The Quality of the Experience
By: Larry Smith
As the days get shorter and the temperaturesturn colder, this is a sign for many that one of the greatest times of year is upon us. The Wisconsin archery season has many people, including myself, excited to hit the woods in search of that elusive trophy buck. But it does not always have to end with the harvest of your target animal to be a quality experience.
I spend an enormous amount of time on the water each year with my guiding service, but bowhunting has always been a real passion of mine. I cherish the time I’m able to spend in the woods, it is an escape from my normal daily grind. It’s a place I can relax and recharge my batteries. I consider myself fortunate because it has always been my dream to own a chunk of land I can call my own and have the luxury of walking out my back door and be able to hunt. I’m only minutes away from enjoying the sport I love.
As this year’s archery season kicks off, I can’t help but think back to one of the most memorable hunts I’ve ever had. It was last year in early November. I remember waking up that morning and thinking about all my other obligations for the day. It had crossed my mind not to hunt that day but I couldn’t pass up this morning. The rut was in full swing and it was a cool, crisp, frosty morning. With a north, northwest wind I knew the perfect spot to hunt that morning. I had a stand set up between a food source and a bedding area and knew I had a good chance of catching a buck cruising and looking for a doe.
I got to my stand a little before first light and settled in for what I had hoped would be a great morning. As the sun came up, the deer activity increased. My attention was drawn to a doe that was working her way toward my stand. There was no buck behind her but she kept looking back as if something was not far behind. She worked her way to me and walked right past my stand well within shooting range. Now I just needed a buck to pick up her trail and he would hopefully walk right past me. A little while later, a buck stepped out and did just that. This was a huge buck that had a drop tine on his rack. This was the first drop tine buck I had ever seen! At this moment I knew that this morning was special, regardless if I harvested the buck or not. Just to see a deer of this caliber is not something that happens every day. I had never seen this deer before and did not have any trail cam pictures of him. This is the magic of the rut, deer move into your area that may have not been there before.
The buck was working his way down the same trail that the doe was on earlier! I grabbed my Forge bow and waited to see what the buck would do. He started to walk down the trail scent checking for a doe. I prayed that he would follow the trail of the doe I had seen earlier and present me with a shot. Suddenly, the big buck turned and walked away from me. He had picked up the scent of another doe and was soon hot on her trail. It was soon evident to me that I would not get a shot at the drop tine buck. As I sat there, I was disappointed and excited all at the same time. No, I had not gotten the shot I wanted at this monster deer, but the experience was still exhilarating.
I continued to sit and wait to see what else the morning had in store for me. About a half hour after the drop tine buck had walked out of my life forever, the big guy upstairs blessed me with another opportunity. Just to the north of me was a cornfield and a mature, 10-point buck had just stepped out. I knew immediately that if this buck presented a shot opportunity that I would definitely take it.
The big 10-point started down the trail that the drop tine buck was on. Again, I grabbed by bow and prepared for a shot. The big ten was working closer to me and I soon realized that he was going to walk right down the same trail that the doe from earlier had used. As he came into range, I drew my bow back and prepared for the shot. I gave the buck a soft grunt to stop him and let my arrow fly. I watched my arrow disappear behind his shoulder and the big ten ran back to the cornfield he had come from. A short time later, I heard him crash in the corn and I knew I had filled my buck tag! I climbed down about a half hour later and after a short track job, I had my hands on my buck! To think that I had considered not even hunting that day made realize just what I would have missed had I not climbed a tree that morning.
Every hunter needs a little luck but to make every sit a quality experience there are a few things every hunter can do. In the past, I have raised deer and know for a fact that after a deer reaches two and a half years old, they get smart. Wild deer seem to be even smarter than captive deer. This is something to keep in mind if you even want to lay eyes on that trophy buck. The best way to harvest a deer is to not let the deer know that you are hunting them. To achieve this, you must limit intrusion and by doing this, you add to the quality of the experience.
I always play the wind when I bow hunt. Let me tell you, this is probably the most important word of advice I can give you. It can be very tempting to go to one of your best spots during the rut, but if the wind is wrong, you will be doing more harm than good. Like I said before, deer get smarter the older they get. You do not want to do anything to put unwanted pressure on your deer herd. If the deer get a big whiff of you, they are likely to avoid that area for some time.
You also never want to go into the deer bedding areas on your property unless it is to retrieve a dead or wounded animal. To have a “deer sanctuary” so to speak, will help to keep more deer on your property or even draw in new deer. Quantity does not always equal quality, but if you stay out of their bedroom, I assure you that the quality of your experiences will improve.
Trail cameras are a great tool to see what deer are on your property. But, I hang all my cameras on the outer edge of my property. I never hang them by my stands or in bedding areas because I believe deer are wary of the cameras. I also limit the amount of times I check my cameras. I know it’s tempting to want to see what pictures are on your camera but believe me; you are doing more harm than good if you hang them by your stands and bedding areas and check them every other day.
Another activity that I feel puts unwanted pressure on your deer herd and can ruin the quality of your experience is shining. I have seen people shine deer and the big bucks will always exit the field when a spot light is shined on them for any period of time. It is a practice that I would like to see stopped. All this does is pressure the deer even more. It is more beneficial to scout an area from a far off vantage point with a spotting scope or a good pair of binoculars rather than shine a blinding light on your deer.
Everyone is looking for a quality hunt. I always tell people that the hunt is not always about the kill. To experience nature, and witness something that few people have is just as remarkable as harvesting that trophy buck. For those of us that have a passion for bow hunting, a little discipline (and a little luck) can turn any hunt into the hunt of a lifetime and a quality experience. This last November I truly had the hunt of a lifetime and it was definitely a great day to be alive!