This hunt took place on December 22, 2009 and was the highlight of my very first Michigan whitetail season. I was taking advantage of an archery-only hunting opportunity offered to employees of Grand Valley State University, which permitted me to hunt designated GVSU property from December 18-January 1 while students were away on the holiday break. I would like to thank GVSU for the opportunity as it is a wonderful program. Grand Valley’s main campus is located in Allendale, Michigan.
A frigid December morning found me stomping across 200 yards of crunchy, white, goodness. The field was cake-like – two parts snow, two parts ice, one-part water – a recipe only a bowhunter would love. The morning sun felt wonderful, spreading warmth through my flannel-hunting shirt. The wind pecked at my face and hands. The air was thick with moisture and smelled like Lake Michigan despite it being 50 miles to the west. It was the perfect morning for magic to happen.
I was hunting a wooded ravine sandwiched between two fields. It was fairly shallow but complicated. With a multitude of slopes and dips there were few ways in which to pass from one side to the other save for a hoof-battered draw that slashed through the shallowest end and climbed into a wooded, acorn-littered flat. Assessing the routine of my furry, brown friends wasn’t terribly difficult. I’d kicked up several does on the hike in and knew they were bedding in the fields. The presence of a food source made their leaving unlikely considering the time of year. This would be my trump card. Positioning myself on the edge of the ravine would create excellent stickbow possibilities. I would intercept deer moving from field-to-field at less than 30 yards if I were patient. But I would need suitable cover to do so.
I almost always hunt from the ground and finding cover large enough to hide a man of my stature and a 66″ longbow was practically non-existent on either side of the ravine. With no time to scout I’d have to cobble something together on the fly. Fortunately, salvation arrived in a felled oak climbing up the side of the ravine to my right. I couldn’t help but thank God for the opportune way in which it fell. Its trunk and tangled branches provided optimal bowhunting cover with little modification. My vantage point was optimal and the branches completely masked my outline without getting in the way of my draw.
Satisfied, I removed the noisy debris at my feet, collapsed into my hunting stool, nocked an arrow, and waited. An hour passed and that familiar state of comfortable alertness overcame me. The woods began to stir. Black squirrels chattered. The diligent work of a woodpecker echoed through the ravine, cascading off of every tree. Chickadees hopped close enough to grab them.
“I am a bowhunter.” I thought. “I did it.” And I had. After 26 years of having absolutely no interest in hunting, I bought a stickbow, spent the summer getting acquainted with it, and was now enjoying a beautiful winter morning entertaining the possibility of shooting my first deer.
I would have chuckled had my thoughts not been interrupted by a wave of brown heading for the draw in front of me. My heart began to pound. They would be in range within moments! I eased the stool out from under me, lowered a knee to the snow, and nocked an arrow.
They continued on unaware of my movements and stopped only after reaching the safety of their destination. I shifted to my right to find the appropriate shooting lane and was finally able to get a good look at them. Four plump does. One of them (a little bit rounder than the others) strayed from the group and veered broadside on her way into the field behind me. There was nothing between her and I but the trunk of the oak and a matter of yardage. I picked a spot behind her right shoulder, raised a bit to clear the oak, and began to draw.
A series of thumps erupted to my left as I reached my anchor. I turned my head just enough to view the disturbance and was utterly bewildered by the sight. There were now at least fifteen deer moving into the draw and headed straight for me. I froze, laboring to breathe. My window of opportunity was closing quickly with the presence of so many deer. I would have to act or risk freezing up. I could tell that a few of them were already curious. It was now or never. A quick glance confirmed there weren’t any bucks so I switched gears and reverted back to the original doe who was surprisingly unaffected by the chaos surrounding her. She’d stayed just as I had left her; head down, tail flickering, and feeding frantically on the acorns under her nose.
I picked a spot behind the crease in her shoulder and focused on it. I’ll never forget the moments that followed: the tension leaving my back; the string sliding from the tip of my glove; the vibration of my bow as the arrow left the rest; the relief as the knock cleared the riser…it was perfect. All of it.
And it flew perfectly, disappearing into the flank of the doe with a wet “thump”! She pitched hard to the left, heading back the way she’d arrived. Chaos ensued as the herd dispersed. With my eyes transfixed on the retreating doe, I located my hunting stool and collapsed into it with a puff of white snow. My heart pounded. My body shook. “Giver her time,” I thought. But that proved agonizing as the minutes ticked painfully by.
“Give her time.” I repeated.
I backed into the opposite field and phoned my Dad to remain calm and pass the time. I recalled the events through shaky breaths, leaving out nary a detail. We were both newbies and I could tell he was as excited as I was. We decided I should wait at least 20 minutes to avoid pushing her further and forcing an unfortunate situation.
Twenty grueling minutes passed and I began to shiver. It was time. I had to know…had to find my doe. I left my blind, located my arrow, and began looking for blood. The aluminum shaft lay approximately 35 yards away and was thickly coated with red, bubbling blood from broadhead to fletching. The impact had bent the aluminum shaft in half. Powdery red sprinkles and clumps of matted fur surrounded it. If the damage was any indication, the arrow had punctured both lungs. She couldn’t have made it far.
I pushed on, moving passed the treeline and into the field. The blood became thicker and more frequent. Her tracks elongated, acquiring a trench-like quality, and marking the end of my search. She had doubled back and collapsed in a thicket to my right – no more than 30 yards from where my arrow struck. Her eyes were wide and glassed. Her beautiful brown coat gleamed in the morning sun. Blood trickled from a quarter-sized wound in her flank, matting her fur and pooling in the snow below.
She was still. I was amazed at how peaceful she looked. I crouched next to her and stroked the top of her head. The weight of what I had done suddenly washed over me. Having never killed a creature as large as a deer before, I shouldered the grief with a heavy heart and thanked God for it. A man should feel remorse whenever he takes a life. But grief quickly gave way to happiness. Tragedy became accomplishment. My longbow had performed beautifully, putting meat on my table and memories in my mind.
The phone rang and I heard Dad’s voice echo on the other end; “Well, did you find your deer?”
My voice shook with the emotion welling up inside of my chest.
“Deer down Dad…I did it!”
I used a Bama Hunter Longbow, Easton 2117 arrows, and a 145g Ace broadhead on this hunt.