By Nick Simonson
She came into the north end of the field with that certain nervousness, her grey coat shivering off the dew around her hips and white-knobbed knees while she warily glanced back into the creek bottom stand of orange and yellow boxelders and ash trees on the trail behind her. The doe’s demeanor said it all: “wait for it…he’s right behind me.”
She began nibbling the emergent greens on the edge of the hay lot 80 yards from my vantage point, every so often checking behind her. Out of sheer anticipation I clipped the release to the D-ring on my bowstring. I glanced down at the connection point just long enough to take my eyes off the doe and the grassy edge of the field. When I looked up, there he was.
His head was down just beyond the grassline as he sniffed out the trail in front of him, but his tall eight-point crown towered above the vegetation. He was the big four-by-four from the summer trail cameras, the one whose odd antlers seemed to skip the third tine and go right into the fourth and fifth evenly, cheating himself out of an extra inch or two on each side. The bone glinted the slightest tint of reddish orange, though no sun shone through the low gray ceiling. The tines were fresh cleaned and perhaps polished on some poor unfortunate sapling that now lay in shreds along the path behind him. Warily, he lifted his head, dropped it, changed the angle and lifted it again, pausing until he felt the coast was clear.
Then it hit me, like a dam breaking. From head to toe, the unstoppable shaking – not trembling, not quivering – but muscle-wracking shudders that thundered down from my neck and shoulders and turned my legs to rubber. The gray shaft nocked in my bow wobbled like a CB antenna on a big rig rolling down the interstate at 80 miles an hour, and the three-bladed broadhead ticked back-and-forth like a metronome set at 160 beats per minute. I steadied the arrow with my offhand while watching the buck take his breakfast alongside the doe, but just on the edge of cover so he’d have a quick escape if necessary.
I tried to focus on the doe to keep my mind from racing and body from shaking so violently, breathing slowly and deeply, but with each exhale a new shudder of adrenaline washed over me. The buck, closing in to 60 yards, was perhaps the biggest I had seen in three or four years, and while I hoped and prepared for the shot, I watched him slowly slink off behind the cover of a sprawling old boxelder, his gray form concealed by the still-leafed tree and gnarled old trunks and branches. Bending at the knees slightly to help me get a view of his exit path, my legs nearly buckled and I had to tighten every muscle between my knee and shoulders to stay upright. I held out hope that his trail would connect with the one which wound its way out of the same woods and right alongside my stand, and for the next 20 minutes I watched the brushy area for movement in the tangled bedding area, but saw none.
Even after he disappeared from view, the after-effects of this season’s first encounter with one of the bigger bucks from my trail camera continued, spurred on by another smaller buck and a half-dozen does and fawns that milled about the hay field for the next hour and a half. With many of the latter drifting by within 10 yards of my stand, under the cool clouds and growing wind of the morning, sending slight aftershocks and tremblors through me as they closed to the distance where I could hear them breathe.
Ten years ago, if someone told me I’d be a bow hunter, I probably would have laughed out loud, and I’m sure I did once or twice. But an up-close-and-personal gun harvest changed my mind, and I am glad it did. Now, there are few things in the world that produce for me an equal rush like the one experienced on stand this particular morning – like a roller coaster that doesn’t go anywhere, or a public address that has no words – just moving animals, a primal, natural chemical excitement, and the space we share…in our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: Does and a fawn graze in the field in front of the author’s tree stand. Simonson Photo)