I had taken both courses necessary to hunt in regular season and in archery, and spent the necessary money on gear and tags. I was ready to hunt. Due to my work and college schedule, the only times I was able to hunt were during the weekends. So the first weekend of archery season, Brian took me out with him in his stand. The walk wasn’t bad, or else I was just finally getting used to the lone hikes up to wherever his stands were placed. He pointed to a tree, “This was the old tree.” I looked up it and was happy we weren’t in it anymore. It was so tall! Little did I know he found an even bigger tree for us to sit in. I took one look at where my stand was, his seat was ten feet higher than mine, and I literally laughed in his face.
“We’re really going to try this again?” My seat was twenty feet high and there were only four or five spikes leading up to it, each four feet apart. “Brian, you’re so mean,” I joked and took a breath. I can do this, I thought, I’ve come a long way from that first day! It was an utter failure. I really wish someone was out there to take pictures, or at least had a trail cam documenting us. I made it up two or three spikes, halfway to my seat, and panic starts setting in. I was exerting myself so much in just lifting myself up to each spike and balancing and reaching for the next one I was tiring myself out quick. Brian had to push my up to the next spikes. Finally I was within arms reach of my seat, but it didn’t feel sturdy enough for me to pull myself up with it.
My hand had slipped from the spike I was holding and for a second it felt like I was falling. I froze. I gripped the bark. I threw my face into the tree. Brian was below me, coaxing me to relax. But I wouldn’t budge. He knew I was afraid and that he should have put more spikes in for me, so he did the next best thing that he could: he became another spike for me.
Brian climbed up over me, wrapped himself around the opposite side of the tree, put his foot out and told me to step on it, that he’d lift me up into my seat. I honestly don’t know how he did it. Maybe it was the fact that he knew if his ankle didn’t hold that I would go down hard. Maybe it was the fact that he is just that strong. But in those couple seconds all of my weight rested on his foot, ankle locked he lifted me up close enough to my seat where I could grab on to something sturdy and pull myself in.
It took about another fifteen minutes for my nerves to calm down, and Brian just sat above me grinning. That was the most exciting part of the night, though. We didn’t see a darn thing. I really think it was because of how dramatic everything had been in that half hour, but who knows for sure.
The next weekend, Brian put up two more stands just for me: ladder stands. He made me get up in them after we set them up to make sure I could handle it. These stands were ones I could walk to by myself and get into without any help. I sat in these stands two weekends in a row with nothing except a family of ducks swimming in the river behind me. It was getting really frustrating when he’d come home with videos he’d recorded on his phone of all the deer he was seeing in his stands, while I never saw anything.
The fourth weekend of archery we trekked up the hill to put another ladder stand up for me next to a ravine. “You’ll definitely see something up here!” Another two weekends in a row of nothing. One of those days in the afternoon I had moved to another stand that he had put up about three hundred yards away from the one next to the ravine. I didn’t feel as safe in that one though and ended up having a panic attack in it. Needless to say I didn’t go in that one again until much, much later.
The last weekend of archery came quick, as I was sitting in my ravine stand I heard leaves rustling. A doe spurts up a path then slows down as she passes me. I grab my bow and am about to clip my release when I hear a grunt. A buck is coming! I anxiously waited for it to come, knowing it was chasing this doe who heard the grunt and sprinted up a nearby path to get away from him. I clipped my release and was getting ready to pull back when I saw the flash of brown through the bushes.
In the moment that I was about to pull back, I saw that it was a half rack buck, what would have been a nice six point, now a three. In that second of processing that he was missing his whole other antler, I missed my chance to stop him and shoot him.
I was so disappointed in myself and knew I only had one day left to shoot something, which was the last day of archery. My college schedule and work schedule wouldn’t permit me to hunt any sooner than that.
The last day Brian surprised me by deciding to sit with me in a stand, the same stand I had a panic attack in. He kept saying how he’d seen so many deer the past couple nights near it and that I should just try it one more time, that he’d be with me. Reluctantly I go. We make our way up the tree and get me in my stand with him in his about six feet above me.
From 11am until 3pm there are absolutely no deer around. Finally, though we start seeing movement. A nice four point shows himself about 70 yards away and is walking towards our stand. I grabbed my bow hoping he’d keep coming closer, but at about 50 yards he goes back up the hill and around us. My heart dropped.
Sitting back in my seat, I’m thinking that I’m never going to get a chance to even try to shoot at a deer. But about fifteen minutes later, as I’m looking to my left and scanning the woods, the same buck makes another appearance. This time only twenty yards away. The moment I see him would have been the ideal time to have my bow ready to shoot, but since I was looking on my left scanning to my right, and he was on my right, I didn’t see him until it was too late.
As he made his way behind a couple thick trees, I stood up and grabbed my bow. There was a space between two trees that he was surely to pass by and I pulled back, waiting for him. He stopped right behind them though, only his head poking out. My arms started shaking, not only from the adrenaline rush but from the fact that holding a bow back for a long time is difficult. When he looked away I had to collapse the string and wait to pull back again. In the moment I went to pull back he came into view, but went back behind more trees and then took a sharp turn to walk away. Brian tried grunting to get him to turn around, but the buck wasn’t going for it. He was gone.
I started to cry, I’m not going to lie about it. I was frustrated. Devastated. Why couldn’t I have been looking to my right when he was on his way in? I would have had him for sure. About two minutes later, Brian got my attention. A tiny four point was making his way in on the same route that the other one did. This time I had my bow ready, however, I was still shaking from the first buck encounter. The little buck was going to go through the same space in the trees as the first one, so this time I was ready. As his body came into view, I grunted, lined up my sights and let the arrow fly. He ducked it and took off running. I looked up at Brian, not knowing for sure what happened. “Did I miss?” I asked. He nodded his head with a smile, trying to get me to laugh and I did. At least I attempted to shoot it. Deer are sometimes just smarter than the hunters.
A little bit later, when it was nearing 4:30 and sunset making itself known, action started to take place. About 150 yards away three doe ran across the hill with two big bucks following them. The bucks took notice of each other, started circling each other and out of nowhere got in a head on collision. They were sparring! It was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. The bigger buck took down the other decent sized buck easily, sending it shamefully away from the does. Before I even had time to process that one buck was nearing us while the other one trotted away, the doe were behind Brian and me, and they knew we were there.
I didn’t move, I just watched them. Brian on the other hand was watching the huge buck make his way closer and closer. Brian had his bow ready, but knew he would have to wait until the last possible second to pull back so the doe didn’t spook the buck too early. It was wishful thinking.
The buck was within thirty yards, all Brian needed was one more step so he’d be out from behind a tree to give Brian a kill zone. The does, however, couldn’t let that happen. They hightailed it away from us when they finally decided what was going on which spooked the big buck away from us too. Brian was devastated, but it was cool to have seen so much in one night.
We didn’t get out of the stand until almost 6:15pm due to more does coming in. We didn’t want to spook them and let them know where we were for the following day. When they finally left, we went home to shower and change then went shopping for food for our packs for the following day’s Opening Day of regular season. But that wasn’t all. When we got home we had to get all of our stuff ready then go back out into the woods. Brian wanted to set up another stand for me for regular season, one that I’d feel safe sitting in all day.
It was tiring, we didn’t get to bed until midnight and the alarm was set for 4:45am. Even as we lay in bed, about to pass out from exhaustion, we couldn’t help talking about the day we just had. I missed my first shot ever on a deer. Brian lost the opportunity to shoot one of the biggest bucks he’d ever seen in our area due to doe. Not very fortunate events for us, but still a one of the coolest memory to have, and we got to share it with each other.