Whitetail Deer Archery Hunt 2020: First Harvest on Public Land
The year 2020 will be forever remembered for many things, but for me, it marked my first successful archery deer harvest. Prior to October 28, I had hunted several times since the opening week of archery (September) and had close encounters. However, the beauty of nature and hunting is that effort is only one component of a successful encounter with wildlife. On the evening of the 28th, I was in the right place at the right time and effort and opportunity merged and created success. The added nuance to my experience was that the harvest was my not only my first successful archery season whitetail deer, but it was my first harvest from a mobile tree stand, first deer harvest on public land, and my first time capturing the experience on film.
It was midweek and I was able to pack my stuff up and get out into the woods by 1:00 pm which gave me plenty of time to get my mobile tree stand set up and camera gear ready. I still give myself an extra hour (when I am able) to allow for set up. Many times, on public land I do not have a specific tree I know I will use for my stand. This can make morning hunts especially difficult and time-consuming for new hunters. Wandering around with a handlamp in the dark at 4 am is a great way to miss a first light deer because you were trying to find the best tree to climb. Luckily this was an evening hunt, and I was hunting an area that I had hunted before. I knew based on wind and previous experience the general area where I wanted to set up. Once I found a suitable tree to hang the sticks and stand, I proceeded to take at least 45 min to get ready to hunt. I did typical “newbie” things like forget to attach my tether hoist to my bow, knock my backpack out of the stand onto the ground, and hang my sticks 90 degrees left of where I needed to in order to hang my stand in the right direction for my shooting lanes. But the take-home lesson is that I planned for this giving myself that extra chunk of time, and despite all the mistakes, I was still set up and ready to hunt well before any expected movement.
I love public land, and the opportunity it both provides and represents in this country. Not surprisingly, many people share this feeling and take advantage of public land for hunting. Around 4 pm (the last two hours before legal light), in walks another hunter carrying a ground blind. I am set up on the south side of this cornfield and he sets up on the north side about 60 yards away directly across from me. Halfway through his set up, he notices me in the tree and starts dissembling his blind, and moves back down the field edge out of view. The whole time I was thinking this is a small section of the public, and he has every right to be here as well. I was concerned about being downrange of one of his shooting lanes, but I would have been unphased if he decided to stay in that spot despite the unwritten socially acceptable distance and encroachment practices of the hunting community.
About 20 minutes before the legal shooting light, two does walk out of the woods north of me onto the field edge which was 60 yards away. I stand up and prepare to draw my bow back if they work into range. As I am watching them the smaller of the two feeds down the field towards me and stops in bow range about 35 yards away. I really wanted to harvest the bigger doe, but time was ticking, and I had a nice doe in range. I drew back my bow and as I was about to aim, I noticed the bigger doe move down ahead of the smaller doe and into bow range. While still drawn, I waited for her to clear the tree branch in front of me and stop. After she cleared the branch the doe was at 30 yards but still moving. I took aim and said “merr”, but she didn’t stop. I said it two more times and then she finally stopped and looked my direction. It seemed almost simultaneous that my finger put pressure on the release as she was turning her head to look back. The arrow flew and passed through completely before she reacted. She took off down the field back towards the truck about 40 yards.
I waited 45 minutes before getting down from my stand to check the arrow to see what kind of blood was evident. While I was waiting, I reviewed the GoPro footage I had captured to confirm what my mind had witnessed in the moment. Both my memory and the camera indicated the shot was a clean pass through and maybe slightly “back” on the deer. When I checked the arrow, both the shaft and feathers indicated bright red arterial blood and seemingly no brown or green color which would indicate gut contents.
As I was checking the arrow, I noticed someone walking towards me in the dark. To my surprise, it was the guy who had set up his ground blind across from me then moved. He was extremely apologetic for setting up so close and that late in the day. I assured him it was no big deal, and it did not ruin the hunt. From his relocation he was able to witness the almost collapse of the doe I had shot and the point at which she entered the woods from the field. He even stuck around to help track and drag if needed. This encounter is how I wish everyone experienced shared public land but unfortunately, I know it is not that case.
After grabbing the sled from the truck, we followed the blood trail to the woods where she entered. I walked a couple of feet and saw her just inside the edge of the tall grass and woods. I brought her out to the field, field dressed her and got her into the sled. It was a short drag to the truck through some CRP, and a team lift into the back was the finishing touch to an incredible experience. After a few smiles and stories, I drove off eager to share the experience and process my harvest. Experiencing wildlife up-close (as is often the case with bow hunting), is an affinity for many people. I have been lucky enough to realize that with a bow and arrow, and I will continue to practice if my health allows. The old saying is “See one, Do one, Teach one”, and with three young children eager to join me outdoors, it is time for me to teach, learn, and grow together with the next generation of hunters and anglers.