The sun had dipped below the horizon when I noticed the big doe pacing quietly along the edge of the corn field. It walked for a few steps, then paused and peered intently through the corn rows, as if it was looking for something.
Then the deer turned around and stepped back down the trail in the direction that it came. Pretty soon it walked back, then repeated the sequence.
As I watched the events unfold, I could only guess that the doe was looking for one of its fawns. The animal was quite large for a doe, and its sleek brown coat suggested that it was in good health.
It was the first evening of the 2019 archery deer season, and I was sitting in one of my favorite tree stands along the edge of a Fillmore County cornfield. Hours earlier, I had parked along a gravel road nearly a half mile away and began the ritual preparation for the upcoming bowhunt.
First spray down the camouflage clothes with a scent killer and put them on. Then spray the boots and slip them on. Next, spray the rest of my gear and put on a safety harness.
As I readied my gear in anticipation of an evening on stand, my friend and fellow bowhunter Tony pulled up. We hadn’t seen each other since last deer season, and we chatted for a bit before he headed off to his own tree stand.
Moments later, the landowner pulled up. Much like Tony, I hadn’t seen him in quite some time, though we’d spoken briefly on the phone when I called to ask permission this summer. So this fortuitous meeting gave us a chance to catch up.
Chance meetings like that make bowhunting so much more than just spending time in the woods. It’s often an opportunity to catch up with old friends and remember years past.
My 2019 opening day hunt started much like any other. After finishing my conversation with the landowner I hiked in to the stand, moving slowly in the mid-September heat to keep from sweating.
When I arrived, a deer hidden on the nearby hillside bolted up the side of the ridge. It’s always a bit humbling to get busted by a deer.
But my hope was that there were plenty of other deer that would be interested in traveling along the hidden corridor next to the field.
As I strapped myself into the stand and hung my bow on a hook, a half-dozen mosquitoes attempted to probe my skin while a couple biting gnats landed on my hand.
Bugs can certainly be a challenge to early season bowhunters. Many times I’ve gone home at the end of the evening scratching mosquito bites and rubbing bloody welts from the bites of buffalo gnats.
But as a cool breeze filtered through the jade-colored leaves and I peered up at the blue sky and brilliant warm sun, I was reminded that the advantages of early season bowhunting far outweigh the disadvantages.
A pair of squirrels chased each other up a nearby tree. One of them paused to stare at me, chortling at the large hulk sitting in the nearby tree.
A flock of crows flew over, calling raucously as they settled into a treetop. Moments later, the crack of a branch sounded on the hillside.
Then, a white tail appeared in the brush as it flicked at flies swarming around it. A fawn ran down the hill, breathing as if it was being chased.
Though it was hard to see through the underbrush, I’m pretty sure it was two fawns chasing each other.
I pulled out a deer call and fawn bleated to catch their attention. Though I wasn’t interested in shooting a fawn, I enjoy teasing them a bit.
Besides, a fawn bleat also brings in big mature does.
As the sun set, the doe walked along the edge of the corn field and began to pace. Despite unlimited doe tags in Minnesota’s CWD zone, I wasn’t inclined to draw my bow.
The temperature had cooled and I enjoyed the show for several minutes before it was time to leave the stand.
But there was a problem -- the doe was still 15 yards away, and I didn’t want to climb down while it was there. An old doe like that can quickly pinpoint a hunter’s location and avoid that spot for weeks to come.
Instead, I turned my head toward the ridge and gave a quick snort like a deer. The doe didn’t even look at me as it jumped and bolted into the woods.
It was the end of the first evening of the deer season — and I’m looking forward to many more.