by Tony Felich
The build up for the Fall 2010 hunting season was much the same as the last eight years of my bow hunting experience. I checked my equipment inventory, practiced shooting my bow, read magazines and articles, watched various hunting videos, visited some of my spots to set up stands or cut shooting lanes, put a few trail cams out, discussed potential set ups with my hunting buddy, and visualized hunting scenarios continuously.
I coach high school soccer in the Fall so I can’t start hunting in earnest until the end of October. I am absolutely primed to be in the tree stand when October starts. I have averaged forty days afield each Fall since I started bow hunting in 2002, most of my days on stand are in November. I do get out a few times in late September and early October just to relieve some of the excitement built up over the prior 9 months.
I am a pastor of a church. I have strange working hours compared to most people, but it works well for hunting mornings. As long as I plan ahead far enough, I can hunt many weekday mornings in November without having to dip in to much vacation time.
There are a few land owners I know through church who graciously let me hunt on their places. I have two hunting buddies. One is my fellow pastor and life long friend, Nathan. The other is Frank, a very learned hunter I met a few years ago on a bow hunting website.
I’m a very social person normally, but when it comes to hunting, other than these two guys, I pretty much go it alone. There is something restorative and refreshing about the solitude bow hunting affords. The forty days afield are times of rich therapy for me.
So, as September came and moved toward the bow opener, I was chomping at the bit. I got out a few times in late September, but didn’t have anything close enough to shoot.
I took one of my sons out a few mornings during the youth rifle season in September, but again, nothing in shooting range.
I play in an adult soccer league on Thursday nights and coach my high school team most afternoons through October, so evening hunts are impossible until November. I think evening sits are best in early season, so not having many of those, I bided my time until October rolled around.
It was October 14 and I could not have been more excited to go to one of my favorite early season stands. It’s a funnel back to a bedding area. I practically ran to my spot before first light and soaked in every moment of that crisp, cool morning.
In total I saw fifteen deer moving through the woods, including a decent 3 year-old 8-point. Nothing close enough to shoot, but I knew the adjustment to make with my location to harvest a doe the next morning. I never got the chance to go back the next morning.
The evening of October 14 I had a soccer game with the team I play for in a local adult league. I have been playing soccer my whole life and even in my college days managed to avoid a serious injury.
Toward the end of the game that night, I jumped forward to head a ball that had been crossed. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but when I was in the air I got knocked pretty good and landed the entirely wrong way on my right leg. As I came down I felt an indescribable collapse and unnatural motion in my knee.
I knew immediately something was very wrong. When I hit the ground, I felt pain like never before. I looked down at my knee and could see it was radically dislocated. It was hideous. My lower leg came forward and moved up so that my knee cap was about 3 inches higher than it should be.
The pain was excruciating. My teammates came to my side and tried to console me while we waited for the ambulance to come. When I got to the Emergency Room they moved quickly to sedate me and put my leg back in to place. I knew my ligaments were shot and things were bad.
My good friend and hunting buddy, Nathan, also plays on my team and was there when they were tending to me. Just after I came out of the anesthesia, I turned to Nathan and said- “We have got to figure a way for me still to hunt this season!!!” He, of course agreed, but neither of us knew how it would be possible. Here I was on October 14, laid up in a hospital, with a completely blown out knee.
My leg was immobilized for the next 10 days while I consulted with doctors about the best way to reconstruct my knee. They couldn’t operate immediately as the knee needed some time to heal and for swelling to subside. They also couldn’t wait more than a few weeks or scar tissue would hurt the chances of a good recovery.
I called Frank to tell him I couldn’t join him on a hunt we had planned, but not to count me out for the season. I told him I was determined to walk and hunt before surgery if it was the last thing I did. He was very encouraging and assured me he would do whatever he could to help me get out. I had to be patient, something very hard for me.
After ten days the surgeon ordered an MRI to determine the surgery date. At that appointment he gave me a walking brace and told me I needed to get range of motion back in my leg before surgery. The brace was big and bulky, but I could walk in it without fear of my knee coming out of joint again. I could barely bend my leg, but I could walk. I quizzed him carefully asking, “So, you are saying you need me to walk on this leg?”
He reiterated that he wanted me to do just that, to get some flexibility in it before surgery as it would help my recovery after surgery. I didn’t mention or ask about hunting, I just made perfectly clear he wanted me to walk.
That was October 24. The next morning I hobbled to one of my ladder stands (following doctors orders, of course) and decided I would do my darndest to hunt until surgery. I wasn’t going to let my 2010 hunting season be lost because of this stupid knee. No way.
I had my MRI a few days later and my doctor wanted to do the surgery on November 10. I begged him to delay one week so I could hunt. He reluctantly agreed.
I told my hunting buddies that I had a little over 2 weeks to hunt in 2010, and I planned to spend as many mornings as possible in a tree stand somewhere. I had a few hindrances: I couldn’t walk very fast and I couldn’t navigate rough terrain. Long grass was the worst as I couldn’t lift my right leg very high.
It took SO long to get to set ups that normally took minutes from my truck. Some of the set ups I had planned to hunt were simply impossible in my condition. I couldn’t climb high in a tree stand. Not being able to bend my right leg much, I had to put my climbing sticks close together to get up at all. I could get no higher than about 8 feet.
Also, it was tough to bend my leg enough to get it on the tree stand platform when sitting. It hurt all the time, so long sits were out of the question also. I would be doing lots of hunting from the ground. I couldn’t kneel or crouch either. I would have to stand or sit, no in between. That was OK, “I’ll take it”, I thought many times. I was happy just to get 10-12 days in November to hunt. I thanked God every day I got out, with a gratitude I have not previously felt.
