By Cody Altizer

Well, folks, the 3 month long adrenaline rush and heartache experience that is an annual deer hunting season has come and gone.  On Saturday, January 5th, the 2012-13 hunting season took its last breath and along with it irreplaceable memories, encounters, close calls and lessons learned.  Each and every hunting season is different, no doubt, but one thing always remains the same on the last day of the season.  I look back at the last 3 months and wonder where it all went,  feel the desire to have more time, and then finally content satisfaction.

That said, here’s a quick look back at my 2012 hunting season.

The 2012 season got off to a rocky start for me.  At the end of August I excitedly positioned all of my trail cameras in and around the changing food sources hoping to capture images of a mature buck that I could target and game plan for.  My property is very unique in that it doesn’t get a lot of traffic from mature bucks during the summer, when most hunters enjoy a lot of trail camera success, but in early fall when bucks transition into their fall areas our property becomes very attractive for older deer.  Needless to say I was beyond excited to check the cameras when I returned from a two week trip to Wyoming and New Mexico filming elk and mule deer.  My mind was solely focused on the upcoming whitetail season.  Unfortunately, however, of the 6 trail cameras I had positioned on my property, only two were working when I got back.  The other 4 either took a day or two of pictures and died despite having full batteries, or simply just decided they weren’t going to capture any photos period.  It was a frustrating start to the 2012 hunting season.

Despite my lack of trail camera success I was ready and excited for opening day just like any hunter would be.  I was going to employ a different strategy going into the season, and I was anxious to see the results.  When it comes to deer hunting I’m a firm believer in “less is more,” especially when it comes to hunting mature bucks.  Simply put, my 2012 hunting season, was going to be all about the quality of my sits, and not about the quantity.

By the time mid-October rolled around I had only hunted twice, and had left my best spots untouched.  That all changed on the afternoon of October 13th.  With picture perfect bowhunting weather and an ideal wind I decided to climb into a stand that overlooks one of my favorite food plots.  Little did I know that this hunt would be one of the very best of my entire season, and I didn’t even see a buck.  With temperatures in the mid 50s, bluebird skies, and a slight breeze it was just a perfect day to be deer hunting. That afternoon I watched 15 turkeys, 2 does and 2 fawns feed out in the clover plot.  With just a little over 15 minutes of shooting light left I heard a deer running towards my stand location on a dead sprint.  I found the culprit after a quick scan with my binoculars.  A button buck fawn racing towards the clover.  I quickly found his mother, and was surprised when I identified her as “Momma,” a doe that I had been seeing on my property the last 5 years, and who I figured to be at least 8 or 9 years old.

Knees shaking I tried to calm myself as she inched her way towards the food plot, cautious with every step and completely in tune with her surroundings.  With light fading, she finally committed to the food plot and was at 20 yards exactly when I mouthed a very soft bleat to stop her.  She threw her head in my direction, but my arrow was already on its way and passed through both of her lungs before she could pick me off.  She tore back off into the timber and expired in less than 70 yards.  It was a humbling experience to walk up on a deer that old and one that I had so much history with.  It really puts hunting into perspective.  After I gave thanks I told myself it didn’t matter if I killed another deer the rest of the season, harvesting Momma had already made my season a success.  Something I had to remind myself of the rest of the season.

After I harvested Momma, I only hunted my property once more before I made the trip to west-central Illinois for a weekend bow hunt with my good friend, Willie Urish.  We were hunting a primo piece of hunting ground and Willie had captured several mature bucks on trail throughout the summer and early fall.  We were excited and ready to get in a tree!

We saw several deer on each and every sit, but I think we were just a couple days too early for the mature bucks to really be up on their feet during the daytime.  On the last afternoon of the hunt I was able to help Willie’s fawn recruitment rate by putting an arrow through a wily coyote after he ruined our hunt.  It was only the second coyote I’ve ever killed and the first I’ve killed with a bow.  Say what you want about coyotes, and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like them, but they are beautiful animals and shooting one with a bow makes for a cool trophy.  Still, I wish he would have been a mature buck!  Oh well, we’ll be back after them again this year!

As October drew to a close I was getting more and more excited about November and the ensuing rut.  The deer on my property hadn’t been pressured, and I had tremendous faith in all of my stands.  Factor in the success I had in harvesting Momma and shooting a coyote in Illinois and I was riding high on confidence heading into sweet November.

I say every year that hunting season is synonymous with a roller coaster ride.  2012 was no different.  As much luck as I had in October, I had that much bad luck in November.  Actually, it wasn’t that I had bad luck; I just didn’t have any luck at all.  November came and went in a blur, as it often does, and before I knew it the rut was over and I was preparing myself for the late season.

It wasn’t that November was a slow month for me.  I saw good deer on every sit, had an encounter with one of my target bucks, Maverick, at 23 yards and elected to pass, and had some cool encounters during the rut.  But to kill a mature buck a lot of things have to fall into place and go right for you.  Unfortunately for me, I just never caught that one break needed to put down a good buck this year.  That’s hunting, though, and they’ll be bigger and smarter next year.  Look out boys!

After fighting a losing battle with the whitetails in November, I was excited about hunting some does in the late season in December.  I was ready for the cold, snow, and slow sits that ensued, and confident in my chances at putting down a mature late season doe!

But, like my November hunts, I just couldn’t catch the break I needed to put down a deer in December.  I was close more times than I can count.  I remember three specific hunts where I had deer within 30 yards, but when I need them to merge left onto the trail they went right.  The next hunt I had a family group of does browsing their way in my direction, when all of a sudden a second doe group came out of the thicket and chased off the first doe group.  Finally, on the last day of the season, I went to a stand where I honestly didn’t expect to see much activity.  I just wanted to watch the sunset on another season and enjoy some time in the woods.  The result?  I was covered up in deer.  I saw 12 does and fawns that afternoon, but as is often the case, only the fawns came within range.  I had the crosshairs settled behind the shoulder of a nice doe at 127 yards, but that distance in low light and minimal snow on the ground posed too many possible bad endings than good ones, so I had to let her live.  She fed out in a field until dark, and my last sight from stand from the 2012-13 season was deer melting away into the dark timber.

This past hunting season came and went by too quickly, that’s for sure.  But as they say, all good things must come to an end.  I think back to the afternoon I harvested Momma and the frustrations that followed in November and December seem insignificant   To harvest an old deer that was estimated to be in her early teens is a tremendous accomplishment.  I also think back to the three days I spent in Illinois with Willie and shooting a coyote on the last afternoon of the last hunt.  Time spent in the tree with friends is priceless, and I’m thankful for every minute of it.  This past season wasn’t all about the animals I killed.  It was about what I learned about the land, its inhabitants, and myself.  Those lessons were invaluable, and I can’t wait to apply said lessons to the upcoming 2013 hunting season.

– Cody Altizer,