Answering the alarm: good things can happen in the whitetail woods, as long as you stay conscious.
That ladder stand was just way too comfortable.
When I was alert, I studied my surroundings with a skeptical eye. Outfitter John Redmond had sent me off the edge of a picked cornfield into the depths of a thickly wooded creekbottom. "There's a pond down there, one we built, and there's a ladder stand next to it. Sit there this evening," Redmond advised confidently.
It looked like just a temporary wet spot in the woods, with no real redeeming whitetail-related features such as major trails, scrapes, or rubs. Why would a buck come through here? I wondered.
It was the second time I'd hunted with John in southeast Minnesota. If I had learned one thing, it was that John knew whitetails, and he knew his ground even better. I knew better than to question John's judgment, but I question everything. It's how I learn.
On the first trip, a late-season hunt, John handed me a can of his invention--a product called Nose Jammer. "Just try it," he said. "It messes with the deer's ability to smell. See if it works for you." I was extremely skeptical, as I am about most such products, but that doesn't preclude me from having an open mind.
I ended up in a ground blind, in the snow, in the middle of a partially picked cornfield. Every deer hunter knows a late-season whitetail in cold, snowy conditions is about as tough an adversary as there is. They miss nothing. I sprayed the outside of my blind liberally with Nose Jammer and crawled in for the evening. Weird things started happening. Things I could not explain. First, a couple of 24-year-old bucks walked past my blind at just over 10 yards. They were so close they should have smelled my scent pooled in the area. Nothing. They strolled by without a care in the world.
Then a doe worked her way along the edge of the standing corn. She was going to cut my wind at six yards. No way she gets past me, I thought. Nothing. I even used my cell phone to take some video of her walking by as the leaves on the cornstalks blew right towards her. I can't explain why she did not spook.
I didn't have a good buck near me on that hunt, but now I was back for Halloween. The first morning I set up in a stand that overlooked the intersection of several ridges. It was one of those places that sets a whitetailer's senses to tingling. I sprayed Nose Jammer on the trunk of my tree at the bottom and again once I was in the stand. Shortly after sunup, a really good 4x4, the kind you have to pick your bow up for, moseyed up the one ridge that was downwind of me. On a side note, we all have to realize that the wind has to blow somewhere. You'll give up one direction or the other, so don't let wind direction paralyze your hunting efforts. Create options and get out and make the most of your valuable hunting time.
The buck stopped to work a licking branch and then continued right into the flow of Eau-de-Wells. I expected an immediate and frantic about-face. Instead, the buck stopped, vacuumed up some air, and then slowly turned and walked back the way he came, pausing to work his licking branch some more. He stood for several long minutes in a 35-yard shooting lane, but I didn't like the range or the shot angle. It was bewildering behavior for a buck that should have exploded out of there once he got my wind. I'm not making any claims, but those were three scenarios in which I'm fairly confident I know what would have happened had I not been using the vanillin-based spray, but you can draw your own conclusions.
To that end, I typically employ all sorts of tactics. And since this was the first week in November, I was armed with two decoys--a buck and a doe. First, I made an exploratory morning hunt in a deep, oak-studded draw. I saw two bucks, one of which was a good one, but both cruised by, noses to the ground and out of range. Their posture had me looking for a good spot to deploy my decoys that evening.
John had another treestand in a cedar tree overlooking a tiny open meadow in the draw. After lunch, I set up my decoys and cleared some branches in the cedar. Over the course of that evening and the entire next day, when I sat from dark to dark, I saw five bucks. Four immature bucks walked in to investigate the decoys. The fifth buck, which had wide, tall antlers, fed across a distant opening. A sixth buck nearly made me jump out of the treestand by grunting loudly, almost a roar, from just inside the trees. I grabbed my bow and grunted back, but he never showed himself. I think he was talking to my decoy, but I can't say for sure. Instinct tells me that was a buck would have loved to lay eyes on.
As each day went by it was getting warmer, well into the 70s by midafternoon, and that's too hot for November whitetails. They are growing their winter fur based on photoperiodism, not temperature. It was those warm temperatures that were the basis of John's logic in putting me in that stand over the tiny waterhole.
"These bucks are chasing does and they both get thirsty," John explained. "Just hike down there, and if it's dried up, hike back out and I'll take you somewhere else."
