MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Busted!
Only 25 yards away and nibbling steadily closer, the big doe grazing on the left already had been converted into 50 pounds of chops, steaks, roasts and venison burger in my mind when something caught her eye.
She gave me a laser stare for 10 seconds without raising her head, then whistled an alarm snort, wheeled and bounded over the side of the hill with her two companions hot on her heels.
I thought I was pretty well camouflaged in my tree, which was at the edge of an open area with a thick screen of leaves behind the stand to help hide movement. But she apparently picked up something when I turned on the camera to take a photograph.
The commotion those deer made as they disappeared gave me a few minutes to have a snack and a drink, and then settle back down to wait some more.
Hunters throughout the state are reporting seeing at least as many deer as last season, and many are reporting increased numbers of whitetails.
That might have less to do with the deer numbers than the re-legalization of baiting throughout the Lower Peninsula, with the exception of the central bovine tuberculosis zone in the northeast corner of the lower.
The three-year ban on baiting was violated by many hunters, evident from the continued sale of deer bait throughout the lower, but conservation officers said it did reduce the amount the hunters put out and the number of sites they baited.
This season bait sales are booming, and Hal Donaldson thought the resumption of baiting had helped his deer sightings.
“I didn’t bait because I didn’t want to be a violator,” said Donaldson, who had a couple of honey holes in Isabella County close enough to drive to and sit with a bow for a couple of hours after getting out of work in mid-afternoon. “You can’t pick and choose the game laws you’re going to obey, not if you call yourself an ethical hunter.
“But this year I’m putting out 2 1/2 gallons like they say I can, and it’s gone almost every day. And I’m seeing five to 15 deer most times I sit. But I’ll admit that I’m not seeing any more bucks.”
Most of the time I hunt within a few miles of our house in Grayling, Mich., but I drove to Isabella County on this day to bow hunt a spot on public land where I shot a big doe two years ago a short drive from Donaldson’s tree stand.
The weather was still unseasonably warm, about 75 degrees at mid-afternoon. I had set the ladder stand just inside the edge of the woods, about 200 yards from a cornfield, with a trail in between that looked like a deer I-75.
It’s a good spot in an east wind, and the weather bureau had predicted a 5-10 mile an hour breeze from that direction for two consecutive days.
So naturally the wind blew from the north, but if the deer continued to approach from the east and not from a lesser-used trail to the south it should have been OK.
And it was, at first. I hadn’t been sitting for 90 minutes when the two does and the fawn came out of the corn toward the trees. But as they stopped to graze on the last green blades among the tawny fall grasses they slowly worked their way south a few yards, and I was afraid that they would soon pick up my scent.
I got the bow up without being spotted but realized I hadn’t turned on the camera fastened to the riser. I had to reach forward to do that, and that was when the big doe raised her head 6 inches and stared.
Watching that whitetail disappear down the hillside was yet another lesson in the amazing acuity of deer senses. Maybe next time.
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