By Nick Simonson

As a beginning bow hunter, I fall victim to what I'm sure are rookie mistakes. The sound of a squirrel on the ground, rustling through leaves for a bite of food is about all it takes to get my heart pumping and I find myself overamped at the noise. However, I am becoming more aware of the sound a deer makes in comparison to its small game contemporaries. Most notably, a couple of nights ago, when I heard the noise that now automatically gets my pulse pounding, I found myself learning a lot more about my quarry, the hunt and the fact that the thrill isn't necessarily in the kill.

Having watched a combine lazily grind back and forth through the beige stalks of corn like an oversized lawnmower until only a small slice of the field still stood, I am waiting for the day to end and the animals in the belt of trees to start moving. As the sun slips through the branches of the large elm across the clearing from me, a sound registers on the edge of my sphere of hearing. Turning toward the noise of crackling leaves, the first thing I see is bone on top of a bobbing gray head - one antler slightly yellowed, and the other a bleached white. The right beam, with a tall second point curls around the deer's head just inside his ear; the left beam is straighter with a small midway point and browtine, making for a six-point rack, even if it isn't the most symmetrical set of headgear. Directly downwind and fifteen yards on the trail from my stand, a young buck drops his head and investigates the ground closely.

Upon my review of the deer, I make a decision that I have rarely made before - not to shoot. It's more about the remaining days in the season than it is his rack or body size that causes me to pass on this particular buck, but admittedly it is a combination of all three. Another year or two in the field would serve him well, and the test he will present me now, short of taking that shot, will help me grow as a hunter.

I've never excelled at sitting still, being quiet, or remaining motionless. Little things get me excited, whether I'm fishing or watching football. To have a buck sneak in from the wrong direction will test every muscle and nerve in my body all while attempting to waylay the rush of endorphins that come with such a close encounter. I leave my release on my bow string, knowing that I could still draw if I wanted to.
I study his eyes through the triangle frame of willow branches which, with their yellowing fall leaves, conceal my position from the scanning vision of the buck. I can hear my heart beating in my ears as I wait for the outcome of his investigation, fully expecting the deer to snort and turn tail back toward the recently harvested corn field.

But the buck doesn't bolt; he swishes his tail and takes three cautious steps into the clearing, a mere five yards from the ladder stand where I am sitting.

From that point on the buck is unaware of me just a few feet above him, motionless and steady. I watch carefully as he walks to various shrubs and saplings and rubs his nose and antlers on them to leave a calling card for the next deer to inspect. I note this behavior and his still cautious nature, as he drops his head on the trail leading to the nearby field. I watch as his tail flicks one last time as he disappears into the still-green undergrowth. I let out a restrained sigh; I have passed my first test on stand. With the exhalation, my body is racked by the rush of adrenaline which I managed to hold in check for several minutes.

It takes me several minutes to quell the rush of shudders that shake me. Though he wasn't big, the buck that had just passed was a big deal. I unclip my release and regain my composure, sort of, and await the coming twilight, and wonder what the next test will be for me in my first real bow season…in our outdoors.