Close call for buck, hunter in Halloween blizzard

I'll never forget where I was when the great Halloween ice storm of 1991 rolled in. I was in the same place I am always at on Halloween, in the deer woods with a favorite bow in my hand, hoping that a big buck will wander by.

I was perched 20 feet up a giant white oak as night began to fade into a new day. As I recall, there was nothing special about that morning. I saw a few does and fawns right at first light as they filtered out of a picked cornfield where they had been feeding, and headed up the ridge behind me where I suspect that they bedded down in the cedars for the day. A little later a flock of 20-some turkeys, all hens and jakes, filed by right under my stand.

Then about a half hour later, a gray fox came slipping along the ridge. I remember thinking that was a little strange. Gray fox are much more nocturnal than their cousins, the red fox. It is rare to see one other than at first light and last light. This one was definitely hunting, poking its nose into every deadfall and brush pile.

And then the rain began to fall. Nothing serious at first, but that quickly changed. Then the temperature dropped. I could feel it, even under my layers of wool and Gore-Tex. And the wind suddenly picked up. A cold wind. Ice began to build up all around me. Tiny twigs quickly became as big around as your little finger. Larger branches as big around as a boys arm.

The wind shook them all. It was like sitting inside of a giant chandelier. Pretty neat, but kind of scary, too. I thought about getting down out of my stand while the getting was good, but then the deer parade began.


Enter the buck

The ridge I was hunting was familiar to me. On most mornings or evenings I would be lucky to see three or four deer. But now, does and fawns and small bucks began to file by my stand as if I were at a petting zoo.

And then he came — the heavy-antlered 10-pointer I had missed on  opening day of the bow season. No lame excuses. I just got a little case of buck fever and shot right over the top of his broad back.

This time he was going to pass almost directly under me and on my right side. If I were going to get a crack at him, I had to try to stand and draw. So I did. Almost got the job done too. And then my feet went out from under me.

When I hit the end of my safety belt, it knocked the wind out of me. But I hardly noticed. My eyes were glued to that corn-fed buck, walking head-down into the ice storm below me. The woods were so noisy with the howling wind and ice-caked branches, that the buck never knew that there was a 200-pound Irishman hanging a few yards over his back.

I drew my bow. Would have killed him then and there if my arrow had not come off when I hit the end of that safety strap. All I could do was watch him walk away.

After he was gone, I took stock of my current situation. I  was hanging from my safety belt three or four feet below the platform of my ice-caked stand. Everything was coated with an inch or more of ice. Trying  to grab hold of anything to help me haul myself back into the stand was proving impossible.

In a pickle


I decided that I would have to cut my safety belt and drop to the ground. But there was a problem with that plan. My knife was in my fanny pack which was hung from a branch stub up by my stand. And since, like many bowhunters, I was in the habit of removing my quiver when I hunted, I did not have any broadheads with which to cut the harness. And since I was hunting in a fairly remote area, it might be a day or two before anyone spotted my pickup.

I was in a pickle as my grandma used to say, and it was about to get worse.

I somehow managed to get back up and into my stand. As I carefully prepared to try to get out of that ice-encrusted oak, I recalled earlier in the morning when I had placed an extra arrow across a couple of small branches. I’ve done this for as long as I have bowhunted, because it is much easier to pluck that arrow off of the branch and onto my string than it is to get an arrow out of the quiver for a hoped-for second shot. Over the years, that second arrow within easy reach has helped me to keep fresh venison on the Clancy dinner table.

But when that arrow had fallen from the tree during a gust of wind, it bounced off of one of my tree steps and fell broadhead-up instead of down. I remember thinking that I had to remember that the broadhead was there so that I did not run it through a foot.

I carefully lowered my bow and fanny pack and then stepped from the icy stand onto the first of my metal tree steps. It was like trying to climb on popsicles. I made it two more steps and then lost my grip.

The ground came up in a hurry and for the second time that day, I had the wind knocked out of me. But that was the least of my problems. I was pretty sure that I had landed on that sharp broadhead.

I could not feel it, but I’ve had enough big wounds in my life to have learned that the bigger the wound, the longer it takes for it to register in our minds. I reached over and felt the arrow shaft. With my teeth I removed my right glove and then reached over and found the arrow shaft again.

Carefully, I ran my fingers up and down the shaft. If the arrow had gone through me, the  shaft would be coated with blood, blood which would now be on my fingers.


I’ll admit that it took me a few seconds to take that first peek. My fingers were clean. Later I found that the broadhead had gone through between my wool sweater and wool shirt. Too darn close in my book.

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