But for outdoors men, this time of year means something more. The beginning of the breeding season of the white tailed deer. Or more commonly known as “the rut.”
It is a special time of year. It’s early November, the leaves have mostly changed and dropped off the trees. We’re in the heart of the WIAA football playoffs, college and NFL seasons, and the World Series just concluded.
It truly is a special time of year. The deer become less nocturnal with the does cycling into estrus and becoming in heat, while the Bucks become zombies- thinking of only one thing- an abandoning their cautious ways making them very prone to falling victim to a lucky hunter.
On October 29th I was fortunate to become one of those hunters to claim one of those bucks. In a span of 90 seconds, I went from spending my time in the woods hoping to just get a sight of one of these beautiful animals to thanking the good lord for the chance to harvest one of those beautiful animals.
It all began at 5:30am when my alarm went off. After over a month of getting up early for work all week and even earlier on the weekends, my get-up-and-go had already got-up-and-went many times over, but I knew it’s getting to be that time of year you have got to be out there.
I made it up into my stand and all tied in by 6:30am in 21 degrees to watch the sun come up above the trees and over the corn stalks from this year’s crop. As the sun rose higher in the sky, the frost on the remaining leaves on my Northern Pin Oak I sit in fell off and I heard the distant calls from turkeys waking up from their slumber and leaving their roost for another day of scratching out their survival.
Time went by and nothing was happening. An occasional Red Squirrel would scamper through the leaves searching for an acorn. I occasionally would hear a branch break in the distance, but anything could cause that.
As 9:00am came and went, I decided to check my phone to see the time, and reconnect with the world. I admittedly got a little too wrapped up in the cyber-world of the phone when I looked up and saw a doe.
I quickly put my phone away to observe her, but knew there was nothing I could do about it. I had already filled my doe tag on October 1, so I figured this was as good of time as ever to learn, while quietly kicking myself for not paying closer attention and getting so distracted that I never noticed her coming. But something was different about her. Her nose was to the ground, and she kept looking around and back from where she came from. Her backside was slightly discolored so I knew she was coming into heat. She then looked back one more time and started to trot off. I immediately knew she was being followed by a buck, and as my eyes darted back to where she came from I heard a deep grunt and saw a massive body and antlers emerging from the woods into the field.
Instinctively I pulled my glove off my right hand and grabbed my bow with my left, clipped my release on the string and waited.
He was full of rut. He slowly walked into the field down one of the rows of corn right at me. He kept lifting his head high with his mouth open looking for his love interest. He kept getting closer and closer, 25 yards, then 20, then 15. He paused and looked both ways. I lifted my bow and prepared to draw. I wanted him to turn to his left and head west. He would present a perfect broadside shot, but he turned to his right-to the east- to follow that doe, and limit the chances to shoot.
As he turned, I drew and as my grandpa always told me to, I picked out an opening and waited for him to get to it. As he got there, I made a grunt sound with my voice and he stopped in his tracks and looked towards me, I settled my pin behind his shoulder and just above a branch I use for cover and pushed the button on the release.
I am a man who finds a lot of meaning in lyrics of songs. And the events that led up to me taking this deer are no better captured than in the second verse from the rock legend Ted Nugent’s legendary hunting anthem “Fred Bear.”
“Was I alone, or in a hunter’s dream? Because the moment of truth was here and now. I felt his touch, I felt his guiding hand, the buck was mine forever more.”
As the arrow left my bow, I saw it impact him where I wanted. It was a little high, but as it hit, I saw a gusher of blood from the entrance and exit side as he took off on a sprint through the corn field curving back to where he came from. As he exited the field I saw the arrow fall out right before he ran into a tree and kept going into the woods. I sat down when he went out of sight and listened to him race through the woods. Crashing and breaking branches and sticks as they got more faint I heard one final loud one before nothing but silence.
