Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
The final segment of this year’s deer season presented hunters with a brutal variety of environmental challenges. With scant exception, Iowa’s late December/early January weather scene was dominated by below zero temps, minus double digit wind chills, and relentless winds. But that wasn’t the real issue. Even with minus twenty-degree or colder wind chills, you can always carry enough extra clothing into the woods to make a two or three hour sit a reality.
No; the real problem with this year’s late season was the snow. You’ll remember that the winter began with a beautiful, several inch deep covering of clean powder. But the situation changed dramatically when a Christmas day rainfall drenched the landscape. Conditions have been loud and crunchy ever since. The end result was that already skittish winter white-tails could hear me coming for a mile. Navigating the woodlands became a painfully slow, inch-at-a-time, creep on your tip toes process. In spite of trying to go slow and easy, I felt as if the high school marching band couldn’t have made more noise getting to the stand.
Enough of the negatives. Despite the horrible conditions, I was managing to see some deer. One apparent benefit of the crusted snow was that most of the deer were sticking to well defined trails as they moved through the timber. Unfortunately, I was usually sitting over the wrong one when they passed.
But things took a sudden turn for the better last Saturday when, during the season’s final weekend, I spotted a doe and a buck moving in my direction. Upon hitting a fork in the trail, the pair parted company with the doe choosing the closest path. As the deer passed through a clear window in the brushy understory she suddenly came to a halt — standing perfectly broadside at 26 yards. Quickly bringing the longbow to full draw, I released the string. The arrow struck home a couple of inches behind the shoulder and the hunt was over.
Approaching the slain white-tail, I felt a sudden and overwhelming sense of relief, joy and thankfulness that comes from putting down a winter’s supply of venison. It’s an ancient but inexplicable blend of emotion that I suspect has been around ever since human hunters first took up the spear and bow. The fact that the hunt occurred on the final weekend of a challenging season is making those flavorful steaks seem all the sweeter!