About 40 yeats ago Drs. Norton and Jackson at the University of Wisconsin surveyed a large number of hunters to better understand them and their hobby.
One of the unanticipated findings is most hunters, as they age and have more experience, move through five distinct phases of interest/participation. You can do an online search of the ‘5 phases of hunter’ to see the details.
From time to time on this forum and the T***G*** site I have seen threads dealing with folks who notice their feelings about bowhunting changing from trying to limit out in their early years to sitting back and taking a broader view of the whole hunting experience—the scouting, finding a good spot, seeing deer, maybe getting a shot, and sharing the experience with good and trusted friends.
Now that I’m in my 60’s I’m pretty sure I’m in this fifth stage. Here’s a new to me idea that made this year’s season one of my most enjoyable yet. When I shared it with my good friend Dave Mitchell, he dubbed it ‘catch and release deer hunting’. I share not to say others should do it, rather, here’s something that worked for me.
It starts with finding a good area and selecting several ground blind spots to be able to manage the wind. I like using natural materials to build the blind and try to have them all in place by September. Nothing new here.
Then the hunt begins. I’m blessed to have an area with a good population of deer. In the early part of the season it’s common to see several deer together from one of the ground blinds. Usually one or two mature does and several of the current year fawns. Bucks will come sooner of later. Nothing new here.
In the past I would sit and watch when a group of deer appeared thinking there is no way I can move and not be seen. This year I decided when such an opportunity came along, I’d try to pick a deer, come to full draw, see the small spot I wanted to hit, and then would let down. I’ve found being able to do this is a remarkably satisfying experience that ranks, in my mind, pretty close to taking a shot at a good buck. Clearly there was no guarantee of a hit had I taken a shot but I began to understand ‘success’ did not have to include letting the arrow go and making a lethal shot.
So far this season, I’ve had over 20 such ‘shot’ opportunities. I’ve been ‘busted’ 5 times. The first 4 in a row, and then the most recent with nine deer in front of me. This approach has taught me several things.
First is how to sit still. I know that sounds simple, but when several deer are present and nerves are still pumped with a little deer fever adrenaline, it’s tough, at least for me, to take my time, move oh so slowly and get into position in full view of inquiring eyes.
Second, how to better judge what deer are actually looking at to know when I can move and minimize the chance of being seen. It’s an easy call when they are looking in an opposite direction. But how close to a direct, in line look right at you, can you get and move without detection.
Third, learning to breathe. Again sounds simple. But being able to take a few deep breaths can really calm the nerves, aid in sitting still, and add a bit of patience. No need to rush.
Fourth, how to sit really still. So far this season I’ve had six deer come within 10 feet of me. One got so close it sniffed the broadhead end of my arrow and knocked it off the shelf (I put a little Montana pitch on the cutting edges to prevent rust). When they are close enough to count whiskers, you know they are close.
Fifth, find joy and satisfaction in passing on a shot. Something I don’t think I could have done 40 years ago.
Sixth, I’m not sure it’s possible to have five or more deer present and be able to make any kind of move while in a ground blind.
Seventh, I don’t think I could have done this without the swivel ground blind seat from Milleninum or one that works just like it. Being able to swivel and not move the upper body parts is a real plus. The ground blind needs to hide you from the waist down so none of the foot or leg movements can be seen.
Eighth, having a hand on the bow at all times really cuts down on movement.
Ninth, be open to trying new things to add to the enjoyment of being out with your traditional gear. I know a few folks who don’t hunt anymore because they don’t want to take the ‘shot’. Well, you don’t have to. You can do a version of catch and release.