I’m often troubled, while eavesdropping on hunters discussing the “harvest” of white-tailed does. Too often does are discussed in the same terms as picking backyard vegetables. Worse yet, often addressed by wannabe deer managers like weeds in that garden; an inconvenience in need of removal. I have a little more respect for whitetails, even does, than this. Sure, does can prove superfluous in some habitats, become tediously boring when that’s all you ever get to look at. But does can represent trophies in the same sense as high-scoring bucks.
I’ve never had a problem shooting does, when and where they’re legal. Does have provided some fond memories and saved many hunts, and I relish their meat just as much as the antlers from a trophy buck. Killing does has become a big part of the QDM craze, of course, but even when culling for the over- all health of the herd, it’s always important to recall killing any living creature is damn serious business and worthy of your utmost respect.
MY FIRST DEER
My whitetail indoctrination saw a rocky start, and I’m not talking about the stone-riddled West Texas habitat I first bowhunted them in. Being a destitute college student, I had no funds for deer leases, feeders and truckloads of shelled corn. Texas has no public hunting land to speak of. As a child of the Rocky Mountains, this feeder business was completely foreign to me, but that is how it’s done in the Lone Star State, much of it lacking the classic feeding-, bedding-area dynamic that allows placing stands with some degree of certainty.
I also bowhunted only by the good graces of friends with full-time jobs and deer leases, and because during the late 1980s the QDM idea had just taken hold and most deer leases came with doe-quota agreements. I was brought along to help fill those quotas. Shooting bucks was verboten. I was also relegated to hanging stands along creek beds or windrows holding trees substantial enough to accommodate one of my hang-ons — and well away from paying lease holders’ feeders. I was happy to be bowhunting at all; and especially looked forward to collecting some red meat to supplement a steady diet of Ramen noodles and vacant-lot cottontails.
I saw very few deer that first season, and received shots at only one stunted, late-born spike — which proved delicious.
By the next season, friend Dwayne Peirce trusted me enough to not only take me along to his central- Texas deer lease, but allowed me to hunt one of his feeders opening weekend. I believed I had it made, sitting in the comfortable, swiveling bass-boat seat of a tripod stand, guarding an active feeder. This bothered me not at all. If it proved on par with shooting fish in a barrel, all the better. I craved venison.
I would soon learn the hard realities of shooting does over Texas feeders. Slam dunk it is not. In fact, that weekend I’d learn completely new lessons in shot timing. A mature doe approaching a feeder is as jumpy as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. It’s conceivable many of these does had witnessed several deer being shot from around them.
Sunday morning, anxiously consulting my watch, knowing Dwayne would be along shortly to pick me up for church, a huge doe appeared. And I mean HUGE! This was the Edwards Plateau after all, and any doe pushing 110 pounds was a rarity.
She marched right up to the feeder and kept on going without the briefest pause. She was obviously only passing through. I managed to hit anchor without spooking her, sweeping my 30-yard pin to her shoulder in way of a lead. I allowed the arrow to slip away and she turned into a blur. My arrow centered that blur, but the outcome was uncertain.
When I found her at the end of a wide blood trail I made a remarkable discovery. I’d aimed at her left side, moving right to left. I had centered her heart, entering her right side! She also hit the scales at 132 pounds, a true trophy as far as central-Texas does go.
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It had been an unremarkable morning in Pike County, Illinois — back in the days when Pike County, Illinois, was considered quite remark- able. At first light I’d liked the looks of my stand site, situated in a shallow draw between low oak ridges, a small pond below to attract thirsty deer during this unseasonably hot early November, a defunct logging road winding down the ridge to my left. Heartland Outfitters guide Roger Kerr had walked me down that road well before shooting light. Above was a newly cut cornfield, and acorns rattled into the carpet of leaves surrounding me. The place was a literal one-stop shop for a drink and a bite to eat. Despite this I had seen only a handful of sleek does, all pass- ing well out of range.
With pick-up time approaching, it had grown warm and a promising procession of does visited my pond, marching right in, bellying up and drinking greedily. But they towed no bucks. I clambered out of the stand and began working my way up the logging road. I quickly became so overheated, and had seen so many does late that morning moving to that water, that I decided to take my time wandering back up to the cornfield edge a half-mile away.
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I removed my jacket, lashed it to my pack, nocked an arrow and slipped up the road — making an effort to step only on wind-blown patches of bare earth, pausing often to scan the ground ahead, engaging all my senses, taking heed of every chattering squirrel or scolding jay. A half-hour later I’d covered only 400 yards.
I was contemplating quickening the pace, convinced Roger should be waiting for me by now, when the sound of disturbed leaves, coming my way, reached my ears. I was convinced Roger was coming down to fetch me, but the cadence was all wrong. I stepped beside a tree and fished a 8x32mm binocular from my shirt front. I saw the glint of polished bone floating through oaks. I was suddenly electrified, and then just as quickly deflated as they came together — only a 120-inch 8-pointer, but he was dogging a doe.
