I’ve waited two years to get the chance to hunt on one of my favorite farms in Arkansas. Last year the White River levels were so high that the entire region was closed due to the flooding. Fortunately for me, I not only gained permission to hunt, but the area was open for hunting and the weather was perfect.
The last time I climbed a tree on this farm was Superbowl Sunday two years ago. I remember that hunt well, as I was dragging a deer through the tangles along the White River, wondering to myself if I’d lost my mind.
I arrived early so I could spend some time scouting a few areas to look for fresh sign. If you couple the freshest sign with the current wind direction, you’re pretty much on a crash course with a whitetail. I always love to scout for deer in the bottoms. Seeing a deer trail in the sandy loam of the river bottom always gets my adrenaline pumping. There’s no doubt that it’s a lot of fun using trail cameras to tell you what, if any, deer are coming by, but the element of surprise not using them can be even more rewarding.
It was a toss up as to where I wanted to hunt so making a decision was just a guess. You could say it was like one of those decisions where you could win either way. That’s the kind of odds that every deer hunter is looking for and I had a doe tag that was burning a hole in my pocket.
One of the challenges to hunting this time of year is the openness of the woods and the lack of cover. While the woods are thick, a hunter stands out sitting in a tree 20 feet off the ground. Finding a good tree just off a trail is one thing. Finding one with some cover around it is another. The only tree I could find was a shaggy bark hickory tree with several limbs on it. I was using my climbing stand so I had to cut the limbs as I was climbing. Anyone that has ever climbed a shaggy bark hickory tree understands the challenges they present. On a scale from one to ten, with ten being the best, a shaggy bark hickory is a minus three. The fact that the tree I’d be hunting was twenty yards down wind of a well-used trail catapulted my choice of trees to a ‘ten’.
Interestingly, as I reached my destination with my climbing stand, I noticed that there were some branches that had been cut a couple years ago. This was the very same tree I’d climbed on a previous hunt years ago. I settled in for the evening with about three hours of glorious daylight left.
The first two hours were uneventful, other than the scurrying of squirrels and birds in the dry hackberry and wild pecan leaves. The wind was doing its best to blow from the wrong direction at times, but as the evening wore on it became more tolerable. I could hear an occasional mallard flying overhead and snow geese off in the distance. A wood duck would take off then land in the slough next to me, some of the greatest sounds you’ll hear while hunting a river bottom. Those sounds pale in comparison to the sound of a deer walking, however.
The first two deer were yearlings and they made their way right under my tree. I could see a much larger deer lagging behind them and as one of the yearlings walked under my tree, they alerted to the scent of a human. Both yearlings ran back a few yards, then circled upwind of me just out of range. Oddly, the big doe didn’t follow them.
I could see the deer standing there, needing to travel about 25 yards before she was in range. She was in no hurry and traveled ten yards in what seemed 30 minutes. She stood there, and stood there, and stood there. I figured she didn’t want to make it out to the crop field before dark so she was taking here sweet time. She fed around in the same spot and I’d just about given up on my chances. Then she made a couple steps in my direction.
There was a large log between the deer and me and I knew that if she jumped the log I was going to get a shot. She stood and looked at the log forever and I tried to stay as still as possible because any movement would have alerted her. A deer’s ability to sense anything unnatural is uncanny, as I can attest. She jumped the log and I prepared to look for an opening to shoot.
The deer turned directly away from me after she scaled the log and started feeding. There was a big tree between us and that tree would provide me the cover to draw my bow. As she took a step broadside, I drew my bow and she presented a perfect quartering away shot. My arrow zipped through her as she bounded off a mere 30 or 40 yards, then tipped over. Watching a deer fall after shooting them is what we refer to as icing on the cake.
It was another successful deer hunt and one I’ll never forget. It was one of those rare times when all the pieces fit together in the puzzle and you smile when it’s completed.
If you haven’t tried late season deer hunting, you don’t know what you’re missing. Find a trail and climb a tree. It can be very rewarding.
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