By Nick Simonson
The flash of white caught my attention, as two yearling does bounded off into the grass on the south side of the small stretch of hayland I was bowhunting. I quickly replayed all the factors in my head. Did I move? Not more than normal. Was it the wind? No, blowing lightly into the northwest. Did I make a noise? No, all conversations were in my head leading up to the moment. What was it then?
A minute later I got my answer, as a larger deer emerged from the far side of the grass and scrub at the edge of the open stretch and wound its way through the area before following the trail of the fleeing young ones. It walked with the purpose of a buck in November, but my middle-aged vision couldn’t confirm at that distance any more than ears atop its head. As it made its way back along the trail forged by the duo ahead of it, I figured I’d talk to it and see. Pressing the worn wood of the grunt call to my lips, I let out a trio of tiny burps as the deer disappeared behind a stand of brush and small trees.
Without hesitation, it reappeared on the near side along the trail thatcut through the tall grasses and the open gate in the barb wire fence that surrounds the grazing area. With purpose, the animal’s head went up, and against the light grassy backdrop, I picked out the dark tines that went just over the top of the buck’s ears. While I conducted a brief mental debate on shooting the smallish buck (while clipping my release to my bowstring) and figuring on this being my last bow hunt of the year, or at least before gun season starts, he stamped a couple of times and stared into the open in an attempt to make out the source of the voice at the far side of the lot where I sat 15 feet up in the air. The buck turned and stared north to the far corner of the lot and then took a dozen cautious steps toward the middle of the field and hung up in the last remaining patch of green in the hayed area.
When he dropped his head, I gave two more grunts that caused his neck to snap back up like a rubber band and his black-marble eyes burned in the direction of the tree I hung from. He bounded forward another half dozen steps, closing the distance to about 60 yards. At that point I surmised that while he wasn’t the largest buck in the area, he’d be a good first bow buck and a fitting end to an otherwise challenging season on stand which continued last year’s comedy of errors and learning experiences.
He glanced at my tree, and then stared again to the north, and made a series of posturing moves, spinning in a circle, lowering his head and raising it to the unseen opponent. For a second, he turned away, and in a final attempt to get the deer to close the distance to a comfortable shooting range, I gave two more grunts. The buck paused, but instead of looking at me, he lowered his head and faced the north corner of the field, again posturing defensively. Frustrated by his unwillingness to charge the sound, and surprised by his reaction in an off direction, I glanced downward as the adrenaline began to subside in my veins, and as I did, I caught the slightest hint of deep gray in the otherwise yellow-and-green field to my north.
There at a distance equal to the young buck but on a straight-ahead angle, a large buck stood staring in the direction of my stand. At first, I couldn’t make out his antlers against the light coloration of the field, but as he approached and pumped his head up and down, I saw the white bone flash in the gray light of morning and knew he was a far more mature and well-endowed deer than the small one standing in the field. My heart jumped into my throat and when the buck’s head dropped I raised my bow.
Headlong, he deliberately made his way to my stand, never turning, never pausing, never paying much attention to the small buck that watched him cautiously from the center of the field. Knowing exactly what he was doing, he seemingly side-stepped and weaved his way toward me, but never turning broadside, or quartering, or shifting his head-first approach until he was behind the leafless branches which provided some cover and break-up for my location, but also prevented a shot when he closed to 30 yards. Once there, he gave up on his mission to find the phantom voice and bolted after the buck in the middle of the field, chasing him off into the surrounding cover. And like that, the front half of my deer season was over.
After waiting an hour or so in hopes of a return, I lowered my bow and wandered across the field toward the small creek and the approach where my truck was parked, marveling at how antler lust and the fascination with deer talk can be so distracting and entrancing that I had missed the smaller buck’s cues that something bigger was indeed headed my way, and once again recalling that sometimes it’s the things a person doesn’t see that make all the difference…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: A young buck pays respect to a more mature eight-pointer. Watch subordinate buck behavior as they respond to your calls, and take time to look at what they might also be reacting to. Simonson Photo.