Learning Curve

Two weeks of Michigan archery season are in the books and it is safe to say, as a first time archery hunter, I have a lot to learn.

Opening weekend this October brought a drastic change in the weather. Hot, clear air dominated the early part of the week preceding the opener on October 1st. I was nervous about how this would affect deer activity as the season got underway. However, Hurricane Joaquin made big enough impact on the East Coast, that cool air and some rain pushed through the Midwest over the weekend. I found myself on stand, bright and early Friday morning with a 38 degree chill seeping in through my jacket. The wind was light, but steadily increasing throughout the day. By afternoon I was thankful to be strapped to a large mature oak, as the smaller beeches and maples around me were dancing on the gusts. Saturday continued to be breezy, but an overnight rain shower softened the still green woods. By Sunday evening, conditions were perfect. My Scoutlook app gauged the breeze at a blustery 1 mph out of the East. The afternoon air was holding in the 50’s and I suited up, hopeful for some whitetail activity.

I had seen numerous doe both Friday and Saturday. This year I declined to get a doe tag so I could only watch and study these deer, and pretend they were true North woods bruisers. The odd fact was however, that I had not yet seen a deer while sitting on stand. On three different sneaks to or from my stands, I had stumbled across doe feeding on acorns in sheltered areas of the woods. Thankfully, none of the encounters ever caused the deer to spook, and I was able to maintain peace and quiet which is critical for the small property I am hunting. I also had the opportunity to truly test out my scent cover, as a few of these doe were downwind within 15 yards, and never once busted me.

Sunday evening around 6:30 I was able to finally see a buck while on stand. I caught a quick flash of him cruising through an open area 70 yards away. After softly grunting a few times, he made a wide arc and came back towards me on the opposite side. This time I did not spot him until he was within 25 yards and passing through my best shooting lane. Immediately I noticed him to be a young but healthy fork horn sporting a mushroomed end to his right G2 which had presumably broken off while still growing. The only shot opportunity I had was a small window which I figured he would pass through at about 33 yards. My middle sight was dialed in on that distance so I drew and waited. As his body broke the plane of the leaves, my arrow released and sped downrange. The buck took off like a bullet and I took some deep breaths to subdue the shakes that came with releasing my first ever arrow at a deer.

Not 5 minutes later I heard a twig snap below me and the leaves lightly rustled. Peering over my shoulder I saw the same buck slowly nosing his way directly towards my stand. The buck made a slow circle around the base of my tree and started heading back into the brush. I couldn’t believe my eyes; but I had an arrow already nocked, so I drew and took the only chance I had. Now most of you reading this know that a 5 yard shot on a deer is incredibly difficult. Not only is the target area of the deer’s vitals very small at that angle, but the hunter must adjust his aim to account for the close range. All these things and more came rushing to mind about 3 seconds too late. As the startled buck loped through the brush I could see my still pure white fletching sticking in the muddy ground.

I didn’t even have time to get down on myself for missing that shot, because 30 seconds passed before the buck came stalking back in, behind a thick screen of saplings. At this point I figured the acorns scattered beneath my stand must be laced with some kind of highly illegal substance. By this point I was slightly dumbfounded, moderately frustrated, and completely in a rush. When the 4 point wheeled around this time, I knew my broadhead had struck some thin strand of wood rather than thick muscle and organs.

Now one would say I would have suffered enough disappointment to last half the season, and with no broadheads left in my quiver, I slumped onto my playing card sized seat to rack my brain about what I did wrong. In true cocky juvenile fashion, this young buck proceeded to mock me with numerous 20 yard, broadside, shot opportunities while feeding on acorns for the next 15 minutes. Talk about rubbing salt in the wound. Eventually he sauntered off and is probably still wondering what kind of huge insect kept dive-bombing just over his back.

After climbing out of my stand, I stepped off the distance to where he was standing for my first shot. My steps measured only about 25 yards which explains why I missed what I thought was a sure hit. The landowner was out by their barn as I emerged from the woods, but mercifully they did not ask too many questions when I explained that I “missed a young buck”.

After the drive home, and the reluctant phone calls to fill in family and friends on how my first weekend had gone; I was able to relax and process the entire situation and pull out key points where I vowed I would do something different in the future. I spent the next few evenings after work, practice shooting and playing various scenarios through my head so I would be ready for the next opportunity I had.

And so went my introduction to the wonderful world of archery hunting. Due to my greenhorn mistakes, there is a promising young buck out there who is uninjured if not very confused. I thought maybe I would encounter him again the second weekend, but a much warmer couple of days only turned up numerous doe and one coyote who is likely still running for his life across the open fields.

But that’s another story for another time.

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