Outdoors

The wait paid off on this hunt

The Nature Call: After a couple of near misses, author finally get his deer

A view from the perch where John Lawrence Hanson spotted three bucks on a recent Sunday morning, finally getting his deer. (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)
A view from the perch where John Lawrence Hanson spotted three bucks on a recent Sunday morning, finally getting his deer. (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)
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Editor’s note: Second in a series about a recent hunt.

By John Lawrence Hanson, correspondent

Owls seem so sleepy during the day.

As nocturnal raptors, they bide their time until darkness returns the advantage.

But I doubt they sleep heavily, like a human would. Rather, they are deadly, should an opportunity arise.

Yet, given their druthers, I bet that opportunity has to be pretty substantial to overcome the desire to rest.

I had been sitting all weekend during a recent bowhunting trip. Upon the advice of my mentors all those years ago to “get in a tree and act like a squirrel,” I did just that.

I was fatigued. My rump hurt from the hours on perch, and my ambition was tempered by fair weather, boredom and the brewing thoughts of all the chores I needed to complete before I returned to work on Monday.

If I skipped going out one last time on Sunday morning that wouldn’t be so bad now would it? I probably earned the shut-eye. Plus, if — miracle of miracles — I got a deer, then the rest of the day would be taken up with processing.

My obligations for Monday weren’t going anywhere.

The irresistible force met the immovable object. The solution to my dilemma came in the form of self-inflicted shame. As familiar as an old flannel shirt — and frankly just as comforting — shame had been a force my whole life. Why stop now.

One, I was on prime land in southern Iowa. At resident prices, this hunt was too good a bargain. Two, I would be embarrassed to admit to my host I was putting another hour of sleep ahead of hunting. Three, my hosts had to rise and shine when I would be getting up to hunt anyway — it’s not like I would be getting any sleep once they were up and moving.

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With a trio of reasons, I set off again. Under a canopy of stars, I found my hiding spot and climbed in. It was time to let the woods awaken. I could make at least the appearance of an effort, then go home.

My heavy eyelids were not interested in greeting the day. I was tired and finally in a semi-comfortable position. The tight quarters of the blackout tent had the sedative effects necessary to put me back in my lull. I was zoned out enough that the macho grunt outside the hide caused me to stir.

“Uff!” said the voice in my head. “Now that’s a big buck.”

Startled and now alert, I peered through a tiny shooting screen to my left. Confirmed, the grunt was a buck, and a stud at that.

A specimen for his race, he made a stiff-legged saunter to the fence line I was waiting on and proceeded to work the scrape there. With scent glands in his head and lower legs topped with urine, the buck was leaving a calling card to any challenger: abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

“If he continues on the fence, he’ll pass in front of the blind at five paces,” I excitedly told myself. “Then I’ll have him!” I replied. A buck of this size overwhelmed any concerns about the rest of the day.

At that moment my inner monologue turned ugly. I didn’t expect to see a deer so I didn’t have an arrow nocked and ready. “Unmentionable word!”

With the subtlety of The Little Tramp, I fumbled in the quiver and in doing so made a noise this experienced buck did not like. He moved away, on an angle at which I didn’t have a shot and to a distance I wouldn’t, or if I’m being honest, couldn’t.

At 47 yards, he stopped to survey his world. I held my breath. Now walking with insouciant tail wags, he crossed the field. He knew I was there, and he was more than happy to let me know it.

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“Whew,” and I breathed again. “That was neat,” said the voice in my head. I smiled in agreement. Think of it: I got to hunt all weekend and now on my last attempt I got see and hear a great buck at 11 yards. But, I wouldn’t have to gut him and spend the rest of the day processing. In my book that’s a winning outcome.

Relaxed and satisfied, I was finally able to savor the tranquillity of early morning autumn. Low light on colored leaves is so special.

Not 10 minutes had passed when another buck appeared. This one I noticed right away. He was walking from the north to the south, along my fence line. He was a basket-rack buck I pegged at 18 months. This was likely his first rut and he acted like he had read obediently the manual.

The teenager made a beeline for the scrape and immediately went to work. My instrument was ready now and my plan was the same, until once again that voice in my head snapped, “Hey dummy! Why wait until he walks in front you? Use the porthole to your left and shoot while he’s distracted.”

“Holy smoke, why didn’t I think of that first?” I replied to myself.

Much to the chagrin of my friends and family, I have a steel-trap of a mind when it comes to planning and execution. Thinking outside of the box is not my game. Clearly my inner monologue needs to step up his game.

Because of the confines of the blind I had to turn right to draw and then pivot left to access the opening. My shooting form was bent and strained. My sight picture was all brown and furry. “Be like Robin Hood!” Shoot.

Perplexed by the noise of the bow the young buck lopped to the middle of the field, about the same spot as the big fella earlier. Yet, too far at too difficult an angle. He tarried, seemingly working through the manual. Like the better specimen, he too walked off with an air of indifference. I missed him at 11 yards. “Robin Hood, you are not.” I replied

What luck. I’d seen a trophy buck, got a shot at a buck and my knife will stay clean. Plus, I still might make it back to Marion in time to snag a nap. All my boxes were getting checked. Also, the likelihood of that nap went up if I went home empty-handed as my wife would be pleased. She prefers it when I just take my weapons for walks in the woods.

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I decided to look for the arrow when I left. Now was the time to bask in the brightness of wonderfully fresh memories. I unconsciously nocked another arrow.

As 10 minutes passed so did the shadow of another buck on the fencerow. Like the second deer, this buck was on a mission though his gait was stiff and his headwear larger. The motivating power of antlers had me ready by the time he made it to the scrape.

I twisted right to draw, spun back left to shoot and adjusted my point of aim. Loose. I was rewarded by the resounding confirmation of a direct hit. Two bounds to the east confirmed a pass-through shot. Mortality was neigh.

He turned again and headed north along the fencerow, in the direction from which he came. About 80 yards out he paused. I willed him to succumb right then and there. But with a couple flicks of his tail as to confirm his decision he stepped left over the old fence and disappeared from my view into the woods.

Fred Bear established that an archer should wait 30 minutes before tracking. More recent voices have suggested Bear needed that time to have a proper smoke or two. His smoke break became hunting gospel. I don’t smoke and I just abandoned the squirrel metaphor, so after 10 minutes I couldn’t take the wait any longer.

I found the scrape and shot a laser to my hide, 11 yards. Tracking was easy as I knew where to go, despite the adequate crimson evidence.

I peered into the woods where he walked in, looking deeply I failed to notice he was almost at my feet until a mast of antlers rose into my field of view.

There was no ground shrinkage when I finally placed my hands on the horns. I wish my dad could have been there with me. I notched my tag.

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If you sit in a darkened recess like an owl, then maybe you can pounce better than a squirrel waiting on a limb. I suggested earlier a Long-eared owl as the key detail for the new metaphor. But given the comical events of the morning a Barred owl seems more appropriate. The Barred owl can laugh like he’s watching a Charlie Chaplin film. Surely he would have laughed at me today.

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

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.