Hunting > Whitetails

Hunting in My Socks (Page 2)

Reminiscent of boyhood adventures, the author gives new meaning to back to basics as he stalks the hills and hones his skills—in his stocking feet.

As you move in all your gear, read the buck’s body language. If the buck is alert, wait him out. Judge his tension. Watch his ears. They move independently, like a horse’s. They’ll find sounds seemingly on their own. A quick movement of one ear forecasts where the buck will look in a moment.

Try to see the shot coming and anchor yourself for longer shots. Use your bone structure, not your muscles, or you won’t last. Practice the kneeling shot with your elbow on your front knee. And practice using your rangefinder. Become so skilled at taking ranges that you won’t need to look as you pull out your rangefinder, check the yardage and put it back.

Justin keeps quietly preaching all this. He’s a good teacher. While I’ve killed whitetails and a lot of other game on foot with my bow, his perspective and hunting style show me new variations of the theme.

My hunt ends when we spot a huge buck 1,000 yards away in mid-afternoon and decide to wait for that deer to come downhill. We use a gully to cross a sagebrush-covered flat and climb through oak-brush thickets and stop a few hundred yards from the buck. As a hunter used to picking a stand site I choose a spot on a gas-line break deer are obviously using to go to the alfalfa far below me. But the wind is pesky; I’ll have to stand downhill of approaching deer alongside a thicket. I won’t be able to see the deer until they’re right above me and close. The closer trail is 15-25 yards, the farther is 45-55. Justin moves a half-mile away to another ridge where he can watch.

The first deer to come down in the evening are does. They choose the closer trail. One head bobs when it passes me, not sure what I am. Then two small bucks give me a perfect shot, but they’re young. Next, three more bucks pop into view on the farther trail. The third is huge. I draw. He stops. He saw something move. It was the top of my bow. There is a bush in front of his vitals. A full minute passes. Finally he steps forward at 45 yards. I’m shaking. I tighten my stance by pulling my shoulders together and let the bow go off as my hand is pulled back by my shoulders coming together. The arrow arcs and I hear a loud thump. Bone.

Now here comes the nightmare all deer hunters dread. I watch him cross a sage bottom for 800 yards and then disappear into aspen. As I recheck the range, I realize the buck had angled away and I’d shot him at 53 yards, not 45. The arrow went too low.

I track him the next day on hands and knees for another half-mile on a few drops of blood. From the blood we saw on his side, we surmise I’d only cut the skin on his brisket. The next day I glass for magpies to see if they’re on a dead animal in the open landscape. Nothing.

Justin is certain the buck lived. “We’d have found it while elk hunting that open country a few weeks later. We covered every inch of that terrain then,” he says later.

Nevertheless, the nightmare creep of failure and possible suffering inflicted haunt me. I live with this and can’t let it go. That’s how it becomes when you get close, when you sweat every detail from your wool socks to your searching eyes as you try to be the hunter you want to be and don’t quite make it. That’s what’s drawing me back again—for more close encounters and tests of hunting skills.

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