Sweet November. The time of year every outdoorsman looks forward too. It doesn’t matter whether you hunt or fish it’s a great month. I see all of the crappie guides filling their boats with slab crappie. The hunters are all talking about the rut, duck migration and the trappers are setting their lines. So much is going on in the woods and we have all planned our year around the beginning of November.
Opening weekend of duck hunting was unique to say the least. We closed our valve tubes and put the boards in our tube to begin backing up water for duck season way back in August. Usually, it would take a couple of weeks and the water would be knee to waste deep by Teal Season. This year, that was not the case. In two weeks, we had ankle deep water at best. The final weekend of teal was no different. I began to wonder if we could even get enough water in the duck grounds to even hunt. The only thing that has changed is the property to our south is no longer ours and they have decided to dig out the lake and fill up the ditches with dirt. I knew that may affect us, but I didn’t think that you could shut off the springs that feeds these ditches but again, I must be wrong.
I checked the water level again the last week of September and we still hadn’t gained any water. We took our annual trip to North Dakota, and I guess while we were gone, it rained almost every day. Hoping it would help the duck grounds we were glad we finally received a little rain.
Opening day duck season, we arrived to our crossing which is not an easy crossing. Because of our crazy beaver problem, we have no way to get to the grounds any longer without walking a mile or crossing a beaver dam. So, we cross the dam. When we get there, we realize the water is now over the dam and the dam is a few inches under water. I was shocked! We finally got across the dam and began our walk through the duck grounds. The water was deeper than I have ever seen it. We go from ankle deep water to chest deep water. We finally get to the blind and a dang muskrat has decided to build a hut on the dog run. For the love of god! I was about to blow. Finally, after everything was cleared out, we were set up and are ready to hunt.
At ten minutes to shooting time you could hear hundreds upon hundreds of woodies. I thought well this is going to be easy to get our three woodies than we can concentrate on big ducks. As five minutes before shooting time rolls around the water behind us lights up. There had to be 800-1,000 Wood Ducks get up and head towards the river. Groups of 25 – 50 flowed out of there for over 10 minutes. We really didn’t want to shoot with so many birds around. We thought we would let the initial big groups get out and then when the smaller groups come around, we will pick off our woodies. To our amazement that didn’t happen as we thought. We picked a few singles off here and there but really didn’t have any of the woodies come back. We picked a bird off here and there until we ended with 16. Craziest part was the two birds we needed could have been woodies.
I was planning on duck hunting on Sunday as well, but I had an opportunity come my way that I wasn’t going to pass up. My sister’s boyfriend’s family owns over 700 acres in Missouri. One of my dreams is to own my own land in Missouri and I haven’t had an opportunity to hunt in Missouri since I was a young kid. Marc used to be a bow hunter but like many hunters… jobs, family and other obligations took precedent over hunting. Marc had asked me if I would be interested in going over there hunting. Obviously, I was like a kid in a candy store saying “oh yes please when are we going?” He was changing jobs and just happened to have the first week of November off until his new job started. We were only going to get in a couple of days, but the opportunity was too great to pass up. We decided to leave on Halloween morning and head to Missouri to see if we could find a few deer.
When we arrive, I had so many memories flash back to me from my grandparents’ farm. The house had the same vibes. So much of the house and barnyard were similar. The old chicken coop, outhouse, cattle barn and so much more. Just this part made the trip all worth it.
We had our plan for Monday morning, and I was excited to get to bed early and start our adventure. We were up early Monday and, in the woods, waiting for daybreak. This is actually the first time in several years I was sitting in just woods. I usually am hunting a swamp in Illinois, so it was nice to see all of the oak, hickory and maple trees. The colors were stunning. I sat there for a couple of hours with not much activity in the woods. At 8am, I see a young doe hop over the hill looking back the whole time. She would walk 20 to 30 yards, stop, and wait. She finally continued off into a cornfield. As I watched the area, she came from over and hour I was starting to think nothing was going to come behind her. I started to turn around and I thought I heard a grunt. I turn back and coming right on the same line as the doe was a beautiful 8-point buck. This deer would have been in my top five for sure. Probably a 140” class deer. No giant but no slouch either. It was my first day there and of course, he came right to my drag and stopped at 20 yards broadside. If I had pulled up earlier, it would have been hard not to take the shot. I told myself you are here for three days and if you do not get one, so be it. He wandered off and that was all I saw on the Monday morning sit.
When we were out on Sunday, Marc showed me where several of the stands were and all the way to the back of this property had a perfect scenario. A couple of hundred-acre fields on either side of a long stretch of hardwoods that run along a creek down to the river. I mean it maybe the best funnel I have ever seen in my hunting career. I told myself there was no way I was leaving this property and not hunting that stand. So Monday afternoon I headed that way.
I was in the stand about a half an hour, and I hear beagles just on the other side of the river. Now there isn’t even a house with a mile of my location. I couldn’t believe it and as I was getting mad, here came a small eight-point buck running across the bean field. Two second later here is another eight-pointer followed by a six point. I was like “what the heck is going on?” Then I see the beagles run in front of me. As I continued to sit there, I could hear the beagles head down the river. As I was looking in their direction, out jumps a giant buck. He looks like he is running right towards me, then poof he jumps into a narrow stretch of woods. I watched that way for an hour and decided I needed to stand and see what all the noise was behind me in the woods. There, I see a little doe being pushed around by a four pointer. As I am watching this, I look over my right shoulder and that big ole buck is standing 30 yards from me broadside looking right at me. I knew I was had, so I just tried to move slowly and to my amazement I was able to grab my crossbow and just as I had the cross hairs on him, he decided he had been there long enough so he hopped to the woods and just casually walked away. My heart sank. I have only killed one buck over 150” and there was no doubt he was bigger than that. I continued to sulk and wonder what if and before I knew it, dark had set in and it was time to head in for some dinner.
