The Ghosts of Public Land

Have you ever sat all day — or several days — in tough conditions without seeing a deer, then when one finally shows up you almost don’t believe your own eyes that it’s actually a deer? The northwest wind was perfect for this spot in a classic terrain funnel full of scrapes and rubs. The scouting, the sign and a hope to catch a buck in the daylight kept me up in that tree all day. Needless to say, with a half-hour left of shooting light, not a single deer had shown itself. Then the snow stopped, and the wind too. Wow, it’s a big deer, a buck, a nice buck! I already knew that scrape was 38 yards away after ranging it a dozen times that day. I’ve messed up too many opportunities with these ultra-wary big-woods bucks in the past, and didn’t want it to happen again. He took two steps backward, obviously nervous. By that time it was completely dark, quiet and getting colder.
The author found bowhunting success last fall on a remote section of public land. (Author photo)

Have you ever sat all day — or several days — in tough conditions without seeing a deer, then when one finally shows up you almost don’t believe your own eyes that it’s actually a deer?

That’s how it happened for me back in early November 2017 while bowhunting on National Forest in northern Wisconsin. I was a few days into a week of vacation and the hunting had been slow so far to say the least. I had only seen a few does, even though it should have been prime time for bucks to start moving more in that area. But that’s the way it goes in those big-woods settings.

The National Weather Service forecast had been predicting a northwest wind carrying snow and colder temperatures for the next day, and it was spot on. When the alarm went off at zero-dark 4:00 a.m., the wind was howling and there was already a couple inches of snow on the ground. After a good breakfast, a several-mile drive to my walk-in point, I stuffed an extra layer in my full pack, strapped my climbing treestand to the pack, shouldered up and headed in.

November in northern Wisconsin often means cold, windy, snowy weather. (Author photo)

The snow and wind never let up over the course of the 1-1/2 mile hike in to my spot for the day, but I was hopeful it would get bucks moving and kickstart some seeking and chasing in the area. The northwest wind was perfect for this spot in a classic terrain funnel full of scrapes and rubs. That, combined with the remote location and lack of human traffic so far off the road, made me think that one or more bucks might pass through during daylight hours at this time of the rut.

The scouting, the sign and a hope to catch a buck in the daylight kept me up in that tree all day. The wind howled, the snow continued to fall, and the temperature barely hit 15 degrees. Needless to say, with a half-hour left of shooting light, not a single deer had shown itself. Even the ravens, red squirrels and chickadees were nowhere to be found.

Then the snow stopped, and the wind too. It was suddenly eerily quiet. After checking my watch to see there was still…

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