By Jeff Stirland
As the month of November finally came to an end, the need to fill the freezer weighed more and more on my mind. I was coming home from college for the weekend, and the farm that I have hunted since my freshman year of high school is right across the street from my house. My neighbor had told me that he had seen a few doe standing in the same spot in the hay-field every night for the past week, so I figured that the best thing I could do with my free time was to try to intercept these deer in the evening before they reached the field.
That Friday was the first day of December, and I left school early in the morning to come get ready for the evening hunt. After driving for about an hour or so, I walked through the front door to see two boxes from Lone Wolf waiting for me in the hallway. My new run n’ gun setup was here! I ordered the Alpha II hang on treestand and a 4 pack of climbing sticks, and I was immediately impressed with the construction of these products. Anyway, I spent the rest of the morning assembling the stand and packing my gear for the evening hunt later on. I left the house around 1:30 with the stand on my back and a bow in my hand, wearing the required orange for the Pennsylvania firearms season that was currently in.
After a half mile walk through a hay-field to the funnel that I would be sitting in, I spent a solid 10 minutes looking for the ideal tree. The area was littered with brambles and overgrown thicket, so I figured the deer would feel safe travelling through this pinch point. On the one side of the funnel there is a super dense thicket area, and on the other side there is an overgrown fence-row leading out into a smaller field. The whole width of this funnel is only 60 yards across, so I found a suitable cherry tree in the middle so I could shoot the whole width of the funnel in both directions. Hanging the stand and the sticks for the very first time, I was very pleased with my decision to finally upgrade my hang and hunt set up. The sticks were lightweight going up, and the stand connected to the tree and did not budge in the slightest. As I climbed atop my new perch, I got my camera arm secured to the tree and my bow hanger ready to pull up my bow. At this point it was coming up on 3 in the afternoon, and my anticipation was growing as the sun continued to fall.
Right on Schedule
As the sun settled over the horizon and darkness grew closer, two doe started walking towards me from the neighboring property. They continued to feed towards the larger hay-field out in front of me, and fed in the area for 10 minutes or so. Right before last light, two hunters came walking out of the bordering property talking loudly and carrying on a full conversation. The two doe took note of this immediately, and they spooked out of the field and started running directly towards me down the fence line. As I got the camera into position and my bow ready, I realized that the older doe had closed the distance faster than I anticipated and that she was only 20 yards away. She saw my movement as I was turning and spooked down off of the ridge into the thicket.
The other doe was still hidden behind branches at around 30 yards or so, and I couldn’t see where she was standing. The doe then turned and walked through a 10 yard long opening giving me a slow walking broadside twenty yard shot, but there was a small problem. If I was to draw back while she was in the open she would have caught my motion and took off for cover. I decided to wait to draw until she went behind a few trees, and as I drew back, she continued to walk. The doe started to step into the last clear shooting lane, and I let out the best mouth grunt I could muster. As the pin floated right over her vitals, I saw it. A 6 inch sapling ran right behind her front leg and blocked any clean shot I had at her vitals. I held at full draw for what felt like forever, and she finally started to move again. The flight of my arrow at this point was inevitable, and I squeezed off the shot. While the shot was in the air, the doe dropped around a foot and took off before my arrow could hit the mark. That was the end of my hunt that evening, and the thoughts of what I could have done differently filled my mind as I tore down my stand and packed out in the dark.
What Went Wrong
The hunt may have ended unsuccessfully, but the takeaways from the hunt were valuable and have already helped me grow as a bowhunter. When the first doe spotted me and bolted off, the other doe was out of my sight and did not know what was going on. Instead of standing there waiting for her to move, my first move should have been to draw back when she was still hidden. The opportunity for me to draw back vanished as soon as the doe walked out into my shooting lane, as any movement from me in the tree would have sent her running for the hills.
My second mistake during the encounter was trying to grunt stop this deer. Grunt stopping a moving deer can work, don’t get me wrong. In this particular situation, though, the doe was already alert due to the first doe being spooked. If I would have been more patient, the doe may have stopped in one of my other shooting lanes standing for a 25 yard chip shot. If at all possible, try to shoot at relaxed animals. Animals that are alert are bound to jump the string, and can unravel even the most well executed plans.
Live and Learn
Mistakes and mishaps are a huge part of the game, but how you grow as a bowhunter will be determined by how you react to these situations. If you rush the shot, slow down a little bit next time. If you spook a deer, learn to limit your movement and move slower while in the stand. This hunt exemplifies the idea that bowhunting is a game of inches, and that every action that is made while in the stand is either hurting or helping your chances of being successful. With that being said, confidence is one of the most important aspects of being a successful hunter, so don’t let mishaps and mistakes discourage you. Let them shape you and teach how to be the most deadly bowhunter you can be. I will use this experience to grow, and hopefully it will help me put some organic venison on the table in the seasons to come.