The Meat Hunter’s Dilemma
September 19, 2015
A dozen glaring, black eyes look everywhere at once.
A mosquito lights between my eyes, and I wrinkle my nose, and suddenly all 12 are locked on me. The wind is steady in my face, and the woods are noisy, but somehow they sense me up here. I steady myself, let my breathing slow, and adjust my gaze across the horizon instead of looking right at them.
And then they’re happily noshing in the soybean field, not 15 yards away. There are two good, mature does, a couple of yearlings, and a fawn that still shows traces of spots on his copper-red, summer coat. I can’t really tell which doe is “mama”, and it gives me pause… but only briefly. At one point, all six heads are down, and I could raise and draw the bow without consequence… but I don’t do it.
I generally consider myself a meat hunter. I hunt for the table, not for the wall. I’m as happy to shoot a healthy doe as I am to shoot a trophy buck. You can’t eat antlers. Feel free to add your own cliches and rationalizations as you see fit. The point is, there I was with at least two shooter does in easy range. A nice pile of meat on the hoof, and all it wanted was for me to raise the Mathews, line up the pins, and let it fly.
So let’s rewind the evening just a little bit.
I wasn’t even going to hunt, but with a frontal system moving across the area, I thought it might be an interesting opportunity to be in the stand. I wrapped up work for the evening, locked Iggy in the house (we can’t wait to get the fence up), and wandered out to the soybeans.
As I got settled into the stand, the thunderheads were ominous, and a strong wind was blowing across the field. I was starting to have second thoughts about sitting up in this pine tree, but after about a half hour the clouds moved off a little bit and the wind dropped out to a steady breeze while the shadows got longer and longer over the yellowing bean plants.
Along the edge of the trees, about 100 yards away, a deer head popped out into the field. It was a small buck, and he was followed by a little doe that could have been his twin. The two youngsters browsed and fed their way around the edge of the field until they were right in front of me. Neither was big enough to shoot, and I enjoyed their visit for a while, until they finally meandered back across the field to where they’d come from. They frolicked, chased, and kicked for a while, putting on an entertaining show.
I scanned the field while they played, and caught movement all the way across the beans. A deer head popped up like a periscope, watching the youngsters. Through the Leicas, I picked up a glint of antler, and after a little focus, I could see that this was the big eight-point I’d seen the other night.
At first he was just browsing, and I had no hope of him coming any closer. But then he locked in on the little deer, and started working across the field. It was interesting to watch, because even though the rut should be at least a month away, he was definitely working the angles to get closer to that little doe. When he got to them, he immediately got downwind of her and started curling his lip to taste her air. Finally, he realized she wasn’t anywhere near estrous, so he proceeded to work a licking branch and scrape the ground under the trees for a few minutes before he disappeared into the darkness of the thicket.
As I was watching this show, I heard the crunch of little hoofsteps to my right. I swiveled my head slowly, trying to see out of the corner of my eyes until I spotted the hooved feet coming through the branches.
One deer. Two deer. Three deer. Four deer. Five deer. Six.
The little herd came slinking out, testing the air and scanning for danger… all on high alert as they gave up the shelter of the thick woods. They really are amazing animals.
But even their combined senses did not give me away from my perch. I got a couple of intense stares, and I struggled to avoid eye contact until they finally relaxed and began to feed. Which brings us back to where I started this story…
So there I am… the meat hunter… with a whole pile of “meat” right there in front of me. I have about 20 minutes of shooting light left, which is plenty of light to make a clean shot. But it’s also plenty of time for that big boy to wander over to check out this new batch of does. If I hold off, maybe I’ll get a shot at him. And if I shoot one of these does, I risk blowing him out and educating him to my stand. He didn’t get that big by not learning life’s lessons.
In the midst of this mental struggle, the sun continued to sink and the shadows deepened. The does kept browsing, completely at ease now. My release was clipped to the string, but the bow remained resting between my feet. Finally, I looked down and couldn’t see the sight pins anymore. It was too late. The big boy never reappeared.
I made little noises until the does finally got nervous and hopped off across the field. This way, I could get down out of the tree without them identifying the source of the danger (I hope). All the way back to the house, I kept the little argument alive in my head.
What kind of meat hunter am I?