|When a big whitetail makes you look really bad, a new day in a new place can make a world of difference. |
It was November 9, 2000, and getting towards the end of bowhunting season in Wisconsin and just before the opening of gun season. The pickings are pretty slim after the gun season in the area we hunt, except for a few very smart, cautious, bucks that make it through the season.
Admittedly I was feeling a little discouraged, because the afternoon before a 9-pointer in the 140 to 150-P&Y class had come within 30 yards of my stand. He'd come running across a hayfield from 300 yards away when he spotted the doc decoy I had placed out in front of my stand. Being a bit nervous, he just wouldn't come any closer than 30 yards. Although that might be an easy shot distance for most bowhunters, it isn't for me. Not yet anyhow. I'm still uncomfortable shooting at that range. So I passed on the shot.
My husband, Jim, later suggested I might have tried to grunt on my call. Maybe that would have reassured the buck to come closer to the decoy. I actually had contemplated using the call but then had decided not to, thinking the buck might see me move and be scared off, making him all the wiser. That's the last thing I wanted, since I might hunt this stand again. So, instead, I watched him walk up into the woods, where he proceeded to grunt and carry on, chasing does around.
Thus I was a bit angry with myself for not attempting to pull him within range by using my call. Many conflicting thoughts and feelings always seem to race through my mind after a moment like that. My mind always thinks, "I should have ... " or "Why didn't I?" But I try not to let it get me down, because the knowledge I gain from such mistakes can be a valuable reference later on. Someday things will all fall into place. Another day, another time, perhaps.
Jim and I had been hunting in Minnesota in the mornings and then in Wisconsin in the afternoons. Run, run, run, that's how it seemed. But there was no time to waste. The rut was on and the bucks were on the move. The peak of the rut doesn't last long, so a person has to hunt hard while it lasts. The running was all worth it. I definitely needed the experience, and being in the woods was the only way I was going to get it. Like my husband says, "You can't get a big buck sitting in front of a TV!"
So this day late in the bow season, just after noon, Jim said to me, "Are you ready? Come on, we need to get going."
"Yeah," I replied, dragging my heels. I was feeling sorry for myself. With the way my hunt had gone the afternoon before, I wasn't as enthused or eager to get back out in the hills as I normally am. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to go.
Then Jim said, "You got everything?" "Yep," I said, following him out the door. I just couldn't give up that easily.
Our 60-mile drive would take us through several small towns in southeast Minnesota, where we live, before we would cross into Wisconsin. We don't mind the drive, because we both love to hunt in Wisconsin. It is so beautiful, especially with all of the trees changing colors from green to yellow to orange to red. Each day we can see a difference in the colors. It's our favorite time of the year. But I must say, the drive seemed much longer this time.
Jim has hunted the same two farms in Wisconsin since 1976. When he and I married in 1997, we asked if I could hunt there with him, and the landowners graciously said yes. So I started hunting there during the 1999 season. Sometimes we split up to hunt on the different farms, but this afternoon we decided to stay on the same farm. I didn't want to go to the other farm where I had seen the big 9-point buck the day before. The wind direction would be wrong. Besides, this was another day ...
And we knew a good buck lived on this farm, too. Jim had seen a wide, tall buck in a bean field here, and we had found a lot of good sign. Jim always puts me in the best places, so he told me to take a stand where we'd seen that sign.
After dropping Jim off at a location where he walks to his treestand, I drove about a mile and parked my truck and gathered all of my hunting gear. With a major bedding area only 100 yards from my treestand, I walked very quietly to my stand, scurried up the tree, and got settled in by 2:35 p.m. With my release on, bow hanging from a peg, arrow nocked, and grunt-tube where I could easily reach it, I sat down on my tree seat.
Remembering the results of my silence from the day before, I immediately gave three grunts on my grunt tube. I was ready for some action. Then I sat calmly and moved slowly while glassing the edges of the thickets, woods, and a picked cornfield. All kinds of thoughts raced through my mind. What I was going to see? Would I be able to pull a buck within range this day? Would this be the evening that I would fill my first Wisconsin tag?
I had just looked at my watch - it said 2:57 p.m. - when I decided to give two more short grunts on the call. With the second grunt my eyes widened as I stared at the edge of the picked cornfield. There stood the monster of my dreams of anyone's dreams! Sixty yards away, he seemed to be staring directly at me. My first thoughts were, Stay calm, Michele! Oh no, I'm busted. He can see me.
Then I realized that I had called him in. I stayed still until he started marching right along the edge of the field towards my stand. Keeping my eyes on him, I slipped the grunt tube back into my fanny pack hanging on the tree. When he wasn't looking in my direction, I slowly pushed against the tree and stood, while reaching for my bow and never taking my eyes off him.
Wondering what to expect next, I slipped my release onto the bowstring and made sure I was in the correct position for the shot. I couldn't believe this was happening to me two afternoons in a row. My heart was pounding and thoughts were racing through my mind as I looked at his amazing headgear. As the image of the buck from the night before flashed through my mind, I kept thinking, I'm not going to blow this. This is another day. I'm going to get this buck.
As he approached within 30 yards, he stopped and appeared to be taking a trail that would lead him down and behind my treestand where he might smell me. I just couldn't let that happen. Remembering what Jim had told me, I slowly pulled the grunt tube from the fanny pack and gave one small grunt, pointing the tube behind me and away from the buck. He snapped his head around, put his nose to the ground, and marched toward me, making two loud grunts.
This was insane! He was coming right to me. At 10 yards but still not quite to my shooting lane, he stopped under a bunch of tree branches and made a scrape. What a sight. A magnificent buck 10 yards from me was going about his business, allowing me to observe what he does on a daily basis during the rut. He continued to make his scrape as I watched and chuckled under my breath at the awesome sight.
He started to walk at an angle away from me. There were still branches in the way, but if he continued in that direction I might get a shot. So as he walked, I drew my bow, following him. As he walked out from underneath the branches, offering me a quartering-away shot, I thought, This is the moment I've been waiting for!
I then made a grunt noise with my mouth to stop him. He paused, and just as I was going to release my arrow, he turned and started to walk away. Feeling an intense panic, I made one more desperate attempt to stop him with another verbal grunt, this time more aggressive.
He stopped and seemed to be looking right at me. Concentrating on his vitals I released my arrow. The buck ran back the way he'd come. Without taking my eyes off him, I could see that my shot was good. That in turn reassured me that my big, beautiful buck would expire in a matter of seconds. He ran into the woods and then instantly I heard him crash into the sticks and brush, and I caught a glimpse of his antlers as he went down!
Knowing the shot was a good one, I saw no reason to wait in my treestand. While taking deep breaths, I gathered everything together while still shaking a bit. However, I lowered my bow and slowly climbed down the tree, paying close attention to my footing on the tree steps. Being very quiet and moving slowly, I walked out to where he was standing when I released my arrow. As I picked up the good blood trail, I followed it slowly and quietly. When I reached the edge of the cornfield where he had gone into the woods, I slowly entered the woods and followed the trail he had taken just moments before. There he was, lying 20 yards in. I had done it. I knew I could! It's amazing how much difference another day can make.
Living in Minnesota with her husband, Jim, the author admonishes all hunters to be ethical, to hunt safely, to have fun, and to believe in yourself.
My first Wisconsin buck - and my first record book-sized animal - had a gross measurement of 151 2/8". I'm so proud.
Reprinted With Permission Bowhunter Magazine