The 2015-2016 Arkansas Deer Season is in its waning hours. As I write this it is now the end of January. I have my last bow hunt scheduled for the weekend of the 30th. Then it will be back to the drawing board. Shed hunting will consume my February outings along with clearing up those limbs that blocked shots, and trees that fell in the storms. As I recap the season one thought seems to resonate with me, missed opportunities. We have all been told hindsight is 20/20 and it is true but as hunters we are the worst about kicking ourselves for mistakes made in that magic moment. The moment when the buck you have watched grow on your cameras all year materializes from the forest floor and is well in range for a shot. The moment seems to fly by while your stand shakes beneath your buck fever. However, the memory of the opportunity can haunt you for years if it is a missed opportunity. Old Ben Franklin said it best when he said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. As prepared as we sometimes feel there is always something we could have done better. I guess this is the true testament to why we pursue hunting so vigorously and why it is a lifelong journey. Each passing year affords you the experiences both good and bad. What you do with that knowledge ultimately defines you as a hunter. I try and learn from my mistakes so that I don’t repeat them. I practice the things I could have done better, in hopes that faced with the same situation my muscle memory will kick in and the outcome will sway my way. I hope each hunting season’s end finds you a better hunter for the time you spent pursuing this passion, or in my case obsession! Here are some of the things I learned this year, my hope is you can use some of this to make you a better hunter and maybe you won’t have to learn the hard way, as I did.
Drought!!!! Bucks EVERYWHERE! The pre-season brought a bad drought to South West Arkansas where I did the majority of my hunting this year. However, the game cameras did reveal some interesting news. A buck I had a close opportunity with we had named Gatekeeper showed back up on 9/12/15 at 8:00pm and in a big way. In 2014, I had him dead to rights at 5 yards hunting out of a naturalground blind. However he was hip to the script and buggered out of there before I could even draw the bow. He was a mainframe 10pt at this time with a split brow time on his left side. A monster for our neck of the woods. Well fast-forward to September of 2015 on a game camera close to this encounter, Gatekeeper shows up again. HE LIVES! Not only does he live but he has split most all of his points on the left side making him a 14pt with a kicker of his right side. This would be the only time we got a photo of him, however myself and another hunter would get to see him in all his majesty. That story is for later.
Food plots were planted, yet our rain dance must not have been very good. The plots, planted in clover, turnips, and grains, did not even break ground until late October when the rains
finally came. We fixed stands, cleared trails in late August to our knowledge we were ready. The game cameras also rendered 4 other shooter bucks. All were at least 3.5 years old and were named: Oucho (8pt), Nein (9pt), Crawdad (7pt with huge crab claw), and Gramps (8pt as old as Nevada County). The scene was set for an impressive season. There was however only one deer for me, Gatekeeper. I would hunt him and him only, so was my plan for the season.
Nocturnal! HOTTTT! The pre-rut is one of my favorite times to hunt. Bucks are easier to pattern and mornings offer some cool promise. I also enjoy rattling the horns in late October as the Rut starts to show its antlered head. My first hunt for the 2015-2016 season was on 10/3/16. I drew my bow on a mature doe only about 15 yards from my stand that morning. I settled the pin behind her shoulder, then let her go. Too early, too easy I said to myself, not one month ago Gatekeeper had almost stood in her exact same hoof prints. I waited and passed several does over the course of the pre-rut. I saw my first shooter buck at 80 yards the morning of 10/4/15. It was Oucho, he had dark chocolate horns which is prevalent in my area. He also had two dimples on his main beam, a drop tine next year maybe? No shot was presented but my heart sure needed that exposure, I could feel it beating in my neck. I raised my range finder, wished it was rifle season, and watched him slip from sight into his bed, a huge mature pine thicket with dense undergrowth. Ocho would be hunted hard but eventually shot with a crossbow by a neighboring hunter, and not recovered. He never showed back up on camera after. I hope to find him shed hunting if he is in fact gone. Most all other bucks were nocturnal during the pre-rut. The warm temps made hunting hard. I remember distinctly wearing camo shorts and a t-shirt to sit in my ground blind in 93 degree heat.
