Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Sometimes the end is the begining
I drew back my bow and pendulumed around to the southeast side of the black birch tree, she noticed the movement above and busted me. The Doe sprang into action, all four hooves levitated a foot off the ground and in two leaps she froze standing broadside 15 yards to my west in thick cover.
I was hanging from a harness about 16 feet above the ground on a small ring of steps and still at full draw. I had followed her movement with my pin and despite the thick maple saplings it looked clear through my peep and sight. Could this really be?
The mid October foliage appeared to open a small pocket of un-obstructing access to her but since my field of view was limited by the peep and sight, I thought it might just be a trick of the eye. So, I held my draw and slowly pulled my eyes off the bow string to truly look at the foliage. It’s clear, I can take this shot.
Then time slowed, and for some reason I was calm and patient. Methodically, yet unconsciously, I entered my shooting sequence. Place the pin on her vitals. Easy grip- no torque, find my anchor point, level the bubble, and pull with the scapula.
Looking back, I realize I have only been this present minded a few times in life; It’s a special feeling and one that I crave. And although focused intensely on the present, I never thought about releasing an arrow; it just happened. The follow through felt good and I watched the lite nock hit directly behind the front shoulder blade. Her hind quarters kicked 6 feet up into the air and she ran off like a bat out of hell. I watched and listened to the forest for clues as to where she’d run.
I was in a thick forest of mixed hardwoods, in between two large swamps and she retreated on the game trail she entered. Running west, the doe was out of view within 20 yards but I heard her crashing through small trees and visualized her powerful run snapping the young undergrowth. She ran for only a few seconds and then it sounded like a stumble and then what I imagined to be her fall. I looked at my phone, it was 8:23 am.
I wasn’t cold but my body was trembling and I was anxious to check the arrow for blood, however I couldn’t see her and decided I should wait at least 30 minutes to get down. Really, it’s amazing how long thirty minutes in a tree feels with adrenaline coursing through your veins. And maybe just to stay busy, I thought of how I started this journey.
Last fall I was listening to a podcast with Tom Brown III “T3”, a primitive skills teacher and the son of renowned survivalist and tracker Tom Brown Jr. He was chatting about stalking deer in NJ and getting to the point where he could touch one, giving it a firm slap on the hind quarter. This blew my mind and I loved considering the challenge.
For a few weeks following that, I began telling friends, half-jokingly, I was going to start playing “touch a deer”. But after hearing me tell the story a few times my Wife said, if you’re going to spend the day out stalking deer, you better come home with meat for us.
To this point, I’ve had very little exposure to hunting in my life. Nobody in my family hunts and really, I only know a few people that do. I was raised in a somewhat rural upper/middle-class suburban environment on the CT shoreline and here “hunters” have a negative stigma from most of the population. But last year, after that podcast, the curiosity to bow hunt began to creep into my mind; equally from my love of the outdoors, the challenge and my disapproval of healthy/affordable meat options.
So before I did anything else, on November 27, 2018, almost 11 months prior to shooting the doe, I ordered a book by Gene Wensel called Come November and upon receiving the book, I told my wife, “Buying this $25 book could save me a lot or cost me a lot of money.”
(Wow, that book cost me a lot of money.)
Confirming what I suspected, I loved the book and devoured it in a few days. I wanted to bow hunt for whitetail. But I had no other knowledge for hunting or archery so I turned to binging on other forms of hunting information. I listened a writer conservationist and hunting television personality, Steve Rinella being interviewed, and he was asked, “what do you think is a more ethical way to hunt, a bow/arrow or rifle?” I expected him to say archery since there are many increases in challenges with the hunt, making it less likely to be successful but he immediately and surprisingly said, “the riffle for sure.” He explained that it is more likely for an animal to have a slow and painful death if shot with bow and arrow because of the large margin of error. On hearing this I reconsidered my choice of using a bow because that last thing I want to do is have an animal suffer, I want a clean and ethical kill.
After several days of consideration, I committed to moving forward and learn the art of bow hunting under the stipulation that I’d only ever release an arrow at animal that is a “perfect shot” and I’d train and practice as much as possible.
Now all I needed to do was learn everything….
I attached my bow to the haul line and lowered it back down to earth. Put on my backpack, hooked up my linesman belt, and removed the girth hitched daisy chain that held my bow, quiver and backpack. I tightened my linesman belt to take the strain off the 8mm Oplux rope, I used as a tether, while concurrently loosening the distel hitch that held me in space. Still tethered I stepped down onto my Wild Edge Stepps, built here in CT, and removed the buckle holding my 5 squirrel steps that make up my “ring of steps”. Once the ring of steps were removed and stashed away, I tightened on the linesman belt more and loosened than removed the tether. I quickly retreated down the 7 steps and was back on the ground.
