One last check on the weather before heading out the door told the same story as the night before. Rain was to taper off by 5 am, so out the door I went, into a misting December rain. I loaded my bow and a few remaining pieces of gear into the truck and began the two-hour drive to an 80-acre tract of woods in middle Georgia.
Two hours is a lot of time to think and reflect on the season. I had a podcast episode from Jason Samkowiak playing in the background but wasn’t paying much attention. My thoughts were focused on time spent with good friends since early September. From 4-mile hikes into the Wyoming backcountry with Thom, to a recent hunt with Nick, on this very property. We shared a lot of laughs and some gorgeous scenery. Those short adventures have a way of leaving one thirsting for more.
The sound of rain hitting the windshield brought me back to the present. I flipped on the windshield wipers and my thoughts switched to the plans for that day. Beside me, one end resting on the floorboard, the other nestled against the headrest was a different weapon than I was accustomed to. It was a gorgeous selfbow, modeled after the bow preferred by the Cherokee. A bend through the handle, Eastern Woodland Indian bow made by my good friend Mark Troy in 2014. I had decided weeks earlier, due to a freezer full of venison, that it was time to step up and spend some time hunting with primitive gear. Through a little trial and error, I had found some wood shafts that seemed to fit the bow perfectly – hickory shafts – heavy, tough and a real bear to get straight! I fletched them with natural turkey feathers given to me several years ago by a good friend, Brian Johnson. Brian died all too young in a tragic work-related accident and I carried at least one arrow fletched with feathers from one of the many turkey wings he gave me. I guess you could say, I was going afield with friends that day.
A glance at the clock revealed I was about 30 minutes from my destination and it was still raining. Pouring, in fact. I wondered if the morning hunt might not take place at all. I didn’t mind getting a little wet, but would have been soaked within seconds of leaving the truck. Still, I was going to be there for two days. I knew I would still get some time in, even if the morning was a wash.
The rain was still falling at 5 a.m. I pulled through the gate and made my way to the spot I usually park. The short 200 yards I had to drive was a muddy, mucky mess and I could feel the truck slipping and sliding the whole way. It had obviously rained a lot there in the last 24 hours. I pulled up my weather app and the radar revealed that there was a lot of rain to come. I flipped to my Facebook app and shared a rant about wanting to be a weatherman when I grew up. I then cursed my current situation, leaned my seat back, pulled my hat over my eyes, and spent the next couple of hours reclaiming the sleep I lost during my drive.
I departed my warm, dry pickup around 7 and started making my way to my chosen destination for the morning hunt. The rain was still falling and my mood was rapidly deteriorating. Somewhere along my walk, the Longfellow poem “A Rainy Day” popped into my head. Specifically, the line “into each life some rain must fall”. I cursed him as well.
The only positive aspect was that it was warm, at slightly above 50 degrees, so I figure I can at least get a few hours in if the rain stopped. My plan had been to hunt a particular tree that Nick had hunted back in November. However, not knowing If the rain would stop or continue, I decided to not want to haul my stand, sticks and other gear with me in case my hunt was cut short.
Loggers had select cut some of the larger trees from the property earlier that year, so there were tree tops still scattered throughout. I knew there were some of these, in that same area, and figured I could find one to use as a makeshift blind.
I felt confident I was concealed, nestled behind the felled pine and poplar, so long as I kept my movements at a minimum. I had a thick section of young pines at my back, a perfect transition line to the open hardwoods, and the pines were littered with rubs from the current fall activities. The wind was in my face and blowing towards a small pond on the edge of the property. It felt like the perfect setup if anything moved, in this awful weather. Settled in and fairly comfy, except for the wet butt, I began my vigil.
The rain finally subsided and the woods fell mostly silent. The only real sounds I could hear, other than the traffic from the nearby interstate, were drops of water falling from the trees around me. I knew I would never hear a deer approaching, so I was systematically scanning the woods from right to left with as little movement as possible. I was working my way back to the right, when I detected movement. I thought it was a squirrel, but the body of a deer materialized. It was perhaps 80 yards away and I knew I needed to adjust my position to make a shot. I shifted ever so slowly and continued watching what I had now determined was a buck.
He nibbled on browse and the occasional acorn now and then, as he made his way towards me. The path he appeared to be taking would have him pass by at 40-45 yards, way too far for a shot with my bow. I slowly retrieved my grunt call from my pocket, brought it to my mouth, and with my hand cupped over the end, gave a short “buuuuurrrrrppp”. His head immediately snapped towards the direction of the sound. For an instant, I waited to see if he would decide to investigate or flee the area altogether. He was not a large buck, perhaps 18 months to 2 years old, and I knew there were larger bucks on the property. After a few seconds, he turned and started making his way towards the sound of the grunt. I readied for a shot.
At 10 yards the arrow left the bow with a simple “whoosh”. The heavy arrow struck the buck hard in the shoulder and the silence of the woods erupted, as the buck tore out for parts unknown. I followed him intently and did my best to commit the path he took to memory. The ground was still soaked and I was a bit concerned the rain could start again at any moment. He left the woods and was running along the grass between the edge of the pond tree line. Suddenly, I heard him splash hard into the water. The splashing continued for a few seconds, then all was quiet once more.
I was shaking uncontrollably, partially because I was wet, but mostly because of what had just taken place. Until someone has been face-to-face with a whitetail, on the ground, on their terms, and managed to get a shot off at such a short range, it is hard to explain the rush of adrenaline that takes place. I was a mess, plain and simple. I had to force myself to sit there to be sure I gave the buck ample time to expire. I had to remind myself repeatedly that I would sit there for 30 minutes (minimum) unless it started to rain once more.
I picked up the track at 10 am. The wet ground made it easy to follow his steps but hard at times to see the blood left behind. Even so, within 15 minutes, I made my way to the edge of the pond. I was able to retrieve the buck from the water’s edge moments later. He was a beautiful 5-point. Not nearly as large, as a buck I had taken earlier in the season, but I cannot remember feeling more pride in a harvest. I was astonished to find my arrow still intact and ready to hunt again, but decided to retire it at the end of the season to remind me of a great hunt with friends no longer present. It then occurred to me, had it been fair weather that morning, I would not have hunted here at all. I looked up to the heavens and had a brief conversation with my friend Brian. I thanked him for the turkey feathers, for tagging along in my quiver, and for sharing in a memory I will never forget. Then, as if I could hear Brian’s voice and see that wry grin of his, “Sometimes it just rains” echoed through my mind.
This article was originally published in a recent edition of “Stick Talk” the official quarterly publication of the Michigan Longbow Association