On the evening of 10/17/15 I moved my climber to a remote section of woods that boarders a tight pine thicket. I hunted in the white oaks just off the edge of the pines. I had never hunted here but the sign was good, wind was good, and the weather was cooler than usual. I was adjusting my face mask when movement caught my eye to my left. It was a small 6 pt. we had on a camera nearby. Behind him was a nice 2yr old 8pt. A deer everyone was on the fence about shooting. He was wide but thin, but meet the standard of 4 on one side and wide past the ears. The two bucks would feed in to 10 yards of my stand. I knew at this point, I was going to take him. I drew my bow as he was working a scrape, at this point he was facing me but I figured he would turn and walk towards the other buck, downhill. He did not however move for 3 minutes. I was forced to lower my draw… CLANK the bow had hit the stand. A staring contest between he and I ensued. Finally he moved the way I thought he would and presented a 25 yard quartering slightly away shot. The shot was true, striking him through the heart. He went down in 20 yards. While the kill was gratifying and the back straps tasty, I still wanted a crack at Gatekeeper. Now only having one tag left, I would be forced to wait. Little did I know I wouldn’t have to wait long….
THE RUT (Last weekend of October- First weekend of December)
Tending Grunts! Chasing Frenzy! During the last weekend of October I was able to rattle in some small bucks but nothing worth tagging. I have always enjoyed calling deer especially with the tickling of the tines. While there are many schools of thought to calling deer, I tend to lean to the conservative yet conversational approach. The only blind calling I do is rattling, that being said if I hear something that sounds like a buck, scraping, snort, chasing, etc. I will send out a call. This happened a lot during the 2015-2016 whitetail rut. I have never heard so many tending grunts in my life. I found the best call to get them to even come near me was a can call doe estrus bleat. I have harvested many a deer with this one call. I beseech you as a deer hunter to invest in this call. If the bucks are chasing or cruising looking for a doe but don’t have one in sight, they will usually respond to this call. I have even got them away from non-estrus does thinking they had a better chance for love. Also when the bucks are starting to fight I will grunt, mostly social grunts, trying to simulate an unworthy opponent. Sometimes it turns them, but with a high doe to buck ratio where I hunt fighting isn’t as prevalent. I have found the grunt call least effective where I hunt. I have used it with success in other areas, and won’t be caught dead without one most of the season. This brings me to the evening of 11/7/15. If you are a deer hunter you know you must be in the woods the last two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November. The majority of all does are breed during this time. So I climbed up in my climber around 1pm, I was hunting a creek bank that is a major thoroughfare for deer. Astonished I saw a small 4-point around 1:30 pm. There were deer moving all around me. Before dusk a mature doe traveling by herself crossed the creek in front of me. It was not long before the fellas were on the trail. The first buck to pic up the hot does trail was a deer we had not had on camera. He was every bit of 20 inches wide if not more, he would get the name bull and was only a six point but at least 3 years old. A neighboring hunter had him numerous times on his game camera. The second buck was a young 8-point that offered a 20-yard shot. He was just not the deer I wanted. As I watched him chase some other deer off to my right, I turned over my estrus can. Immediately to my left just 30 yards stands the Gatekeeper. He is stopped behind some holly bushes growing on the side of the creek. His pause was brief but long enough for me to see the split G-2 and G-3 on his left side, identifying him as hit-lister numbero UNO. I draw my bow focus on a very narrow gap just yards in front of him, he begins to move again. As he enters my opening I let out the proverbial Meeeeehhhhhhh and prepare to trigger my release once he stops. He does NOT stop. He is now in the densest brush known to man and just a dark outline in the forest. I lower my draw quickly grab my doe bleat can and let her rip. No answer, light is fleeting! I reach for my grunt tube and let out a blood curdling, earthshaking, mature buck grunt, and no answer. In my desperation I snort wheeze, you guessed it NO answer! He had slipped me again. I would find out from my buddy that he was tending a doe just up the road a bit the day before. My buddy had watched him from his stand in bewilderment. He stayed 60 yards, just out of reach of his old Hoyt with his doe bride in tow. He had not let this information be know as he would be unavailable to hunt the next few days. I sat in my stand for an hour after darkness, recounting every misstep. I finally got back to camp in just enough time to see Hunter Henry’s crazy play during the Razorback game. I was a broken man, but determined to get another crackat him in the morning. A chance I would not be afforded. I also contracted a mean case of poison ivy during the rut. I found that perfect tree you know, I knew that the hairy vine growing up it was poison ivy but figured since the leaves were gone it was a non-issue. I was wrong and let me be the first to tell you, it is the sap that gets you and it comes from the branch, the leaf, the vine, generally any of it. A steroid shot and a good topical ointment put me back in the game as I prepared for modern gun!
