Hunting on Faith

I’d found his track while scouting a property in early April. Deer tracks, this size were not common these days. The CWD rules in effect for this area saw to it that few deer survived long enough to grow this sized hoof. Frequent glassing of this spot and the surrounding area failed to produce a sighting of a deer capable of making the big, splayed print. I made a ritual of glassing here throughout the summer and into late September, but my vigilance went unrewarded. Occasionally I would walk the edge of a cornfield on the public ground and find his track, verifying he was still in the neighborhood. It was all the evidence I needed to decide to hunt this buck. To be honest, there weren’t many other options available due to low deer numbers locally.

My spring scouting on this public ground revealed a number of bedding areas I suspected he was using. The beauty of having so much public land available, as we do in Wisconsin, is that it offers room to roam and options private land does not. When you’re limited to a hundred or so acres of private land that you’re sharing with family and friends, it gets crowded. So many of us experience overcrowding on public land also, but in my case I’ve found by putting in the effort of scouting, ahead of the hunting seasons I find  more solitude on public land. The bedding areas I’d be hunting were clumped in places here and there, spread out over a half mile wide swath of terrain. I would employ a tactic that requires hunting one spot per day and moving on, checking for his track using the trails entering or leaving the bedding area and setting up downwind to hunt it right then and there when I found it. By not hunting more than one day on each spot before moving to another, I’d be hunting fresh stands each time I went out.  It burns up a lot of ground, but that’s where having a lot of public ground available is a plus. This style of “running and gunning” requires knowledge of many bedding areas. It’s effective because the particular deer you’re hunting doesn’t pattern the hunter, as so often happens when we hunt the same stand over and over again. It requires that you get close to the bedding area, but not too close that you are seen, heard, or scented while setting up your portable stand. Getting close to bedding areas means you’ll have a better chance of catching a deer on its’ feet in daylight, since they sometimes don’t bed down until after sunup and typically leave their beds shortly before sundown. Due to the heavy hunting pressure this buck had experienced, I reasoned he did not move much in daylight. I’d be hunting him on faith, that at some point he would get on his feet in daylight and I’d be close enough to get a shot. I hunted him a half dozen times during the early bow season employing this tactic and still hadn’t spotted him. It was apparent that it would take extra-ordinary circumstances to catch this elusive buck on his feet in daylight. The upcoming rut could be just the ticket.

October 28th was windy with rain forecast for mid-morning, I set up my portable 75 yards downwind of a bedding area in the pre-dawn darkness, over-looking a trail that led into thick cover. An hour after sunrise a thunderstorm got me thinking I’d better abandon my hunting plans. I decided to spot check another bedding area for his track on the way out, during the downpour. 100 yards downwind of that bedding area , with rain pouring down and thunder adding to the commotion, a buck jumped out of his bed and soon disappeared in the cattails. I saw he carried a good rack and was shocked that he could detect my approach from upwind at that distance in those conditions. He must have spotted me through the cattails in a driving thunderstorm, “pretty amazing” I thought. The next morning I was set up on a trail downwind of the bedding area where the buck bolted out the day before. I hunted there until noon, backed out and returned at three P.M., he didn’t show.  The following morning found me set up 60 yards downwind of yet another bedding area, nearby. All was quiet until shortly before nine A.M. when a buck slowly became apparent through the brush. The tag alder I was perched in didn’t offer much concealment but by now he was broadside at 25 yards and I was at full draw. His next step exposed his chest and my arrow connected behind his shoulder. He ran 30 yards and tipped over. When I arrived at the spot where my arrow passed through him I carefully examined his splayed hoofprint. No doubt it was the same one I first saw back in April. After seven months of him eluding me, I finally catch him coming back to bed after a long night of socializing. It made for a hunt I’ll always treasure.

After seven months of eluding the author, the public land 8 pointer finally  showed himself.

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