There was only five minutes of legal shooting time left when I checked my cellphone.
I was bow hunting for deer on that gray, late October afternoon. I was keeping vigil at a makeshift ground blind — basically a wall of sticks and grass I had constructed a few weeks earlier next to an open meadow in a lowland.
In front of me was a deer decoy I had placed in the meadow upon my arrival. Due to the heavy overcast, it was extra dark that evening, and with just minutes of legal shooting left, I contemplated leaving my blind.
Then it happened. A buck, a big buck, with heavy antlers and a thick, well-muscled body stepped into the meadow only 20 yards away. His focus was on my deer decoy. The problem was the decoy was in perfect alignment about halfway between me and the bruiser buck. Even though his attention was on the decoy, I was directly in his line of sight in the background. I dared not move.
For several minutes the buck remained perfectly motionless, as he assessed my decoy. He seemed suspicious of the bogus deer.
Now, as I stood perfectly still, I wondered how many minutes had passed since I had checked my cellphone. Was it three or four minutes? Or five? If it was more than five, legal shooting time had ended, and if the big buck turned his head and allowed me to draw my bow and shoot, I would have been in violation of game law.
But who would have known?
The odds of a conservation officer watching me from afar were nil. And, of course, an arrow shot from a bow is virtually silent. Only I would ever know — had I taken a shot.
Ultimately, the buck made the decision for me. It turned directly away. With a single bound, it disappeared into the heavy willow brush. By the time I gathered my thoughts enough to check the time, it was several minutes past legal shooting hours. To this day I don’t know whether or not it would have been legal to loose my arrow.
The DNR restricts hunting hours to daylight hours for most species (one half-hour before sunrise until one half-hour after sunset for deer). Safety is the main reason, but so is the welfare of the game being hunted. Shots taken in low light are more likely to wound an animal making recovery extra difficult.
I’ll admit I’m a strict disciplinarian when it comes to bow hunting before or after legal shooting hours even though the odds of getting caught are remote. My premise is that playing within the rules allows me to get the greatest enjoyment out of any outdoors undertaking.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.