Weather-wise archers had a nearly perfect opening day last week. After two days of steady rain, the weather cleared and got cooler, footing was noiseless so hunters could sneak around the woods as they wished. It was the kind of day archers crave.
Archers are still staking out preferred feeding areas but sign of the soon-appearing magic time for archers - the rut - is coming. Rubs appear daily, as bucks rub their antlers against small but strong trees to remove the velvet covering and have their antlers ready for the sparring and fighting among themselves that is even now happening. Rubs stand out to the hunter. Like the signposts they are, they show the traveling directions of bucks. Small rubs on small trees signify a small-antlered buck; the larger -antlered the buck, the larger a tree he will pick to rub. So a stout tree with a big, shiny rub set a hunter's heart tripping.
Bucks have begun to spar and some even to get into serious scraps with one another as the battle for breeding rights begins. Bucks that have hung around with each other all summer, now begin to feel that strong jingling of hormones that causes them to become solitary. When the females come into estrus, a big buck will not tolerate a buck lesser than himself hanging around on the fringes hoping for some action.
So they fight and spar and the clinking of antlers is about to be heard in the woods and farms in this state. It's an exciting time. Many hunters have perfected the art of rattling antlers during the rut. Some hunters will tote actual antlers to use for the rattling but most manufacturers offer various boxes and bags that simulate the rattling sound that are smaller to carry and easier to use. When a buck hears what he interprets as two bucks fighting he often - but not always- comes in to investigate and to run off the intruders.
Experts tell us that bucks also rub antlers on trees to strengthen the neck muscles for upcoming fights. If ever you have witnessed a fight between two rival bucks you can understand the need for strong neck muscles. The two deer literally lock antlers together and push, each trying to force the other to the ground. Sometimes bucks actually do become locked together so tightly as they fight that they cannot separate them. Usually, then, both bucks will die a lingering death from starvation and stress.
During the rut, bucks become a bit less cautious than usual, being driven by the scent of a doe in estrus and his own hormones. So they are on the prowl, looking for and chasing around a doe until she finally submits to him. During the rut, bucks also make grunting sounds so of course there are a myriad of grunt tubes offered at sporting good stores that emulate the various grunts that bucks emit.
Then there is the plethora of deer "scents" that are available. Just perusing the shelves at a store and leafing through the hunting catalogs can boggle your mind. There are "cover" scents, designed to cover the human aroma while in the woods. Nothing is worse in the woods than to smell like what you are - a human and therefore the enemy. So archers especially are apt to use a number of different scents: apple, peanut butter, pine, raspberry and so on to emit a natural scent into the woods to let deer know everything is OK.
Cover scents can be skunk essence, raccoon, fox or even the natural urine of deer. These also send the "all is clear" message to traveling deer. These types of scent must be kept in the dark and cold to preserve their quality so many a wife is horrified to find them lurking in some back corner of a refrigerator.
But when the hunting gets to the down-and-dirty time, the heart of the rut, there are a hundred brands of doe-in-heat scents available. This scent is dispensed by hanging cotton balls or small rags moistened with a few drops of this potent aroma from small tree limbs. Others saturate the bottom of their hunting boots with this scent and walk around the woods, the theory being that a frisky buck will pick up that scent and follow it right to the hunter. These are the boots that - after season is over - are stored in the shed or barn.
Some scents are sprayed periodically from a tree stand. Some archers have sling shot type affairs and send scent-laden cotton balls flying through the air every now and then.
I often reflect on how Daniel Boone and other famous forefathers ever got a deer, being armed as they were with primitive long bows and not having treestands, artificial scents, grunt tubes, four-wheel drives, peep sights, scopes and so on to help. Of course, they didn't have to contend with hunting only at specified times when everyone else is also out there trying to get the same deer. When they killed a deer they preserved the natural scent glands to use the next time they went out. We simply choose to buy it in bottles. I suppose it all evens out.
Archery hunting provide exciting, breath-holding, heart-pounding moments. The challenge, the skill and the luck needed to bag a big buck in archery season is enormous. That's why we do it. But it seems true that the more prepared an archer is, the more luck he's going to have.