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Citizen Dave: Bow hunting for deer requires skill (fortunately for the deer)

All I got out of the experience was three days sitting quietly in the woods.
Credit:Dave Cieslewicz
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I hunt a lot of stuff. Turkeys in spring. Ducks in the fall. And, of course, deer in November. But for all that sitting in the woods and fields and on a river, I don't kill much of anything.

There are complicated reasons for this. Turkeys are skittish and you have to speak their language. Literally. You have to know how to use a turkey call to suggest to a tom that romance awaits him. Then -- when he gets close enough to what he thinks will be a wild time -- you kill him. My turkey calls are apparently heard by toms as, "I'm a guy with a turkey call pretending to be a bird. Stay away from me."

So there's that. Ducks are even harder to kill. They fly really fast and come up on a guy all of a sudden, even when he's not paying attention or maybe catching a brief nap in the blind. I have blasted away at ducks, but I'm pretty sure I've heard them quack in a dismissive (or even mocking) tone as they fly away untouched.

Point is that, despite my best efforts, I've never killed anything that has feathers.

Which brings us to deer. The wonderful thing about the gun deer season is that the rifle evens the score between the hunter and his prey. A rifle with a high-powered scope allows the hunter to have a range of accuracy of maybe 200 yards. It means that under the right circumstances, you can kill anything within a couple hundred yards of where you sit. So, thanks to the technology mostly, I've had some middling success in using a rifle to produce venison steaks.

So, why not make things harder then? I took up the challenge by taking up bow hunting this fall. Bow hunting actually requires skill and incredible patience. What you do is you sit in a pretty tall and pretty small stand way up in a tree. You belt yourself in for safety, but otherwise it's just you at the top of a 15-foot ladder, sitting on a narrow metal bench. For about seven or eight hours.

If a guy wants to do it right -- and I do -- he has to start his day very early with a shower using a special scent-free soap. He will have washed all his clothes in scent-free detergent and maybe hung them out in the open air to dry or stored them in a container filled with oak leaves. No, I am not making this up.

We wear camouflage, and the truly dedicated among us paint their faces in camouflage colors. That's where I draw the line. I grow a beard and pull my hat down low over my forehead to reduce glare, but no face paint for me.

Because a bow is only useful up to maybe forty yards (and safe shots should be half that) you have a very small kill zone. So, if you're right-handed, you have an area that is a quarter of a circle, running from your extended left arm to about 12 o'clock straight in front of you. (If you're right-handed, it's very hard to swing your bow to your right without alerting the deer.)

Because there's no such thing as a deer call, you're essentially at its mercy. One has to wander into this very small zone before you even have a chance to take a shot. So, it's all about making yourself invisible by sitting up real high and wearing camouflage and sitting very still for hours on end.

The one advantage you have in all this is that bow hunting takes place during the rut. The rut is that special time of year when bucks hook up with young deer ladies. During these few weeks in the fall, deer hormones run wild and they throw care to the wind. Normally wily old bucks forget to look up into the trees to look for guys in scent free camouflage and face paint. The hope among those guys is that the deer will be distracted by the pursuit of love long enough for us to kill them (see turkey hunting above).

In three days of hunting this past weekend, that did not happen as planned. I did see one beautiful monstrous buck walk just below my stand well inside the kill zone. But he was to my right and by the time I figured out how to swing my bow in his direction he had wandered out of range, and a few moments later, out of my life.

So all I got out of the experience was three days sitting quietly in the woods, watching the sun come up and go down as it cast shadows and shafts of light in slowly changing patterns across the forest floor. I ate sandwiches and drank coffee in my stand. I'm not sure but maybe I dozed off after lunch, once or twice at the most. I'm hooked.

I'll be back next year for another bow hunt, and in a week and a half I get to go back to the same locations, only this time with a rifle in hand. I've come to see the firearm as cheating the system, but it might actually deliver some venison steaks.

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