Opening Weekend Comes And Goes – Glad It’s A Long Season!
October 1, 2012
The dawn never really broke through the heavy clouds and spatters of rain. The impending sunrise had no color but grey. I looked at the pins on my bow sight, but even fifteen minutes before sunrise, there was barely enough ambient light to make them glow. An erratic wind pushed through the trees to the south one minute, then pushed back to the northeast the next, and then dropped to near stillness.
When it was finally light enough to see, I spotted a rabbit nibbling in the clearing I’d made through the cedar trees. Small birds flitted low through the branches around the edges. As I watched, a squirrel scampered down the trunk of a live oak, and began to dig around in the duff. In the near distance, I could hear my neighbor’s goats bleating as feeding time approached.
It’s sort of magical to watch the morning come from the concealment of a treestand. You’re right in the middle of everything, but as long as you sit still you’re invisible to the creatures of daybreak. The magic is made even more special by the fact that this is the opening morning of deer season, and despite the inability to sleep the night before, and the extra-early alarm, I’m wide awake and drinking it all in. This is what I’ve been waiting for… been working for… the first day of the first deer hunt of my new life in Texas.
The wind comes up again, this time bringing a driving rain squall. I lean my bow against the tree, and adjust my rain jacket. The tree sways in the wind. The bow slips. I reach to grab it, not quickly enough, and it clatters against the cedar poles. From the shadows of a thicket, less than 20 yards away, I hear the huff of a whitetail deer blowing in alarm. The deer bounds away through the thicket, never showing itself, blowing at every leap, until it stops far away up the ridge. I silently curse my stupidity and clumsiness.
The mishap is the harbinger of my opening weekend. Back on stand for the evening hunt, the wind is blowing hard on the backtrail of a cold front. It’s coming from the wrong direction, sending my scent right back across the clearing and into the woods. I can only hope that the deer are accustomed to my scent after all the hours I’ve spent working in these woods. My hope is in vain. With the high winds making them skittish, they don’t need much excuse to blow out. An hour after I climb into the stand, I hear the all too familiar snort and huff as a deer winds me and breaks away from the trail.
Shortly afterward, I’m contemplating climbing down and calling the hunt. I hear a sound. It’s sort of a cluck, like a chicken or… turkeys! I swivel my head slowly, until I catch the jerky motion of a turkey stretching its neck to grab a grasshopper. As I watch, the irridescent sheen of feathers glimmers through the cedar branches. In seconds, there are five turkeys moving into the open. Three are youngsters from this year’s hatch… still really small for shooting. But the two hens look good. Either would make a welcome addition to my menu. I ease the bow up. An arrow is already nocked. I’m twisted at a tough angle, and it takes all my upper body to work the bow into full draw and align the pin on the body of the lead hen. The birds don’t notice.
The pin settles on the butt of the hen’s wing. At this angle, the arrow should run right through the small area of vitals and into the ground. My finger brushes the release, tenses, and the arrow is away. The arrow makes a promising “thump”, but the hen merely takes a couple of steps to the side and looks around. I shot over her! At this close range, and shooting at a fairly steep angle, I should have held lower. I ease another arrow from the quiver, but by the time I get it nocked and drawn, they’ve had enough. The whole group lines back into the thicket of cedar and oaks.
I ease back, and collect my breath. My heartbeat changes from the pre-shot pounding to the aggravated thump of frustration.
The evening moves along. I’m tempted to shoot a rabbit or squirrel… partly for the pot, but also partly just to see if I can actually hit them. I only have two arrows left though, and don’t want to waste them on small game. There’s still a chance.
I’m shocked when I hear the turkeys again. They’ve circled around, and are entering the clearing just below me. I mentally prepare myself for the shot, and draw as the big, lead hen steps into the open. I won’t make the same mistake twice. Except I do. Even as I watch the arrow pass just across the top of her back, I realize I was aiming dead on instead of holding low.
The next hour is spent in second-guessing. I should have waited before the first shot. I should have known to hold low. I should have practiced more from a ladder, or from the roof of the house. I’m down to one arrow, should I go retrieve the other two? I shouldn’t be shooting at turkeys right now anyway. I should be sitting still for deer.
At that last thought, I hear the snap of a branch and the familiar huff from directly downwind. My heart sinks as I listen to noise of the fleeing deer diminish in the distance.
At night, the clouds clear and the near-full moon lights up the canyon. I know the deer are moving and feeding all night long. When I wake in the morning darkness, I can hear the wind is still wailing through the trees. I should stay in bed, but I decide to go for it anyway. I’ve got to travel next week, and won’t be able to hunt again for at least eight days.
I should have stayed in bed.
While I could see deer and turkeys moving in the distance, on other properties, nothing came close to my stand. As the sun faded, I was briefly tempted to try to stalk over to my feeder, and see if I could catch something there. But, at least for now, I don’t want to shoot the deer under my feeder. Let that remain a sort of refuge. We’ll see how that attitude holds up as the season progresses, though. I’ve got until January, after all.