Bill Dickinson, AuD
Deer season last year started and ended with sound. While it definitely wasn’t my biggest whitetail harvest, it will for sure go down in the books as one of my very best hunting experiences.
Trust Your Gut
While placing deer stands in all the usual places pre-season, I remembered a spot that caught my attention while chasing frustrating gobblers the previous spring. The rolling thunder had taken my son and me to two massive hills. When I returned that fall and saw it through a deer lens, it was even more perfect than how we left it in turkey season. This spot was full of mature oaks, and bordered by pines and three separate drains holding a bunch of thick underbrush.
I’m not sure if I was half stupid, half naïve or just banking on luck, but I had “that feeling,” so I picked a tree and hung a new stand. I will sheepishly admit this decision was completely void of intel – no trail-cam pics, no worn-down deer trails, no history of scrapes or high traffic volumes. Heck, I hadn’t even seen a deer in this area! It just looked good – and it felt really, really good.
Intuition Pays Off
As usual, during early bow season, all the eye candy on the cameras pulled my attention to the usual stands and I really didn’t give the new spot much thought. But on a Friday morning before the Tennessee muzzleloader season – mostly out of curiosity and to scout for the upcoming gun seasons – I decided to sit in the new stand with my bow. If I truly knew what I was getting into, I wouldn’t have slept the night before!
Well before the sun fully rose, I was covered up with deer – literally surrounded with deer moving 360 degrees around me. My head swiveled and my eyes tried to look everywhere. With no wind and deer arriving from all directions, my eyes clearly needed help managing this 360-degree chaos. The dividends of good hearing in the deer woods soon paid off handsomely.
Between the racket of two fox squirrels using a nearby hickory tree as a NASCAR track, I watched a pretty, little six-point feed on acorns below my climber. I could literally hear him chewing acorns like they were a bag of kettle-cooked potato chips. Being a sound geek, I wanted to capture that moment. I must have moved too much trying to video the little guy because 70 yards uphill a wise old doe started sounding the alarm. During her incessant blowing, the woods equivalent of a car alarm in a Walmart parking lot, I used this opportunity to reposition the climber with my back facing where I parked the four-wheeler and walked in. Between noise and scent contamination, that should be the least likely place I would see deer – right? Wrong!
An Unmistakable Sound
From directly behind me – exactly where any deer should NOT be – I heard the loudest, deepest, most guttural grunts I’ve ever heard in the woods. Every single muscle on my skeleton froze, my eyes were as big as saucers, and my ears gathered intel in hyperdrive. Not unlike a boss gobbler, this intimidating grunt seemed to pull the power plug across the entire woods. The woods went dead silent, just like when dad suddenly smashed both hands down on the dinner table when my sisters and I got out of line.
The silence was deafening.
Held completely hostage in total silence for what seemed like minutes, I began to doubt myself. Was that terrific, intimidating sound really from a buck? Afraid to make any movement in the deafening silence, my mind raced considering what the noise could have been.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose down by the drain directly behind me, where deer were not supposed to be. Fearing whatever was going down behind me was soon to be gone, I spun around the tree in time to catch a doe sneaking out the front of the drain, looking back over her shoulder at the main event still happening in the thicket. Flashes of brown and white and the breaking of branches and limbs suggested only one thing: a big buck brawl… and an epic one at that, by the sound of it.
Of Sound and Fury
After what seemed like minutes of thrashing in the thicket, suddenly a nice set of horns came running out toward the direction of the doe. Much to my surprise, he was followed by a great set of horns! While my immediate assessment was that both of these deer qualified for the category of “shooter,” there was clearly a dominate one, who obviously did not play well with others. For several minutes, I watched what would have made Darwin proud with this epic “survival of the fittest” battle over the earned right to pass on one’s genetic material. Hoofs, horns, grunts, growls, bleats – the woods came alive with sound and I had a front row seat to the “A Story About a Girl” screenplay that plays out each fall across the country.
What happened next was equally perplexing – everything just stopped. It was as if God spoke to them and told them to go to their rooms. The big bully simply turned and walked toward the doe, and the scrappy competition jumped the drain and trotted up another oak ridge. In the blink of the eye, all the fury dissipated and everything in the woods returned to normal. The little lady started feeding toward the pines as the dominate woods bully sauntered her way with his “what ya looking at?” swagger.
The Final Attempt
To say I was a train wreck is an understatement. There was no way I was just going to let this story end this way, so I did the only thing I could do in attempt to change history: I made some noise. I grabbed my grunt tube and treated it more like a goose flute than a grunt call. Somehow, I talked deer like never before, and sure enough it worked. She stopped, then he stopped, and they both shot looks uphill with all of their survival senses on Code 10. The big boy finally turned his head to look at his gal, and I hit him with another grunt, albeit a much less aggressive grunt. Clearly, he did not think it was less aggressive, because he closed 30 yards uphill in three giant leaps. Suddenly I knew why he was the king of these woods – his woods.
We commenced to play the dreaded statue game where nobody moves, only shallow breathing and as few eye blinks as possible, until he again turned his head to look downhill, like he wanted his doe to watch this. Another sharp grunt and suddenly he charged uphill like a retriever busting out on a belly-up greenhead.
This beast was agitated and started to take it out on a small pin oak, giving me the opportunity to gather my bow. With his veins full of testosterone, he continued to abuse the scrub tree with an occasional glance up to the top of the hill where he mistakenly localized my grunts. After a few more tussles with the oak, he grew bored and turned to look for his Friday morning prize downhill. This was my opportunity to go on full draw.
Two steps downhill made his uphill shoulder wide open and waiting for a blade. Only one thing was missing to write his final chapter: a sound. So I let out my best, “meh,” and it stopped him like a well-trained bird dog. The next sound was my arrow finding the sweet spot behind his shoulder, and the final cacophony was that of the arrow hitting each tree like fingers hitting keys on a poorly tuned pian on his crashing decent downhill. Then, total silence.
In that quiet moment of reflection after the adrenaline surge, I realized what made this hunt so very special: From beginning to end, this hunt was all about the sound. One of the coolest events in all my time in the woods – and one of the best encounters with a fantastic animal – only occurred because I could hear it. Without hearing, it wouldn’t have been my story to tell.
Sound got me in, and sound got me out.