I worked my way out of the valley timber and eased through a stand of trees on a long finger ridge. The rim above, where winter snows melted in late spring, extended long timbered fingers down to the valley. Deep canyons and meadows between the ridges grew knee-high grass in the summer where snow and ice scoured clean the rest of the year.
The sun was just rising above the eastern rim and shafts of sunlight filtered through the tall pines. I stood in the shade of a tree and scanned the line of trees opposite. First one deer emerged from the trees and then another, until finally two bucks and three does stood looking at me from the edge of a canyon meadow.
They altered course when they spotted me, bearing slightly uphill now toward the rising sun. Turning, I crossed the meadow behind me and ran up the slope to the next stand of trees, noting where a well-used trail entered the timber.
Slipping an arrow from the quiver, I nocked it to the string and set up behind a seven foot pine tree. Before I could calculate how much time it would take for the deer to cross the clearing the first deer was stepping into view.
She turned to look right at me, paused, then continued on, alert, wary, but not spooked. I was too far from the trail for a good shot. At forty yards, my chances were marginal. If I could get closer, I’d have a better chance at one of the bucks as they came through. Leaving the cover of the little pine tree I stepped forward to set up behind another. The next deer through was the four point buck. He’d seen the doe looking at me so he knew right where I’d be. I froze in mid-stride. This was my chance and I was standing with one foot in the air and my bow undrawn.
The deer knew that I had fooled him, getting in front of him even though he had seen me earlier. But as long as I stood there unmoving, with one foot in the air I wasn’t much of a threat. He lowered his head as if to eat, then abruptly raised it, trying to catch me making a threatening move. Bobbing his head, pawing and snorting, he played the game of trying to make me move while the other deer, alert, filed around him into the meadow below.
I could stand it no longer. Either I had to put my boot down or a light breeze would come up and topple me over.
Easing my foot down, I pulled my arrow back to full draw and the deer bounded away before I could anchor and release.
Letting the arrow down, I watched them go. The big buck was bringing up the rear and as he reached the stream that trickled through the meadow he stopped and looked back. Too far to shoot with an arrow, he stood there broadside looking at me. Sunlight glinted on the polished antler tips as he swiveled his head. Then muscles bunching beneath his auburn coat, he leaped, clearing the streambed to trot up through the trees until he was lost in the shadows.
Those of us looking forward to the opening of archery season this year should remember what we learned in our first seasons in the woods. There is no substitute for being prepared. If I’d been ready when that buck stepped out of the trees, I’d be telling a different story.
The time to start preparing for bow hunting is right now. Whether that means buying a new bow, tuning up the old one or setting up a target to hone shooting skills. The best hunters I know are the ones that use their equipment year-round. 3-D shoots are starting again and this is the best way I know of for learning practical range estimation. Ground squirrels and rockchucks will be out in a few weeks, and there is nothing better than these for polishing stalking skills.
From targets on hay bales to critters in the hay field, there are many ways to pursue your sport with the bent stick and string. Get a foot up on the deer this year and start practicing now. There is no substitute for being prepared when the sun pushes back the shadows on opening day.