Most bowhunters aren't thrilled with the prospect of toe-tingling temperatures and frozen landscapes, but I was completely enthusiastic to be driving north to our central Wisconsin cabin for one last late-season bowhunt.
It was December twelfth, my husband's birthday, and we had agreed to celebrate it by escaping to our treestands for a two day hunt. December birthdays and hectic holiday schedules had made a December bowhunt difficult for years. Social and family commitments aside, December bowhunting generally reveals low success rates. The early bow season, nine day gun season and the December muzzleloader season have significantly reduced the herd. By this time of year in Wisconsin, deer are scarce and deer movement in frigid weather often minimal. Despite the difficulties, we excitedly discussed our late-season strategies while driving north. As we neared our destination, the countryside was coated in white. Just two days earlier this region had received six inches of fresh snow.
We arrived at 2 p.m., turned on the heat and quickly dressed and headed out. We each had chosen to head to our hang-on stands, each located in two different high-traffic areas bordering good feeding zones with many red and white oaks and browse. We'd be hunting roughly 400 yards apart and counted on a good two hours left until closing. We'd agreed to contact each other quickly if either of us shot a deer so we could track and recover it before darkness (and increasingly frigid temperatures) set in. The snowy woods swallowed us and we instinctually fell silent as we hiked along the path deeper among the hardwoods. As we parted ways to our stands, and I continued south to an east-west ridgeline, I couldn't resist the impulse to pause and take in the scenery surrounding me.
Moving on, I marveled at my luck to be in the woods on such a beautiful winter's day. I reached my favorite hunting stand without spotting a deer, noting there were very few tracks crossing the ridge along the way. This led to low expectations for any real deer encounters, and I set my sights on enjoying the scenery and the woods around me. I crept up the frozen ladder carefully, cringing as it creaked loudly from my weight upon it. My first step upon my hang-on, although carefully placed, yielded several additional creaks and groans. The temperature was just 10 degrees when I'd left the cabin, and I reminded myself to keep movement and weight-shifting to an absolute minimum today. (Even some of the best stands on the market cannot be stifled in such cold temps, although I found my Gorilla hang-on stand totally reliable the following morning when I hunted from a different stand location in 4-degree weather. It didn't release a single sound the entire three hours that I hunted from it.) After nocking an arrow, I scanned the area in all directions and detected nothing. As a few chickadees flitted overhead, I hung my bow and reached for my Nikon digital camera, intent on capturing several late-season images. As the sun sank lower to my right, I snapped several shots showcasing the winter woods south of my treestand.
I'd just turned to my left to place my camera back in my fanny pack when I caught movement northeast of my stand. My eyebrows lifted in surprise and my eyes popped wide-open as I spotted a doe headed directly at my tree just fifty yards away. She fed slowly on brush along her path, pausing just briefly as she steadily moved forward. I quickly grabbed my PSE bow and turned, careful to slide my feet sideways to minimize any cold creaks from my shifting weight. Oblivious to my presence, she paused just 12 yards away behind a clump of small maples. With her line of sight obstructed by the trees, I took the opportunity to draw my bow. She curled closely around the trees then, walking directly at me and forcing me to continue holding for a good shot. Again she paused, now just 10 yards from me, looking west right past me, then turning and looking to the north. She turned slightly to the north, and my spirits soared as I knew within moments I'd have a perfect quartering-away shot. I continued to hold, still waiting for the best possible shot. She turned away at last, and I quickly bent at the waist, bringing my pin down to her chest, and released. My Muzzy-tipped Goldtip Hunter hit high on her left side and she bolted with her tail down. I watched her closely as she ran in a large semi-circle to the north, then turned and ran straight south. I lost her in the brush approximately 80 yards directly east of my treestand, and all went silent. "YES! YES! I GOT HER!" I excitedly spoke out loud as I glanced down to where she had stood just moments before. There I spotted my arrow, brightly painted red and sticking out from the snowy landscape; a complete pass-through.
I crawled down quickly to inspect. The bright red oxygenated blood was frozen to my arrow already and a quick glance ahead revealed an easy blood trail to follow. I glanced at my watch; it was just 3:45 p.m.. I ran, literally, over to get my husband so we could recover and drag my deer out before dark. We returned to follow an easy blood trail, recovering my deer 120 yards away. I'd hit it high and far back in the left lung and my arrow had traveled forward and down, exiting solidly out of the right lung. As I turned it over to gut it out, my heart sank. Unfortunately it turned out to be a button buck, its small buttons well hidden and indiscernible beneath its fluffy winter coat. I had fully intended to take a doe and further improve our buck to doe ratio on our land.
Despite my disappointment at taking a young buck, I was very content with a well-placed shot and quick recovery..making this my 7th buck taken with a bow, and my first late-season harvest.
© December 2003