Gun season started out as it normally does, like a thunderstorm of rifles all around me. The shots came from everywhere, some missed others sounded true. No news came of Gatekeepers demise, he would have been talked about by the locals if taken. Gramps (Old 8pt) was killed the second weekend of gun season by a neighboring hunter. He said there were hardly teeth in his head, an old war horse. This brings me to the first weekend of December. I choose to hunt a large pasture, out of character for me as I am more prone to thickets and dense woods. I have never had much luck in fields but was willing to try my hand at it once more. I would come to call this hunt Deerapolooza, I saw many deer that evening. I watched at 275 yards as does poured into the field. Shortly behind them were the boys. The first was a young 8 pt., which would eventually be killed towards the end of December.
The second however was a wide, tall, 7 pt. He was younger but had impressive head gear. I tightened my finger around the trigger of my 7mm. As I was contemplating the decision a young 4 pt chased a doe out into the field and the fight was on. The larger 7 pt aggressively charged the young 4pt and they fought briefly. The young deer continued to pursue the doe. She brought them both within 30 yards of my stand. No shots were fired that day, however the whole experience was amazing. The 7pt would eventually be killed by a friend of mine out of the same stand.
POST RUT-(Mid-December-End of January)
WHERE are the DEER? It has been weeks now since the rifle blasts. The orange army has retreated. The ducks garner most of the hunter’s attention these cold days. I have bow-hunted sparingly with little to no luck at even catching sight of a deer. The cameras tell the same winter story of nocturnal deer and disappearing bucks. Most of my late season sits have been consumed with thoughts about earlier hunts. I have watched beautiful sunrises and somber sunsets, with no real luck at a mature whitetail. It is close to time to give it up for another year. Like the end of a great day the end of deer season makes you wish for one more crack at November. The great thing is November is only 9 months away. I hope the sunset of this season has found you a better hunter, maybe you even put a trophy on your wall. It is my hope that you at the very least enjoyed your time in the woods. I have but one weekend left to chase the thicket monsters and I will let you know how it goes.Jarrod “East” Norwood
Well my last hunt was unsuccessful but every day spent in the woods is a blessing. I did have an opportunity at a few does but my ground-blind proved to be too much for the big old nanny mamma to handle and she blew the field. The temps were record highs for January but I did get a wood heater installed in the cabin and have some good times with old friends. I also had a very tense encounter with a skunk during my dark walk out, as I had forgotten my headlamp. I am not ashamed to admit I retreated and the skunk won the field that day. As I write this it is now 288 days before Archery Season opens up in the fall. There is still time to get out there but I have put down my bow in quite reflection and now its time to fish, then on to Turkeys. I hope you all enjoy the outdoors stay tuned as Our Tracts grows we will be updating the blog with stories. We hope to see you out there, on Our Tracts.