by Luke Byker
Serving in the military has brought me far from my home in Wisconsin’s Northwoods.
Inevitably, soldiers miss out things back home. Without a doubt, I miss my wife and family most of all. But in a distant second, I miss the fall woods.
With another Wisconsin bow season approaching in a few short weeks, my thoughts
frequently drift to season’s past. After my first bow season my freshman year in high school, I more eagerly anticipated the September opener than I did Christmas morning. September is hard hunting; hot weather, bugs, rain, and dense foliage all make a perfect ambush difficult. September is still my favorite. Every deer is new, every sighting is a surprise. With a full roll of tags in my pocket, anything is fair game.
I remember the last deer I shot in September, two years ago now. The first weekend had
been a wash-out, but I’d sat anyway, and been rewarded with opportunities at several small bucks and a spotted doe fawn which I chose to pass. The next weekend was clear and cold. Those rare September mornings when frost makes the grass crackle and your breath comes out in huge white plumes always get my adrenaline flowing; seeing deer is a given.
After an uneventful Friday night, I set my grandfather up on my clover plot (he doesn’t bow hunt, but isn’t opposed to sitting in the woods), and set myself up on a major trail leading into the property’s main bedding area. Rubs and scrapes lined each of the well-defined trails leading into the dense stand of birch and poplar. It was about as perfect a setup as a bow hunter could ask for.
Shortly after dawn, a grouse family strolled underneath my perch with mother grouse in
the lead, her eyes darting to and fro looking for danger. Her inexperienced chicks seemed more concerned with catching the summer’s last grasshoppers. As the sun crept higher, no deer appeared. The night’s frost melted off as the temperature rose above freezing. I worried coyotes might have passed through in the night, or I’d chosen the wrong wind direction for the setup.
My doubts were interrupted by the sound of green leaves being stripped off birch boughs. I turned my head slowly, keeping my exposed face close to the trunk of the tree. A mature doe was forty yards behind me, quickly feeding my way. Apparently eager to get back in the security of the birch and poplar tangle, she wasn’t bothering to stop and eat; she merely stripped branches she passed of their bright green leaves. The trail she was on would bring her to my left at less than twenty yards: perfect. I readied myself, but unfortunately she wasn’t reading the same script. Just as her nose entered my shooting lane, she spied what must have been some especially appetizing greenery at the base of the tree I was perched in. Before I had time to react, she was directly beneath my feet, twenty feet below. I could hear her teeth grinding the sticks and leaves in her mouth. I could even hear her breathing as she labored through what would be her last meal. After a few tense minutes, she meandered back onto the trail. At twenty yards, I grunted with my mouth to stop her. She turned, giving me a perfect quartering-away shot. Already at full-draw, I envisioned where her opposite shoulder would be and released. My zebra-striped fletchings buried in her chest cavity and disappeared in her rust colored hide. She nose-dived in the leaves, regained her footing, and sprinted off through the woods, staying low as mortally wounded deer do. As she crested the ridge above me, I heard breaking branches and a crash.
I’ve harvested more deer out of this stand since, including a nice nine-pointer later that same season. But those mornings when everything comes together perfectly and in textbook fashion are the hunts I like to visit when I miss the sport I love the most.