Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Deer in snow storm © Petr Kratochvil

A benefit of a winter hunt is that snow makes trailing deer easier.
© Petr Kratochvil

December 2012

A winter bow hunt

It could be the start of a new holiday tradition.

Dean Romano

I set out to bow hunt one Christmas Eve morning.

I had to get the landowner's permission weeks before the hunt and the agreement that we struck was that as long as no one in our hunting party brought an ATV out on his property, the landowner had no problem with us bow hunting his land. I agreed.

I saw a herd of whitetails crossing the snow-covered field just days before the hunt. They emerged from a huge stand of pine trees. It was a good sign.

Why hunt Christmas Eve morning? I hadn't taken a deer yet that year during the bow season and I knew I'd be at family events after that for Christmas.

This was the second bow season to follow the deer gun season and it would end in January, so I tried to sneak in my chance. Plus, you never know about winter weather in Wisconsin.

If we were to encounter weeks of extreme weather conditions it could affect the opportunity to hunt. We had just had weeks of bad weather: wind, rain, extreme cold. Then warmer days, then cold and then snow. The snow was more acceptable.

I also was lucky enough to convince my friends Joe and Art to join me. I was especially glad they decided to come along because with more than six inches of snow it could be a tough hunt for a single hunter if he or she had to drag an animal a long way.

The morning of the hunt the temps were in the teens – cold, but not too cold to hunt. I awoke tired about 5 a.m. thanks to my radio alarm clock. It was still dark and cold outside. I couldn't get the coffee maker on soon enough. I had to have my morning cup to get me moving.

Daybreak would not come until after 7. I called Art about 6 a.m. and asked if he was ready. He was and so was Joe. I picked Art up and we talked a bit on the way about hunting. I was excited. It's not too many holidays I get the chance to hunt. I shared that if I would get a deer that day, I would refer to it as my Christmas deer.

My wife, Gayle, wasn't crazy about that phrase. She doesn't have a problem with me hunting, but taking a deer on Christmas and then aming it my Christmas deer is not her idea of wise words.

My only concern was that during the winter around these parts, animals, especially coyotes, are hungry and they like to hunt deer. And if a hunter injures a deer and doesn't find it quickly enough, coyotes will be all over the prize. In Wisconsin you can hunt coyotes year round as long as you have a small game license, except in some areas during the deer gun season. Coyotes seem to be doing too well in Wisconsin, and there appears to be an over abundance of them in some areas.

We arrived at the field where we would be hunting and divvied it up deciding where each of us would position ourselves. We weren't familiar with the area and hadn't had time to previously scout it out.

Islands of hardwood trees ran through the field. Art asked me if I wanted to take the tip of the small forest on the right and I agreed, heading south. Joe walked straight ahead, which would have been east. Art went to the left and grabbed an edge line of trees to the north.

At the edge of a small forested area I nestled up to a large spruce. I didn't carry a tree stand with me because I had no intentions of setting one up anywhere at that hour of the morning and this would be a morning-only hunt. Family plans awaited all of us.

After standing for an hour I started to feel cold. I decided to move around a bit but try to remain quiet, which isn't easy to do in snow.

I heard squirrels and I watched a mole scamper by my boots and then dive to hide under the snow.Then I heard another noise – a slow moving, more low key sound as if something was moving through the snow to my left.

I was nervous and waited impatiently. Whatever it was, was taking a while to work its way around the trees to the left. I thought, if it's a deer it may wind me or it may not be traveling alone. Deer usually travel in groups of at least two or more. So I waited. Then, off to my left side, my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of a large animal moving closer to me.

I drew my bow waiting to make sure it was a deer. But if the deer catches my movement I will only hear that loud blowing sound that they do and that would be it.

Doe in the snow © Gregory K. Scott
Ground hunting in cold deep snow is fun but can be exhausting.
© Gregory K. Scott

It was now or never. I quietly drew back and a good-sized doe appeared. So far, so good. Then a sudden stop. Then it moved its head looking around – looking to bust me.

Too late. Now! Fire! I let the arrow go. It hit my target.

There were no other deer with her. She had been alone feeding on branches. Beautiful. It gets no better than ground hunting in the cold deep snow.

The snow made trailing the deer easy. At first there was nothing but small blood spots here and there. Then I found more and larger blood spots. I followed along as she darted under trees and through some tough terrain. Then I found her.

I wasted no time field dressing her and was done by 11. I marked the area with orange tape and had to leave my bow behind so I could start dragging my deer out into the field where the guys would see me when they came walking back in.

Again I was in luck. I did not get very far when I saw a small shape of one of the guys off in the distance walking toward me. It was Joe.

"You got one?" he asked with excitement.

"Yeah," I replied. "I have to go back and get my bow. I had to leave it to drag this deer."

"Take a break," he said. "I'll walk my bow up to the truck and come back to give you a hand."

Joe and I dragged that doe right up to the truck when we spotted Art walking toward us. We tied the deer to the truck and left to get my bow.

That was tough. The snow felt much deeper than it was and I was tired. But it felt good. Both Art and Joe were as proud as I was. I shared my venison with them that year. We went out there together. I felt it was only fair. Art also was kind enough to share his venison with us when he bagged a nice six pointer just before New Years.

It was a successful bow hunting season. We found some new hunting grounds, didn't encounter coyotes and had a story to share around another tradition, the Christmas tree.

Dean Romano is an avid Wisconsin outdoorsman, and the host and producer of outdoorwild.com