Well November has arrived, and many people have been hitting the woods and water. Many people have been spending time in the stand in the month of October, but I prefer to wait until after opening day of duck season to start deer hunting. I always feel like if I am in the stand sweating then I am probably doing nothing but spreading my scent in the area before the rut begins. So, I try to stay out until the magical first two weeks of November. As the opening day of duck season approached is seemed like it was shaping up to be a great opener and hopefully a great duck season period in Central Illinois. The last couple of years has been a real struggle for us but duck hunting has always been my ultimate passion. I scouted our club out a couple of weeks before and we had more wood ducks then I have ever seen that early. Don’t get me wrong we usually get our limit of woodies the first weekend or two but the last couple of years there wasn’t many bonus ducks to go along with them. After seeing that many woodies, a few pintail, four or five dozen mallard and several gadwalls I was thinking opening day was going to be good. As we approached opening day my friends were concentrating on deer and when I called them up one by one, they started canceling for opening day. I was at a loss for words! This is our opening day! Heck the last few years its been the only decent weekend we have had, and everyone is going to give it up? One friend was out of deer, so he wanted some meat for the freezer before shotgun season. I myself was out of deer as well but there is plenty of time for that. I decided to call Tim… surely he would be duck hunting. Sure enough he was in, so I made the call to Craig. His daughter had a softball tournament, so he was unable to make it. I am used to having five people in our blind and at least one other person if not more in another blind. It just seemed crazy to me that they were giving up opening day. Oh well I will show them. I will harvest my limit and then harvest my deer in the afternoon. Well that didn’t go as planned. As we walked to the blind and set decoys, we had the anticipation of a kid on Christmas morning. Then about 10 minutes before shooting time flock after flock got up from a few hundred yards behind us and took flight. For the next ten minutes we had ducks everywhere. As the first couple of shots rang out from the river the time had arrived. All of the sudden the ducks where mostly gone and nothing anywhere close to shoot at. After about 5 minutes a single came through and the flash of the barrel the bird folded. Cocoa was out to make the retrieve. A few minutes later a pair came in and Tim and I pulled up boom, boom, boom, two more woodies met their fate. I started thinking a few more woodies and we can be waiting for some bigger ducks to roll through. Unfortunately, after that we never fired a shot. We did get buzzed a couple of times but there just wasn’t any opportunities. I was rather shocked as we waited of the birds to return in smaller groups but as the morning neared 11am I knew our chances were getting slim. All in all three guys ended up shooting 3 wood ducks. It was a far cry from the old days when we had 10 people shooting 50 or 60 ducks. I always day dream of those duck seasons where on a bad day you harvested a couple. My last few seasons if you harvest any you have had a successful day. After opening day, I just couldn’t bring myself to duck hunt again on Sunday. I decided it was time to shift my focus to my baby girl. She has practiced up with her cross bow and has become quite efficient. She has been wanting to provide food for her family since she was little. She is a little mini me through and through.
The first weekend in November is one of my favorite weekends to hunt. It used to be ducks but now it has become deer. Ella has been wanting to go to deer camp and stay the weekend with the guys and it was time for that life experience. This is a little bit of a concern since this is my baby girl and things that are said at deer camp are not necessarily kid friendly. Especially with my group of friends. You know I am pretty innocent right? Anyway, we prepared for the weekend Ella only had a half day on Friday so once she was off the bus we packed our truck headed to wally world and prepared for a weekend in deer camp. Of course, Ella is excited because I don’t make her eat all that healthy and she was able to get some treats that were not normally on our shopping list… but hey, that is a part of deer camp. First morning we are in our newly constructed blind all built to make sure Ella will be safe and warm. The deer were moving but all we were seeing was yearlings and nothing with any size. I did ask Ella if you would like to shoot at any of the small deer, but she had the best answer.” Dad I don’t really want to take a baby and I don’t want to shoot a doe that still has her baby with her.” I can respect that I said but just know that you may come out here for several days and not see anything. You have to be patient and not get discouraged in a few days the deer aren’t moving. She said she understood so we continued our hunt. I did take the camera with us and was messing around with it and turned it on just getting a little footage to remember our first deer hunt while she was the shooter. I bet the camera wasn’t on for ten minutes and I look to my left of her, out came a 3 ½ year old 8 pointer. Nothing special, but for a kids first deer it would be perfect. As Ella and I watched it come down the lane it was on a steady walk. I told Ella what distance he was at as he came closer. She struggled to see the deer in the scope. Something I didn’t think about but its easy to pick up a scope and find a target but sometimes your first look through could be difficult to find the deer with the same background everywhere. She