On the ground, I was still able to ward off the desire to run over to my arrow. I quietly removed my harness, knee pads and placed them in my pack. I removed the two lower steps, to ensure nobody would climb this tree if they happen to come upon it in the woods and wrapped them up with the rope and put them away in the pack.
Softly walking through the crisp newly fallen leaves fooled nobody and despite my best efforts, each step made the obnoxious sound of a human walking in the woods. Within 45’ I arrived at the arrow. The 100 grain 3 blade fixed broad head used to pierce the animal and cause massive trauma was buried nearly a foot into rocky soil. The carbon/aluminum shaft was covered in a pink’ish blood and the fletching’s were fully saturated in bubbly blood. The lite nock still blinked and there was a single white hair barely stuck to it. In front of the arrow was a large splatter of light red blood with bubbles and a very small amount of brown hair. Lung shot.
I looked west, in the direction the doe ran and saw a consistent blood trail. Not gushing but consistent like somebody was flicking red paint off a small paintbrush. I looked at my phone it was 8:58am and although I was positive the shot was fatal, I couldn’t see her through the thick growth, so I’d wait a little longer.
It wasn’t cold but it was one of the cooler mornings we’d had this Fall, with lows around 40 degrees, and now with the morning sun high enough it was breaking through the canopy the warm light hit a small rock next to the arrow and it looked like welcoming place to sit. “I want to give her a full hour, just in case.”
Last January I visited a local archery shop and admitted to the store owner and two local customers wearing camo, I’d like to buy a compound bow for deer hunting.
The store owner asked, “What Bow do you currently shoot?”
“I’ve never shot a bow.”
“Ok, but you’ve hunted before?” the owner inquired.
“Actually, I haven’t hunted either.” I embarrassingly replied.
The two older customers and the store owner glanced at each other like a record scratched at a crowded bar.
The warming sun felt good on my shaky adrenaline filled body, but I couldn’t sit any longer. She’d been down about 50 minutes and I was very confident she expired. I nocked an arrow with my bow, just in case she needed a follow up shot and began following the blood trail. Her run from the arrow was straight and without a doubt she was headed to a bedding site on the well-traveled game trail. The nearby bedding, game trail and large scrapes were the exact reason I setup in this area.
Her blood was consistent and occasionally there’d be a large swath on waist high branch or leaf. The game trail turned slightly right but her run continued straight through 1/2” thick young maple saplings. I got down on my knees and could see through the lower portion of the saplings. The trail of blood led to the down doe that was on her side about 20’ away. I walked around the thick cover and came upon her from an opening on the north side.
She was likely a 2 ½ year old doe, maybe 130 lbs. Her hide had mostly transitioned from a red’ish color into a thicker brown coat. It was a clean hide, there were no scars, ticks or marks. Behind her shoulder was pink bubbling foam showing the exit wound from my broad head. She was laying on her side with head extended out in an awkward position surrounded by a pool of blood in the leaves. Her open eyes were glassy and black but lifeless. Her mouth was firmly closed, and it and her nose were covered in blood. She likely died when I heard the collapse, maybe 10 seconds after the arrow went through her.
Pain and suffering aren’t something I’d wish on my worse enemy and I wasn’t thrilled about the scene, but I didn’t feel bad. Instead I was thankful for the ethical shot and quick death. I owed it to this deer to clean her, get her of the woods and use her meat to fuel my family. It’s cliche but understood she’d live on through us.
I sat with the doe for a few minutes and rather than reflecting on the whirlwind journey I took to get here, I focused on the moment. My conscious was clear and my mind wasn’t wandering the typical incipient path I’m accustomed to. I was proud of the accomplishment but humbled by the difficulty and amount of work that went into this moment.
After hours of work, which I won’t go into (gutting, hauling, processing the deer) I cooked the tenderloins very simply, with just salt, pepper and a little rosemary in a cast iron with butter. My wife, two-year-old son and I sat around the dinner table and Cheers’d to the “magic deer”. It was a moment I’d been thinking about and preparing for nearly a year
By no means do I feel I mastered bow hunting for whitetails, really, it’s the opposite, I’m realizing I only learned how much more there is to learn. Without a doubt, I had some good intuitions and got very lucky but what really happened is I’ve opened and peaked into Pandora’s box and this is the true beginning of my journey as a hunter.