It’s hard to call a season where I put 4 deer’s worth of venison in my freezer a failure, but somehow, looking back over this past fall, I don’t really feel successful. Let me start at the beginning and recap my 2011 deer season here in New York. Several factors contributed to the overall lack of success on large deer experienced across my small group of hunting partners. This is a group of about 10 that regularly put several deer over 170″ gross on the ground each and every year. None of us came close this year. The first factor was a total lack of mast crop this year. Not a single acorn fell in our county this year. The second was an outbreak of “blue Tongue” disease which wiped out a significant number of deer in May thru August. The third I will get to soon.
As the October 15 opener approached, no one really had an eye on a big deer. I had one 8 point buck in the 140 class in an industrial park I have sole access to and another 140 class 8 in spot that several of us hunt. We decided to cluster 3 of us on two side of a steep rock cliff that the later buck was crossing each day. As luck would have it, Dave put him down with a great shot that opening afternoon. Little did we know, he would wind up as our largest buck of the entire season, scoring a respectable 144, yet nowhere near the potential of our area.
The following Tuesday I arrowed an enormous doe and the freezer started to slowly fill up. I passed on a few small bucks that week and finally Sunday afternoon decided to put my first sit in at the industrial park. It may not be scenic settings, but there are a ton of deer in there. As I was parking my SUV, I looked up to see the big 8 just grazing on some grass with about 6 does less than 100 yards from me. This is a busy area, with lots of vehicles coming and going, and the buck paid me no attention at all. With no cover between, I slipped out of the car and dropped into the edge of the woods. I circled around thru a knee deep swamp and came out just below the rise he was feeding on, 180 degrees opposite my parked car. I slithered up next to a pine, and saw him standing at 20 yards. As I came to my knee and started to draw my bow, his head snapped around and locked right on me. I came to full draw as he stomped 10 yards closer intent on rousting the interlude he detected. He finally figured out I wasn’t another deer and stared with wonder, trying determine just what this camo clump was? I was sorely tempted, and at that distance, I certainly could have hit an individual hair, but I will not take a frontal shot with a bow on an animal. Many of my friends have debated my decision with me, but I stand by my actions. I hoped he would turn just a little broadside, but when he left; he just swapped ends and scampered off, not especially spooked.
A few days later, as everyone complained of the lack of big bucks, I went back into the industrial park. As I headed to my tree, climbing stand on my back, I saw a really old, not pretty 6 point buck staring at me from about 30 yards, well past his prime. I fished my release aid out of my pocket and buckled it on my wrist. I pulled an arrow out of my quiver. Knocked it, and came to full draw. I always take my quiver off when I shoot and certainly felt off balance between this and the summit climber strapped to my back, yet I drilled the buck right through the heart. He ran 30 yards and tipped over. Why he never ran off while I went though all my gyrations to get to full draw will forever remain a mystery. I shed my stand and went to claim my prize, only to find no deer. I looked around in shock. Then my eye went to the stream that ran alongside, and there he was totally submerged. I guess he gave one last kick that sent him over the bank. I fished him out and the freezer continued to fill up.
On October 29th the worst natural disaster ever in our part of New York in terms of money spent to repair the damage left behind occurred. An unprecedented snow storm hit, dropping 32″ of heavy, wet snow on trees that still had green leaves on them. This tremendous weight felled trees by the thousands leaving 25 dead and 1.6 million people without power for well over a week. It also changed many of my stand locations, and certainly changed deer travel patterns as many old trails were no longer passable. I was the first Halloween in recorded history where there was snow on the ground in NYC.
I was jumping around a lot of stand locations, but other than the big 8, nothing good was showing up. I didn’t want to burn out the industrial park, but knew I needed to put time in on him. A Saturday in mid-November, my wife was honored at a gala dinner for her work with the blind. It was a late and fun filled evening, where we got home way after midnight. I still found myself up a tree as the sun rose in the east. About an hour in, here comes my 8, right up the creek bank. I watched him stroll in for a 20 yards broadside chip shot. I came to full draw and released a perfect arrow as he stood before me. I heard my favorite “crack” sound and he ran off into the swamp. I knew he wouldn’t go far with the shot, but stayed in my tree and searched the ground with my binoculars for my bloody arrow which I just knew would be sticking out of the mud right there. Instead my heart sank as I saw my arrow buried dead center in a sapling, with my blinking luma-a-knock pointing straight back at me. Maybe the lack of sleep made me miss it, but more likely I was just so focused on the deer, I never saw the tree. ½ an inch right or left, and he would have been mine.
My friend Jody had told me about a ½ racked 3X he had seen. We both wanted to know who broke off the other side. I wound up seeing him several times, even fighting with another 6 point. He kept tempting me to shoot him; offering me several shots in a 2 week period. I saw him so many times that I realized he had a deformed side with a spike growing down the side of his face, and had not been broken off at all. Finally one night, he was under my stand at last light, couldn’t restrain myself, and I added his weird rack to my collection. The freezer is filling up, but the taxidermist isn’t making money on me this year.
I had another encounter with the big 8 around that same time. I was attaching my climber to a tree when this commotion erupted around me. The big 8 had come to within 10 yards without me seeing him; then burst off running away with 2 does. With my bow on the ground and my hands full of summit tree stand; there was little I could do but sigh. I don’t know if he was trailing a doe and she busted me or if he heard the noise of me hanging the stand and came to investigate a possible buck fight. Whatever the reason, that would be the last time I saw him! Although I don’t think he was ever killed, unless I find his sheds, I won’t really know until later this summer.
I went on to shoot another doe, and had great pictures of a truly world class non-typical buck, but was never able to set eyes, much less an arrow on him in daylight hours. He surely survived, and I will put a lot of time on him and hopefully the now bigger industrial 8 next later this year. On December 23rd I had had enough and I flew to the Bahamas to spend the next 9 days very successfully catching bonefish. All done barefoot, wading tidal flats with a #9 wt rod, no hired fishing guide, and my home made flies. I look forward to this coming bow season. Hunting is not just about putting bone on the wall, but it sure is nice.