Deer Season Ruminations

The late archery seasons are nearly at their end save Washington’s late deer season that, in some units will conclude at dusk on December 31st. I chose to bowhunt the rifle season with a rifle tag, which really turns the screws on available hunting days but it’s become my preference for timing key blacktail rut phases.
No doubt with the close of another year, there are likely a long list of “shoulda-woulda-coulda’s”. I have a few myself. There was the 110-class blacktail that I bumbled into while still-hunting in late October. That blunder cost me a slam dunk opportunity on a P&Y buck. He was feeding alone behind a clump of blackberries, with his head down. I stepped out and got caught 10 feet away. The next mistake came only moments later when I got sloppy and quickly turned back to circle around the 4×4 as he fading into the ferns. A smaller buck (above photo) I’d been capturing on a trail camera was head-down nosing my back-trail. Seems my scent drag worked a little too well because he didn’t look up until he was just a few feet from my contorted stance; arrow in one hand, legs crossed in mid-step while trying to turn unnoticed. He was less than amused. I felt dejected but reveled in the late season action and opportunity to learn. I had two bucks inside 8 yards in less than 2 minutes!
Then there was the pair of testosterone laden fork-horns who responded aggressively to my rattling and calling. I called in the first buck within minutes of my first calling sequence. As he closed to within 10 yards of my crouched position, I heard another buck approaching with a purposeful gait in the frosty fall litter. For the first time in 20 years of observing blacktails, I witnessed this second buck snort-wheeze repeatedly as he closed the gap on the first buck. Mind you this was playing out 10 yards in front of me on the ground. The first buck bristled and turned broadside in a show of dominance. The second buck was intent of proving him otherwise. Though I had an arrow nocked and could have drawn multiple times on either buck, I decided to cash in on this rare opportunity to observe live bucks sort out their differences at close range.
They squared off and began sparring with moderate intensity. All the while I sat, scanning the perimeter for a larger buck. As the two bucks pushed and shoved each other, they moved closer. At one point the rear leg of one buck was less than three feet from the tip of my nocked arrow. With the buck bracing himself for more leverage, I enjoyed a rare view of his underside all the way to up his lower jaw, a perspective I’ve never had during any hunting season. For me, the rush of that morning hunt surpassed the certain finality of tagging one of those bucks.
Fast forward a couple weeks and there was the Friday afternoon I picked up my 8-year old daughter, Abbey, from school for the final hours of daylight. 20 minutes after getting my custom-painted blacktail decoy placed and settling into the blind, she proceeded to call in her first buck with a series of doe bleats and an impressive rattling sequence. As the fork-horn buck cautiously emerged from the tangle of brush 18 yards beyond the mesh shooting window, I was more focused on sharing the moment with Abbey than getting my bow drawn. The buck didn’t see the decoy and no amount of calling was going to keep him interested. He melted back into the thicket as darkness swallowed up our small opening. A missed opportunity for sure but a priceless evening in the deer woods with my daughter.

Two days later while still-hunting in another area about a dozen miles away, I slipped up on a nice little 3 point buck as he fed. I pushed the envelope a bit knowing I had only one more day to put a buck on the ground. He dropped his head to feed and I made my move, closing the gap to 20 yards – 20 yards free of arrow obstructions. As slowly drew and anchored, my mind raced. Sometimes I have to tame my thoughts once I’m drawn and anchored on an animal. “Finally, I’m going to fill this tag…it’s been a good year”, I thought. Just as I was about to change the mood in this little piece of landscape, another buck I didn’t see popped his head up! Holy smokes, another 4×4!
In an instant the 3pt became little more than a distraction, and ironically, an obstacle. His body completely blocked any possible shot at the bigger deer, and I am thankful that I didn’t shoot. Given their respective positions, my arrow would have passed through the 3pt and hit that 4pt, likely in the neck.
As it played out, I had no clear shot opportunity on that bigger deer. He moved away from the 3pt and another 2pt that fed nearby so I circled and tried to call him in. He came to about 40 yards but expected to see a doe. He became disenchanted and resumed feeding into some blackberries as I crept forward. I closed the gap to 22 yards and came to full draw. He snapped his head up, standing broadside. I hoped my movement would cause him to reposition himself for a better view, offering me a shot. It didn’t happen. I let down, backed out quietly, and drove home energized for the final day of my deer season.
The next morning I was back in the area and called in a doe with a 2×2 buck in tow. I tagged that buck and it was a good way to end the season with just a few hours to spare.
Ironically, today when I went in to pull a treestand in one of my hunting areas I watched a pretty nice 3×3 pushing and chasing a doe.  They were about 50 yards from my tree for a good five minutes and it was fun to just watch this time.

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