As I sit here pondering about the last month all I can do is smile. November is such a beautiful month. The leaves are changing and falling. Duck season is in full swing and if you are a deer hunter these are the days you wait for year after year.
I never really understood the power of the rut. See, I have never been a bow hunter and with my past career it just didn’t allow me the time to dedicate to the sport. Plus, it didn’t help that since about the age of 14 the only thing I think about when fall comes is duck hunting. That has always been my passion and I am sure it will remain.
However, after setting up trail cameras for an entire year and trying to understand the deer movement on the property we hunt, it really started to change my view. Watching deer lose their antlers then watch them grow throughout the year just has a way of becoming an obsession. This is a whole new world for me, a new obsession. I must become efficient with a bow. Understand your distances better and most of all scent control.
As a shotgun hunter for years I have never worried about scent and in all honesty, I don’t recall a time it cost me a deer. As a matter of fact, when I was in my early 20’s I was invited to a property near London Mills, IL and as I sat there in the tree stand smoking a cigarette I noticed a nice eight point buck walking a thickets a few hundred yards away and it was heading away from me so I didn’t put out the cigarette. As I follow the smoke I can see about where he was going to cross the smoke and I was curious to his reaction. Well as he hit the area of my smoke he put his nose straight in the air and started to walk straight towards me. In my mind I am asking “what the heck is this buck doing?” surely, he won’t make it all the way to me. Well I was wrong. That buck followed that scent right to my stand. When he was about 15 yards away I pulled the trigger. I am sure there is many that will say “no way” and if I didn’t live it, I am not sure I would believe it either, but the fact is it happened.
Now, I know with a bow the chances of this happening are slim to none. So I prepared myself to bow hunt for a few weeks in early November when we get a little slow on the duck hunting. On my very first bow hunt I decided to hunt a new stand and see what the activity was. The wind was right; it was a great stand placement and had plenty of deer on the camera.
As I sat there enjoying the sunrise the deer activity started immediately. For the next few hours I would watch deer walk right under my stand but I already had told myself that I was going to wait for a mature deer before releasing an arrow. I was very excited to see 8 deer that morning and as the days progressed I saw the same deer day after day usually around the same time.
I was just waiting for the early rut to begin to experience what everyone has always talked about. Then came November 7th. I have heard many deer hunters talk about two certain dates, November 7th and November 11th. I was bound and determined to be out there on those days. I can say the seventh did not disappoint. I have never witnessed deer fight, scrape, grunt and make rubs before. I was able to watch several bucks do these exact things. You talk about getting your blood pumping. At the end of the day I saw thirteen deer and eleven of those were bucks and of course two of them made my heart beat a little faster.
Unfortunately, nothing ever came into range but that didn’t make the hunt anymore less successful. Each day I was in the stand I learned something new and I knew this year was going to be a learning experience. Then came November 11th. A Saturday when all of my friends would be deer hunting too. It seemed a little odd we were always going duck hunting together now we are all trying to bow hunt for the first time.
As the day progressed, I was seeing deer just not any mature deer. At about 8:30 or so I heard a shot from bow a few hundred yards away. I was excited thinking Tim had taken down a deer and he did. A beautiful 10 point for his first bow kill. I was super excited and wanted to get out the stand right then and there but it was early and I said just wait another hour and see what happens.
About 15 minutes later I am watching this grassy area and I can see a nice buck stand up and shake off. After standing there for a few minutes he starts making his way east and I was straight south of his location. I tried grunting a couple of time and he would listen then move on. So I tried a doe blead and the second time I did that here he came. He stops at a scrape at 50 yards and starts putting on a show. After messing with that scrape he walked another 20 yards and started messing with another scrape. Of course I am telling myself to breathe, take your time, don’t blow it.
After hitting the last scrape he is walking right to me and I really wasn’t covered well in that direction at all. I let him get to about 15 yards and he jumps about ten feet and is just staring at me. I drew the bow back and placed the site right where it needed to be and let the arrow fly. At the time all I remember is this huge thud and off he went with my arrow in him. I was so excited and sure I harvested this deer I didn’t give it any more thought. I let him sit for a half an hour or so and asked my friend Tim to come help with the tracking.
