I was thinking about writing a story about the merits of hunting antlerless deer, but then remembered that all everyone seems to think about is bucks. What can you say about hunting some old doe, anyway? Certainly nothing interesting or meaningful. So I decided to write about some of my most memorable bowhunts.
You never forget your first deer with a bow. I lived on a small farm in Wisconsin. On the backside, between the Blue Hills and a pretty little trout brook, was a field of alfalfa. For many evenings I engaged the deer in their chess game of “Which Trail Tonight?” One still, chilly evening, I heard a small sound, and turned to see a doe pick her way along the path. My heart leapt; the suspense became overwhelming. The rest is a blur of instinct, action, and emotion, and I knelt to touch my first deer with a bow.
Shoots Something Different
After a few more years and a few more deer, including a couple of pretty decent bucks, I began to get a hankering for something different. I’d always had a thing for the old-time longbows and recurves. I also had doubts they could be serious hunting tools — back then, nobody used them. But I bought one to goof around with, and found I was fascinated with the challenge of shooting it well. I shot it so much I got pretty handy with it, and realized, hey, this thing just might do the job.
So the old Black Widow became my companion. It felt light and natural, and begged to be shot at old stumps, leaves, anything. A certain November morning was growing old, and I was searching for something to practice at before I left my stand, when motion caught my eye. A doe was heading down the old logging road toward me. Half-panicked, I fumbled to switch my Judo point for a broadhead. The deer paused as she passed my stand, and the smooth recurved limbs flexed like they had a mind of their own. Unobstructed by hardware, my eyesight burned like a laser into the deer’s ribs until I saw the color of my fletching splash there. Towing that meaty doe out of the woods that morning, I felt inexplicable exhilaration, like I had invented something wonderful.
Years passed and I had bowhunted all across the continent by the arrival of one particularly nasty winter. The previous fall I had taken my biggest buck ever. But there was still space in the freezer and a tag in my backpack, so I trekked across the frozen north toward the tamaracks.
Bowhunting a Cold Winter
There’s a rawness to the challenge of bowhunting hard winter; fewer deer, more things to go wrong, creeping cold, and heavy snow. The doe materializes out of the evergreens, crisply silhouetted against a pure white backdrop. I draw, half expecting my bow to shatter in the rarefied subzero air. But the arrow gets there, and as I walk up to the deer in violet dusk, mixed emotions overwhelm me. I feel the remorse. I also feel benevolent — that winterkill thing, you know. I feel like Ice Age Conqueror Man. I can’t feel my toes. On balance, it feels good.
I know my most memorable bowhunt is yet to come. That will be my child’s first deer. I plan to be right there to share the moment. The deer will probably be –and I’ll probably make sure it is — a nice fat doe. I can’t wait.
Those are my ideas of memorable bowhunts, past and future. Maybe someday I’ll write that story about the merits of hunting does. But then, what’s there to say about hunting some old doe?
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Mike Strandlund is the late editor of Bowhunting World Magazine and bowhuntingworld.com, and a member of the Bowhunters Hall of Fame. We continue to run his articles to get people excited about bowhunting, which he would have loved.
Guide Outdoors Readers: Can you tell us about one of your more memorable bowhunts? Please comment below.