I have lived and worked overseas since 1998, and the toughest part about that is that I am a sportsman deep down in my bones... and there is no sporting playgrounds like the great USA. I have been in East Africa for most of the past 14 years, and have had opportunities to hunt a few great places like Australia, South Africa, and even for deer in Western Europe, but no hunt really compares to fair chase whitetails and elk back home in North America.
Having grown up in Iowa I still have residency there, so when I can I mobilize a few friends and a license at Wal-Mart and head for the woods the first week of November. I'm fortunate to have access to some great land around Des Moines and NE Iowa by Guttenberg. Each year that I did make it back I usually saw a P&Y buck or two, sometimes even got a shooting opportunity or helped drag a buddy's big buck out.
In 2010 I had my chance at a very high-racked buck but due to my peep being sideways at full draw I spent a year dreaming/cursing about the one that got away. In 2011 I had a 10-day window for hunting and my buddies and I took full advantage and parked a trailer down in the woods. Deer camp was half of the fun!
I bounced around the 7 stands that the three of us were sharing. During that week I imagine we each saw 60+ deer, and a lot of bucks in full rut. On the 5th day I spotted a monster buck who's rack looked like that of a muley, but he was not interested in the hot doe nearby nor my decoys set up below. Instead, a mighty 8 pointer (actually a six since his brow tines were snapped off) was the dominate buck. That 6 point was tempting but having seen this bruiser through the binoculars I hoped he might come by and waited him out. He stayed in his cedar thicket (bedding area) for the entire morning while I enjoyed rutting deer around my decoys all morning.
After four hours I sat down slowly and relaxed a bit. Wouldn't you know it that muley buck suddenly decided to join the rut games and was suddenly 40 yards behind my tree! By now I was pinned down with deer all around me so I stayed seated and just watched. It was one of the best days I had on stand even though I never drew back my bow.
I wanted back into that stand so bad, but the wind was never right for the next several days. On the last day I decided to risk it, even though the wind was not ideal. I was in the stand early, more than a full hour before daylight. My other two buddies had tagged out, but one sat in a tree anyway, as much for moral support as for venison (doe tags.) I had the setup exactly the same, with the decoys between me and the bedding area, and the wind blowing just off to the side of the bedding area.
Sure enough, I could hear some major rutting at the base of my tree but it was still too dark. At first light the woods was quiet... really quiet. Nov 12th is that time when the woods and the rut seem to shut off at times. I was really disappointed and started to think about how I annoyed my wife and family by using vacation time and money to go back home to Iowa to sit in trees.
Suddenly a coyote appeared.. and then a second one. They followed a trail toward my stand and I decided to shoot one. Just as I got to full draw on the unsuspecting coyotes I heard two rutting deer behind me, so I held my draw. It was the big buck following a hot doe, and they ran back into the bedding area. I grunted and the buck looked my way, but followed the hot doe and disappeared into the thickets. The coyotes were now long gone and I sat back into the stand and waited, hoping that at dusk the buck would appear again.
I had dozed off and by now it must have been 10 Am, an hour later. I awoke slowly (now conditioned to having been on stand for 9 days) and confirmed that what woke me was a deer moving up the trail, back toward the cedar thickets. I had the bow on my lap and my release already attached to my wrist. Without movement I confirmed it was a buck, "yup shooter.. OMG, drop tine!"
As the buck came up the hill toward the cedar thickets I knew he was going to wind me, as this was the reason I hadn't used this stand the past few days. But as the buck got to 40 yards he caught the doe estrus urine and saw the two decoys. He immediately postured and started swinging his tongue about. As he passed behind a tree I drew back and just barely was able to get to full draw! He stood at my 30 yard mark, quartering in and in serious posture to the Montana Silhouette Decoys. I picked out a very small spot and released, and he mule kicked and went only 30 yards before turning back to review the situation, at which time he wobbled and fell.
I was never so relieved as to have been able to send a text to my buddy stating; drop tine down, strike the stand and come get me! We shared the rest of that last day lazily taking out stands and high fiving each other. Because the snow had muddied up the field, we caped and quartered the deer in the field like an elk hunt, and packed it all out on foot. When we took out his heart there was a big Mercedes Benz mark right in the middle of it. Without saying anything the two of us just laughed..and it was the icing on the cake! We were so pleased to have grounded this fine animal and to pull our stands at a relaxed pace in the mid-day sun, rather than in frustration on the last evening.
In retrospect, those two decoys and that estrous scent made it all possible for me, luring that tired old brute right into my lap. He had apparently chased the hot doe about in the field out of sight, and when he was tired he was headed back to his lair when he crossed my doe scent and saw the decoys. Luckily he had not winded me, as I was either high enough or the scent control was efficient enough. I also had the sun at my back so he didn't see me struggling to draw back (I had my bow set at 70 lbs, which was fine for my backyard shooting in Africa but not for waking up cold from an Iowa tree-stand nap.) I had also respected his bedding area and hunted only the perimeters of it. Finally, it happened so fast I didn't have time to get nervous. I only realized he was the same buck when I laid my hands on his rack, one side the classic rack with a drop tine, the other with forks and kickers like a muley would have. I had only seen the one side well and had not seen the drop tine.
As I reflect on the many hunting opportunities I've had, the best ones were all in America. I enjoyed them the most because I was really challenged to outwit a truly worthy adversary. It was also great because I had my old friends to share the hunt with. I just want American sportsman to know that North America is one of the last great "fair chase" continent left, and we should do everything we can to keep it as it is. I am not only referring to large tracks of public land or endless acres of forest, but the practice of knocking on someone's door and requesting hunting permission on his land. That is in my mind a truly endangered species in this world.