When we started to track we just were not finding a lot of blood but I knew where he went so we would just follow the blood until we find him. After tracking him a 100 yards or more he decided to cross a creek. There was no way to stop me from trying to find this deer. After an hour or so looking across the creek I found where he entered and was bleeding a little more. As I followed the trail it came to a train track crossing and of course it started to rain. It took me over an hour to find where the buck entered after crossing the tracks but I found it. I then tracked this deer another couple hundred yards until it come to a hard road and the end of our property.
I didn’t want to give up… I was sick to my stomach that I had injured a deer and not retrieved it. After getting permission from the other land owner and getting some reinforcements to help track we started on the other side of the road. We found good blood going up the hill and at the top, there lays my arrow. No deer just the arrow. We then tracked the deer to an open field and found a small bit a blood where he laid down. We heard a ton of racket over the hill, so I went to investigate. As I crested the hill in the deep valley, up he pops running down the hill and up the other side. Not able to use his left front leg but not mortally wounded.
After that, spot we were never able to find any more trace of blood, so I am fairly confident it still lives to this day. I know these things happen, but it sure makes you feel bad when you don’t make a clean harvest. I also know that every animal I do harvest I have remorse for and that is because I respect every creature on this earth and a give thanks to what they have provided me and my family.
As far as the duck hunting goes, it was been a little better than the last few. Opening day we had a good shoot of wood ducks and a few bonus duck mixed in. During opening weekend I received a call from Mike O’Bryan asking if I would like to go hunt with him during the following week. I was excited for this opportunity. I have never really hunted many different areas in Illinois. When I was young I had a small farm pond in Canton and field hunted around Double T for many years before the state purchased the land. Those were the good ol’ days as the state purchased the land in come all of the money as well. Places I had hunted for several years were now being offered $5,000 for a pit and I just didn’t have the money to keep up. Luckily one my dad’s friends at Caterpillar invited us to hunt with him at a small club outside of Spring Bay so that is where I turned. I have never had the opportunity to hunt a club the river or many of the state places but I was about to knock one of those off the list.
After meeting up for breakfast with Mike we headed to the club. As we drove down the lane I could hear the mallards quacking and saw birds all over the sky. We loaded the boat and headed to the blind. We were the only ones there that day so we had a pick of what blind to go to. We were not set up very long before the first birds worked to the decoys. A couple of shots later we had our first mallard. The day went on, every 15 minutes or so we would have a group work into us and we would pick out a mallard and add him to our lanyard. After only a couple of hours and only taking nice close shots, we had our limit and the day was complete. I had a lot of fun with Mike. He is a great guy to hunt with and I appreciate the opportunity he provided me.
The last thing that made the month of November even more perfect was the fact that Ella was going to take the hunters safety test. Since Illinois made crossbows legal for everyone I see this as a great opportunity to get our kids deer hunting and teaching them safety at a younger age. Ella has been hunting with me for the last three years now and I know she really enjoys spending time with me, but I could tell that she was getting anxious to apply everything she has learned to an actual hunt.
As soon as I received the press release that it was official I found a hunter’s safety course in Pekin and she was beyond excited. I have been to a few of the hunter’s safety courses over the years but this was the best. The gentlemen who took the time out of his week to teach these kids went above and beyond his duties.
After the first day of the class, Ella was starting to get nervous. Unfortunately, she is just like me and when tests come around the anxiety goes through the roof. We studied and studied, and I knew that she was not going to have any problem with the test, but I wanted to make sure that this information was engraved in her head. We have all hunted with people that after the hunt you say to yourself I will never hunt with that person again. Some people just aren’t safe with firearms.
Test time arrived, and I could see the look on her face and I just explained to her she has done everything she needed to do to pass this test. I am not saying that dad wasn’t a little worked up himself because I was. All I want is for her to be able to hunt with me and provide for our family. There is no doubt that Ella will be the glue that keeps her brother and sister from drifting apart. She is so family oriented and all she wants to do is help out in any way she can. As I sat there trying to look over her shoulder I knew this was going to be a breeze. I shouldn’t admit this but when I took the test about 6 years ago with my step son I actually missed one. The scores were tallied, and Miss Ella didn’t even miss one. To say I am a proud daddy would be an understatement.
Now it is time to get her ready to hunt and then comes a surprise. Ella was spending some time with friends and somehow broke her foot. We have been delayed in getting out hunting because of her boot but shotgun season is this weekend and it’s time to give it a shot.
May your sunrises and sunsets be magical!