Monday, December 12, 2011

An Amazing Bow Hunt in 300 Words or More

Awesome spot for hiding. Horrible spot for shooting.
(visit here if you'd like the photo-condensed version!)

Click. "Add." Click. "Complete." Click.  Status: Submitted. With that, my day's work was done. A big proposal out the door.  It was 2:06pm, and I knew exactly what I needed to do. I politely excused myself from the office and headed out to the truck.  My bibs, boots, and coat were all in the bed, doing a little airing out.  I gave them all the once-over and headed down the road, listening to "The Crusher" by the Cramps.

Luckily I only had a few miles to go, but it really didn't matter. I had singular focus. A single task for the afternoon - to get up close on some deer - and not just one.  Multiple deer.  Since I hadn't bow hunted in three years, and had never hunted this new swamp, I had no illusion that I'd just pop in, drop a 10-pointer, and be done with it in 2 hours.  Nope.  Time to put in my dues.

When I was recently invited to hunt the swamp it was cold, rainy, and silent as I stood there and glassed over it.  This time was much different.  As I exchanged my button-up shirt for a camo hoodie (sorry), Walls down jacket, and Walls camo bibs, I heard so much...just...noise...going on around me.  A dredging project offshore.  Roofing contractors about a quarter mile away.  Birds and squirrels all over the swamp.  A few labradors playing and barking at a nearby marina.  Yup.  This was going to take some concentration and attention to detail.  I took my time getting ready, hoping to see the first of the does or fawns on the move.  That didn't happen. A little after 3pm, I decided to get out of the lone "stand" on the property and get wet and dirty instead.

Looking east from the "stump blind"
I knew that most of the deer would be coming out of the Phragmites marsh on the south of the swampy property, so with a southwest wind (and sun setting hard in the southwest), I set up in the shadow of a big tree, on the ground, just 5 yards outside the marsh and inside the forested swamp.  Around 330pm, the first deer came through, right behind me.  Slowly but deliberately.  She got to the edge of the marsh, then (from what I could hear) walked backwards back into the swamp.  That's not good.  As I pondered what to do, another doe came through the same path and cut southwest, into the landowner's waterfront yard.  Damn.  Well she wasn't spooked.  Both animals had moved cautiously enough that I was pretty sure that the herd wouldn't willfully walk past me, giving me a shot at one of them.   When I was sure there were no deer immediately around, I quickly moved out of there, and deeper into the wooded swamp to the north, where the landowner told me the herd would end up after dark.


The second spot, seen in both of the pictures above, was money.  Well sort of money, I mean like the old Turkish lira, which could be exchanged for US dollars at like 4 million to one.  Anyway, if hunting was done in 2-D, it would have been real money, or, at least the current Turkish lira (trading at 0.5 : 1 US dollar).   If that confuses you, then keep reading.

The spot I picked, which I noticed on my way off the property after my first visit, was an upturned Swamp White Oak tree.  The roots were all still intact, sitting about five feet up in the air, and eight feet across.  The root mat created an amazing shadow immediately to its north, so that's where I sat.  It was still only 4pm, and while the deer were totally refusing to move, the swamp was alive with birds.  Namely pileated woodpeckers.  I felt like I was in some kind of dinosaur movie, with those things, probably mating season males, swooping from tree to tree with their crazy cackle.  Don't know it?


Now you do!  As the clocked passed 4:15, and 4:30, I started to get nervous, with a 4:44pm sunset looming.  The squirrels eventually battened down the hatches as the shadows started to streeeetttttccccccch off of the lanky stems of the swamp's red maples, persimmons, and musclewoods.    Around 4:35pm.......movement.