continued to struggle until that deer was 16 yards away at that point it looked up and jumped out to 30 yards. As I looked at Ella, I could tell she was shaking. She looked at me and said “dad why am I having a seizure?!” I had to explain to her that was not a seizure that is your adrenaline rush. It must of took her 5 minutes to stop shaking and I loved every minute of it. We didn’t get a shot at that deer, but we did just get some great experience to use in the future. As the day went on it came time to go in for lunch the deer are not rutting quite yet, and most bucks seem to be still moving at night. We grabbed some lunch and Ella took a quick nap. Then off we went for the afternoon hunt. The afternoon we saw a few smaller deer but nothing that was worth harvesting. As we went back to deer camp Ella was quite giddy. She loves spending time down there with the guys as much as she likes deer hunting and let’s face it, that is really what is all about spending quality time with friends, family and nature. After hunting Friday night, Saturday morning and evening, Ella was pretty spent. So, on Sunday when we woke up she wanted to stay asleep so I honored her request and set off to hunt my newest stand. I climbed into my stand and waited for daylight. As day light started to lighten the sky the wind picked up and was blowing in a perfect direction. After seeing nothing for the first 20 minutes I look back over my shoulder and here walks in a nice mature buck. The first mature buck I have seen while in the stand. He was walking across this bedding area and started to head straight away from me. I have never had luck with grunting, but I had a new grunt call, so I hit it twice and nothing. I decided let’s give it a good grunt. So I hit the call again and his head comes up. From 80 yards away he begins his journey towards me. I didn’t have my compound bow all I had was Ella’s cross bow, so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go. I prepared myself when the opportunity arose and waited until he crossed my path. Sure, enough at 25 yards he stops and I pulled the trigger. It looked like a perfect shot and the Lumenock was glowing on the other side. I texted my friend Al and Tim and waited to make sure he was down for good before even getting out the stand. After 20 minutes I hear Al’s four-wheeler and it’s time to get down and see what kind of blood we have. As I found my arrow which was covered in blood, I knew the hit was true. Al arrived with Ella and she’s not looking too enthused that she got woke up and taken on a cold four-wheeler ride but she knew it was time to track a deer. We showed her the first sign of blood and asked her to follow the trail to find the deer. She did a good job finding blood and following the trail. After only 40 yards he cut into the timber and I could see him laying there. Ella finished the track to the deer and I had a nice buck down for the first time in many years.
After getting my buck it was really time to make sure Ella had a successful hunt. We decided we would give it a shot the following Saturday. I could tell Ella was a little anxious. As the light started to come over the trees we saw a small button buck get up and start heading to our food plot. I asked Ella if she wanted to let this one pass and she said she wanted to try and take a shot. The deer came to the plot and stopped at 25 yards. Ella took aim and squeezed the trigger. I immediately knew it was a great shot and the deer only ran 20 yards and fell over. She was beyond excited shaking like a leaf and smiling ear to ear. It has to be one of my most treasured moments in my life. She was so excited that she provided for her family and that she had harvested her first deer. After taking care of that deer I asked her to get back in the stand because it was early and there could be some more deer come by. The only thing is now it had to be a good size mature deer. No more small ones, we got that out of our system. We were only sitting there another 30 minutes and we look to our left and there is a very nice mature 8 pointer that I believe is bigger than anything I have ever shot in my life. As the deer starts to turn the other direction I decided to use the grunt call and sure enough this guy turned around and starting walking our way. As he got to 30 yards I tried to stop him but he wouldn’t stop. Finally when he was at 35 yards I yelled. He stopped and Ella pulled the trigger. At first I thought she hit a little low but I wasn’t real sure. I was shaking as bad as she was and it happened so fast. The deer ran about 60 yards and stood there. I couldn’t see blood or anything and he wasn’t acting too hurt. Then he started walking and he had a limp. We couldn’t find the arrow but we did find blood. Ella started tracking and we followed blood for a couple hundred yards. Ella even got off the trail and found it some 30 yards later. She was really upset that she had hurt the deer. She didn’t want it to suffer. I explained to her no hunter wants to injure a deer. We practice and practice to make sure that doesn’t happen but in the real world sometimes things do happen. After watching her feel so bad I wanted to find the arrow so I waited until after dark and went in and found it. There was no blood on the arrow just a bent blade. I think she shot low and it just clipped his leg. As a matter of fact I am pretty sure I saw him gimping around still chasing does the other day. Now this weekend is shotgun season so let’s see what that brings. Please if you get the opportunity take a kid hunting this fall the chances are it will change both of you forever.
If you’re looking for a good read on the effects of EHD on the deer herd in Illinois check out Dan Vinovich’s article on page 42 and 43 and get the hunters perspective.
May your sunrises and sunsets be magical!