I remember a successful bowhunt many years ago
that went nothing like I had planned. The November wind was coming out of the
northwest that afternoon, which made it perfect for a particular stand site
that I had set up about a week in advance. As I drove toward my hunting land, I
completely intended to hunt that spot.
I parked, got in my gear, sprayed down with Scent Killer, grabbed my bow and
snuck off in the direction of the tree, which was a solid one-half mile away.
My enthusiasm soared. After covering about 200 yards in the woods, well short
of my destination, I stopped.
I routinely stop, look and listen when I'm on my way to a stand -- always
trying to emulate the sound of something that "belongs" in the woods
(such as a deer or squirrel). I think of it as still-hunting my way to a stand
But on this particular stop, I didn't pause on purpose. Nope, I stopped on
instinct. It was as if a little voice went off inside my head saying "whoa
fella, hang on right here for a second." I've
come to obey that little voice when I'm hunting, so I froze.
While standing there, looking around and listening to my surroundings, something
suddenly caught my eye. A tree. It was a stout, old
white oak with massive horizontal branches that shot in three directions from
its huge trunk about 10 feet above the ground. It was a magnificent tree with
big, knurled knobs that protruded from the bark like baseball-sized handles.
Although they had grown randomly and for whatever reason, the knobs were
spaced and placed in the perfect positions for climbing. It was like the way
they place the plastic hand and foot holds on those simulated, cliff-style
Instinct immediately told me that I wouldn't be hunting from my intended
stand location that evening. Nope, I'd hunt from this inviting oak tree.
Instinct demanded it.
Climbing up those knotty knobs was a piece of cake. Once up, I affixed my
safety harness and hoisted my bow and gear up on my lift rope. I was set, and
that wide horizontal limb proved to be a very comfortable platform when I
leaned against the trunk of the tree.
Here's what I did next (again, by instinct) and something that I recommend
everyone does at the beginning of a hunt. I surveyed my surroundings;
envisioned where anticipated deer movement might occur; identified potential
shooting lanes; then used my rangefinder to pre-determine yardages to those locations
for fast pin selection if and when a buck stepped into a lane. Next I drew back
my bow in all potential shot directions to make sure there were no obstructions
that could botch a shot (like an overhead branch getting in my way).
With all systems go, I settled in for the afternoon hunt. It would prove to
be a short one. After only five minutes or so, I heard a deer approaching from
behind me, basically coming from the same direction I had come in from. It was
the exact opposite travel direction that deer typically follow on my property
in the afternoon. Oh well, I wasn't complaining.
I got a little tense when the buck crossed directly downwind of me at about
40 yards. He never missed a step, thanks to Scent Killer and good odor-control
preparation. He was a mature 9-pointer with a lot of unique character in his
rack, so when he veered toward me after crossing downwind, I made a decision to
take him if given a chance.
When he stopped to browse on some acorns that had fallen from the same white
oak tree that I stood in, the buck presented a picture-perfect broadside shot
only 12 yards away. I took it, and after a 50-yard sprint I watched the
whitetail pile up in the dry autumn leaves -- double-lunged and out of gas.
I often wonder how my hunt would have gone that afternoon if I'd stuck to
the original game plan and hunted the other spot. I'll never know, because
instinct got in the way and made all the difference. So when you hear that
little voice, I strongly encourage you to listen and always trust your hunting
Babe Winkelman is a nationally-known outdoorsman who has taught people to
fish and hunt for more than 25 years. Watch the award-winning "Good
Fishing" and "Outdoor Secrets" television shows on Versus, Fox
Sports, Texas Channel and many local networks. Visit www.winkelman.com
for air times where you live and be sure to check us out on Facebook. He writes twice-monthly for sportsmansguide.com.