In the Zone



In Olympic archery, there is a discipline called “In The Zone” or Emotion Intensity Regulation.  Archery hunting takes this a step further. Besides consciously controlling the adrenalin surge before a shot, bow hunters have a primal instinct that kicks in.


Some hunters like to bow hunt the day before firearms opener.   I had never done that before, but here I was. There are times when the wind direction and speed, the location and how you get there, along with being rested and healthy – all come together and you know you have to be out there. I looked up at the stars before heading out, marveling at them as I prayed for safety and harvest.


The walk to my deer stand sounded like breaking glass the whole way. A wet snow during the night was frozen at the surface and crunched loudly with every step of the half mile walk in. A full moon shrouded by cloud cover meant no flashlight needed. Once settled in my stand, bow in my lap, I closed my eyes and just listened to the silence.   It was not quite 6am.


After two hours, a footstep cadence of something bigger than squirrels approached from behind me. I turned, and two does were working the oak ridge almost right up to my stand. Then from behind me I heard more steps, turned the other direction and saw a large bodied buck making a b-line for the does who both went to alert. One doe bolted off while the other stayed, watching the buck approach. The buck commenced dogging her and they both chased off into the distance. I figured that was my excitement for the day and this was all I would see. I pulled out my grunt call and gave a couple soft grunts to coax the deer back.


A half hour went by and I heard steps again, only this time it was a turkey, followed by a small forkhorn buck. I stood up and turned to face my tree. At that point a startled black squirrel ran up a nearby tree, sending both the turkey and the buck running. Again, I figured the party was over and I would see nothing more.


Moments passed and I heard still more footsteps. This was indeed an active oak ridge. The buck I saw earlier was back and heading straight for me. I froze, caliper on bow string, ready to draw. At 25 yards the buck stopped, facing me head on, looking straight at me.   He then, turned broadside and kept walking.



He stopped briefly in some brush, with his head behind a large tree where he could not spot my movement.     I went to full draw and held.   It is at these moments that I go “In The Zone”, looking through the peep site with my pin on the target, so intensely focused that I often don’t remember the moment. After 10 seconds the buck walked slowly from behind the tree. I let my arrow fly.


It seemed like slow motion. My eyes thought I saw the hot pink fletching of my arrow in his side as he bolted off and I flashed on there being no pass-through and no blood trail.   As I sat down my entire body was shaking convulsively as if I was in the electric chair, which I guess is one way to get warm while Minnesota winter hunting.   I texted my son that I arrowed a big one and would let him know when I found it.


I waited 20 minutes before tracking, then went to where the buck stood last. There was my blood drenched arrow: a pass-through ! I followed the blood trail for 30 yards and it faded away to nothing. I started over, same result. I began concentric circles from last blood and found deep hoof prints that I followed 20 more yards. It was now an hour since I shot. Had my eyes deceived me and I only had a flesh wound? I stopped, with nowhere else to look, and prayed “God I need you again, please, help me find this deer”. For ten seconds I looked in all directions, then saw a horizontal line 30 yards from me. ‘Just another downed tree’, I thought. But it had snowed and that tree had no snow on it.   I pulled out my rangefinder and the tree was gray… it was my buck! I literally ran through the woods, leaping logs like a hurdler, giddy as a coot. There was no way I could drag this deer out however, even field dressed.


I called my son who brought the ATV and trailer. He came up an old trail, but then had to blaze through rough woods, leaving the trailer behind at one point. We together dragged the deer the last few yards, then attached the drag rope to the ATV winch and backed out to the trailer, loaded the buck up and headed back to camp.


As I gutted the deer at camp, I could see that my arrow had gone in one lung and out the other between ribs.   When “In The Zone” this time however, my mind did a freeze frame of the arrow as it made contact and I must have blinked and missed the pass-through. The exit wound plugged with fat which explained the disappearing blood trail. But finding the deer was God’s doing yet again and it happened so fast I could not help but smile. He is a good good Father.