Caribou Gear

Went to Wisconsin

i sure do.

as i've been thinking about it today, i wonder if perhaps the same feeling has existed for me in my hunting in colorado and wyoming. maybe the difference is you just don't notice it because when you finally get yourself in position for a shot your most often just trying to calm yourself down from busting your ass up some hill or crawling through the grass and rocks after topping some hill. you've been so focused on the stalk the mind is just too preoccupied and the body already maxed out to notice the other and different heightened state of your mind and body as your moving into kill something.

who knows.

but it sure as hell is pronounced and has one hell of a noticeable effect when you've been sitting in absolute silence for several hours and all of the sudden you hear that branch snap that is unmistakably no squirrel dicking around.
It's a bit different figuring out where to be before they get there compared to figuring out how to get to where they are.
 
I love this write up! Brings back many memories of deer camp as a kid. Growing up in North Dakota deer hunting is life for most people. Schools close on opener people plan weddings so it doesn't effect with the season. Family's get together. We would have anywhere from 20-50 or more people. People started to die off, family farms sold and soon the end of an era i once grew up in. I was never a fan of drive hunting but as a kid walking next to my aunts and uncles with my other cousins was always fun. Looking back, it truly was impressive to watch a few dozen people walk an entire section of CRP at a time.
 
The next morning is what I'm really calling day 1, opening morning for me, if you will. The first evenings sit I felt was my orientation hunt, my bonus day and my bonus day had gotten me fired up for what was to come.

All said and done there would be around 7 different stand locations available to me between three properties. Two of these properties owned by my in laws and one where permission was secured by cousin. Ultimately, I would only sit in 3 of them.

Opening morning, if you will, would be on the property with permission. My cousin had spent some evening sits here already and he was excited about this property, it was the first year of access for him. The woods on this property were littered with scrapes, game trails, and rubs. His cameras had picked up lots of good sized buck activity.

Also, this morning was time for my first "real" tree stand sit.
 
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Morning came, it was a chilly morning and I had learned my lesson from the night before that I need to add some layers to this system, or lack thereof, that I have.

He dropped me off in the ranger about 150 yards away from the tree line on a hill the led up to it in the dark. I had to walk from there. He had taken me to the location of this stand the day before and I had marked it on my phone, but that didn't stop me from fumbling around for few extra minutes searching for it in the dark of the early morning.

I did find it and immediately felt some nervousness about climbing up high into a real tree stand for the first time. I've maybe mentioned before how noticeable my risk aversion has changed since exiting my 20's and especially so since becoming a dad.

I've realized that it's not heights that scares me so much as it is this innate mistrust of gear i have. I used to do some sport climbing in college, have done a couple of multi pitch climbs in Zion, and have quite a bit of comfort with high alpine exposure in the Colorado Rockies that I go seek out every summer, and I love it. The only thing that always made me nervous about climbing is just this sheer inability to trust the equipment.

I was nervous the ladder steps strapped the tree trunk would give way, I was nervous that stand itself would give way as soon as I set foot on it, and as soon as I was up there with harness secured to the safety belt I was constantly checking my harness and all of it's buckles and loops to make sure everything was attached where it was supposed to be. It took me a while to settle in and forget about it. I kept reaching back to feel that my carabiner was still looped through the safety belt attached to the tree trunk.

It took a good 15 + minutes sitting there for me to finally just stop thinking about making sure I wouldn't fall out of this tree. It helped when there was just enough light to realize that there were definitely deer here.

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This stand was on the south side of a small valley, or drainage, or whatever you'd wanna call them out here. It was 1/3 of the way down on a hill side with an opposing hillside that met at a little valley bottom. There were several scrapes and rubs in damn near every direction from me. One game trail came down from the set aside open field above me while another on crossed directly in front of me along the hill side below me.

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As morning broke and the squirrels started getting fired up deer were everywhere.
 
I would see them milling about down valley from me. I would see them milling about up valley from me on the opposing hillside. And within 30 minutes they were walking under me.

It was lots of does and very young bucks, though - little spikes and fork horns that wandered through my location of ambush. I would happily shoot a forky. But with such immediate dense deer activity, and multiple bigger bucks wandering along the hillside opposite me, well out of range, I figured there was no reason to be shooting a tiny buck just yet.

The first hour held tons of deer movement. Multiple bigger bucks wandered by in the valley floor, pushing 50-60 yards with no clean shot, tons of young bucks wandered by at 30 yards or less in small groups of does. I just felt it that it's just a matter of time that a bigger bucks filters through in range.

After the first hour it quieted down and I grew nervous and antsy that I botched a bunch of opportunities on passing what would amount to about a half dozen tiny bucks and upwards of 20 does. I would still catch occasional movement way down valley amidst the brush or some more movement way up valley on the opposing hillside.

