I ain't been around on the forum much, nor on the Internet generally, and it's with good reason. While I've been practicing bow, and hauling and chopping wood to stay fit for hunting season, I spent most of my spring and early summer preparing for the arrival of a different sort of creature.
On Saturday, July 15 at 2:02 a.m., we welcomed Jackson Rose Poulopoulos to the world. Weighing in at 6lbs, 11oz, the fella is light on his feet, and will be up and down trees for bow season in no time. He has a sharp eye, and discerning character, as you'll note in the photo. I'll purchase his lifetime license once I get his birth certificate.
The wife and I are smitten, and, surprisingly, not entirely exhausted. He's pretty chill, but for the 9:00 - 10:30 p.m. stretch. After that, it's a matter of getting him fed and his diaper changed, and we're back asleep for a few hours.
G-ma will be taking over day-time baby duty come mid-October, and I've been encouraged to get more venison in the freezer this year. I'm excited by the prospect of putting more food on the table, and even more so to introduce my boy to the natural world, and a lifestyle that aims to live within its provisions as best we can.
That news aside, I'm pasting a link to my 2016 Journal, just so I have it handy as I transfer over to this general thread topic:
Tuesday, November 14. It was just after 9:00 a.m. A snow flurry kicked up into a squall, and made its way into the woods. The sky was a blanket of grey wool, and it was a great time to be sitting in the stand. It was an awful time to be cold. I was texting with a buddy about frozen toes, and getting ready to pack it up, climb down, and check the trail cam, when I peered over my right shoulder. It was an effortless, instinctual movement. I don’t know what prompted it. I don’t think I even realized what I was doing until I set eyes on a lone doe wandering down the hill. She wasn’t on any worn path, and if she had moved 20 yards to her left, she would have winded me long before she stepped into bow range. She didn’t, and I remained undetected from her best defense.
The hillside behind me is an understory of young beech trees, so I had a short while for her to walk past a hemlock and down to the old logging trail. I set “The Doe Stand” near that trail. It was there I’d get a shot. I stood slowly, lifted my bow off the hanger, and tracked her movements right down to her twitching leg. It was during this time I committed to the hunt. But even as I did, a voice in the back of my mind spoke up, and said, “you know, a buck might be following her a ways back, it’s the rut,” but that voice faded. I committed. I decided that I would take her life, if presented with the gift and the offering.
For the first time as a hunter, I felt totally in control while also knowing that I had no idea how this deer would move. All of my preconceptions and anticipations disappeared. I was learning, through this moment, how to dissolve my expectations from my reality and to live only in the hunt. My heart raced, but I knew I would control my movements, despite the blood and adrenaline rush.
As she stepped closer, I hoped that she’d walk to the left side of the hemlock. She didn’t, and put the trunk between us. I then had to hope that she would step into the five by five foot window I created when I trimmed out a few limbs last season. I was at full draw before she decided. My pin hovered as she walked passed the trunk. It was a shot I’ve imagined dozens of times, and I now found myself drawn, ready to realize its execution. She did. She entered the window. I took a quiet breath, let out half, and held the rest.
I knew I’d have to stop her, something I hadn’t done before. I set the pin. “Meh.” She tensed up, quartered away at 18 yards, and I pulled the trigger on the release almost instantly. It was a natural reaction, as natural as her tensing, and I tracked that arrow through the sight. I watched a dark spot on her left side deepen and spread, damn close to where I wanted the arrow placed. The seconds strung themselves out in slow motion, and I knew it was a lethal shot. It was over.
After my call and the arrow, she bounded about 30 feet, then stopped and looked around. My eyes were open wider than hers. She clearly had no idea that she’d been shot, walked a few more feet, and scent checked the trail. Seconds after that and a few more feet, she stopped, slowly hunched her back and flicked her tail three or four times. Then she just fell over, toppled and kicked for a few seconds. She stopped moving.
I was calm. The woods were calm. The Mountain Chickadees sang out as they flew across the woods. I was attentive. I stared at her through the trees for what seemed like a long while, but was likely only a couple of minutes. I sent a few text messages, and that same joy of harvest I’d experienced less than a month before returned to me, and I was grateful for it. I hung up my bow. The season was over. Two does for the freezer. I sent a few more text messages, and replied to the congratulatory ones rolling in. In my excitement, I coughed, and she kicked in response. I went silent. A few seconds passed, and I stared at her, in part out of fear. She kicked again and tried to get up. My heart sank. “I only wounded her,” I thought.
I collected my sprawling thoughts, lowered the bow, packed up, climbed down, knocked an arrow and started walking towards her. I found the spent arrow buried in the ground, the fletching covered in bright red blood. Evidence of a good shot. I crept closer, knees on springs, neck craned, wind in my favor. She was always in view. I stepped lightly on the dry leaves trying not to disturb her. I came around her far side, and saw her eyes, wide open, clouded as if Death placed fresh cataracts in the eyes of the recently passed. I let out a breath and felt relief. I returned the arrow into the quiver and put the bow down.
On my knees, I looked her over and saw the exit wound, just behind her right leg. I made a good shot, but she fought hard to hold on. I placed my hand on her chest, and thanked her for the honor in her struggle, and for the gift of life she now offered my family. I stayed that way for a long while, and felt a calm joy seep into my body. I didn’t want the hunt to end, and it took me a full 30 minutes to compose myself long enough to begin field dressing.
Looking back on the hunt while staring at the doe hanging in my garage, it became easy to see that this doe was special, not only for the meat she’ll provide my family, but in that she represented a change in my approach to bow hunting. That change has been a result, in part, of this forum. This forum has influenced me in a variety of ways, and over the last week of bow season, posts from moog, Belo, and reeltime, and advice from grampy mixed together into two general realizations: 1 - I haven’t worked hard enough to deserve a shot at a mature buck. 2 - At this stage in my hunting life, it is too early for it to even be about the buck.
When I saw reeltime’s post, a short while before I saw that lone doe, I immediately knew that I needed to invest more of myself into strategic setups, and more rigorous scouting in order to deserve a buck. grampy has gifted me an active and promising spot, but I need to work harder to deserve the buck that’s in there. I suppose showing up and placing myself in the right position with the right wind is the majority of that work left for me, but how I came to that knowledge, well, it feels like I’m cheating. Don’t get me wrong, I’m probably going back, if I get a chance, but that realization hit me hard.
moog and Belo’s posts about harvesting the right deer have sat with me since I read them, and I think that they made me realize that I was losing focus on why I was in the woods. I was there to provide my family with meat, and since I hadn’t put in the proper work to get up on a buck, antlers and those extra pounds should wait until I deserve them. It couldn’t be about the buck. I didn’t deserve it. So when I saw that doe hanging from the rafters, I saw her for what she was when she first appeared in the beech understory. A gift. An offering. A special hunt influenced by so many, and experienced by only she and I.
So thank you, folks, and have a happy Thanksgiving! I’m putting some of this doe out for the family to enjoy.