I arrived in Wisconsin during the second week in November. This was prime time for bow hunting because of the rut: the deer mating season. This is the only time of the year when mature bucks briefly let their guards down while they relentlessly pursue does. This gives us bow hunters a chance to catch them on their feet during daylight hours.
Because I arrived late in the day, I did not get a chance to rescout out the area I had hunted the previous year. I decided to carry in and hang my treestand the following afternoon. My plan was to hunt two different spots my first day afield. I would hunt a secondary spot in the morning from the ground and then hunt my primary spot in the afternoon from a treestand. During the rut, I usually bow hunt one spot from a treestand all day, but I wanted to make sure I picked a good tree to hang my treestand from. I couldn’t do this in the pre-dawn darkness, so I chose to pick a tree later in the afternoon for my treestand.
I arrived at my first hunting spot early the following morning
before dawn. It was cold – approximately 15°F. There was about half an inch of fresh snow on the ground. I quickly found a nice tree to sit up against on the edge of a small clearing.
As soon as it was light enough, I pulled out a set of rattling antlers. Rattling is a technique where a hunter clashes antlers together to mimic two bucks fighting for breeding rights. This loud disturbance in an otherwise quiet forest will often attract bucks this time of year. A buck hearing this will sometimes approach the scene, thinking he can possibly sneak in on unattended does that the other bucks are fighting over.
I aggressively clashed the antlers together for about twenty seconds, paused for twenty seconds, and then repeated. I picked up my bow and waited. I did this just in case a nearby dominant buck had come charging into the scene.
After a couple of minutes passed by, I heard a faint noise off to my left. At first, I thought it was some small forest animal moving away from the ruckus. Then I realized it was just the opposite: the sound was getting louder. It sounded like an animal running toward me. Maybe it was a monster buck coming in!
I listened some more as I heard the animal slow down and stop periodically. This pause, move, pause was typical deer movement. I still couldn’t see the animal yet because of the thick pine trees off to my left, but I knew the animal was getting close. At any moment I was expecting the animal to materialize from the pines. I had an arrow nocked and ready to fly. I was set!
There was silence again as the animal paused in its tracks. Then, to my disappointment, I heard a sound I didn’t want to hear; the animal unexpectedly exploded away in the opposite direction. My heart sank as the sound of the fleeing animal slowly diminished and disappeared.
I knew instantly what had happened. The animal, presumably a deer, instinctively went downwind of me and detected my scent. This was typical mature deer behavior. I was busted by the deer’s acute sense of smell.
I sat there for a while in dismay, but then regrouped my thoughts. I picked up my antlers and tried rattling once more. I repeated the same rattling sequence and waited. Ten minutes went by: nothing happened. I started to think of what my next move should be, but then I heard something off to my right. It was faint. I listened some more.
Something was moving, pausing, and then moving again. It sounded like another deer was approaching, however, at a much slower pace than the previous one. After a few minutes, the animal slowly appeared out from the trees about 50 yards away: a nice sized doe.
She walked hesitantly right toward me. Then I thought, “Wait a minute.” I saw something on her head: small spikes. “Whoops – my bad!” The deer was a young spike buck, not a doe. The young buck apparently thought he had heard two older bucks fighting, so he came in cautiously to check things out.
The spike turned broadside. I drew back my bow and aimed my 30 yard pin at his chest. I did this for practice only. Even though this young spike was legal to take, I had no intention of harvesting him. Lucky for this small buck, I was only after a large racked, mature buck. After about a minute, the young spike finally winded me and ran off.
The rattling action was not as productive during the rest of the morning, so I headed back to my truck and picked up my treestand. I loaded all of my gear onto my deer dolly and wheeled it up into the hills. After a fifty minute hike, I reached my primary hunting spot. I caught a glimpse of a monster buck in this area the year before.
Above me was a large oak flat. Below me were some smaller rolling hills. My spot was situated in-between: sort of like a large bench off the side of a slow grading hill. Many deer trails merged together on this bench. It was a total hot spot!
The previous year I had hunted higher up on the edge of the oak flat. I saw a monster buck and another buck walk this bench below me. Even though I was gun hunting then, I had no shot opportunities at either buck. At 75 yards away, all I had seen were their heads and racks as they scurried quickly across the bench and disappeared into the forest.
