Outdoors

Deer hunt turned into a waiting game

The Nature Call: Was missed opportunity on omen?

The Gazette
The Gazette

I saw her, then she saw me. Neither of us expected to see the other.

A moment of frozen apprehension drawn out. Yet even when it feels like time stands still, it doesn’t.

It never does.

She turned tail and then bounded across the hayfield. As a start to my bow hunting season, was it an omen?

As I am wont to do, I end up seeking the hard way to do something. If a modern rifle with a telescopic sight can reach a deer at three football fields, then an instrument limited to a 30-yard range just might be better. Maybe my choice of range says more about my golf game than hunting preference.

I was in southern Iowa to bow hunt for the bucks of legends and dreams. Non-residents wait years to draw a tag. And as they wait their ambitions swell. Growing up Norwegian and Lutheran in Wisconsin, I was raised to have modest desires. On this hunt, about any buck will do.

When I interrupted that deer’s dinner, I was on my way to a tree stand. I had presumed I wouldn’t see any deer until I was safely tethered and atop a little metal bench perched on a ladder. Planning experiences with wild animals is a losing hand.

And then you wait.

If the weather is fair the wait aloft can be quite therapeutic. If the weather is foul, then you risk an endurance contest with Mother Nature — the winner is never in doubt. Today the breeze was temperate and the sky mostly blue. I supposed I would suffer the paradox of nice weather equaling bad hunting.

The rustling in the woods at my six o’clock had me very interested. Since I’m waiting, I’m also hoping. Was that sound the buck of my dreams?

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Patience dictates the hunter hold still, movement being a dead giveaway to trouble. The beast working my blind spot was going to be too good to be true. Of course it was.

Despite my willing for a heavy horned buck to appear, I knew deep down the owner of the commotion was one one-hundredth the size of what I wanted. And it was.

Enough deer hunting mentors told me to “get in a tree and make like a squirrel,” that I took that as an unquestioned truth from an early age. But when 12 feet up in a tree and wishing for deer but surrounded by foraging squirrels, you just might get the clarity to realize the ridiculousness of that advice.

To pretend to be a squirrel in the pursuit of whitetails is about as useful as purposely arming yourself with archaic instruments. But I digress.

If asked someday by a mentee seeking advice, I will recommend to climb a tree and make like an owl. Probably a long-eared owl. They seem more alluring given their scarcity in Iowa as well as stoically fierce countenance.

Long-eared owls come to Iowa during the months of the hunters. They wait for darkness to ply their trade. And during the day they wait. Quietly and cryptically they wait and watch, ready to spring into action if the moment arises. Clearly they are much better role models than spasmodic rodents.

I waited all afternoon and past sunset. Hunger pangs and state regulations caused me to descend in the dark. It was a long sit.

I saw a some deer, at distances measured in football fields. A nuthatch took particular interest in scolding me. One raccoon made a surprise daylight appearance. But no buck came close.

My bow never flexed, my arrow never loosed. Maybe I had made like a squirrel one last time.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

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l John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board

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