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CALLING ALL DEER! By Stephen Ward

archGoing back a few years into the memories of hunting in years past; I think back to when my hunting partner Kirk Wells and I made the learned crossover to having a few more tricks in our repertoire of what we carried into the woods; learning that deer calls do indeed actually work.

It was early fall of 1983, and Kirk had asked me if I wanted to go Bow Hunting with him near his grandmother’s home outside of Shelby, North Carolina; and I accepted the offer.  He had seen some deer feeding in a field one day as he was driving and got permission to hunt the land from the owner.  I met him at his house and we took his vehicle out to that field, it had some woods that backed to a river that formed like a “J” boundary to the end of the property, the road being its straight defining border on its front, the river making the “J” shape, culminating at a bridge where it met the road.  The bridge was one of those deep grating bridges that makes a loud rumbling noise each time the tires of a car drove over it, and there was a slight bump as one drove over the bridge; which caused anything with a trailer to jolt and rattle as it crossed.  I remember these sounds clearly from sitting there listening to it all day and wondered how all that noise might affect our hunting.

We arrived at dawn; parked the truck behind a group of cedars out by the road and established ourselves about in the middle of the property, headed across the field to the back where the wooded area met the field and scouted down the edge of the woods toward where the river would eventually meet the bridge until we found a good trail the deer were using with fresh track coming out into the field, and near that trail in the field was a big old white oak tree loaded with acorns.  Inspecting the trail further, there were deer droppings heavy within the first 20 feet of the trail as it went back into the trees.  To me, there is nothing better than seeing lots of deer droppings when scouting an area to hunt, especially with a combination of old dried and new moist ones, means that the trail or area is used frequently, is a regular habitual routine and is a path between feeding area and resting area.The trail led back and to the left through tall underbrush about shoulder high and split in two directions as it approached the river, and upon inspecting them both; it looked like they were mostly crossing the river from another field on a hill in one location though. Having found our target zone, we went back to the truck to get our tree stands.  We knew by arriving after sunrise would probably cause us to have a slow morning, simply because our movement might deter any deer from settling in, but that is just the way it goes when hunting a new area for the first time.

It was a hot hazy and foggy morning and very humid as we set up, each of us going into that trail, then each taking a position about 25 yards either side of it.  One thing that may be different than a lot of hunters is that OUR objective, as best friends; is to hunt together as a TEAM.  It’s not all about WHO gets WHAT when we are hunting, it’s that we know by teaming up, our FREEZERs will have meat in them for the season; we typically split up the meat when we harvest a deer when hunting together; the rack goes to the person who shot it if nice enough to be worried about that.  By planning and hunting together, we have increased our take immensely. So especially during bow season, you may see us hunting a lot closer together than during rifle season; targeting a particular area of concentration or even going after ONE particular deer together, someone may have a shot when the other guy doesn’t, especially with a bow, when a deer can see the draw movement if coming straight at you, the other may have a clear shot from another direction.  So we situated ourselves both where we each would have a shot at the main path and yet have a shot at the field, either side of the trail.  This seemed to be the main trail into the property, and if there were some smaller paths elsewhere, and a deer entered the field from them, we figured the main group of deer would be focused in our area; and others might join up by walking down the field edge from either side of that trail.  With treestands up; we climbed into our respective tree, pulled up our bows and started the wait.  The fog lifted, but it started clouding over and then rain settled in.  We stayed and absorbed moisture until about 10:45 am, then using hand signals; signaled each other to call it quits for the morning.   The forecast was for a sunny afternoon and evening, so we hoped all would be better then.  We drove off to his grandmothers to grab some food, throw our clothes in the dryer and then headed off to Wal-Mart just for something to do.  As we walked back into the sporting goods section, there was a video playing on the counter from a couple of guys named Knight and Hale touting about their new product they had made, a deer call.  We didn’t know what to think of their claims at first, but as we watched the video we were more and more convinced to give one a shot; so we each bought a Knight and Hale EZ Grunter call with its accordion style plastic “throat” tube and reed mouthpiece and headed back home to the sounds of the calls toots and grunts in the front seat of the truck; to go have some more food and get changed back into our now dry camo.

