Waning moments: A plan comes together for one last deer of the year
Goals. Sometimes they evade us. However, with persistence, determination and a little luck, we sometimes catch up with them.
Last month, I wrote about setting a personal goal to take an antlerless deer for families in need through Hunters Sharing the Harvest, a non-profit venison donation program here in Pennsylvania. But at the close of the statewide firearms deer season, that effort had proven fruitless. If I hoped to achieve my goal, I’d have to rely on the late season to make it happen.
During holiday break, a family friend and fellow outdoor writer named Craig reached out to me and asked if I still had a 5B antlerless tag. Upon confirming that I did, Craig graciously offered up his ladder stand at his daughter’s house, which is located just down the road from my home.
His stand is set up along the field edge of a prime, seven-acre property surrounded by small woodlots lining an upscale suburban neighborhood. Craig had taken both a buck and doe there earlier this year and had seen numerous others, including a few that were eating his daughter’s decorative shrubs.
The only problem was that his stand is set up for crossbow hunting, with a heavy tree limb leaning out over the seating platform, obstructing any hopes of vertically drawing my compound bow between the shooting rail and the overhead limb. While legally 150 yards from all the houses, I still was reluctant to fire a flintlock there out of respect for the neighbors.
So I had a dilemma — I was offered a great place to hunt close to home, with a good chance of killing a deer, but didn’t own a crossbow. So guess what … I bought a crossbow.
Now, it’s important to realize how much of an archery nut I am. I have nothing against crossbows – I know many people use them, and I’m not going to join the scrum of criticizing one form of hunting over the other, even though I have many friends who willfully proclaim crossbows are only for old guys, young kids, injured or lazy people.
I try to stay out of that debate as best I can, realizing every hunter is legally entitled to his or her own preference. What do I care? To each their own.
However, up to this point, I had never really considered using a crossbow myself. I take great pride in being proficient with my compound, practicing daily throughout the summer and honing my abilities to be able to take a deer when offered the chance. I shot two deer with my Mathews this fall (also missed one), and I even hunted with my longbow several times in the early season — there’s a lot of skill required to do that effectively.
But here I was, taking a brand new Barnett crossbow out of the box, assembling it on my couch, and figuring out how to cock and load it in my back yard. Within an hour, and a few minor adjustments, I was repeatedly drilling tightly grouped shots from 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards — even with a broadhead affixed to the bolt.
I was honestly amazed at the crossbow’s immediate pinpoint accuracy, and would say there is very little “getting used to” for someone who already knows the mechanics of shooting a firearm, as well as the shot placement necessary for archery. Those who’ve never shot or hunted before would definitely need much more practice, but I truly felt confident this thing would perform well when called upon — and I took it out that very same evening.
I hunted the property several afternoons and saw deer every time but once when high winds were uncharacteristically blowing right toward the bedding area. It was clear the deer wanted to feed into this open field, even though they often weren’t within shooting range.
Even so, I did experience some golden opportunities. One day, I had five does run right to me and stop 10 yards under the stand. As I quickly tried to line up the lead doe in my crosshairs, others piled in behind her. Then when she cleared the pack and I was about to fire, she turned straight toward me, again taking away another clean shot. Instead of eventually turning broadside, two yearlings playfully pranced into the field, scattering the nearby herd right on cue. All I saw now was fleeing white flags.
On a different night, three fed out from the lower corner, just outside of shooting range. As one big doe stood broadside at 53 yards, I tried to stretch a long open-field shot. While my rest was steady and my bolt flew true to aim, this deer heard the shot and reactively ducked just under its flight path. My bright red nock buried into the ground where the big doe originally stood. I silently berated myself for not being more patient and risking such a low percentage shot. I suppose the eager pursuit of goals occasionally does that to a person.
But on the last evening of the statewide late-archery season, it finally all came together. I whispered a simple prayer as I walked into the stand that night. It went something like this: “Dear Lord, please grant me a safe, successful, enjoyable hunt. If it’s your will, please let me take a deer for Hunters Sharing the Harvest families. Whether meant to be or not, just be with me every step of the way; let me relax and enjoy these last few hours of deer hunting this year. I’m thankful for the opportunity to do what I love. Amen.”
That’s it … something so simple. I climbed into the stand and had an amazing hunt.
Around 4:45 p.m., I heard deer chasing on the opposite hillside. A half-rack buck was pushing does around on the flat to my right for several minutes. Finally, a small doe fed out into the field in front of me, followed by a bigger one. As the bigger of the two cleared my shooting lane at 25 yards, I confirmed it as an antlerless deer, aimed and fired. At 5 p.m. on the last day of the season, I had finally accomplished my goal.
As mentioned earlier, goals aren’t always achieved. More often than not, they probably fade away with the season’s last sunset. But thanks to a little help from good friends and good faith, I was able to do what I set out to achieve since November. I can’t think of a more perfect way to end the 2018-19 deer seasons — even if it meant doing so with a crossbow.