Sep 10, 2015

Beyond Rough Foreplay

By: Larry Leitz

I’ve been bow hunting for almost 40 years and have seen a lot of interesting sights in the woodlands. This particular evening in November far surpassed anything I had ever seen, heard of or even read about.  What I’m about to share with you may change your feelings about wildlife behavior and, in particular, the whitetail deer rut.

As is typical of my workday, I got up at 5:15 am and went through the normal robotic motions of getting ready for work.  It was Tuesday and the temperature was pretty typical for early November.  It was around freezing, like it had been for the last couple of weeks in northeastern Wisconsin.   I drove to work from our home in the woods near Navarino, WI scanning the ditches for any sign of deer as I knew they were starting to get really active.   My thoughts wandered from what I needed to accomplish at work to whether or not I would get home in time to go bowhunting.  (I never really understood the phrase, “I’m going bowhunting.”  When you have a gun you don’t say “I’m going gun hunting.” You say, “I’m going ‘deer hunting’ or ‘bear hunting’ or ‘duck hunting’.”  If you say, “I’m going bowhunting,” doesn’t it infer that you are hunting for bows?)  Anyway…..

I made it to work and settled into my office organizing my thoughts and starting the daily routine.   About midday, I received an e-mail from my youngest son that he was coming up bowhunting that night from the Fox Valley.  Now I was really anxious to make it home in time to go as I never want to miss an opportunity to hunt with my boys.  Well, as usual, I wasn’t able to get out after eight hours and didn’t get home until after 4. 

Joe’s car was there and I knew he would already be in the woods.   He left a note telling me which stand he was in so I hurried and cleaned up, changed clothes, grabbed my bow, and headed out the door.  I checked the wind, and even though it was later than I would have liked, it had been a stressful day and I felt I could use the long walk to our farthest stand.  The wind was out of the southeast and this stand was ideally situated for it. 

Our property consists of 60 acres with a normal shaped 40 that has a mixture of high and low lands that consists of some cedar swamps, a creek bottom, 15-year-old planted pine in a high portion and some mature maple hardwoods around the house.  The back 20 sits adjacent to the 40 and has the creek running along the wooded south border.   It‘s on the far southeast corner stand of this 20 that has been one of our most productive areas.  The stand is positioned on the edge of the wooded creek bottom to the south with an open field to the north and it faces a low wooded draw coming out in front of it to the east.  Just a few weeks earlier I had seen six different bucks from this stand in one evening; two were respectable eight pointers within 25 yards, problem was there was a huge deer I later named “Messiah” holding back in the wooded draw in front of me so I anxiously waited for him to follow the same path as the two eight pointers but as usual, it didn’t work out that evening. 

On this night, I had been in the stand for a little over an hour and all had been quiet.  The creek bottom to my south was still thick as not all the leaves were down on the tag alders and other brushy undergrowth.  Suddenly, I heard some movement on the ridge coming down to the creek bottom and all my attention focused in that direction.  The rustling of leaves didn’t sound like squirrels or turkeys, but was still too far off for me to be sure. A couple of minutes later, things would get real interesting. 

The sudden explosion of sound from the creek bottom had me startled.  I strained to get a peak of what might be going on.  Maybe a deer had been hit with an arrow; shear panic, crashing through leaves and brush with disregard of what was in its way. The terrorizing screams of a deer were way beyond any bellow I had ever heard. 

The direction of the terror was constant now, it was no longer running but the screams continued.  Thoughts were streaming through my mind.  Had my neighbor arrowed one?  But why the screams?  Is it hit in a very painful but non-lethal area?  Why did it stop moving? Is it down?  Everything was happening in seconds though it seemed like minutes.  The sounds were very different from what I had witnessed and read about whitetails.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around what was happening.  The sounds now indicated there might be another deer.  I’m thinking, “Maybe it’s a wild fight between bucks?” 

The deer were only about 75 yards from me but the woods were so thick I couldn’t see anything.  Should I get out of my stand to get a look?  I had seen a few buck fights through the years; from the simple sparring of young bucks, to a violent brawl between mature bucks.  But the sounds I was hearing now didn’t fit this scenario either.   What was unfolding in front of me?  I stayed in the stand.

It was probably seconds, though it seemed like minutes as I completely turned in my stand and was now facing the direction of these deer.  I stretched in all directions to get a peek at what might be going on.  I was not at all concerned that these deer might see me move as the melee continued.  