In the few moments it took for me to process everything that happened, and replay it in my head, I knew he was a dead deer. I knew it was cold so we didn’t have to rush in finding him so he didn’t spoil. I knew it wasn’t even 10:00 am. So we had plenty of time to track him with natural light.
I then got out my phone to make my list of calls to people who could help me track. Although the sun was out, and there was great blood to follow, I didn’t want to run any risk of losing the deer. So I called my grandparents to inform them I got a deer and people were going to be coming over. I called a couple good friends, and my Mom to help partake in the tracking. After all, several pairs of eyes is always better than just one. After I was able to calm myself down enough to climb safely out of my deer stand, I walked back to the house where I quick changed out of my camouflage, sharpened a knife, and prepared for the track and eventual haul back to to the house to clean him.
I told my grandparents the whole story up until that point, and asked my grandfather for advice on what he would do. He assured me I was doing the right things, and that it wouldn’t take long to get the deer and he looked forward to seeing it.
After everyone arrived, we walked back to the field I hunted, and took them from the spot of the shot to where he went off the field. We then entered the woods finding tiny specks of blood to large drops bigger than a silver dollar. We witnessed several more trees it appeared that he ran into as he left the field. We continued deeper into the woods with the trail continuing to show great blood until we were nearing the property line where the drops got smaller and more spaced apart. If I wasn’t sure of the shot, I would have started to get worried and think I may have hit him further back on the body, but the only logical answer was he was running out of blood. He couldn’t have gone much further.
I stooped down to get a look under the undergrowth of the forest and in a small opening I caught a tan rounded shape. There are no rocks anywhere in the area so it could only be one thing. My deer.
I pointed it out to my Mom and friends, and told them to stay there while I inspected it to make sure it had passed and there was no threat of it getting up, or any predators that had found it before we did.
As I walked up on it, everything was fine, and I finally got a good, extended look at my trophy. I called them over to begin the gutting and the beginning stages of the butchering process- getting it out of the woods. As they approached, I got a look at the antlers, and my jaw dropped. I had seen him before.
I am a firm believer in using trail cameras just to know whats around, and on the night I harvested my doe early in the month, two hours after I brought her out of the woods, a camera captured a buck-this buck- back tracking the scent of the deer I had just harvested. He was an odd-shaped 10-pointer with his left side having a typical five points, but his right having a typical four with a fifth point coming out of the antler just above the brow tine, which many hunters would consider a second main beam.
After taking a knee and saying my traditional prayer whenever I harvest an animal, the work began. Gutting the animal, dragging it out of the woods and carting it back to the house.
Once we arrived to the house, we weighed him and measured the antlers. He field dressed at 150lb and had a 13 inch inside spread, but the most interesting fact wasn’t discovered until we were in the process of cleaning him.
While field dressing him, I discovered he had broken a front leg near the shoulder joint on his sprint from the field, presumably by running into trees. During the cleaning process, I discovered he had broken both front legs in the same spot as he went on his final run. Combined with the lung damage from the hit, the fast loss of blood, and the breaking of both front legs, it baffles me as to how he ran nearly 200 yards.
But if nothing else, it just demonstrates the strength, power, the will to live, the desire to survive a wild animal- let alone a deer- has when their life is on the line. They’re not just some quiet, gentle woodland creature, they possess immense power and will display it if needed.
So now for me, my 2017 bow season has concluded. In a span of 29 days I was fortunate enough to harvest a pair of large beautiful animals that I will use to feed myself and family throughout the coming winter months. It truly is a special time of year that has provided countless lessons and life-long memories to me in my short 15 year archery career. It has taught me patience, dedication, focus, and countless other attributes that I can use in my daily life, and hopefully pass on some day like my grandpa has done for me. So with just over two weeks before rifle season begins, I get to rest, relax, and recharge my batteries before the final 9-day stretch of my 2017 hunting season, something I have never had the chance to do before.
So until then, I want to wish everyone the best of luck in the coming weeks as the rut and hunt heats up. Have fun, go every chance you get to be out in the woods, but most importantly, be safe.