Monday, October 5, 2015


As I write this, on the first official day of fall, the change of seasons is evident.  The morning suggests a sweater, the flaming embers of maples’ limbs lie lightly atop shoots of green summer grass, and the air smells of a few mornings I’ve experienced from a treestand.  With sunrise this Saturday will come a familiar fall tradition, what is probably the most anxiously awaited on the sportsman’s calendar—the opening of the early archery deer season, the first in a series of new beginnings to come.

The Facts

    Saturday, October 3 marks the beginning of the early archery season that will run through November 13 statewide.  The entire six-week period is designated “either-sex,” during which hunters are permitted to take either a buck or a doe.

    Midway through the season, a window opens for the gun-toting variety of big game hunters.  The early muzzleloader season extends from October 31 right through the heralded general firearms season opener, November 14.  Hunters are permitted to take a deer of either sex throughout the length of the muzzleloading season as well, unless specially noted in the VDGIF deer hunting regulations for the 2015-16 season, which can be accessed at

    East of the Blue Ridge Mountains, except on National Forest Lands in Amherst, Bedford, and Nelson Counties, the daily bag limit rests at the historical number of two.  Hunters are permitted to take six deer per license year, provided at least three are “antlerless,” which is defined as a deer with no antlers protruding above the hair line.  Bucks with small “buttons,” or pedicels, that don’t break the skin or hair line are considered antlerless.

Four Eyes

    The falling leaves and half-bear trees that come to mind when one visualizes bowhunting in the autumn woods are often not reality during the front end of the early archery season in Virginia.  Such was my dilemma one early October evening in a familiar creekbottom.

    Evidence of a relentless summer was slipping away as dusk and the coolness of an October night settled in, when the growing sound of footsteps materialized from the peeping of birds and the trickle of a small stream in the background of my thoughts.  Still-green leaves blocked any chance of a long-distance ID.  From my position in a ground blind facing a hollow dominated by a small tributary, the noise was diffused, irregular, and hardly audible. 

    However, as the noise grew, I came to understand why.  There were two sources.  One seemed to originate from my right; the other, from my left.  Each bore different characteristics.  One was steady, soft, deliberate; the other, erratic, quick, and careless.

    The first source materialized first, on my right.  A mature doe browsed methodically down the slope of a ridge that ended at the creek’s confluence in front of me.

    My hand tightened around the handle of my compound bow as my heart rate quickened.  The deer moseyed behind the veil of a wide hickory tree.   I saw my chance.

    As I raised my bow, ready to draw, the second source strutted into view—a jake, a young turkey, seemingly with the intention of meeting my white-tailed quarry at the confluence.  Their paths ran into each other.

    But as the bird strutted into view, he froze and cocked his head at the foreign camouflage box in his turf.  Turkey have exceptional eyesight, so the fact that he didn’t bolt and send my chances of taking anything home to the table over the next ridge surprised me.  Nevertheless, I remained frozen, though my muscles were strained in the beginning stages of drawing. 

    Nervously, the bird sidestepped, still cocking his head inquisitively. 

    “If he just makes it a few more feet, that small beech might give me a window,” I breathed nervously. 

    My wish came true after several sweaty moments.  Naturally, at that time, the doe’s head had popped out from behind the hickory, still apparently oblivious to the tense moment at hand.  I saw my second of opportunity, and drew. 

    As subtle as I could be wasn’t subtle enough.  The doe swung her head up, her body still shielded by the hickory.  I had a fresh opponent in the staring game, and now I was at full draw. 

    Meanwhile, the jake continued his nervous dance, edging ever closer to the blind.  The doe twitched her ears, though her body remained solidly in place, teasing me.

    After what seemed an hour, I began to shake under the weight of the bow.  The jake had finally had enough, wheeled around, and trotted out of the scene.  The doe shot out a wheeze and bolted.  I relaxed, exhausted from the tension of a close encounter.

*Originally published in The Rural Virginian

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