Game on


photo by Graham Ratermann

Graham Ratermann

Bow hunting provides fresh entertainment in winter months

infographic by Emily Franke
infographic by Emily Franke
It’s 5:15 Thursday morning, just a hair above freezing with a sickly drizzle and cold, wind-whipped arctic air. While most RBHS students are tucked beneath blankets and comforters fast asleep, senior Adam Lafferty rolls out of bed in search of a trophy buck.
He puts on layer after layer of warm clothes, donning camouflage from head to toe with just a brush of orange for safety. Pulling on sturdy boots, he heads for the door eager to start the hunt.
“I get up, drink some coffee usually an hour and a half before sunrise [and] sometimes get a breakfast if I’m hungry,” Lafferty said. “Then I will go to my stand, get in there as quiet as possible, and then sit there and hunt.”
Thirty minutes before sunrise, Lafferty parks his car, puts on his insulated gloves, sprays himself with scent block and heads into the woods in complete darkness. He slowly picks his way around brambles and downed trees as he creeps deeper into the brush.
Arriving at his stand, he climbs the ladder ascending into the darkness and waits for the first peeping rays of the sun.
At first light the hunt is on; every rustle of leaves or snap of a twig underfoot is a buck walking into range.
The damp morning isn’t ideal, as the moisture soaks the previously dry leaves, concealing and muffling the foot falls of deer in the area.
It isn’t freezing, but the weather is brisk with temperatures hovering at 34 degrees and Lafferty’s breath condenses in a thin cloud in front of his face.
It’s been an hour and Lafferty’s hands are a tad stiff as cold begins to penetrate his layers of clothing. He tries moving them to fight the dull throb of the cold. So far there have been limited signs of deer activity, but Lafferty isn’t discouraged.
In the past from this stand there have been multiple smaller bucks that have walked into range, but he has let them pass uncontested seeking a bigger target. These hopes are spurred by the fact that on the farm next door the land owner took a monster buck.
So far Lafferty hasn’t seen anything. Hoping to change his luck, he tries a doe snort-wheeze call, a noise that mimics a doe in distress either scared or being pursued by bucks, to try to bring bucks in.
This call is sort of a toss-up Hail Mary because if there are no deer in the area it has a chance of attracting some but if there are deer it could scare them away.
Lafferty’s confidence in his stand placement is not as high as it once was. During the rut, his stand was placed well after thorough scouting.
“We all go out… we’ll walk around the area and find trails and rubs and scrapes and figure out where the deer are moving and find out where there food is where they bed,” Lafferty said. “[You want to] find a spot where you can see a lot of the trails where the deer are moving, usually in between their bedding areas and where they get their food. That’s kinda where they’ll move from, they’ll bed go through the woods, go get their food and go back to their bedding areas. So somewhere right in between that is where you want to go.”
Post-rut the deers in the area have changed their behavior and patterns with new trails running farther from his stand and going through a thicket of cedar.
In the distance at Eagle Bluffs, shotgun blasts begin coming in more frequent bursts indicating better fortunes for those in the blinds. On the pond behind Lafferty’s stand a lone teal duck cruises down and lands on the glass surface, seeking refuge from the slaughter at the duck ponds.
The morning hunt is beginning to wind down, until from the stand of cedar trees, 150 yards off a stick snaps and there is a hasty rustle in the leaves piercing the air. This perks Lafferty’s attention as he peers into the woods. After closer inspections he concludes it was a pesky squirrel making a racket.
It’s now time to go if Lafferty hopes to make it to school on time. He climbs down from his high perch, but instead of going directly back to his car he walks a perimeter around his stand looking for signs of deer activity. The mineral block he had set up a few days ago had been flipped over and in the stand of cedars there is evidence of fresh rubs.
The burden of time grows larger, and Lafferty hurries to school. It’s now 8:50 and Lafferty is energetic, still feeling the rush from the morning excursion.
Morning bowhunting to some may seem too early or silly, but for Lafferty the motivation is simple.
“I like being able to go outdoors every morning,” Lafferty said. “The adrenaline of the hunt, being able to go outdoors whenever I want, wherever I want and be able to see the Earth wake up in the morning.”
By Graham Ratermann