Fall of 2018 marks my first ever foray into large game hunting, specifically whitetail. At age 34 my background in the outdoors began with camping and joining the Boy Scouts. The urban and suburban environments of the Chicagoland area offered very few opportunities for hunting, so I’m a little late to the party.
Already this fall season I’ve spent a few days afield here in Missouri on public lands with my bow and kit. Each time out something new is learned. Each time back at home (empty handed) adjustments are made. Swap this bag for that; cut out this item that is not needed; try this combination of camo clothing; try this soap instead of that soap. Currently my kit is on it’s 3rd iteration/overhaul and we are a little over a week into fall archery season.
Nearly every day at home I read out of the stack of deer hunting books that is always near at hand: F&S The Total Deer Hunter, The Complete Guide Vol. 1 by Steve Rinella, F&S The Total Bowhunting Manual, Bowhunting Whitetails the Eberhart Way, and Whitetail Access.
Between the skills portion and the knowledge portion it sometimes feels like I’m standing at the base of the Sears Tower and staring straight up. I can see the observation deck poking out, the desired end-point, but it’s so far away! There’s just so much to learn, so much to practice, so much experience to be gained, meanwhile the seasons are changing, the moonrise is changing, the days are growing shorter, fall is banging on the door and that means – according to the books – that the deer habits are changing! But I still haven’t gotten the hang of the early part of the season and it’s almost October! Oh no!! Quick, gotta learn the weather and gotta learn how the deer respond, gotta lose confidence in my camo gear (this poly fabric smells too much!) or get frustrated with my kit. Adapt, change, adapt! Should I try this spot, explore something new, or try that spot or that one??? How old is this deer sign? It’s all happening too fast and I haven’t even seen any deer yet!! Saw some hunters here. Saw tree stands over there. What do I do?
Last night I went out for a couple of hours after work until sundown. Didn’t see any other vehicles in the vicinity so I had the place to myself. Quietly I crept towards the targeted spot: an access point loaded with deer sign in the corner of a corn field. Carefully watching my steps as I worked my way past one small corn field, around a thick brush and treeline into the next field. As I was rounding the brush, about 10 yards from me on my right a deer jumped up and ran off. There was never a shot, but now I knew that at least one doe chose to bed in that area during the day. Up to this point, I hadn’t so much as seen a deer, so this was a good sign!
Continuing along the edge of the field, following loads of deer tracks going back and forth, I crept towards the access point in the field that the deer were using and where all the tracks led. Upon rounding a downed tree a turkey hen, about 5 yards in front of me, jumped up and flew high into the trees. It was so close when I startled it that it clearly didn’t hear or see me coming! Fall turkey doesn’t start until Oct 1, but this was still a great sign.
My fourth or fifth time in the field and I finally saw both a deer and turkey pretty darn close in the same evening! Some of the changes that I’ve made seem to be working. There might be some hope for me yet. For the moment I no longer feel like I’m standing on the sidewalk next to the Sears Tower; rather, I might be standing a floor or two up. It might not be much, but it’s progress and sure as shit I’m going to keep climbing.