I figured it was time to try some rattling.
 
It's funny, I mostly hunt whitetails due to where I live. But always looked at it from both sides...

I'm busting ass up a mountain thinking "can't we just sit somewhere and wait for them to come to us?!"

Or I'm sitting in the tree with nothing moving thinking "I wish I could go glass a mountain side and go to them!"
 
So, I rattled. It felt so wrong in the morning quiet to light up the woods with a ruckus. But I knew it was a good ruckus.

30 minutes pass and nothing shows up. So, I just settled in to wait, watch, and listen.

I kept reaching back to make sure my carabiner was attached.

My stand is facing generally uphill to the right. So watching down hill requires twisting and looking backwards over my right should a bit. My tree is actually 2 trees splitting off from the same base and I am able to look between them right at where the game trail passes below me.

It's about 8:47 AM now and I hear some rustling behind me to my left and I lean through my two trees and catch a doe wandering along the hillside heading down valley about to come within 20 yards.

My gut just said that there has to be a buck in tow, there has to be. I grab my bow and after she passes I lean further through the trees and catch antlers of a mid size buck about 30 yards up the trail. Hot on the doe's trail means he's about to pass within 20 yards of me as well. I slowly start to stand up, attach my release, and settle my bow between the two trees.
 
He starts to filter within 30 yards on my right, still keeping a steady pace on the doe's trail. He's following the script and I know exactly where to stop him.

I had done some practice draws earlier just to see how it would feel in different positions in the tree and had done this one, in this position, multiple times.

The rustling of his steps starts to grow loud in my ears and I draw just before he comes into view between the two tree trunks.

He passes into the zone at around 18 yards and I let out a small grunt with my mouth and he comes to a dead stop. Arrow is released.

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I could tell immediately that was not where I wanted the arrow to go. It connected. It connected perfectly where it was supposed to go, but not where I wanted it to go.

You could say on one had that it was a perfect shot in that I hit exactly where I was aiming. The nature of first time bowhunting, at least for me, is what was obvious the night before, this heightened state of nervousness at approaching deer is so pronounced in the stand that for a first timer you simply do not think as clearly as you should.

This arrow went through one side of the deer and exited fully through the back side of the deer.

But, it was a high hit.
 
I've grown so intimate with my rifle and my scope since I started hunting 6-7 years ago. I've shot enough animals that I've developed such a confidence that your thoughts are clear and you know when to stop the squeeze of the trigger to prevent an off shot that you just innately know is about to happen when things don't feel right or you don't settle yourself enough to take the proper shot.

I don't have this with my bow yet.

It was a high hit. My gut already was telling me this arrow flew perfectly through the void above the lungs.

The deer had moved with a quick step directly perpendicular down the hill side to the valley bottom and then wandered up the opposing hillside. Seemingly uninjured. I knew it was a hit, but that deer looked fine. I watched as well as I could before he disappeared.

I was antsy to investigate. So I began to gather myself up to climb down and go look at the arrow and see what kind of blood I may be dealing with.
 
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Well, that's more blood than I expected.

I texted my cousin and he said sit tight. He would get down at 9:50 and come over and we'll track.

I left the first start of blood right at the valley bottom without going any further and went and sat under my tree to wait.

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I liked the blood start, but the arrow was clean. Maybe I clipped the top of the lungs though. Maybe.

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My cousin (in law) finally made it over to me and we made our way over the first sign of blood. He felt that was a good blood start. But he just didn't know what I saw when the arrow was released. I was already certain there was no piled up deer anywhere. He kept saying you could've clipped the lungs and he was right. But I wasn't expecting to find anything.

We spent the next 2.5 hours following a sparse blood trail for a total of 168 yards.

The trail was sustained, at best, by this, every 3-5 feet.

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Promising is the last thing this blood trail is.


After 168 yards we just couldn't find the next blood and it was decided. This was a void shot and that deer is unlikely to be dying and if it is dying, it might not even be today, and not anywhere we're finding it.

A bit disappointing. But deer were everywhere and I had roughly a half dozen shot opportunities on dinky bucks this morning. I was still confident I would be getting something.

We ran back to the house to eat some lunch, visit with everyone a little, and prepare to head back out.

The funny thing is my cousin had a clean miss on a nice, bigger, 8 pointer earlier in the morning. It felt good that I had at least hit my deer :D
 
This stand was on the south side of a small valley, or drainage, or whatever you'd wanna call them out here.
They are called "coulee's" in the region of WI you were in, or perhaps not as you were technically a tad bit south of the "coulee region" here in the state.
 
The afternoon/evening hunt would bring me back to the same tree. I felt a need for some redemption after what happened this morning. Further, this morning was a flurry of deer activity, so why go somewhere else?

The nice thing is, if you're gonna wound a deer, it seems to me that's one of the better ways to do it. I suspect that deer might be just fine. But you also just don't know.