I was secretly hoping it was dried tip, but no such luck; there was a patch of water about the size of a two-car garage. I attached my safety harness to the tree, wedged myself into the ladder stand, and immediately began my battle with consciousness. Somehow, when I occasionally lose that battle, I am still able to keep my sense of hearing active. If it's windy, I simply can't get tired because deer will get past me. But if it's calm, the slightest nose will snap mc back to reality, sort of like an audio alarm system.
In less than an hour that alarm went off loud and clear, emitting the most exhilarating sound a whitetailer can hear--the sound of deer running in dry leaves. I turned my head just in time to see a doe bail off the cornfield above me. She was running down the hill, dodging trees, with a 140-class 10-pointer on her heels. The doe ran straight to the water-hole and began slurping up water. Then, as if he'd agreed to the temporary truce, the buck ceased his chase and started guzzling water too. Both were panting heavily between drinks. They'd worked up a serious thirst and knew exactly whereto quench it.
While the drinking party took place on the ground, there was serious chaos going on in that ladder stand. I had to un-wedge myself from the ladder stand's armrests, slowly stand up, grab my bow, get my feet right and hook up my release, all without drawing attention to myself. And I don't remember doing any of it.
Fortunately, I had already ranged the waterhole at 32 yards, but the buck was angling toward me with his scapula shielding all the important parts. The doe was now standing on the small berm that kept the water from flowing down the hill. She was still panting, but she seemed to be done extinguishing her thirst.
Now, in all bowhunting scenarios, it's important to be able to read an animal's attitude and anticipate what is about to happen. You learn to recognize nervousness, caution, relaxation, disinterest, misdirected alertness, calm, and a lit fuse about to explode--all slightly different attitudes that can betray the immediate future. There is also what I call the "fog of the rut," a time when a buck's senses are dulled and the unfamiliar goes unnoticed. Reading these attitudes becomes a "feel" that you learn to rely on, no matter the species being hunted, and experience is the only well you can go to for those lessons.
While the buck drank, the doe turned, almost nonchalantly, like she was trying to sneak away from an IRS audit, and cautiously slipped off the berm toward the creekbottom. My instincts were tingling because I knew time was short. As soon as the buck noticed the love of his day was trying to slip away, he'd be stuck to her like Velcro.
I was at full draw now, wondering how I'd gone from a semi-coma to kill mode in the blink of an eye. The logo on the limb of my bow read, "Insanity," and that perfectly described the previous 10 or 15 seconds.
For some reason, instead of running after the doe, the buck turned to his right, toward his back trail. He could have been looking for a following challenger, but I didn't have time to look. That slight turn was all I needed to get the shot angle I wanted.
Again, I have no memory of the sight picture, the string touching my nose, or the feel of the release trigger behind the second knuckle of my index finger. The doe no longer existed. There was no sun, no sky, no pond--just the buck and my second sight pin. I pulled through the shot and my immediate thought was my arrow was a bit high. The buck also forgot the doe and splashed his way across the pond and started to run back uphill. When he stumbled, my heart jumped with optimism. Maybe it wasn't high, I thought.
After just a 30-yard sprint the buck tipped over, rolled once downhill, and was dead still in less than 10 seconds! What? I glanced at the pond and there were two very large splotches of blood in the water. The shot was much better than I had originally thought. I love it when that happens!
John's advice was on the money. The buck had been chasing hard, putting serious pressure on the hot, estrous doe. He would have chased her until he dropped, but the doe had enough sense to think about survival. She was thirsty, and smart enough to seek out water. I was exactly in the right place at the right time, and the entire sequence took less than 30 seconds. One minute I'm pessimistic about the outcome of the warm weather hunt, and before the next minute I'm tagged out with a great buck.
Best of all, my alarm went off ... and none too soon either.
By Curt Wells, Editor
On this hunt I shot a BOWTECH Insanity at 60 pounds, Easton Injexion arrows, Muzzy DX-3 broadheads, Scott Release, TruGlo sight, Vapor Trail Limbdriver Pro-V arrow rest, Scent-Lok clothing, and a HSS Ultralite safety harness.
If you want to hunt whitetails on well-managed land, check out Fair Chase Outfitters in southeast Minnesota. John Redmond knows whitetails, and he runs a great operation. You can contact John at (507) 896-3138 or visit his website at www.mndeerhunts.com.
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|Date:||Sep 1, 2013|
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