Sometimes Deer Stick Around Long Enough for Us to Know Them
A stiff northwest wind swept down off the bluff. I peered through squinted eyes as the skies began to spit snow, blanketing the stubbled creek bottom below. I couldn’t help but smile as the first sign of winter revealed itself. I hoped the driving snow would push the bedded deer off the ridge and down into the cornfield before me.
I sat there, bow in hand, reflecting on my life in that creek bottom. Thoughts of spring — how I’d set up against the old white oak beside my grandfather, calling to that roosted gobbler that always seemed to outwit us each year. Until he didn’t. Thoughts of summer, and how my cousins and I would wade through the shallow creek, fishing for minnows, skipping creek rocks and getting pinched by crawdads. And thoughts of fall . . . the fall . . . and how I’d sit in that big beech tree and wait for an unsuspecting whitetail to meander down the hollow.
I subconsciously reached down and touched the bark of that old tree, and just as I did, a splash in the creek grabbed my attention. I peered over my shoulder, catching a brief glimpse of an old familiar friend as she slipped through the cane polls.
Her chocolate face, Roman nose and sunken eyes were unmistakable. The old creek-bottom doe was making her routine trip to the snack bar as flakes of snow pelted her coarse, brown hair. She followed the same worn trail that she and her kind almost always did when making the late-afternoon walk from the bluff to the corn. Two fawns followed her, nosing their way through the thick cover as they too trekked toward the feast to come.
I was there for one thing — fill my doe tag. But as she slowly inched into range, I just watched her. Instead of grabbing my bow, it swayed back and forth rhythmically in the November breeze.
The old doe kept walking. She slowly slinked through the briars, constantly scanning for danger. A few more steps put her at the base of an old wooden treestand. I’d sat in it with my father on my first bowhunt. I thought about that hunt and the four deer that had made their way toward me. I chuckled as I recollected how I’d spooked them all off thanks to the pumping adrenaline that had somehow shaken the entire tree.
Many years later, the old wooden stand laid on the ground now. Years of wind and rain had brought it to its knees. And, as the doe stepped over the remnants of the ladder, I thought about the memories made from where she now stood.
It wasn’t until the old doe had come and gone that it hit me — I’d never pull the trigger on that deer. And there’s darn few deer I’ve ever come to that conclusion on. I can count them on two fingers. The other was an old warrior that lived out his days in that very same creek bottom. Call it going soft. Call it mutual respect. Call it what you want. But a true deer hunter understands it.
That old doe and I crossed paths for the first time in 2013 when she stepped in front of my trail camera. She’s come back to raise her young in that winding creek bottom ever since. I guess she took a liking to it the way I did. We have a lot in common, that doe and I.
Her predictable patterns haven’t changed much. She did the same thing in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Call her a creature of habit, I guess. Can’t say that I blame her, though. That place has a lot to offer.
She’s back again this year, fawns in tow, and she really seems to be enjoying the green soybeans. She can be seen on most afternoons wading through the waist-high crop on the south side of the creek. I’ll catch a glimpse of her from time to time as I glass the bottoms in anticipation of the season to come.
I don’t know exactly how old she is now. She’s at least 6½ years old, likely older. But she rears young every year. And she’s a dang good mother to her fawns. Her lineage has populated that entire network of bottoms for years. And their lineage will help keep a healthy, huntable population of whitetails there for years to come.
Just like the old creek-bottom doe, I grew up running that network of ridges and bottoms. And just as that old creek shaped the land, it shaped me too. It runs through my veins. The old doe built her life there. I built my life there as well. And a piece of me will always be found somewhere along it.
I’ve always said that deer hunting is almost as much about the land as it is the deer itself. My grandfather owns that piece of dirt. It’s the family farm. There’s something sacred about that.
I hope I’m still climbing that old beech for years to come. But if I’m not, I hope whoever does appreciates it for what it is. I hope they build a piece of their life down in that ol' creek bottom. And I hope the old doe is still wandering those hills when they do.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.