Open morning of the Michigan bow season dawned a crisp 34 degrees. The coldest opener in memory. I was in the woods well before the first hint of daybreak. Feeling my way down a path that I have used for over 20 years, I can navigate without the need of a flashlight, and in fact never used a light in the dark, going to, or exiting the particular stand that this path leads to. A bit a preseason pruning and path clearing makes it easy to land each footfall noiselessly. Most people wouldn’t even recognize this path if they stood in front of the entrance, at the edge of a small clearing where I park my truck. Just as designed. At the end of the path, which leads through clearings, stands of small pines and poplar and ultimately to a small grove of mature oaks, my main tree stand can be found. The oak grove, which stands just above a small wetland and river bottom, has been a gold mine for the 23 years that I’ve hunted it. I’ve taken over 20 deer with a bow, mostly nice mature bucks, from this one stand. It holds a special place in my heart. Having spent close to 500 days in this stand, and even though it sometimes seems like “groundhogs day” from the repetitive nature of looking at the same scenery, it’s a honey hole and I’ll keep going back as long as the landowner grants permission. Hunting the same stand for over 20 years provides a sort of “time-lapse” image of the place. Sitting in my tree, I can recall the changes that I’ve witnessed over time. Time dilates in a way, as in “I remember that oak sapling when it was 2” diameter…now it’s close to 8” in diameter, 40 feet tall and loaded with acorns”, or “I remember the first time I saw a buck use that scrape under the white pine, it was a sapling and the buck almost killed the tree from the thrashing he gave it. Now it’s a 20 foot tall, sturdy pine, still showing the scars from it’s youth”….but with a scrape that’s been active for over 20 years. With the slow steady changes, there are always surprises and new things to see too, which is one of the biggest reasons that I hunt, witnessing all that nature has to offer.
This opening day was no exception. I sneaked through the woods, and finally made it to my tree, carefully hung my bow and backpack to my bow rope, and started excitedly and stealthily up my tree taking care to be as quiet and careful as humanly possible. As I was navigating the last step, which requires a somewhat tricky rock climber’s move and a bit of focus, the tree, just above my head, exploded in a deafening cacophony of noise and commotion as 15-20 turkeys abandoned their roosts and boiled out of MY tree, flying off in all directions.
For those uninitiated to the racket that turkeys make when leaving their night time roosts, the sound is like that of several Volkswagons being dropped through the forest canopy. When this happens in the pitch dark, in the noiseless morning cold, while hanging precariously from a tree, while attempting to be completely silent, well let me say, that having been charged by brown bears in Alaska, facing the snapping maw of a 1,200 lb. bear won’t get your heart going as fast as having the shit scared out of you by a bunch of witless turkeys in the dark….period!
Post cardiac arrest, settled into my stand, the morning went by in the typical fashion. I didn’t see a “shooter” but I had a few does and fawns, and a small buck under me. This stand usually doesn’t produce until the rut kicks in around Halloween, but that’s ok.
I always feel the need to spend time in this tree to get a feel for what’s to come. I check trail cameras and look for a buck worthy of my time. Last year, for the first time in a long time, the “honey hole” didn’t produce a big buck, but there were a number of small 8 pointers and one young 10 point buck that looked like they could be contenders for this year.
After the morning hunt, a check of the trail camera cards, which had been out for 3 weeks prior to the opener showed lots of deer, foxes, coyotes…and turkeys. I’m sure it’ll be another year with tons of memories one way or another. These memories are the sign posts of my life. They feed my soul. It’s so good to be back in the old neighborhood. Cheers to bow season 2017.
Brandon Vaughan has over 40 years of personal and professional experience in a broad array of hunting and fishing disciplines, from Alaska to Belize. Past professional experience includes working as a professional guide in Alaska and around the Great Lakes region. In addition to hunting and fishing throughout the lower 48, Canada and Central America, Brandon has been an Orvis Endorsed Fly-fishing guide, a fly-fishing and fly-tying instructor, a hunting guide and shooting instructor.