The buck was mincing along the fence row in no big rush to enter the field before dark. It would stop every few feet, lift its head to check for danger before moving slowly closer.
The day, cool and clear, was gorgeous. The buck wasn't in any rush to leave the heavy cover. It poked along, feeding along the edge of the woods, after leaving a thick swale where it and several other deer had bedded down.
A small 6-pointer was approaching
The buck, with six points and a small rack, was just 1 1/2 years old. It was plenty old enough to know enough to stay near other deer of his age group, and not get involved with any big bucks that might be in the area.My stand was 15 feet up a big maple. It offered a great view of the field edge and surrounding woodlot. Would this buck and any others follow the same trail today as yesterday? Yeah, probably, and would soon pass within easy bow range of my stand. The does and other yearlings had already passed my stand without incident and continued on into the open field 200 yards away. The buck, moving slowly, was taking his time in the world. The buck would have to present a proper angle for a good killing shot, and it had to be fairly close to my stand. And, more importantly than anything else, I had to be mentally prepared for the shot if one materialized.
Would I be ready?
Daily practice and years of studying deer at close range had removed any potential of the jitters. The big question was whether I wanted to shoot, and a 6-pointer was small. I knew early that I'd probably take a pass on this animal.He moved a few steps closer and stopped to sniff where other deer had paused. The young buck looked around as its mother had taught him many times in the past. The deer inched forward to within 25 yards. Stout maple branches partially screened my position, and I closely studied the buck's movements. My bow was ready. An arrow was nocked, and it was ready to fly if I chose to shoot. He hopped over a strand of barbed wire, and paused to study the upcoming terrain. Other deer were heading out to feed as the sun began to sink in the western sky. The buck turned, and stepped closer to my tree. Its head came back, and its nostrils flared as it snuffled the air for danger. None was detected, and the buck began to move forward again. My tree stand was directly downwind from the buck, and it couldn't smell me. Rubber boots and stand positioning kept him from detecting my presence. The buck ate some grass, and moved again. He was now 20 yards away and quartering toward me. Patience would now become a major factor as I waited for it to turn and offer a broadside or quartering-away shot. I'd watched this buck walk to this exact place before, and knew he would turn slightly and offer a quartering-away shot at 10 yards. I didn't move, and the buck followed the same pattern he had traveled many times before. He slowly turned, quartering away, and my bow came up. It felt comfortable in my left hand, and as it came up the arrow was cautiously drawn back as my eyes tracked the slow-moving buck.
To shoot or not to shoot?
The bow was held back at full draw, and my sight settled low behind the buck's near-side shoulder. One more ounce of pressure on the release would send it through the deer's chest.He stopped to look around, and my finger softly stroked the release without applying the pressure needed to release the arrow. Slowly, as the buck began walking off, I eased up on and let the buck walk off unharmed. It really didn't interest me to shoot a small buck, and patterning this six-pointer had been easy. There would have been little pleasure in arrowing the deer in early October, and besides, there would be other chances to take an animal in the coming weeks. This was good practice. It offered superb outdoor recreation, several deer sightings, and the chance for a close shot. Who knows? Next time my finger may put that extra ounce of pressure on the trigger. And then again, perhaps I will again choose not to shoot. It's this feeling of not knowing whether to shoot or not, and my deep respect for the animals I hunt, that allows me the wonderful opportunity to know the difference between hunting and killing. For me, on this night, it wasn't the right animal or time to shoot.