The evening hunt had some deer milling about, nothing like the flurry of activity this morning. I had a small crew of does with some real tiny spike bucks move through in range and the thought was had that I shoot should one. But I remained confident with what I had seen so far today that there was not much reason to shoot a spike given the likelihood of bigger bucks coming through.

The sit would become uneventful all the way up until the sun started to go down and the last half hour of shooting light approached. I grew really restless and anxious during this and figured that maybe I should have gone ahead for a little spike deer.

My innate nature as a hunter is to just never pass an opportunity. I really wrestled with this tension out here as it was very different, opportunities seemed abundant. But in my mind I kept thinking about how you just never know when they will stop being abundant. I started vowing to not pass on deer anymore.
 
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My innate nature as a hunter is to just never pass an opportunity. I really wrestled with this tension out here as it was very different, opportunities seemed abundant. But in my mind I kept thinking, you just never know when they will stop being abundant. I started vowing to not pass on deer anymore.
After you do this type of hunting your whole life, you actually get to a point where it's just as fun to watch the deer and take video of them on your phone as it is to shoot one. Lots less work that way too! Point is, don't feel ashamed about passing deer, it doesn't make you a trophy hunter. Just makes you a lover of watching wildlife
 
With the sun starting to go down and roughly 30 minutes left I had resigned myself to believing that this day was over and I just wanted to be done and go back and eat dinner and enjoy the evening with everyone. But I knew the rules, you stay till the end.

I was about 12-14 minutes into this last half hour of sitting, really straining my eyes down valley after seeing a deer moving probably 150 yards out hoping it had started moving in my direction when I heard a rather loud branch snap just uphill and left from me.

My heart jumped as I whipped my head around and started squinting uphill in the rapidly fading light.

That was a deer. Nothing else would snap a branch like that. But I didn't see anything. I carefully grab my bow and continue to squint uphill into the trees. I slowly stand up and twist myself so that I can take a left handed shot from this position. This position would now bring my elbow coming back near in contact with the tree while drawn.

The tree line is only about 50-60 yards up from me so there is not much forest to have to look at and through.

I kept scanning the rough area the noise came from and finally catch movement.

A deer emerges from a thicker patch of shrubs and trees at about 35 yards and comes out onto the trail I come into my tree stand on and walks directly towards my tree.

It's a buck. I can't tell how many points he has in the fading light, but he is wide with very noticeable mass. Holy shit, here's the buck I came here for. His antlers swept wide with a great curve towards the front and held low and flat to his head with great symmetry. The mass was just undeniable even in this light.

My breathing was becoming fast and I could feel my heart beating. I couldn't believe this deer was walking directly towards me.
 
The deer was now just under 30 yards but still walking directly towards me. He was moving very slowly, seemingly thinking carefully at every slow step.

He began to slightly angle towards my right, the deer's left, and I just couldn't believe it. He was about to start slowly walking broadside coming into 20 yards away from me.

There were still some tiny trees and shrubs sort of blocking some view so I took this opportunity to draw as he came closer.

It took him about 30 seconds to come into 20 yards and he took the rest of his turn to his left before small log across the trail and stopped, directly broadside, right around 20 yards away, but blocked by about three small trees and hundreds of little branches providing no shot.

He stopped in his slow, deliberate, contemplative way, not because he spooked. I could tell he had chosen his direction and I just needed to wait for him to walk forward a few feet providing a shot.

Problem was, I had already drawn, and he is right on top of me. Come on, just a few more feet, come on.

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Come on dude, come on. Move, move, move.

He just stood there, looking off down valley.

This standoff, though, only a standoff for me, because the deer is just standing there probably thinking about goin and finding a doe to poke, started stretching close to the 2.5 minute mark. I could feel my hands start to tingle a little and my shoulder feeling some strain.

I was telling myself you can hold out, you can hold out, he'll move any second, just hold it, just hold it.

I got about 20 more seconds before I had the thought of even if I can hold this for what might be another minute or two, the odds of me making a good shot have enormously dropped off already and are only going to get worse as I hold this draw.

A big giant exasperated "#*^@#*" went through my brain.

Okay, it'll be fine, you can carefully, oh so carefully release this draw, and wait for him to move 10-15 feet further and you'll have an even better shot. He's chosen his direction, it'll all be fine. I tried the hardest I could to slowly, carefully, quietly release my draw.

But, my elbow brushed the tree behind me in the process.

His head snapped in my direction.

The true standoff began. I stood there, frozen, almost trying not to breathe. He takes about 20 seconds of staring straight up at my tree stand and decides that he does not like this situation at all. Whatever it is that's going on, whatever made that ever so slight, but certainly unnatural noise, he's done. He slowly turned and slunk right back off from whence he came.

Gawd. Damnit.
 
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