arch2The sun had broken out while in the store, the rain and moisture in the air adding to the humidity, it was going to be a hot and dripping afternoon.  We drove back to the field at 2:30, got back into our trees, hauled up our bows with our retrieval hoist lines and sat still until about 4:30 pm, only moving to take a drink now and then or wipe the sweat from our foreheads through the eye opening of our camo facemasks / headnets.  As the afternoon began getting closer to evening we started using the calls as instructed, a few toots and bellows and then wait for 15 to 20 minutes, repeat.  Around 5 pm, we noticed some movement by the river in the tall underbrush.  It was like just one noise to start, then several noises filtering into the thick undergrowth brush along the two trails; it came closer, then stopped.  For the next hour nothing moved, as if whatever it was had just laid down and was waiting for something; and then, at 7 pm; everything came alive.  Suddenly there was movement coming down the trail, the brush shaking as creatures were walking through it, first in sight a doe with a few young ones came down the trail between Kirk and I, we looked at each other and chose not to shoot at the doe, to wait to see what else was coming; arc1and they walked out to the field edge looking around, as if hoping to see where or from who those calls had been coming from.  Next down through the high brush trail came yet another doe, then some antlers appeared walking through the bushes.  A young buck of only about 120 lbswith a small spike-ish rack appeared and we again held off.  Just then a pick-up truck with a trailer drove across the bridge, the trailer banging and rattling with a loud noise as it bumped over the bridge apron; the deer stopped and stood at alert for a moment with white tail flag flying, then settled back down.  Whew!! For a minute it looked like things were going to fly! Could not have been worse timing for that stupid truck to drive across that bridge I thought.  The young buck moved to the edge of the field finally.  Both Kirk’s and my attention was drawn back behind me again. A huskier six pointer was working his way forward behind that youngster; but the brush was really too high along this trail to get a good clean shot at the kill zone without fear of deflecting an arrow off a branch; so all we could do was wait and see what direction it went when it stepped out in the field.  If it went right, it was mine, if left, it was Kirks.  The deer in the field started grazing and some headed for acorns under the oak, the young buck headed my direction to graze, but I knew what WE wanted.  The six pointer got to the field, looked around, and the oak tree was a bit to the left of center of the trail opening from our view from the woods; it decided it wanted some of those acorns and headed left.  All attention would be focused on him; for to risk taking another shot at anything else would send all the other deer running.

It was great being close enough to watch Kirk as he drew back his bow, take aim and let loose an arrow, flying out into the field and hit its mark of the mid to front left flank of the deer.  The buck jumped in the air, wheeled around and came running back toward me as the other deer scattered at top speed, some funneling back down the trail between us, others just running away across the field; I drew my bow back for a second shot at it in case it needed it; but before it made it to the wood edge it keeled and crumpled.  The arrow had found its mark into the heart and taken its toll quickly as you hope it always will.

A brand new hunting spot, some quick scouting; a well used deer trail with many droppings, a few hours of hunting, a deer call that seemed to have worked well in concentrating the deer to our location in addition to the lure of a white oak laden with acorns, some mutual PATIENCE and a good clean accurate shot placement and our hunting TEAM had once again brought home the “bacon” of a nice buck.  We drove home talking about how the deer call had seemed to have made a difference; over the years that followed, it proved to be a major factor in landing some of our nicer deer.

May your 2015 season be a good one.

Stephen Ward is a contributing guest hunting writer for HuntingLife.com and an avid outdoorsman who was raised in Central NY and spent much time as a teenager in the Adirondack Mountains fishing and hunting; the son of a Lt Col. Army officer; he learned disciplined weapons handling and shooting skills early; as a teenager was taught survival skills and how to archery hunt starting at age 12 with a recurve bow and trap by an outdoorsman with an Onondaga Indian heritage who taught him the mindset of respecting nature and the proper handling and cleaning of harvested game; (he skins, quarters and butchers / processes all his own harvested deer).  He spent time in the late 70’s volunteering in various capacities with the NYS Fish and Wildlife department and was friends with several Wardens; was a member and big game scorer with the Virginia Peninsula Sportsman’s Association in the late 1980’s; volunteered to help with the Virginia Game Wardens in the late 1980’s thru early 1990’s manning deer check stations, attending hunting events/shows and riding with Wildlife Management Unit Biologists to provide “backup” during a period when they were undermanned due to budget cuts.   Stephen became a member and Executive Secretary of the Arizona Deer Association in 2011 while living in Arizona and now resides back in the mountains of Central Virginia where he daily observes the nature, family structure and habits of deer out his back door.   He has successfully hunted Deer, Turkey and fished for Bass up and down the east coast from NY to FLA and out in Arizona.

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