts. The forest understory is relatively sparse here because the mature tree canopy blocks the sun from promoting its growth. Only the many volunteer maple saplings provided cover in my tree stand. I slowly made my way to the arrow that was stuck in a tree root 15 yards from my stand. From my stand I could not tell if it had blood on it or not, even through my binoculars. I could not shoot another doe if the one I had just arrowed was dead somewhere. Coming up to the arrow, I saw it was covered with bright red blood. The arrow had thwacked the wood so loudly, I thought for a moment that I might have missed and had even nocked another arrow while in my stand. I quit second guessing myself and went to fetch the arrow. "A pass through" I said to myself, delighted. I went back to my tree and retrieved my bow and gear. It was tracking time and I had plenty of light left for a change. The angle of the arrow in the tree stump and the 15 yard distance told me I must have a lung shot and with a low exit wound, so I should not have to look for long.
For once, I got to follow a textbook blood trail. Textbook, because I teach Firearm Safety and teach about shot placement and blood trailing. I say "for a change" because I had arrowed two does the previous weekend and there was little in the way of a blood trail with either of them even though I thought the shots were good. This lady deer took a fairly direct route away from the kill site but then crossed several small pocket swamps and thickets. Finding her was the easy part. Getting her out was a challenge for one woman alone. Once weighed back at camp, the doe tipped the scales at over 25 pounds heavier than me, an even 145 pounds undressed.
Veteran hunters might want to stop reading here because what I am excited to talk about now is pretty basic. But I have a naïve excitement as I mature through the hunting process, and I had broken through another glass ceiling with hunting in the last year. I have not had the advantage of having one dedicated hunting mentor in my life and hence am I mostly self taught. If there is a wrong way to do something, I have done it. I have changed some things in the last year, and I have seen more animals and had more shots than ever before. I had felt invisible for this hunt and I attribute that to several things:
Play that Wicked Wind
Playing the wind has always been a challenge for me and one of the hardest things for me to figure out. The concepts of figuring out where the deer are traveling, and then not only placing a stand within shooting range but in such a way where I can access the stand by traveling upwind to it, all became one convoluted confusion to me. Other hunters seem to understand this concept instinctively, but not me. True, scent containment clothing is good and you will see more deer. However, if a deer is down wind of you, they will smell you no matter what you are wearing. They just won’t smell you as strong. And if you accessed your stand on the same path the deer will travel at dawn or dusk, they will usually spook at your scent. The key therefore is to play the wind. For this hunt, I had sat on a food plot in the morning and noticed the deer were coming from the north and south and the wind was from the southwest. I decided for the afternoon hunt to take a very long approach route to the north, and then double back into the wind, in what I call a "J hook" approach, to another stand I placed last year but had not yet hunted. The plan paid off. I saw deer around my stand within ten minutes of getting settled in and arrowed my doe an hour later. I still have a lot to learn about stand placement and playing the wind.
Face Camo Paint
I have been slow to convert to using face camo paint for several reasons. For one, I thought a head net would work just fine and be less hassle. Also, I tried face camo paint many years ago and my skin broke out terribly from it. The stick-on-your-face camo is uncomfortable and tears my skin. And quite frankly, I felt rather unfeminine painting myself up like Rambo. But this year I found a couple of different products I liked and the results in the field have been remarkable enough to throw my objections to face paint right out the window. My skin is very fair and even with a face mask, the white of the skin that did show was like a beacon in the woods. I simply see more deer with my face painted. The deer seem to look right "though" me.
Slow and Quiet
Moving slowly goes against my nature being a hyper type person. But the only way to walk quietly in the woods is to take it slow. I like to get from point A to point B quickly but I have to stuff that urge. Even with wind as a cover, going too fast to your hunting area can bust you before you ever get there. On occasion deer might be curious and come in to check out the foreign noises, but those deer will mostly be does and not bucks, and will certainly be on alert. It is well worth getting up a half hour earlier so you can get to, and into, your stand slowly and quietly.
Moving In Your Stand
The first year I deer hunted, my buddies told me I needed to move in super slow motion ALL the time or I would get busted by deer. Don’t move a muscle. Be perfectly still. I did that, yet I still did not see deer. Plus, after my hunts I just ached from not moving for hours. My then twelve year old son however, was as wiggly as a bag of snakes and yet he saw more deer than I ever did. And when I did see deer I was so afraid they would see me move, I didn’t know how or when to move to get ready for a shot and lost quite a few shots as a result. There is a happy medium to these two extremes. Lesson #1 - Deer are not magic spirits who can see you blink at a hundred yards. However, when they are in range, they will pick out your movement in a heartbeat, and the party will be over. Timing is everything. I have learned to move when the deer’s head is blocked by a tree or foliage, when its head is down feeding, or when it is facing away from me. Yes, you have to minimize movement, because often the forest floor is damp and deer can sneak up on you unheard. Most of the time, you can turn your head slowly and use your eyes to keep scanning the woods for animal movement. Secondly, you use your hearing, listening for any strange noise in the many layers of forest noises. Your eyes are your best bet however. The moment you visually locate deer, do not take your eyes off them and move only when their head is obscured or is down feeding. Since movement will bust you quickly, always have your bow or gun in your hand, NOT hanging on a hook where you have to reach for it. Using a good bow sling to keep your bow at the ready, is a must. With your bow at the ready, the only movement needed is to slip your release on your bowstring and pull it back.
Camo can be a personal preference or a business decision. Either way, the bottom line is, your camo must make you blend into your surroundings as much as possible. If you are confident with your camo pattern, you will be confident as a predator. Camo also must make you feel invisible, since hunting is such a mind game. I have tried many camo patterns. This year I am trying ASAT camo, and I can honestly say, that next to the scent control clothing I use, ASAT has helped me see many more animals than I’ve ever seen before. Since ASAT does not make scent control clothing, I wear scent control clothing under my camo, as was the case for this hunt. You can check out their story on their web site, www.asatcamo.com.
I have had a lot of fun hunting this season being the "invisible girl" because after I got my first three deer, I now watch many deer with each hunt, passing on them, and enjoying the experience instead of pressing. And when you get right down to it, isn’t that what hunting is all about anyway? Having fun? And there is nothing more fun than being invisible.
Gear Used for this hunt
© January 2005