Big Buck Down
By Joella Bates DeWitt
Nov 18, 2008 – 3:34:56 PM
The Arkansas buck came in at 6:50 am. He and what I believed to be a smaller buck encountered a doe that was probably feeding beneath one of the many white oaks that were raining their lush crop of acorns. We heard the leaves crunching as he chased the other buck. The commotion created by the bucks was enough to drive the doe away. The doe moved on toward the main ridge just to our northwest. The victor came out a trail that hit the main ridge just 20 yards in front of our stands.
Paying attention to details, even small things, is the key to success in most hunting situations. I say most, because sometimes hunters get just plain lucky.
Before coming to Arkansas, we had done a lot of work that would eventually pay off. For months we had prepared our archery equipment, clothing, and ourselves physically and mentally for the upcoming hunting season.
I had meticulously tuned our bows. I had built and tuned my arrows and I had taught Dan to make his arrows. We knew that our bows were sighted in and that we could see our sight pins and perfectly align the front sight in the peep even in low light conditions. I had insisted that we not make any equipment changes unless we could practice with the changes long enough to make the tasks subconscious. I had shot the second generation Atom broadheads until I had confidence that they would impact like my field points. I had taken Matt Futtere’s challenge with the original Atom, but wanted to satisfy both me and Matt that the new products would stay true.
We had both worked on the clothing. Initially, we tested all clothing pieces with an Atsko black light to identify any garment that had an ultraviolet glow. Dan then treated those garments with Rhino Labs UV Terminator and used the Rhino Labs Water Repellent Concentrate on some of the clothing. All clothes were washed with either Rhino Labs or Black Canyon Detergent. The clothes were stored in plastic tubs. Before each day’s hunt, the day’s clothing was placed in a plastic tub and treated with Rhino Labs Scent Strike.
We wanted to know that we physically were up to the challenges that the hunts would entail. Dan and I took a daily morning walk for two months leading up to hunting season. We shot the bows enough to keep our muscles toned and the shot process subconscious. We increased the amount of shooting we did to at least 50 shots per day each morning and evening for the two weeks preceding our first hunt. While in hunting camps, we shot the bows after arriving at each location. We had to know that no equipment had been damaged during transport and we wanted to maintain the muscle memory. We wanted no surprises, injuries, or limitations.
With confidence acquired from proper preparation, we entered the long hunting season with much anticipation. Dan had spent a lot of time videoing for hunting television shows, but it would be a new experience filming and being filmed by a spouse. We looked forward to our first fall hunting season as husband and wife.
Three days earlier our friend, Andrew James, had found the scrape-line on an old logging road that ran the length of the main ridge. He had watched a young buck as he worked a scrape and rubbed a tree. After Andy’s morning hunt, he got down and explored. He found the big scrape and picked us out a tree. He even cut us a shooting lane.
It was a ¾ mile walk back to the stand-site, so shortly after noon, Dan packed in two Gorilla lock-on stands and 24 feet of ladder pieces. I packed in a backpack and my bow and arrows. We needed to be as high as we could get. There were no limbs to offer us any cover if a buck came up the logging road running the ridge from the east. We had a trail that passed a mere five feet from our pine tree.
The dropping white oak acorns sounded like a steady hail storm as the wind rocked the canopy. Fox squirrels played the rattle-and-shake as they jumped and ran from tree to tree while they feasted on plump acorns. I was exhausted from intently listening to differentiate deer movement from squirrel movement. My head was dazed from straining to watch for any sign of a deer: a flickering tail, a twitching ear or a flash of deer hide as one moved through the area. Time passed swiftly and before we knew it darkness encroached and blacked out all detail of the ridge visible during the day. We saw neither hide nor hair of a deer that afternoon.
On the walk back to our van, Dan kicked leaves into each of the scrapes. We would inspect them on our way to the stand the next morning to check for nocturnal movement. If the bucks cleaned the leaves from the scraped under the coverage of darkness, we would know it.
Our typical routine included showering with Black Canyon hair and body wash. When we had gotten back to the house from the previous evenings hunt, we had placed the clothes that we had removed into a plastic tub. We had checked the forecast and selected the clothes we would need for the next day and placed those in the tub also. I had selected the Foxy Huntress Predator suit and my Raven Wear long underwear. Even though it would only get down into the 40’s, I tended to get chilled when the temperature falls shortly after sunup especially since I had not acclimated from the warm summer temperatures. Before going to bed, we added our Muck boots and a container of Rhino Labs’ Scent Strike that had been activated by removing from the Ziploc storage bag, placing water on the sponge, then placed both in the product’s original packaging. The tub was placed in the mud room outside the main living quarters of the house.
We had gotten up 45 minutes earlier than normal, so we could make the drive to the property and the trek down the old logging road in front of the stand without being rushed. I placed a Black Canyon First Alert badge on my Raven Wear long underwear shirt. I walked to the stand in just the long underwear and I carried my Predator suit in my backpack then added it after we got to the stand. We both knew that we would sweat on the long walk, so we dressed lighter to prevent excess sweat from overheating. We sprayed down good with the Black Canyon No Scent clothing spray and allowed ourselves some cooling-down time before adding the camo layer.
