“How To Tuck A Deer Into Bed At Night”
I was already trying to prepare myself for a letdown. Spot-and-stalk bowhunting doesn’t carry a high success rate. Getting within bow range of a buck should be considered a success, I told myself. My emotions were torn between trying to be grateful for the close encounter, while still holding out hope for another shot.
Before the week would end, I we would stalk into range 3 more times and I would let 2 arrows fly. Having 4 encounters with bucks in a single week’s time is highly unlikely. The cold front had sparked deer movement and farmers were cutting corn all around, pushing deer into the canyons. The deer were in there, hiding in the crevasses, and I was begging the Lord to let me find, kill, and eat one of them.
Coffee. That dark, beautiful, bitter, nectar makes 5am so much easier to handle. By this point in the week I was feeling the 2 hour time difference in the mornings. My legs and emotions were tired. Even still, getting out that bed each morning was as easy as if Christmas breakfast was waiting down the hall. Bryan and I sipped our coffee silently as we drove to the canyons each morning.
The morning glassing didn’t yield anything. After a couple hours in different locations, we figured they moved into the bottoms to escape the wind. Deciding to be bold (much to my liking), we packed our bags and started covering ground.
Slipping through the narrow canyon bottom was breathtaking. It was the kind of hiking that I imagined before coming out here. The soil was sandy, rocky, and oddly lush. We eased around each finger, peaking into the canyon ahead. Nothing. The next drainage, nothing. Scanning with our binoculars and moving as quietly as we could we slipped through several hundred yards of canyon bottom this way.
It was almost too cliché when we finally spotted deer. Coming around the last corner where the fence marked neighboring property, we saw movement. Dropping to the dirt, we saw a big doe and a spike feeding against the fence. With little more than eye contact and finger pointing, we had a plan and the belly crawl began.
A small dirt bank would hide our movements as long as we stayed lower than 20” or so. Easing up to the bank, we looked over the top, exposing just enough of our heads to see into the bottom. Nothing. Where did they go? I looked like they were feeding right towards us? We sat and glassed. Looking everywhere, we noticed a small opening where they’d been feeding that appeared to lead around the right of the canyon. Confused we stood and hiked up to the next ridge to look over in to that bottom. Bingo.
They must have turned to their left when they got to the opening and we didn’t see because we were busy licking dust at the time. Laying on the top of the ridge, we counted 3 small fawns, 2 does, and the spike from the bottom. Every one of them now across the property line. We laid there for a few minutes, waiting to see if they would jump the fence over onto our side.
There we laid for an hour, in the sun, watching these deer. The First Lite gear that had been keeping me warm and breaking the wind so well, was now toasting me like a pop tart. I shed some layers and used the leg vents on the new North Branch pants which cooled me down surprisingly well.
While some bedded, others fed, all the while treating that fence like the Great Wall of China. They had no intentions of hopping that wire. The ones that fed, were working away from us. The ones that were bedded, were younger and would likely follow the mature deer directly away from us. We knew the deer were moving, we knew there were big bucks in here, and we decided it was time to move on.
We worked the ridges as we hiked back. Dropping just low enough so as not to skyline our movement, we glassed from ridge to ridge. Sign was everywhere. We found some fresh tracks and started to get our hopes up. About half way back to where we started, as we dropped down one ridge to scale the next, some movement caught my eye above us – a Coyote.
Using our preferred cover that week, we hid behind a yucca bush and Bryan started to call like a wounded jackrabbit. The coyote started towards us immediately. After he took a few steps, he remembered the laws of nature and stopped. Realizing he wasn’t approaching from downwind, he began to circle our position.
“He’s not in a hurry, let’s see if we can cut him off.” Bryan whispered. We split the side of the ridge and worked over to where it looked like he would drop off. As I crested the hill I saw the mangy fawn-eater had stopped to scratch himself. I dropped to my butt and called to Bryan, who ranged him at 38 yards. I drew, settled my 40 yard pin low, and fired within a second or two. My 2” Swhacker broadhead pin-wheeled the yote and he slid 20 yards down the canyon. He was dead before he hit the bottom.
Finally some action. I’d killed my first coyote with a bow, the farmer had one less coyote to worry about, and that mangy predator wasn’t going to spread disease now. We climbed the opposite ridge to dig my arrow out of the ground where it had blown through the coyote. It was almost symbolic, inches from where my arrow was now neck deep in sandy soil, we found fresh sign. Several large tracks and fresh droppings were within arm’s reach of my arrow. We were definitely in the right place.
I put my arrow back into my quiver, noticing the sweet smell of coyote blood. Having never been this close to coyote blood, I asked Bryan if it was because it was mangy or if coyote blood always smelled sweet. He wasn’t sure either, and I made a mental note to clean that arrow well – very well.
We made it back to the truck, and headed into town for lunch. The rest of the week we would sit in the truck and eat lunch while we glassed. Today, we drove into town because I’d left my lunch sitting on the table back at camp. Luckily, we needed gas as well and it was good timing. I tried to sell Bryan on the idea that I’d left my lunch because I knew we needed gas today and it would remind him to head to town, but he wasn’t buying it. Really, he never bought any of my crap.
The afternoon was mostly uneventful. We glassed for hours, hopped a few ridges, and were having no luck. The sun was up, the wind had died, and everything was locked down. While we sat on that ridge top Wednesday afternoon, I was getting good cell signal. I updated twitter and texted a few friends. The support from friends and family was encouraging, and we glassed some more.
Somewhere between texts, tweets, and dozing off, we spotted a buck. Both of us locked onto his position trying to see more. “Wait, there are 4 bucks! Man, a couple of them are really nice!” They were on the far side of the canyon, and we had about an hour of daylight left. We could get pretty close to where they were bedded by truck, and the stalk would be short. It was time to move! We loaded up the truck, backed out to the road, and booked it around to the other side of the property.
A stalk that night wasn’t meant to be. By the time we got to the backside of the canyon, the bucks were on their feet and moving. Luckily, they were feeding their way towards a corn field above where they had been bedded. We sat and watched them for the rest of the evening. Taking turns on the spotting scope we marked a few trophy class animals, and realized that any of the 4 would be worthy shooters.
In that last hour of daylight, they covered a whopping 30 yards or so. Feeding and working the edges of the corn rows. We watched until we didn’t have enough light to watch anymore. We marked several physical features of the canyon, and made a plan to be right back here before sunrise. There was a good chance these deer would feed in this corn field all night and then return right back to this very canyon face to bed in the morning. We were betting everything on that chance, and would be right here in the morning, 100 yards away watching that cornfield.
As their antlers dropped into the fields, my hopes rose. The evening was punctuated with excitement back at camp. We ate a hearty dinner, and headed off to bed. We would need to be up early, and in place well before sunrise. I could hardly sleep, tossing like a kid the night before a family trip to Disney world.
What I didn’t know was that tomorrow I would be at full draw on the buck I would eventually kill, and he would escape me…twice.