Those who hunt whitewash in Wisconsin during the late archery season often call them the most challenging bowhunting challenge.
Not only is it cold, but the deer have been hunted since the beginning of September, making them increasingly wary of hunters carrying everything from bows and rifles to garbage loaders. For example, the 2018-19 bow season opened on September 15, meaning that every deer that is still at sunset on January 6, the last day of the season, survived 114 days of hunting pressure.
Granted, some deer have an easier time judging how many animals leisurely feed on the fields in the afternoons of December as we drive through farmland. Some lucky deer rarely see or smell a hunter after the opening weekend of the Wisconsin shooting season.
But no matter where deer hang in December, they rarely stop to check the danger. They attract their white cocks and flee the way they came.
In addition, bow hunting usually means shots of 15 to 25 meters, which requires silent, invisible secrecy when you draw a full draw bow. This is no easy task in foliage-free winter forests, where hunters feel themselves under branched trees. Likewise, hunters can not count on leaves to hide their sounds. All these leaves, now under snow, rustled in the wind or crunched under their hooves.
Maybe that's why I had no luck with white details in Wisconsin's late bow seasons, but in December I've taken several with Muzzleloaders or Centerfire rifles in the last two decades. I do not minimize these achievements, but it's easier to bring game if your deadly confidence is ten times greater than a bow.
And it's not that I've never tried bow-hunting in the preseason. I have often trembled in Treestands and have huddled in floor blinds since the first bow hunt in 1971. As I scrolled down my hunting log in recent years, I have confirmed nearly five decades of futility in bow-hunting in the late season.
In my first 20 years, archers received only one deer stamp. If you filled it before the shooting time, you were ready for the year. And sometimes other things had priority. Between work, holidays, work commitments, late hunts, occasional ice fishing hunters and unscheduled hunts for deer, moose or pheasants I spent many days on the inactive list of bow hunting.
However, during the past month, I often snuck up on a tree stand near home for short bowhunts in the late afternoon. The first evening, December 20, looked promising as a deer brought two calves close to dusk. At least I suspect that it is an adult doe that has two offspring boys. Sometimes, by the end of December, I try to figure out a size difference, unless they are close to each other.
This threesome went slowly and suspiciously towards me. They approached head-on, never turning around, not stopping to give my arrow a good finish. At ten meters a deer was uphill and two slid down from my stand, making it impossible to monitor all three at a glance. When the shooting light slipped away, I took a chance and pulled the mountainous deer to 15 meters.
Almost immediately, I heard a movement downhill as the hooves poked through the crusted snow. Just as I concentrated the optic needle of my bow on the rising deer, it fled with three white lines and blew the white tail. I broke with a draw and confessed to the defeat.
The next evening, at 4:15 pm, five deer invaded my edge of the forest, but escaped before they reached the bow reach. They disturbed the barking dog of a neighbor, though it seemed too far to pose a threat. But what do I know? The deer probably knows the dog's range better than me.
From December 24 to January 1, I did not do a gun-hunting for deer antlers, and when I returned to the woods on January 3, I saw no three straight Dusks. Nevertheless, one week ago, I went to a last session, one hour before dark, still optimistic.
Sure enough, five deer crept in behind my tree stand as the sun went down, and reached the reach of the bow before I heard them. When I turned around, the next three whirled around and danced back as they came. The two of them stayed behind to watch the first three on departure.
That was my chance. But as I drew my bow to its fullest and anchored to shoot, my arrow dropped from the bowstring and swung off the arrow rest. What the hell? This did not happen in 48 years of bow hunting.
Somehow the stag did not hear the arrow tilt and clack as it swayed. As they watched their departing companions, I dropped the full draw, poked the arrow again, pulled again, and stuck the sight pen behind the front leg of the nearest stag.
A second later, my expandable broadhead with three blades struck where I aimed, and the deer belonged to me. After skinning and boned the male on Monday, I drove to Hartman Creek State Park and dropped off the head and neck for chronic disease testing.
I doubt the deer will be tested positive for CWD, but stranger things happen. For example, I had just made my first deer in the postseason in a life of bowhunting.
Patrick Durkin works as a freelancer
Writer covering outdoor recreation in Wisconsin. Write him at 721 Wesley Street, Waupaca, WI 54981; or by e-mail
patrickdurkin56 @ gmailcom.