On the trip to the stand, we had found leaves moved from a couple of the scrapes, so Dan kicked more leaves into the scrapes as to be able to identify if they were being hit during the morning. At 8 am, I heard a deer coming downwind of our scrape in the thick woods where he was concealed by leafy canopy. We had believed that the deer would move on the logging road, but we were wrong. He passed within 20 yards, but offered no shot opportunity. Dan grunted to get him to stop, but the mature 10 pointer with flashy white antlers was not enticed to check out another buck. He disappeared from view, but the sound of him walking in the leaves let us know that he was moving downwind of the other scrapes we had found on the road. Dan videoed just a brief glimpse of the buck and decided after reviewing the footage that he was a mature shooter.
We sat on stand until about 10 am, at which time, Dan climbed down from his stand to the ladder. I was left perched in the tree to identify obstacles that prevented me from shooting the buck. Dan used a set of Florian shears to trim the limbs. I remembered hearing Wayne Ball say “Don’t let a limb stand between you and him” thousands of times, but I had. It really is nice to have my own personal guide. Dan has guided and outfitted for 26 years, so I am a lucky girl.
Our friend Andy had asked us to not disturb the area. He didn’t want us walking around, exploring, or cutting foliage, but Dan’s experience told him that you have to be able to shoot or there is no reason to sit there. We broke both rules. We found a new scrape that had been made overnight. This new scrape was less than 10 yards from the first one. Fortunately for us, Andy did approve of Dan’s decisions after we showed him the footage. We left the area for the day.
We left the house super early in order to get settled in the stand well before daylight. The temperature gauge in my van indicated it was 62 degrees Fahrenheit, so a single layer of clothing would be adequate. I placed a Black Canyon First Alert badge on my Foxy Huntress blouse and Predator pants in Shelah’s signature green pattern fashioned after grouse feathers.
On the walk, we disturbed a turkey from the roost and jumped two bucks that were on the logging road trail. We even found new scrapes that had been made since yesterday’s morning session. We hurried to our stand. Because of the long walk, we sprayed down with Black Canyon No Scents clothing spray and foamed our hands before climbing the ladder.
I bear cubbed the tree, wrapping both arms around the big pine and interlocking my fingers as I maneuvered up the ladder pieces. Years before, I had been pulling on strap-on ladder pieces and had one slip on me. I am bigger than a bear cub, so I don’t want to bounce off the ground. Before stepping into the stand, I fastened the strap from my Hunter’s Safety System vest around the tree above my stand.
Again dripping with sweat, I sat down, sprayed myself again with the Black Canyon products. We settled in the tree: Dan with the video camera and I with gloved hands, leafy-netted face and strapped on release aid. I turned off the attached brim light then returned my “Good Girl’s Love Bad Boys” cap to my backpack.
Finally safe and ready to shoot, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply to relax while listening to the silence of the night. A few minutes later, I watched the stars fade from the night sky. I reminisced about the falling star I had seen while preparing equipment before leaving the van. At the time, I had prayed for God to grant me a chance at the buck. I again reminded God that a buck would be nice.
When I heard the wrestling in the leaves I stood. I turned on my sight light and watched for the deer. I heard the bleat of a doe first, then the bucks chasing each other. After the victor turned to walk in our direction, I could actually hear his grunts above the leaf wrestling noises. He hesitated before entering the logging road.
“Honey, this is your buck,” Dan said. He stepped into the road and immediately began making a scrape. He rubbed his facial glands on the Sassafras sapling then continued pawing the ground. I instantly identified him as a shooter. I drew the 75 pound BowTech Guardian. I touched the string to my nose and moved my anchor slightly until I had the sight centered in my large Meta peep. With the top lighted green pin resting on the center of his heart, I squeezed the trigger of the Fletcher Hook caliper release aid. With the loud whack, the Atom tipped Carbon Express Maxima disappeared into his vitals.
I had interrupted his scrape making. Upon arrow impact, he lunged forward. Struggling under weaken-front legs, he covered the 40 yards across the ridge top then toppled about 35 yards down the steep side ridge. We heard the crash then celebrated our first buck kill as husband and wife.
Within minutes, I sent Andy a text message on Dan’s cell phone. “BIG BUCK DOWN!”
At 8:00 am, we followed the disturbed leaf trail and blood to the expired brute. We found the nock end section of my broken arrow laying about six feet from the big-200 pound 5 ½ year old 8-point buck.
Since I had not brought my digital camera with me to the woods, Dan volunteered to return to the van and get our hunting companion to help us get the deer out of the woods. But with it being so early, we didn’t want to disturb Tony Ramey’s hunt that early. While we waited, Dan took down the treestands and ladders. Andy had called and told Tony about our success. Tony had just seen Andy’s 4-pointer that frequented the scrape he had originally been seen making. Andy told us that Tony was ready to call it a morning. Dan walked out, met Tony, and they returned in Tony’s Jeep Cherokee.
They took lots of photos of me and my buck. Dan field dressed him. Then Dan and Tony dragged my buck up the steep side of the ridge to the waiting SUV.
They sure saved me a lot of work. I’ve been real independent for a lot of years when it came to shooting and hunting. I learned to do it all myself. From scouting, to hanging stands, to cutting trials, to tuning my own bow, to building my own arrows then shooting my own deer, following the blood trail, recovering the deer, field dressing it, dragging it out, skinning it, and finally getting my mom to help me cut it up, freeze it and cook it. It had been years since I had someone field dress my buck and drag it out for me. They didn’t stop there; they even skinned and quartered him then put him in a cooler on ice. I think I can get used to this.
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