4 Years (First Archery Deer)
Even though I was set up to stay out for 3 days solo, I told my wife, the night before I left, that I would be home tomorrow night, and that I was gonna fill my tag in the morning. I’m not one to be cocky, but I was so determined to fill my tag that I was trying to convince myself that I KNEW that I was going to “get it done.” Up until this point, I had only been served “Failure” with a side of “Almost.” Failure and bow hunting go together like bows and arrows and I was very familiar with all of them. Another thing that comes with all of that head scratching though is education. One does not pick up a set of car keys and automatically know how to drive. The only word that comes to mind when I think of spot and stalk archery deer hunting is “Humbling.” You will be humbled whether you fill your tag or not. That is exactly what I felt when I was a mile from my truck on my first morning, spotted a lone buck, and then realized that I had forgotten my tag and licence in the truck.
After booking it all of the way back to my truck to retrieve my licence and tag, all I could hope was that the deer didn’t go too far from where I had last seen him and that I could relocate him. Scurrying my way up the hill to where I glassed the buck from, I was surprised and relieved to see that the deer was still in the same cut I left him in, a mile from where I stood. I knew that this wasn’t the biggest mule deer buck that I had seen in the area, but I felt that he was in a good spot for a stalk and I would be elated to wrap my tag around him. Taking the wind direction and topography into account, I planned my route to the deer. My hope was to use the topography to keep me hidden during the majority of my approach, and possibly cut the buck off in a nearby saddle that I had seen deer use in the past. As quickly as I had forgotten my wallet, I was off yet again, this time towards the buck and not towards my truck.
On my way over to the deer, I couldn’t help but realize that this might come up fruitless, as all of my previous attempts had. I’ve said before in articles that it’s hard to imagine doing something, when you’ve never actually done it. That was all too real at this point. I could see the saddle ahead of me, but there was no deer to be found. Had I been made again? I decided to peer up over the hill that I was on into the adjacent cut that I initially saw the buck in. I’m glad I did, because it turned out that he never left and actually decided to bed towards the bottom of said cut just 200 yards away. In an instance I cautiously took off my pack and boots. This is what I had been waiting for and the time was now.
Each step I took seemed deafening to me, and with each one, came the realization that maybe I wasn’t being as loud as I thought. In the heat of the moment every little detail seems to turn from mole hill to mountain. Inch by inch, I crab crawled my way down the hill beneath my feet. I knew that if I could get to a certain bush, I would be within shooting distance of the mule deer buck that slept across from me. My knuckles were sore from guiding me through the rocky desert floor as I closed the distance. “This is going to happen,” I told myself. 10 yards felt like a mile and 10 minutes felt like hours, but I finally made it to that “certain bush.” Peering over the brush line with my optics, I could see that the buck was still sleeping. As I have done so many times before, I clipped my release onto my D-loop and began my shot sequence. From the crouching position and obscured by the brush in front of me, I drew back ever so slowly. In a steady and fluid motion, at full draw, I stood up. There he was, still sleeping.
4 years prior to this very moment, my best friend John got the bowhunting itch and needed to scratch it profusely. Now, I had done some bowhunting in the past, but nothing crazy. I had even had an opportunity while hunting with my Dad, that still haunts my dreams today. On that day, I became acquainted with the famed condition, “buck fever,” as I watched a beautiful mule deer buck stroll by me at a mere 10 yards. I couldn’t even pick up my bow. That moment was probably where my love of bowhunting started.
Together, John and I traversed the desert floor that first year, spooking every mule deer within a few mile radius. This archery stuff proved to be way harder than we thought. That didn’t stop us from getting out there though. Every failed attempt fueled the desire to punch our archery deer tags, and every failed attempt held within it a lesson that wasn’t always forthcoming. Therein lies the beauty of hunting and bowhunting in particular. The never ending chess match, while difficult, is also addicting to the core. Just when you think you have a checkmate, a pawn puts you to rest. Blasted pawns.
As the years went on, we learned more and more. Soon, we started missing shots on bucks. That may sound pretty negative, but for us, it was AWESOME! No matter the heartache that these events entailed, we were getting closer to filling our tags. Before these times, I didn’t even know what it was like to draw my bow back on a live animal. It felt as if we went on more “bow hikes” than “bow hunts.” Either way, I couldn’t get enough of it and my new addiction would soon pass onto my younger brother Jake.
The amount of miles that Jake and I have put on together in the past 2 years is probably somewhere in the category of ridiculous. This past January was a close one for both of us on our first backpack hunt together. We both almost sealed the deal on great coues bucks and had a great time doing it. Jake go to 40 yards of a rut crazed 3×3, but got busted before getting a shot off. I had multiple encounters with bucks that were just on the threshold of my effective shooting range. That is a hunt that will never be forgotten between the both of us and one that ultimately lit the fire for us with backcountry hunting.
All of the years prior flashed before me as I looked through my peep sight and rest my pin behind the bucks front shoulder. I triggered my release and the arrow was on it’s way like a heat seeking missile. I’ll never forget the sound of all of this as it happened. The sound of my arrow sailing towards its mark and then the THWACK, of it burying deep into the vitals of the animal. The buck bolted out of his bed and up the hill. I could see my arrow hanging out of the opposite side of the entrance hole and it was right where I wanted it to be. I had made a great shot. In about 15 seconds, the deer fell over.
Every time I am out in the mountains I admire the tenacity of these animals and this buck was no different. He was laying down with his head up. I could see a massive amount of bubbles coming out of my exit hole, so I knew I had made a good shot and hit the lunges. Even though I knew I had made a good shot though, I elected to go over and put another arrow through him, to end his suffering. Now, just 45 yards ahead of me, laid my first archery deer. I had done it.
People asked me how I reacted, thinking that I would have been doing cartwheels out of pure joy. It had been a long road up until now. I’m gonna be honest, I thought I was going to be sobbing whenever this moment presented itself. I’ve put so much work into chasing both mule deer and coues deer with my bow, it only made sense that I would have that kind of decompression once I was successful. My reaction was very calm though. With adrenaline still coursing through me and a huge smile, I walked up to my buck and thanked him for what he’d given me. In some ways, I actually feel like I cheated myself by being so mentally ready for this hunt, but maybe that is really what made it happen for me. Whatever the case may be, I am grateful to have had the experience that I had and all of the ones leading up to this. My huge smile continued the whole way back to the truck and I reveled in what was happening at that very moment, hoping that I wouldn’t have to wait another 4 years to feel this again.