I’ll never forget my first hunt, nor the night before. I had all of my gear laid out in preparation and I couldn’t sleep. I laid awake for hours just staring at the ceiling. I went to the bathroom constantly, checked my alarm every hour, and waited for the morning to come. When I eventually did fall asleep, I experienced my first “hunter’s dreams” and it was so vivid, I thought I was awake.
The doe would appear from the brush to my left and break the serenity of the morning. Leaves rustled as she moved, clearing away October foliage and exposing the soft earth and acorns beneath. The morning sun licked her grayish/brown hide as she foraged. Her ears flickered as she enjoyed her breakfast. My heart began to pound as if I were sitting right there. My bow arm rose. My right arm drew back. My finger found my K-9…and I would wake up.
It was the same dream over and over again. I must have had it at least five times before the 5:00 a.m. buzzer of my phone alarm woke me.
The dreams returned all of opening week and continued through to November where they intensified after encountering my first buck, an eight point, at 10 yards. He wondered in at around 9:30 a.m. on a crystal clear Sunday morning and caught me on my ass between the roots of a large tree with my bow in my lap. Following a brief staring contest, the young buck juked me with a hoof-stomp, and bolted mid-draw. I was hooked after that. I hadn’t seen a deer in a hunting situation until that point and it rejuvenated me. My heart had never pumped that hard, and I immediately began revisiting the scenario over and over in my head.
Visions of that buck haunted me through the entire month of November and it grew larger with every dream. By the time December rolled around, he was the largest, surliest buck in Southern Michigan with tines the size of my thumbs. A monster of elk-sized proportions.
I continued to see my friend on a weekly basis before drawing on a doe in early December. I visited my folks in Cheboygan for the weekend and my Dad and I decided to spend it hunting. We hit our ground blinds before daylight, hunted until around 10:00 a.m., stumped during the day, and headed back out at around 3:00 p.m. and stayed until dark.
That Saturday morning at around daybreak the first snow of the year began to fall. When it started getting thick I spotted a pair of does crossing the field in front of me at approximately 35 yards. They looked a bit small but I wanted a deer really bad and decided to take one of them. Having no cover in front of me to set up a stalk, I was forced to make a shot I didn’t feel comfortable with. I drew, felt the awkward chill of winter in my muscles, and decided to let the bow back down again. I was cold, and the shot was no good. I knew that deep down.
My dreams became even more frequent. I was now haunted by three deer: a monster buck and two does. With only one month left to hunt, I reckoned I was doomed and was already looking forward to next year.
During the month of December I participated in an antler-less deer removal program at the local university in which I was employed. The program enabled me to hunt on undeveloped school property while students were away for the holiday break. I chased deer around campus grounds for two weeks and became quite the insomniac. I would log about three hours of sleep on average the night before a hunt and woke up every morning groggy and ornery. The only thing convincing me to get my ass out of bed were the dreams. I simply had to shoot a deer. It was the only cure.
Fortunately, I decided to give it one last go on December 22nd. My wife and I were headed to Chicago to visit her parents on the 23rd, leaving me with only one chance. Oddly enough, everything went wrong on this hunt. I woke up late, there was no wind, I had to cross a mile’s worth of open field to get to my spot, and I had no idea where I was going to sit. Yet, at 10:00 a.m. on the dot, I found myself within a herd of hungry does, and shot two at varying yardage.
I made a great shot on the first and she died within 20 yards of where the arrow hit. The second jumped my string and I hit her high on the shoulder. I hit her hard but she broke my arrow free against a tree and left in a flurry of snow, hardly spilling a drop of blood. Despite being broken, my arrow was bare with only a few specs of blood and fur. I spent the entire day chasing that doe around. It never left the area I was hunting, and besides a slight limp, appeared to be fine. I inspected several of her beds over the next several hours and didn’t find a drop of blood.
Regrettably I had to call it a day and couldn’t return due to our holiday plans. The knowledge that I wounded her cut me deep and gnawed at my insides for days. Where the taking of my first doe had settled the restlessness of my spirit by putting meat in the freezer, the wounding of my second doe gave me nightmares. I still suffer those nightmares from time to time and thinking about it still leaves an awful cramp in my stomach.
Fortunately, I found a way to heal my mental anguish through preparation and 2010 finds me a more experienced hunter, and a much better archer, as a result. I’ve promised myself that I would do everything in my power to avoid another missed opportunity at a deer and have haunted the forums and ranges to make sure the mistakes I’ve made do not happen twice.
I don’t know if I’ll have another shot at an 8-point this year but I’m more confident than ever before. It’s only the first of July and I’m ready to hit the woods. It’s only the first of July…and the dreams have started. October 1 will be here soon enough.