I couldn’t believe it; I was lost.
Well, not really lost – as in not knowing where I was or how to get home – but I couldn’t find my stand – and I knew I had to be very close to it.
It was a large, wooden platform about 18 feet up in a big White Pine.
I had built it myself by fastening two 2x4’s horizontally to the sides of the tree – probably about 30 inches apart and extending forward about 3 feet.. They were held in position by two more 2x4’s that angled down to the tree. All were fastened to the tree by large lag bolts and pole barn nails. Rough-sawn 1-inch boards made the platform, and a rudimentary seat was made from a 2x6 supported by another piece of 2x4 against the tree at the back of the platform.
Access to the stand was accomplished by stepping on more of those large pole barn nails that had been pounded part way into the tree. Once I was about 6 feet off the ground there were plenty of stout limbs to step on until I reached the stand itself.
The location was on the property of a friend. He owned 160 acres that was bordered on three sides by agricultural fields and on the fourth side by a huge swamp that encompassed an entire section – one square mile of thick patches of cedar and various species of hard and soft woods.
It was being clear cut at the rate of 40 acres per year. Every tree that was cut was reduced to chips to feed a large power plant 50 miles away.
The areas that had been cut were springing up in new growth that acted as a magnet for hundreds of deer in the area. They had browse, cover and a perfect bedding area all in one.
My stand location was at the intersection of two trails; one that threaded its way North to South through my friend’s property, and one that went from the swamp to an alfalfa field on the West side.
The two trails formed a lop-sided “Y” almost exactly in front of my stand. Deer traveled from the fields to the swamp in the morning, and vice versa in the evening; it was a beautiful thing!
But this morning I couldn’t find it!
It was because of the fog.
I had made the 45-minute drive from my home to the property in the pre-dawn darkness on the opening day of Michigan’s 1983 archery season – October 1.
Everything appeared to be pretty normal until I got within a few miles of the property, where I began to run into fog – thick fog.
By the time I parked my car on the gravel road 100 yards from the crossing, it was like the proverbial “pea soup” that we hear about.
No problem, I thought – I’ve walked into this stand quite a few times before when it was dark – this shouldn’t be any different.
But it was.
I reached the spot where the deer liked to cross the road, stepped down into the ditch and up to the old barbed-wire fence, noting the wisps of white deer hair on it. Putting my hand on the top wire to step over it, I heard the familiar “squerrk” of the rusty wire sliding slightly in the staples of the old cedar posts.
From the fence it was about 30 yards to the heavy brush that separated the tall grassy area from the woods.
By the light of my flashlight I followed the trail through the underbrush until I was in the woods. From there it was only another 30 yards or so to the huge pine where the stand was awaiting my arrival.
But for some reason I lost track of the trail and didn’t find the tree – a feat that had always been easy when I could see its dark outline against the gray sky of early morning.
But not today.
The fog was so thick that when I looked upward all I saw was more fog.
It was so thick that no shapes could be seen at all – just fog – and darkness.
I was stuck on the ground – very near where the deer would soon be coming through – and I had no clue as to which direction to even look!
So I did the only thing I could reasonably do; I stood there waiting until it was light enough to see …
… something …
… anything that would point me to the tree I so desperately wanted to find!
So I stood there in silence until I suddenly realized that I could just barely make out the form of a nearby tree against the sky.
It had only been about 20 minutes, but it seemed much longer.
I carefully began to scan around me, looking for that unmistakable shape of the big pine.
There it was!
Only about 50 feet away.
I had come past it and was on the back side of where I usually approached it.
Quickly but quietly moving to the tree, I tied my bow to the rope that was hanging there and made my way up to the platform.
I carefully raised the bow, trying to make sure to not hit any branches on the way up. I didn’t need any more mishaps now!
Removing the quiver from the bow, I took out two arrows; one for the string and one to lay across two nearby branches for a second shot if it was needed.
Then I sat down on the small seat with my back against the tree and tried to concentrate on settling down and being quiet.
The sky was getting a little lighter now, but I still couldn’t see the ground, having just turned off my flashlight a minute before.
Gradually my eyes adjusted to the dim light and I could begin to see the low under story of the woods.
A few minutes later I could actually make out some of the lighter maple leaves lying on the otherwise dark carpet of the forest.
Suddenly I heard it.
A deer had just come through the fence – probably underneath it, but it had nudged that top wire just enough to move it and make that unmistakable sound.
Soon I could hear the sound of hoof steps in the sodden earth. Not a loud sound by any means, but one that is easily recognized by all bow hunters who have had to wait for their quarry to move into that fairly close “zone” where they can be sure of a lethal shot.
Like a ghost, the deer emerged from the heavy brush and into the woods,
It was right on the trail.
It was headed directly toward me, 18 feet below and only about 15 yards in front of the tree.
It would soon come to the “Y” and turn to my left, heading toward the safety of the big swamp.
I had already stood up and had my fingers on the string, watching the animal approach. It walked slowly, and I thought, sleepily, having been up all night feeding on the succulent alfalfa. Now with a full belly, it was casually heading for its bed.
Of course, I was looking for horns.
With the Michigan archery license you can take a deer of either sex, but it was opening day, and I was planning on hunting quite a few times this season.
Besides, I had shot does before with stick and string, but never a buck.
This year I wanted to hold out for a buck.
The light was still quite dim.
Until the deer got to the fork in the trail, I was convinced that it was a doe, seeing no evidence of antler above the head.
But as soon as it turned, I caught a glimpse of something between the ears that could only be antler.
“A spike”, I said to myself.
That was good enough for me.
By the time I had drawn the bow, the deer was almost past me, offering a quartering away shot.
Holding the sight pin tight behind the shoulder, I released the string and saw the arrow disappear against the dark form below me.
I heard a whoosh of air from its lungs and the frantic sound of rapidly pounding hoofs as it raced toward the swamp.
I had to sit down!
My heart was racing and I could feel my pulse in my temples.
Looking at my watch I noted that It was 45 minutes after legal shooting time, but I had been in my stand for less than 15.
I waited until it was fully light and there was no longer any trace of fog in the air before climbing down.
There was my arrow, stuck in the ground just on the opposite side of the trail.
Picking up the blood trail was easy, since it had passed through both lungs, entering high on my side and exiting low on the other side.
60 yards later I found the buck.
It was lying on the trail, still headed in the direction of the swamp.
As I approached it from the rear, I was surprised to see that it wasn’t a spike, but had 6 symmetrical points. I had never seen them in the dim light and from my perch above the animal.
At that time in my hunting career I hadn't learned much about aging a deer by its body size and shape. I'm sure this was a 1 1/2 year old by its slender neck and face.
Most people wouldn’t have a small buck like this mounted, but I knew of a high-schooler who was learning taxidermy and wanted animals to practice on. So it only cost me the price for supplies; about $18.00 as I recall.
Besides, it was my first buck with a bow.
The brass plate on this mount reads, “Short Stand. October 1, 1983.”