Bow hunting so often comes down to making the right decision.
That process starts when trying to figure out the best setup to get within 30 yards of a deer. When one does slip up, the final decision of whether or not to actually shoot can be a fine line between a punched tag, a possible wounded animal or just a close encounter.
I wrestle with this last decision a lot. One major way that bow hunting is different than hunting with a firearm is that a deer’s body angle matters greatly with a bow. Where a shoulder shot with a slug gun or rifle on a slightly quartering toward whitetail will likely drop a deer in its tracks, that same quartering-toward shot with a bow is probably the biggest culprit of long track jobs and unrecovered deer. How that animal is positioned upon releasing the arrow is so important.
I’m always looking for that perfect shot opportunity with a bow -- straight broadside or slightly quartering away with the front leg forward to open up the vitals more. The fact is, that exact scenario doesn’t often present itself, and I find myself with so many close calls because of it.
Opening weekend of Minnesota’s bow season was no different. I got into the woods before first light on Saturday morning on a piece of public land ready to take a doe or a good buck. A little eight-pointer ended up right under my tree almost half an hour after sunrise.
He moved off through the woods, and it wasn’t five minutes later when a doe appeared directly to my right. This was on my weak side while using my saddle. With my bow in hand, I slowly turned my whole body around on my platform to position myself for the shot.
By now she was 10 yards away with her head behind a branch full of leaves and her vitals exposed. I just didn’t feel like I had enough length on my tether to get all the way turned to make a good shot, so I waited. She never provided me a better opportunity.
On Sunday evening, I shifted my focus to a small piece of private land. This is an area I scouted in the offseason and prepared a tree for my saddle. That allowed me to slip in really quietly, directly off of what I figured to be the primary bedding area.
It was 6:30 when I heard a branch break from that thick cover. A buck was slowly browsing his way toward me. I couldn’t make out what it was right away, and my initial thought was that it was probably a young deer since there was an hour and a half of daylight left.
A couple minutes passed before I could clearly see it was a buck I would definitely take -- a nice, wide-framed 10-pointer. I had cleared a shooting lane here in the winter all the way up to that bedding cover. With my bow in hand, I was ready to draw.
He slowly fed his way toward the edge of the brush but never fully out of it. Finally, he was broadside at 22 yards. There was a clear opening about a foot wide that he walked right through. The decision came down to whether or not I should try to slip an arrow through there?
That choice needs to be made in an instant, and I decided not to push it. Maybe he would give me a cleaner shot. Instead, the buck moved out of sight unscathed.
I have second-guessed myself a lot since passing on that shot. It’s one I know I can make at that range, but a live deer is not a target in the backyard. I would have needed to stop the buck with a bleat in the perfect spot. Too many things needed to go right to ensure a quick kill.
What I’m left with is trying to apply the lessons learned from this hunt. My biggest takeaways revolve around where that deer was located and how he moved within that bedding.
The tree I was sitting in on Sunday night was about 75 yards off a well-used highway. I had ignored the area for two years because of that. It was a good reminder that good bucks will go where the best habitat is and where people ignore.
The other lesson from this is how important it is to get tight to bedding areas at this time of year. I never would have known that buck existed if I was sitting 50 yards back where the woods open up. He was on his feet well before dark because he was comfortable moving within there. The buck never fully came out of that thick cover, but he was within inches of slipping up.
Now I need to adjust. From prior scouting, I know there are a couple small openings within that bedding where good trails run through, and that is the direction he was headed as I lost sight of him. I do not remember any mature trees to hang from a saddle in there, but it’s possible I can clear enough room to hunt off the ground.
I got in and out of the tree that night without blowing anything out. Maybe I’ll have another shot at him before it’s said and done.
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Got a great hunting story from this fall? We would love to hear about it. Send any photos you have and details about the hunt to Echo Press outdoor editor, Eric Morken, at firstname.lastname@example.org.