By Stuart Hoegh
Three months in a tree. On January 8th I felt that I had spent three months in a tree watching squirrels. Slowly waiting for the sun to go down had become monotonous. There had been exciting moments when several bucks walked passed or a group of deer emerged out of nowhere, and the season had been a success on several levels. I had shot my first coyote with a bow and filmed my first kill, a doe, but the grind of hunting in January had begun to get to me. I hadn’t had a deer in range in three hunts and hadn’t seen a shooter in over a month. I always have a feeling of excited optimism for deer hunting, yet at that point it was beginning to feel a little hopeless.
I had been in the stand for thirty minutes when a coyote came up the trail towards me, then skirted to the other side of the creek and out of sight. An hour passed, nothing showed. The transition from being alone in the woods to watching a deer is always somewhat abrupt. My thoughts are wondering as I stare at the trees, then suddenly a deer is in sight. I can never remember what I was thinking about prior to the deer’s arrival. All I know is a buck stood sixty yards away. Slowly he began moving up the trail in my direction. The wind was crossing slightly towards him. He stopped abruptly, turned and walked in the opposite direction. “That was it,” I thought to myself. “I have waited all this time to have a marginal wind ruin my opportunity.” He walked ten yards then broke from the trail and began to slowly circle back towards my stand. Using no particular trail he picked his way into thick cover and out of sight. I snapped into my d-loop and prepared for the buck to arrive. He appeared at thirty yards, still in thick cover. The buck plodded along through the brush focused on crossing the creek. I realized he would pass through a small shooting lane at around thirty yards before entering into thick cover again and there would be no remaining opportunity for a shot. He walked quickly forward. As his body filled the clearing I grunted twice. For a brief moment nothing moved, then the arrow connected halfway up and slightly back. He turned and ran up the hill. His gait seemed normal until I saw him wobble near the top of the hill, I realized later that he collapsed several steps later. The shot had missed his lungs but severed the liver, leaving only a small blood trail but killing the deer within 200 yards. As I stared into the camera all I could think to say was “We did it, we did it, we did it.”
My brother Harrison and my buddy Jared run a website with blogs and videos on hunting every species in Iowa. Bowhunting in January is unusual for our group. Most seasons we are able to tag out by late November, then focus on muzzleloader season. Yet, this season had been more challenging than most. The rut had been warm, and we constantly felt we were one step behind the bucks. Harrison and Jared had each shot deer that we were unable to recover. It is frustrating to miss deer, but to hit them non-lethally is something that we feel is unacceptable. Thus, to complete a hunt as a member of a team was truly special. Those guys were as excited as I was and I was happy to end our season on a high note.