By Rick Reyer for Wausau Pilot & Review

Like spirits, whitetail deer have an uncanny ability to appear seemingly out of nowhere, then disappear without a trace. This is especially true if you’ve been in a tree stand or ground blind for hours already. Sometimes they can even be within 10 yards and you wouldn’t even know it. 

Last archery season I was in my tree overlooking a wooded lot on a drop-dead gorgeous October day when a doe popped up in a clearing about 60 yards away. Within seconds a magnificent creature I call “Big Hank” let out a huge wheeze and bolted out of the poplar thicket right next to me to give chase. My heart jumped out of my chest. If I wasn’t harnessed to the tree my stand was in, I’d have crashed to the ground.

My hunting partner and I have been tracking Big Hank for a few years now. Through habitat observation and trail cameras, we know his primary hangouts. Yet, with each passing year he instinctively finds ways to evade our arrows. even to the point of hiding in plain sight. This, so far, is holding true for 2023 as well. 

That’s the thing about deer, especially whitetail. While they are creatures of habit, their sense of self-preservation is acute. That is, until a specific time of the season rolls around: The Rut. 

The Rut happens anywhere between late October and mid November when bucks have only one thing on their mind, and it’s not self-preservation. Nothing else matters, not even food, only the doe he is chasing. Adult bucks will travel miles, will fight other bucks – to the point of exhaustion or death – just to catch that doe. This is when they often make the one mistake that brings them into the hunter’s range.

On Halloween 2021 I was in another of my tree stands in northwestern Wisconsin when mid-morning a black cat came down the trail in front of me from the northeast. A black cat on Halloween had to be some kind of sign, I thought. As strange as it may sound, hours later, with two hours left before dark, I swear I saw that same black cat coming down the trail from the northeast. It was just a few minutes before a doe appeared on the same route, followed by a 10-pointer, hot on her trail. The arrow flew straight and true, what all archers aim for.

I sat down, letting the adrenaline pass its way through my body, thinking about all the preparation and anticipation I had for that very moment. How proud my father would have been had he seen that shot. But ultimately, the dual thoughts of sadness for taking a life and the gratitude to our creator for the food it would provide my family took over.

For me, hunting is an opportunity to be part of God’s creation from the time the sun comes up until after it sinks from the sky. It’s about being part of the forest, the scents, the textures, the wind and the snow. It’s much like what the trout angler feels when becoming part of the stream itself, though that’s for another story. It connects me to my dad’s spirit, which, like the whitetail, appears out of nowhere, then disappears without a trace.

Rick Reyer is a lifelong hunting and fishing enthusiast. He is a retired broadcaster who lives in Wausau.