I told my wife I would be home by 11 am. It's now 11:05, and I'm sitting in my ladder stand listening to my phone buzz. I know better than to answer, so I text her: "Running late, be home in a few. Love you!"
As I climb down the ladder, I reflect on all of the reasons why I only saw a fawn that morning. I could blame it on the coyote that I've seen three days in a row, but it's more likely that me being there three days in a row affected the deer more than the coyote. Besides, I saw deer the other two days the coyote visited. It was cloudy, but I've seen lots of deer on cloudy days. The wind was different, but I was in a stand specially placed for that wind. How was my walk in? I know it wasn't my quietest. In fact at one point I chuckled that I sounded like a herd of Abrams tanks. Well, a small herd, anyway. Regardless, I got in about 90 minutes before first light, and I had a fawn graze by right at dawn, right along the trail that I walked in. Neither scent nor sound were likely the issue. Then I had my idea...
I should take a walk through the low ground around the spur that I hunt on this particular property. I know there are several trails bordering a state park (hunting prohibited) where I may see some early rubs or scrapes, I can look for potential new bedding areas, check the stream crossings; yeah, this seems like a great idea. I'll keep an arrow nocked just in case.
I test the wind one last time and determine it would be best to walk the west side of the spur first; this will keep me walking into the wind most of the way. I slip behind the stand and follow a patch of grass to a small trail. Moving slowly and silently, I stalk down the draw and into the low ground. I scan as far into the brush as I can see for bedded deer...nothing. The coast is clear, keep moving. I make my way north through the draw down to the valley, watching for rubs, scrapes, even sheds, anything that might indicate that this trail is, or has been, traveled by a buck who survived the best efforts of bow hunters like me last year. Still nothing. As I round the northern end of the spur, I remember seeing several foxes crossing the stream behind my hang on stand. Thinking that there's a chance that the foxes have been feasting on the carcass of a former potential P&Y buck, I decide to investigate. Maybe I can recover the antlers. Then I see them...
The two large does that I saw yesterday are grazing through another grassy patch on the east side of the spur. They're about 80 yards away, and they haven't seen me yet. I slowly edge behind a tree and glass them with my binoculars; they're big. I decide that in true elk hunter fashion, I'm going to make a stalk on these two grandmas. Mind you, I've never hunted elk. But I have watched every single elk hunting video on YouTube and I watch the Outdoor and Sportsman's Channel regularly, so I'm thinking I got this. The two does are feeding towards me; they'll pass off to my right up the hill about 60 or 70 yards. There are no good shooting lanes between me and them, but if I slip back north, downwind, about 20 or 30 yards I can make it up the spur and use the terrain and wind to my advantage. I wait until they're both facing away and then I slowly and silently make my way back down the trail and up the spur. Watching each footfall and occasionally peeking up to see if the two grandmas have made their way closer, I think of my time as a sniper in the Army and try to remember the tricks of the trade. Step lightly at first, toe to heel whenever possible. Slowly shift your weight onto the opposing foot. Remember small twigs can make big snaps. I long for the range and accuracy of my old 175 gr Sierra Match King; this would have been over by now. Then I remind myself that's not why I'm here. As Fred Bear said, "A hunt measured in trophies alone falls far short of its true glory." I'm here for the experience, for the challenge, for the true test of skill.
I edge towards the top of the spur, crawling now. If I can just make it to that dead fall I can peer over it. The does should be within 40 yards and it's wide open. Everything's falling into place. I take the last step and I hear a doe snort. Did she hear me? I've been ultra quiet. I couldn't even hear me. Did she wind me? No, the wind is still blowing from them to me. Does she hear/see/smell something else? The only thing that I know for sure now is that I can't look over this log. The doe's heightened awareness would certainly compromise me immediately. I wait one minute, then two, then five. The anxiety is building in me, and I know that if I wait too long the two girls will be right on top of me. I risk a peak over the old oak, just in time to see the twitch of a tail in the bushes about 100 yards up the hill.
I sit down and immediately wonder what I was thinking. Did I really think I could successfully stalk two mature does through the whitetail woods with stick and string? But I almost did, and I would try it again.
I am a father, husband, friend, hunter, and fisher. My two passions are my family and the outdoors. I hunt and fish whenever I can. I use what I harvest, and I harvest only what I use. I love and respect nature and the symphony of life she plays when my presence goes unnoticed.