All of a sudden, one of the deer bursts through the brush in my direction.  It runs within 30 yards of my stand and turns to the west staying in the creek bottom.  It’s a doe.  Again, my mind is scrambling trying to make sense of this.  The doe runs about 60 yards from my stand and collapses. It is alive but obviously injured.   Then a buck busts through the brush taking the same path as the doe. It gets to the doe and once again begins its seemingly relentless beating of this deer.  My mind was struggling to understand what is going on.  Is this deer possibly a transgender deer?  I can’t grasp this. 

The buck, an average size eight pointer, is now hovering over this lifeless deer like a prize fighter with too much testosterone, towering over his knocked out opponent.  What would make a buck do this to a doe?  I’m angry now. This beating is the most merciless thing I’ve ever witnessed.  The doe lays lifeless.  I think it’s dead.  I can see blood in the leaves in front of it as it lays there motionless. 

The buck doesn’t stop. It continues to rip at the doe’s body with its antlers.  The buck continues to move back and charge raking its horns at the doe’s  midsection again and again.  It turns and is smelling the tail end of the deer now as if it can will this animal to let him breed her.  The buck turns and rams his antlers under the doe’s stomach, lifts and flips the lifeless body over; not gently, but violently flipping it in the air.  

I’ve had enough.  I want to kill him for what he is doing.  I can’t shoot him from where I am, too far out and too much brush.  I really just want to kill him because of the merciless beating he’s dishing out to this innocent, and seemingly lifeless doe.  I’m sure the doe is dead as it hasn’t moved now for some time, (probably only minutes), but it seems much longer.   It doesn’t matter. I need to make him stop this. 

I begin getting down from my stand, not quietly or cautiously, but as quick as I can.  I am wondering, will he even acknowledge my presence?  As crazy as he is- Will I be able to walk within killing range?   I don’t want this buck, but I want to kill him for what he’s done.   I quickly start walking toward him, arrow notched.  After maybe 10 or 15 yards he finally looks in my direction.  I’m within 50 yards of him now and finally he moves off, not bursting away but more of a nonchalant, “You’re bothering me,” attitude. 

The deer is still motionless, I’m quite sure she is dead but as I get closer I see her eyes, she is still alive!  I don’t want to cause this animal any more trauma, but I need to get close enough to see if it has testicles.  I know it’s not a nub buck by the size of the body and the length of its head, but maybe it is a cross gendered deer?   She is laying in such a haphazard way one would think she was hit by a truck, but I can see she is definitely a doe.  Even though I am within feet of her now, she can’t or doesn’t try to move.  I quickly move away from her as I’m thinking this crazy buck is going to be coming back. 

I am thinking, “How am I going to get this buck when he returns?”  Thoughts of just standing on top of the bank from the creek bottom maybe 25 yards away and waiting for him enter my mind but it’s not thick enough to give me any concealment.  I decide to go back to my stand 60 yards to the east.  

Within five minutes, here he comes, this crazed maniac of a buck.  This time he is looking, searching for my whereabouts.  He knows I am there, but where?  He’s looking in my direction as he circles the area and finally moves off in the direction of where it all began.  Darkness is finally settling in but I want to stay a little longer to see if he returns once again.  I’m wondering what to do with the doe lying there, surely she will circum to death this evening. I wait. 

It’s nearly dark now. I can only see her lying there by the white of her stomach hairs, still motionless.   Minutes pass and I’m thinking about getting down from the stand. I am thinking I should get my youngest son, Joe, and go back and tag her, just to make use of the animal.   Suddenly I hear a noise from her direction, “Had the maniac returned?” 

I can’t see now it’s too dark.  I quickly climb down from the stand and head toward the doe.  I’m within yards of her and still I see nothing.  She’s gone! 

My heart leaps for joy.  I’m grateful she was able to get up and move out.  However, I’m sad knowing the pain and agony she must be in and I’m still angry at the crazed buck who did this.   I’m thinking if I get a chance at killing this buck in the remaining couple of weeks of the season, even though he is not the size I’m after- I will.

I hurry back to the house eager to tell the story that just unfolded.  This is one tale you just can’t make up.  I never did meet up with that buck the rest of bow season.  Ironically, we found him lying dead during the gun deer season. The apparent victim of a car impact.  Can’t say I felt any sorrow for this one.