Six small does or yearlings (at this age, I hate to call them fawns) moved silently out of the marsh's high reeds, right past my initial position, and bore straight north, ending up 80 yards east of my "stump blind."   The natural and human noises around didn't seem to spook them as they kicked and rooted about for acorns and skunk cabbage roots,  but their heads were definitely on a swivel.   Eventually, like the last doe, they turned back south toward the marsh and waterfront, and headed into the waterfront mowed yard.  At this point, I already felt like the hunt was a success, because I knew where to set up next time - in the shadow of a tree (or the house) near the waterfront.   I put my bow down, and took a few quick pictures of some of my neat surroundings (see those photos here).   I figured it was done.

But that wasn't the herd. At about 4:40pm, about a dozen big does crunched through the edge of the marsh, headed to the same position where the six smaller deer had just been, had a solid look around, and then immediately walked in a single file line to within about 10 yards of me.  I couldn't believe it.   And as much as I wanted to drop one of them in that swamp with 90 seconds of legal daylight left (I'll get back to that), I felt like I didn't know it well enough to track a deer in the dark to where it finally laid down.
This was "before" the herd got close.  If you can believe that!
The herd scattered into feeding positions covering 180 degrees around me at short range.  And they smelled me.  They definitely smelled a person, and they stared right at my position, as I stood frozen......with no bow in my hand.  The staring contest continued.  They didn't see me.  With time running out, I made a slight move for my bow.  Two does saw my head or arm move, hissed at me, and jumped back a dozen yards into heavy cover.  The others also retreated with just a few bounds.  I guess that's one bonus of suburban deer.  They were more aggravated at me for disturbing them, than they were afraid of me.  I waited for the rest of the light to leave the swamp, and then I walked out.   The does didn't spook at all.  Funny.

What wasn't funny (in addition to the fact that I think I lost my expensive sunglasses in the swamp) was that I later looked up the legal shooting hours for deer, which unlike game bird hours, DO NOT END AT SUNSET.  That's right.  I had another half-hour to try to get those deer with their heads looking the other way.  I mean, always good to err on the conservative side, but man, do I wish I would have checked that ahead of time.  It should be obvious that I'm more of a bird hunter than a deer hunter.  What an idiot move!

As I was driving out of the property, I saw some bigger deer moving around in the woods.  And I saw the swamp's 10-pointer.  That's right.  I couldn't see the brow tines, so I don't actually know that they measure as points, but I saw 8 points not including the brow tines.  You might think I'm just making this all up.  Lucky for me, I took a picture.  Or a dozen.


That's a big old boy.  And he may be a hot-tempered feller himself, which probably has something to do with the fact that he had three big does right around him.  Once I had a solid picture of him, I felt like the hunt was complete - sure, I would have loved to have been field dressing a deer at that moment instead of taking pictures, but what an awesome afternoon!  I saw the property's biggest buck - the landowner had feared that poachers had killed him; I had two handfuls of legal deer well within range of my bow; and just the adrenaline rush of having those wary animals work so close to me was invigorating.  I was still excited the next day!

I'll be going again soon.  Really soon.  This time, with my tree stand (a 2004 Gorilla climber with a seat that's too small) and a little better scent control.  Doesn't mean I'll notch a tag.  Or even get a shot.  But now I know a little more about how wildlife use this swamp.  And I'll be ready.

5 comments:

Alex said...

Aww man that sounds like an awesome hunt! (minus the 30 mins sunset rule)

How did you manage to get pictures of those deer at night? They -never- sit around like that for me. One flash, and it might as well be "goodbye" for the rest of the season.

River Mud said...

I rolled up on them in the truck. They were cautious but not all spooked. Each time the flash went off, they backed a little further into the woods.

It's a pretty suburban setting - typical waterfront area where all the high and dry spots are developed, but the low spots are protected by wetland and floodplain regulations.

Ian Nance said...

Nice buck! And sounds like a great hunt

Neil said...

Enjoying your blog! I write from just next door, in Delaware. Do more fishing! : )

Fat Boy said...

Great post RM. This is my first time here, and definitely not the last. I'll be reading through your archives for sure.