In the sixteen days of November before my surgery, I hunted twelve of those days. Many of those sits were unproductive as it was warm, windy, and the rut wasn’t cranked up. But on a few of those days I saw some good action and some nice deer. Both of my hunting buddies helped me get to good spots and were encouraging along the way.
On November 8 I had a neat encounter with a two year old 8-point coming to my decoy. I still hadn’t witnessed any mature deer yet. I got out several other mornings, good action, but no shooters. I wrestled with what would be a shooter this year. In years past I wanted to hold out for a 4 year old or better. This year, I was thinking a 3 year old would be plenty good.
November 13 was my son Jordan’s eighth birthday. He wanted to go hunting with me that morning. He’s a wiggly little guy, so I had no real expectation we would see anything. We went in to a spot not too far from where we live and built a little ground blind before first light in a thicket that overlooked a pasture field with other little thickets here and there.
We set up the decoy and waited till it was light enough to do some calling. To keep my son from getting too bored, I had him blow on the grunt call every 10 minutes.
Wouldn’t you know the first time he blew a series of tending grunts, a two year old 6-pt came right in behind us and winded us! Then, about thirty minutes later, some does scampered by about fifty yards upwind with a three year old 8-pt in tow.
He saw our decoy and started to come, but held up at about forty yards not wanting to lose sight of his does. I had no shot, but Jordan’s eyes were as wide as saucers seeing a deer respond to a call and get so close. Great action! Then, fifteen minutes later, I saw horns coming through one of the thickets directly in front of us.
I told my son to blow on the grunt tube and he did. The deer stopped, turned, and walked straight toward our set up! I swear he would have walked right to our feet if he hadn’t seen the decoy first. It was a good three year old 10-point, not huge, but definitely over the Pope and Young minimum.
He turned to confront my decoy and gave me a perfect fifteen yard broadside shot. I drew and mouth grunted to stop him, but he ignored me and kept walking. I released the arrow and was sure I double-lunged him, but the arrow didn’t pass through. He ran off, I just knew he’d be piled up not too far away. I called Nathan to come help us track it and haul it out.
He got there in about twenty minutes, but after five hours of hard tracking we couldn’t find him. The blood trail dried up. We got two other friends to help track and search more until dark. I was bummed, but my son was just ecstatic to have spent such quality, memorable time with me.
His lack of discouragement lifted me up. In my mind, however, I knew that was probably my chance for 2010 and now it was slipping away. Replaying the shot and considering how the blood trail unfolded, I must have gotten one lung. The blood was profuse at first until it totally stopped several hundred yards away.
We resumed the search the next day, but no luck. We all agree he probably went to the adjoining property where we do not have permission to go. I have only lost one other deer in 9 years of bow hunting. I was bummed, surgery was just 3 days away with only 2 days left to hunt.
Monday, November 15 arrived and I decided to make the 90 mile drive down to SE Kansas where I encountered the young buck confronting the decoy and set up the same way. I had a long walk across a grown up pasture and down in to a draw. It took a long time to carry my decoy through the long grass to the spot I needed to be. I was set up before the sun rose and I waited.
I saw nothing the whole morning and was thinking it was a dead spot. I even laid back and slept for an hour- from 10 am until 11. I was nudged from my slumber by some turkeys that moved in to my area. I tried to shoot one, but missed high. I was a bit groggy, discouraged, getting too warm, and thinking I should head to a different spot for the afternoon. I decided I would leave at noon.
It was 11:50 when I started to gather my stuff. At the same time I laid my bow down, I caught movement to my right, up the draw I was sitting in. It was a doe running my way so I quickly picked up my bow.
She got almost in front of me when she saw the decoy and started to spook. She stopped and then turned sharply to her left and ran up the side of the draw. Seconds later I caught a glimpse of a big ole deer galloping after her. He followed her exact line stopping to look up to where she ran.
If he ran after her, I would have no shot. I needed him to see the decoy and keep coming. He bristled up, laid his ears back, started posturing, and slowly advanced forward stiff-legged and ticked there was an intruder trying to check out his lady friend.
As he moved my way, his eyes were fixed on the decoy, so I drew my bow. From the ground, at no more than 12 steps I smoked him. He spun around and ran up the same way the doe did. Blood was everywhere. I found him about 50 yards from where I shot him, at the top of the draw.
After shooting him I literally stood up and praised God for giving me this experience. It was a total blessing from Him. Two days before surgery I shot the oldest, biggest buck of my life, at 11:53 on a warm and windy day.
When I looked him over I knew he was old. His rack looked odd, one side had 6 shorter tines. The other side had 4 long ones and another that was broken off. I think he was a mainframe 12 earlier in his life. His main beams were heavy with a neat bore out hole on the underside of his right main beam. He was almost 22 inches wide. Just a big old toad of a deer well over Pope and Young. My taxidermist aged him at 7.5 years old! Wow. That’s very cool no matter what kind of rack he has.
I still had one day left to hunt. For some sweet icing on the cake, I went out with Frank the next morning and had the most deer action I have ever experienced in a three hour period. I saw about 25 deer including 5 bucks chasing and running all over the place in the timber. I could have shot three of them! One buck was a mature 140-inch 8 pt, he came right to the base of my tree where I was perched at just over six feet. I ended up harvesting a doe around 9 am on November 16, 24-hours before going under the knife.
What a whirlwind 2010 has proven to be! My surgery went fine, but I can’t put any weight on my leg for a total of 4 weeks- that makes for 2 more weeks right now. I will have a long rehab process.
Even more so now, I thank God for every day I can spend in the woods.