October “lullaby” lays big Pennsylvania buck to rest
The dictionary offers alternative definitions for the word “lull.” As a noun, it means a temporary interval of quiet or lack of activity. In verb form, it means to calm or send to sleep. While bowhunting from my favorite stand last week, I was granted the unique opportunity of experiencing both meanings simultaneously- turning a quiet evening sit into a hunt to remember.
Most bowhunters dread the middle portion of archery season, infamously known as the “October lull.” It’s a time when bucks begin to stray from their early season feeding patterns, change food sources and rest up for the approaching rut, when chasing and breeding will ultimately dominate their mindset.
It’s frustrating, but come mid-October, previously active bucks just seem to mysteriously vanish as though they are figments of our imagination.
But as I silently approached my most promising stand site for an afternoon hunt last week, I observed an obvious change in the woodlot that wasn’t present the last time I hunted the location for the stormy Pennsylvania opener. On this day, the difference was clear.
Most of the acorns that crunched beneath my boots eleven days prior were now reduced to empty caps. The cobs on the first few rows of the bordering cornfield had transformed from untouched peek-a-boo slivers of gold to freshly peeled voids of mahogany.
Several new deer scrapes- absent mere days ago- now graced the field edge beneath overhanging boughs, invoking a sense of reassurance that I had chosen the right location for the task at hand.
Still, I remained skeptical. I’ve sat here many times before with good sign present, and the evening activity had always been slow. Upon reviewing my hunting journal, one entry from a few years back stated, “This is a morning spot by far; don’t even waste your time hunting the afternoon.”
But curiosity encouraged me to ignore my own advice and press forward. Truth is, I wasn’t dead-set on hunting this particular stand at first, but I did want to check my trail camera to see which bucks had passed through recently before making a final decision.
During the Saturday opener, I had kicked open a mock scrape in a location I used last year to monitor in-season buck activity using my Bow Creek Outdoors trail camera. It’s a great technique for taking intel on what goes on near my stand while I’m away. This year’s results proved very similar to last year.
Even without applying any scent, multiple bucks started visiting the false scrape, and even urinated in it after a few days, according to the images and videos captured by my BC-40. Most visitations occurred overnight or during early morning hours, but one nice buck had shown himself around 5:30p.m. just a few days earlier.
Based on the abundance of sign, coupled with the recent photos of a definite shooter showing up before dark, I decided to take a chance and hunt the nearby stand on this particular evening, instead of dropping down to another site I was originally considering.
Just to spice things up even further, I doctored the mock scrape with some “Buck Scrape” gel from Lowe’s Whitetail Deer Scents, hoping it might antagonize a territorial bruiser to head my way.
Comfortably settled in my stand, I sat back and absorbed the sights and sounds of a gorgeous autumn evening. A red fox skittered past, gray squirrels playfully chased and chattered, and a button buck haphazardly nibbled his way through wobbling cornstalks.
Just as the sun began to dip below the treetops, prompting the chorus of “evening peepers” to sing their sweet October lullaby, the sound of approaching footsteps seized my full attention.
A cautious glance over my shoulder revealed a mature buck slowly working toward my stand. Instinctively, I snapped into action, first swinging my video camera arm toward the buck’s steady approach, and then grabbing my bow to prepare for a potential shot.
The buck paused beneath a hemlock roughly fifty yards away, thrashed out a scrape and peed in it. As he continued on his way, he entered a clearing and briefly turned his head, revealing a high and heavy set of antlers. At this moment, I decided to take the magnificent buck if given an opportunity.
Passing by some brush, the buck headed for the field my stand overlooked. I again readjusted my camera, hoping to capture the shot on film. But instead of following his original route, he veered farther away and quartered slightly uphill.
With no time to use my rangefinder, I drew my bow and anchored my sight pin where I estimated the buck’s distance at roughly 35 yards. Squeezing off the shot, my arrow hit its mark, entered his vitals and produced a quick, clean kill- the type of shot every archer hopes for.
He ran a short distance and expired, but I gave him plenty of time just in case. Waiting for darkness to fall, I was overcome by the silence of dusk. Only the sounds of dropping acorns, crawling insects and songbirds fluttering to roost remained.
I later ranged the location of the buck at the time of the shot. With a true distance of 38-yards, it was evident my meticulous summer practice sessions had paid off. My hold was steady, and my aim was true. I thanked the Lord for the blessing of another harvest- and another year’s supply of meat to feed my family.
Approaching the fallen buck in the darkness, my headlamp illuminated his husky frame and majestic 8-point crown. He looked peaceful – almost as if he were calmed to eternal slumber by a gentle October lullaby.
I do not take lightly the fact that his last breath retired at my bloody hands. That is a responsibility I own – a badge I wear with respect, humility and gratefulness. His legacy will be honored with every meal and every vivid memory of the hunt.
As the years pass, dropping acorns and fresh buck scrapes will no doubt take me back and rekindle old flames. There may even come a day when my son will sit on my lap and I’ll show him the video of the hunt. Then, a long story will ensue, beginning with the words, “One year, when you were just an infant, Daddy learned that lullabies aren’t just for babies…”