I debated all night if I should go back to that spot. I saw alot of deer there, but I debated on letting it sit for a day. In the end, I had to go back there. I was up early anticipating a great day a field. This would be one of the best days I have ever experienced in the woods. There was a frost on the ground, and it seemed as if conditions couldn’t be better. The first hour goes by and I was starting to wonder if I made the right decision. As I was sitting there, the light began to hit the trees. As the sunlight began to over come the woods, the leaves began to fall, as I had never seen before. It was like blankets of leaves all falling at once. As this started the squirrels started moving everywhere. At one time, I counted 15 squirrels that I could see. I look behind me and here comes three small raccoons coming out of the hole in a tree right behind me. The woods just came alive.
I was sitting there just enjoying the beauty of Mother Nature and I hear a splash in the creek definitely behind me. I freeze and look out of the corner of my left eye and here is a giant ten pointer ten yards from my stand. As he worked his way to the field, I had my drag 25 yards away from me. He arrived at the field edge just behind an oak limb and stops. All he has to do is step out and he is 25 yards broadside. In what seemed like minutes but was only seconds he steps out and stops exactly where I wanted him. I took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. I heard a thump. He jumps across the field and as he is going, I see 6 inches of my arrow sticking out. He goes into the wood and starts walking and shaking his tail. I thought I saw his rear end go to the left and figured I had a giant on the ground. I couldn’t figure out the arrow not going through. The arrow was just behind the front shoulder maybe an inch or two higher than where I put the crosshairs. I was pumped! I knew it must have gone in and hit the other shoulder or leg or something. I kept replaying the shot repeatedly in my head and really was dead set at worst it the lungs so it shouldn’t go far.
I decided to sit in the stand for a couple of hours before going to look. I was texting my buddies with excitement and couldn’t wait to lay my hands on this guy. As I waited, I watched 12 different bucks that morning chasing four does around behind me. I have never witnessed rut like this. The does would take off for a little while then here they would come. It seemed every time they showed up it was a different buck. I saw several 130” and 140” deer, which means there is a good group of up and comers.
At one point, a mature doe was standing around as all of the little does where running all over. One mature buck walked up to the doe, and she kept spinning on him when he would try to get behind her. She wasn’t having it at all. He absolutely lost his mind. He started snorting and grunting and tearing up multiple trees. He stated make scrapes right beside her and she didn’t give a crap. He was throwing a tantrum. It was a magical moment in the woods for me. I ended up sitting until noon it was four hours past the time, I shot the deer. The deer hadn’t been around in about 20 minutes so now was the time to get down and get my hands on him.
As I arrived at the shot location, I couldn’t find any blood. I search and searched for blood in that area and nothing. I knew there was a chance it didn’t exit so I knew where he went in the woods, so I walked over there. Where he entered the woods there lay my broken arrow. It was broken off about three inches from the end, but the arrow had blood over halfway up the arrow. There was blood there and on down the trail but only a drop here or there. This blood was followed for about 80 to 100 yards and then nothing. Really concerned on what to do I backed out and thought about getting a dog tracker. I called Mitch Atherton with Timber Ghost Recovery out of Central Illinois if he knew of anyone over in Missouri. He did. I tried calling several people with dogs in the area and unfortunately, they were all busy. After six people not able to make it, I was ready to give up. I was sick to my stomach. I had one more way to try to get someone and luckily, they were available.
The dog tracker arrived at 5pm and we headed down to find my trophy. The cost was $150 to show up and $200 if they find the deer. I did not really care I just know I had to exhaust all efforts to find this deer. I was confident this deer was dead, I just didn’t know where. There was quite a bit of blood on the arrow, so they showed her the arrow and they tried to start tracking. Unfortunately, they couldn’t seem to get her on the track. We knew the track the deer was on but she kept working the other area. I figured that is how this works. After getting to the last drop of blood, I found we located a couple of more drops a few yards past that. They continued to work the dog and the dog did take a particular track to the river, but we couldn’t find any tracks or signs at the river. They did reset her several times and it seemed she wanted to go to the river. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem really confident she was on the track. After a little over and hour, they decided to call it. They were extremely nice people so I won’t mention any names but one thing I will tell you, please make sure you ask if the dog has been on tracks, his success rate and how many deer have they found that year. I failed to do so and when I did, I realized that there was probably a reason they were available. They had been on five tracks with zero recoveries. The dog was only two years old, which doesn’t mean anything but this two-year-old needed some easy tracks to get her going. I was grateful they took the time to drive to where I was and attempt to find my deer. Unfortunately, I was out another $150 and still to this day, in my head, that deer did not survive. The feeling of loosing that animal will not go away anytime soon but someone did say something to me that helped. Nothing in nature goes to waste.
Nothing will be able to change how great those three days in Missouri where. I appreciate the opportunity that was provided to me, and it looks like I have Marc hooked again on bow hunting. So, I will work on him and maybe next year I can spend a week in that beautiful countryside.
Until next month. May your sunrises and sunsets be magical!