They crossed a small point, the doe intent on escaping her tormentor, dropping into a swale and temporarily obscured. I took the opportunity to adjust my position and accommodate their trajectory, moving hurriedly, cringing at the noise made in the thick leaves, dropping to my knees beside a blow-down tangle.
I’d just slid into position when the doe appeared 25 yards away. When her head passed behind a tree, I drew my bow but she just kept coming. So I waited. When she passed by at less than 10 yards, I put all my pins on her side and let ’er rip, thumping her hard. She continued down the hill, the buck still in hot pursuit. When that buck came flying out of the draw bottom with a look of terror in his eyes, I knew I had successfully shot my first mature whitetail while hunting afoot. She would also prove to be one of the tastiest deer I’d ever eaten.
A LITTLE SLICE OF HEAVEN
When we’d finally had enough of New Mexico, the socialist politics brought by California’s Mongol hoards, skyrocketing property taxes and years of not drawing hunting tags, my wife and I sought relocation to another Rocky Mountain state.
She wanted green and trees. I just wanted to hunt. We also agreed we wanted more land than house. Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Montana were considered, but the green and trees my wife envisioned fell outside of our budget in those states. Then we discovered northern Idaho, where green and trees were within financial grasp. It was one of the happiest accidents of my life. I not only have elk, black bears and turkeys handy, but the unexpected gift of abundant whitetails.
That first year we certainly had whitetails using our little patch of woods, but nothing like today. There was no water (we now have two ponds), little food (we’ve now planted four food plots and various mast trees) and some problems regarding fencing barriers (since removed). Deer had little reason to remain on our property, normally just passing through.
My most reliable stand was on a ridge where several predominant trails converged on an ancient logging road. It was mid-October, not exactly the best time to bag white-tailed deer. But it was deer season and I was living the dream of bowhunting on my own land, so I climbed into that stand, hoping for the best.
I’d suffered three or four deer encounters previously. I say suffered because they didn’t exactly end well. I had a reasonable amount of whitetail experience before moving to Idaho — having arrowed more than a dozen 145-plus white-tailed bucks — but I’d never before witnessed deer so jumpy. Forget string jumping. You were lucky to even get drawn. You did not stand to shoot. These were deer belabored by cougars and wolves.
I’d ditched my high-tech duds in favor of whisper-quiet wool. So when three does appeared beneath my stand 10 minutes before shooting light failed, pausing to nibble some sparse clover, I managed to get into position — swiveling my legs to the side, lifting my custom Stalker Recurve into position. When I hit full draw the largest doe, quartering away and to the left 18 yards away, tensed to the nearly inaudible squeak of my leather tab, ears twitching, but I waited and she appeared to settle.
I released and she dropped and spun wildly, crashing into thick woods with just my bright fletchings protruding from her right ham. I returned in the dark an hour later, slipping along a lower trail probing dog-hair willows and alders with a SureFire flashlight. It took me only minutes to find her, down just 50 yards from my stand, a heavy carbon arrow and nasty-sharp cut-on- contact broadhead saving the day.
I’d tagged many whitetails before that huge mountain doe, but the pride of taking a deer on my own land proved nearly overwhelming — a pride that continues any time I simply have deer in range while sitting in our little piece of whitetail paradise.
ASSURING TOP-NOTCH VENISON
Enjoying tasty venison begins immediately after the kill. Two things are vitally important: keeping meat clean and cooling it off quickly. The best way to cool meat quickly is getting a deer’s insulating hide off ASAP after the kill. Having the right tools makes this job easier. Look to a field-dressing kit such as Outdoor Edge’s (www.OutdoorEdge.com) Wild-Pak, including three specialty knives and bone saw with stainless steel blades and non-slip blaze- orange handles, rib spreader, surgical gloves and sharpener.
Gut the deer in the field only when necessary. The better solution is placing it on a clean tarp or hang- ing it in a tidy shed or garage. Skin slowly and carefully to assure hair doesn’t contaminate the meat. In cool weather, skinned deer can be left hanging to “skin over,” but in warm weather covering with a game bag is important to deter egg-laying flies. Koola Buck’s (www.KoolaBuck.com) Anti Microbial Game Bags help meat last even longer when a cooler isn’t available.
Deer hunting, venison and jerky go hand in hand. You can easily make delicious jerky from your own game meat with Hi Mountain Seasonings (www.HiMtnJerky.com) Jerky Cure & Seasoning Variety Pack. It features five popular flavors: Original, Hunter’s Blend, Bourbon BBQ, Jalapeno and Spicy Lime Blend. Each individual packet includes enough spices and seasonings to prepare 4 pounds of meat. Detailed instructions allow you to prepare jerky in 1- to 4-pound batches.
The Wyoming-based company also offers kits for creating a wide variety of game-meat sausages (meat grinder and sausage stuffer required in some cases). Some of my personal favorites include Country Maple Breakfast Sausage (no casings required), German Sausage and Cracked Pepper ’n Garlic Summer Sausage kits.
— Patrick Meitin is a widely traveled bowhunter and former big game hunting guide. He hails from northern Idaho.