A Different Game: Hunting challenges greater for archery

THOMAS KNIGHT/COURTESY THE FEELING OF SUCCESS in bowhunting for deer is often very different than it is for gun hunters. Just gettng into position for a shot can be a major victory.

I do not bowhunt so I cannot pretend to understand the feel of victory or the agony of defeat that comes from deer hunting with a bow. My youngest son, Thomas, does and last weekend he took his first buck with his bow.

It was not a trophy by measurement standards, but it certainly was by achievement standards to him.

I could tell you the story, but I decided to let him do it. After all, I sent him to college to do something other than duck and deer hunt…I think.

First light began to break through the trees when the first deer, a young doe, jumped into the feeder pen. She was followed by another young doe; then I could see moving through the brush a buck I nicknamed Wide Load.

Staring eye to eye with this buck at 30 yards I thought about the last time I killed a buck nearly 14 years ago. Drug out of bed by my dad on a cold, rainy winter morning we made our way to my favorite part of this particular ranch where I continued my nap until the rain let up. Deer began filtering into the winter wheat mostly 400-500 yards away. At 13 years old it didn’t matter how far away they were because it was something to watch.

Much like the way Wide Load entered the scene, a very nice buck jumped out at 75 yards and as any young kid would do I began hollering in my quietest, excited voice, Dad buck, Dad buck!

He begins to glass the deer at the far end of the pasture thinking I was crazy until I tell him, No right in front of us!

He uttered the word any young hunter loves to here, SHOOT. I could elaborate, but let’s just say there were some well-positioned shots and some not so much - however, the buck was in the bed of the truck a short time later. This buck, my first, ended up scoring 167 inches. Even then it began to set in that that deer would be a tough trophy to beat with a rifle.

Shortly after that day I began to explore the world of bow hunting. I’ll never forget the first bow Dad outfitted me with. A Diamond Rapture.

With bow in my hand I figured I had a clean slate now and life would be great, I’ll harvest bucks year after year like they show on television. Wrong. See there were a few things I didn’t realize were critical in bow hunting like scent control, wind direction, stand location and camouflaging.

It took some time before I ever started practicing proper techniques in order to put myself closer to deer, but the day I had my first close-range encounter I was hooked. Sitting in the fork of a large cedar several does passed so close I could see the red in their eyes.

There is a certain feeling you get when an animal as cautious as a whitetail is close enough to see the veins in its eyes, hear it crunch a kernel of corn or the light sniffling to clear the dust from its nose. It is a feeling of accomplishment.

Several years passed with no success in harvesting an animal with my bow and a love for waterfowl hunting took over while in college. The bowhunting addiction was fueled again towards the end of college. I was ready to get serious about harvesting a deer with a bow. This time I was more educated and ready to apply all the tactics I had read about and use the endless amount of gimmicks I had purchased as well.

In 2012 I graduated from Texas Tech, (Wreck Em’ Tech; it’s a rebuilding year) and moved back to East Texas and began putting in countless hours at our family farm in Hopkins County. It started with one stand, then a feeder, then another stand, and so on until I began to think I might run out of money before I kill a deer with a bow. The work began to pay dividends. Bucks began to show up on camera and encounters with deer not catching my scent were going up.

In 2015 I was able to harvest my first doe from the little farm then I followed that up with a mule deer doe a couple weeks later in West Texas. I continued to hunt and saw an abundance of does and young bucks, but no mature bucks.

I was at the farm again last weekend with low expectations sitting in a fresh-out-of-the-box pop up blind quickly brushed and doused with two bottles of Scent-A-Way. Because of a strong south wind and my fixed stand placements for a north wind, the pop-up was the only chance I would have at the deer not catching my wind.

I settled into the blind Saturday morning and began thumbing through the game camera pictures from the night before and saw one of my target bucks had been there until 4:30 a.m. I’m pretty deflated knowing the deer fed through the night, but to my surprise deer began pouring in to the feeder. The buck entered directly in front of my blind. I drew back, but something spooked them off.

I sat and thought to myself I had blown my chance and was continuing down the path of not being able to harvest a buck. But when the feeder went off the deer returned. They were more cautious, but there were deer all around me.

The buck begins to feed on the corn at 20 yards and turns broadside. I draw back only to be busted by a deer that couldn’t have been 10 feet away.

I figured that was it, but again they meander back. He was very cautious, but to my amazement four or five others jump in with no hesitation. Then he jumps back in the feeder pen and begins eating corn then again turns and gives me a broadside shot, I draw back my bow only to have him turn back to facing me head on. With five or six deer in front of me I couldn’t come out of full draw. I was stuck for what seemed like two minutes until he turns slightly quartering and then whack, I release an arrow that buries in his right shoulder.

All the deer scattered and he snaps the arrow off on a post leaving. I was in a daze immediately after the shot. When my head cleared I was curious where my arrow had actually hit, and then the emotion of what I had just done, a nervous excitement, hit me.

Ten minutes after the shot I ease up to check the arrow and the blood trail. Twelve-plus inches of penetration and good blood. I decided to back out for a couple hours. After two long hours I found him dead less than 50 yards from the feeder pen with a shot that appeared to punch right through the heart.

Standing in the woods face to face with my first buck with a bow, first buck from our farm, and second buck of my life, I had to take a minute and let it soak in. All the work had finally paid off. I had achieved my goal and achieved it on my own.

To me there is no greater joy than fooling a mature whitetail, buck or doe. Much like luring in an old greenhead with your single reed you know you have outsmarted the animal. Although it was many years in between harvests I wouldn’t ask for it any other way, it made Saturday morning much more special.

Have a comment or opinion on this story? Contact outdoor writer Steve Knight by email at outdoor@tylerpaper.com. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at Texas AllOut doors and on Twitter @txalloutdoors.

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