I found a nice tree on the downwind side of the bench. I was psyched as I started the process of hanging my treestand. The bucks avoided me the year before, but this time I was right smack-dab in the middle of one of their major highways. I knew there was still no guarantee that I would see a mature buck, but I was very confident that I’d at least see some deer.
After fumbling around for ten minutes, I had my pole ladder attached to the side of the tree. I quickly climbed up and started attaching my treestand. In the middle of this process, I suddenly heard something running through the forest off to my left. I couldn’t believe my eyes! An estrus doe was running down the bench with two mature bucks in tow. They were going to be within bow range in a matter of seconds. All I could do was hug the tree and try to blend in as the deer quickly approached.
Sometimes timing is everything. If only I had arrived to set up my treestand a few minutes earlier, I would have been aiming my bow at a buck at that very moment. Instead, my bow was lying on the ground 18 feet below while I helplessly watched the trio dart by, 20 yards in front of my stand. It was almost surreal.
They moved by so quickly that I didn’t have time to accurately count points. I think one of the bucks was a nice eight-pointer. It had a large body and seemed like a very mature deer. The other buck was probably a six-pointer. Luckily, the bucks hadn’t seen me up in the tree and they hadn’t noticed all my gear scattered on the ground. I was happy for the fact that I hadn’t been detected, but at the same time I was a little depressed at what had just occurred. I finally convinced myself that even if I did have my bow in hand, I probably still would not have taken a shot at either buck; they were simply running too fast. Telling myself this made me feel a little better.
As fast as I could, I finished hanging my treestand, hid my deer dolly, and climbed back up into the tree. The time was 1:00 p.m. It was time to blend in and get serious.
Half an hour later, a fawn came meandering down the bench. I watched it walk down a trail about 50 yards away on the opposite side of the bench. The little deer even stopped and smelled the bush where I had just hidden my deer dolly. The forest was quiet for the next hour. The only movement was the occasional squirrel rustling through leaves.
Something caught my eye up on the hill. There was a black colored animal moving through the trees. It was about the size of a large cat. I couldn’t identify it at first, but I then realized what it was as it moved closer. It was a fisher: a large weasel. I had read about them before, but this was my first time seeing one in the flesh. He worked his way around the edge of the oak flat and then disappeared over the hill.
After gazing up the hill for a while, I saw some movement off to my left about 50 yards away. I slowly turned my head and saw a large bodied buck walking down the bench right toward me. He was moving on the same trail as the doe and two bucks were previously, but in the opposite direction. Perfect! This would bring him about 20 yards past my tree.
I was extremely pumped! My adrenaline kicked in so hard that I started to shake. His rack seemed decent even at that distance. I told myself not to screw up – stay calm.
The buck slowly worked his way up toward my tree. At 30 yards away he did something terribly unexpected. He stopped and looked right up at my tree. My heart sank. For what seemed like an eternity, the buck stared directly at me. It was probably more like thirty seconds, but hold-your-breath moments such as this seem like forever!
“Damn, I might be busted!” I thought. Maybe the buck was familiar with this area and was puzzled by something new hanging off the side of this particular tree. “Don’t move a muscle,” I told myself. I was in a standing position, flat against the tree, wearing full tree camouflage from head to toe. I prayed and prayed. I knew not to make eye contact with the buck, so I focused my eyes on a fixed point farther up the bench. The motionless buck was in my peripheral vision, still staring at me.
My prayers were finally answered. To my relief, the buck looked back up the bench and resumed walking calmly past my tree. I was wearing the best camouflage clothing and it was about to pay off. The buck was totally fooled and thought I was a natural part of the tree.
I waited until the buck walked slightly past my tree. I had a perfect quartering away shot at his vitals. This was an optimal shooting angle for archery equipment. I slowly drew back my bow and settled my 20 yard pin on the back of the buck’s rib cage about halfway up his chest. I squeezed my release and the arrow zipped through the air. I heard a thud as the arrow impacted the buck.
Instantly, the buck made an exploding 180° turn and bolted away in the direction from which he just came. I watched him disappear in a flash, around a small hill. Then I heard a noise that only an experienced deer hunter would recognize: the crashing sound of a deer going down for the count. My buck was down.