New contributor to The WON, Dr. Latebloomer, finally gets to hunt with a premiere women’s organization at a destination she’s been drooling over for a while. Find out more about her sika deer hunt that turned out a bit differently than she expected.
I harvested my first deer with a crossbow in November!
After hunting family property by myself for several years with no luck, it took a trip to the Eastern Shore of Maryland with The Sisterhood of the Outdoors for me to finally blood my crossbow. I harvested the second deer ever in my life, and I will turn 60 years old this summer. But as they say, “Sixty is the new Forty.”
I’ve been watching the online listing for the Sisterhood of the Outdoors sika hunt for a couple of years, but it always seemed to fill up before I could get a slot in the perpetually popular camp at Muddy Marsh Outfitters.
Finally, I was able to get a slot this past November. This was an archery-only hunt, but it didn’t matter if your bow was held vertically or horizontally, so I took my TenPoint Havoc RS440.
I bought my first crossbow several years ago when my home state first legalized crossbow hunting. I took it out several times with no luck, and then it hung in the basement for a few years. Last year, seeing that the technology had advanced significantly, I sold my original bow and gear to a friend and bought myself the Havoc. I hunted with it on family property for all of fall 2021, but had no luck. My hope was to have better luck with a guided hunt.
The evening of arrival at camp the other women (who were camp veterans) filled me in on sika deer: the terminology (hind and stag rather than doe and buck), their scream-like bugling call, their small stature, their reclusive nature and bit about their history.
This was an incredibly fun and knowledgeable group of women. There had been a few trip cancellations, so it was just the four of us this year (Krissy, Michelle, Jen and myself). But that meant that I had three teachers, plus our guides, to educate me. They even helped me with sight-in and practice with my crossbow because I hadn’t touched it since the previous year. That helped my confidence greatly heading into the first hunt evening.
Even though it was November, the temperatures measured beautifully warm, not what I was used to for “deer weather,” but I was told that it can be variable. (Some years, the pellet stove in the house works overtime and you need your longies.)
Lodging was in an old farm house with a small family cemetery plot behind. One morning I was up early and needed to stretch my legs, so I checked out the gravestones. Two were for little babies, which broke my heart. One died at age 10 months and the other died at four-months old. It was a stark reminder to my pediatrician heart that the world wasn’t always safe and kind and healthy for small children. This area of Maryland was apparently quite isolated before modernity and the automobile arrived. But I digress. Sorry, I’m a history nerd.
The first afternoon in the field, I felt quite nervous when the guide dropped me off at my blind. (I’m afraid of heights, so a tree stand was not for me.) Joe got me settled in the blind after walking me into the site; I unpacked and readied my gear, lined up my shooting stick, loaded a crossbow bolt, and began the long wait until dusk. He told me that given the season and my license; besides sika, I could also take a whitetail if I wanted. And then he left.
Partway through my sit, I got a group text from Jen that she had taken a sika stag! I was thrilled for her and hoped that this boded well for the rest of us. Turns out that Michelle had taken a hind during that same time period, but cell service was spotty and we didn’t know her news until we got back to camp after dark.
Krissy had no luck that first night. But on the last evening she took a true trophy stag! She had apparently been several years empty-handed, so this was a fantastic and triumphant return for her. I was so impressed!
As for me that first evening, it was getting to be about 20 minutes before shooting hours were over and I had not seen a thing except squirrels. Earlier, I had watched one particular squirrel shimmy up the feeder pole and clamber right up into the bucket thing hanging underneath. When the feeder went off, he leapt back onto the pole, but did not otherwise seem fazed. He was a pro. I couldn’t say the same for myself as I jumped when the feeder went off, even though I knew what time it was supposed to happen. It seemed so loud in the quiet of the forest. But by this point the feeder had gone off over a half hour ago and I STILL hadn’t seen anything.
Granted it was only the first night, but this was familiar territory for me. I’d been out with the crossbow on family property on multiple occasions the previous year and seen absolutely nothing. I was beginning to think it was just “me” – meaning, I was too loud, or too stinky, or too inexperienced to know what I was doing. I was busy brooding about this when a little whitetail entered my field of vision from the right. It was totally silent and my breath caught for a second. Well, HELLO!
It was a doe. She was small and I knew it. I thought about it and watched her for several minutes … and decided to take her anyway. Look down on me if you must, but I knew that small deer are tender eating, and honestly after several years of empty-handed hunting with a crossbow, I needed some positive reinforcement for my efforts. I needed to know that I “could” do it.
As I watched her turn broadside, she moved her front leg forward, further opening my target window. To me, that was my sign that I should take the shot. I tried to control my racing heart and breathing, and tried to remember my rifle skills – deep breath, partially exhale, gentle steady squeeze, no jerking the trigger. The bolt shot out and struck its target, and I was still “surprised” by the lack of recoil. (I’m still so much more used to firearms.)
The deer wheeled and took off back the way it came, but in the dusky light, that’s all I saw. I was pretty sure I’d hit her and hoped it had been where I aimed. The squirrels overhead, however, were not at all happy with me and scolded and chattered for several minutes afterward.
I didn’t know what else to do now except text my guide that I had taken a shot, and wait for him to come back. I was surprisingly calm. The first time I shot a hog (with a rifle I built myself), I was shaking and teary from the adrenaline. This time, since it was almost dark, I was just at loose ends and started quietly packing up my gear so I’d be ready when Joe returned. Speaking of gear, I was introduced to the cult of the Thermacell on this trip and boy, what a difference! I packed that up, too, after a lovely mosquito-free evening.
When my guide, Joe, followed the blood trail in the dark and dragged the deer back to the blind, she looked even smaller than I thought – probably this year’s fawn – and I felt a small pang of regret. But looking at the entry and exit wounds, I was very pleased with my shot placement. It was a good clean kill and my first with a crossbow. I had done it!
A couple days later, when Michelle was breaking down the carcass for me, she noted that I probably did this deer a favor as she had almost no fat on her. She likely wouldn’t have survived the winter. So I’ll console myself with that as I savor the tender meat this winter. (Indeed, the tenderloin practically melted in my mouth on New Year’s Eve after skillet browning in butter with a little garlic salt.)
Our group had a 100% success rate – including a trophy stag – though, in hunting that isn’t always the case. I had my little whitetail, but after three evenings of blind-sitting, the only sikas I personally saw in the wild were in the woods along the side of the road as we drove to the general store. But that’s the luck of the draw. That’s hunting.
Although I “only” took a little whitetail on this trip and not an actual sika deer, it was an incredible experience, which I would love to repeat. Our hosts/guides were both amiable and knowledgeable. The accommodations – while by no means a four-star hotel – felt cozy and homey. I had never been to this area of Maryland before and it was not at all like the beach enclaves I had come to associate with “eastern Maryland.” This was much quieter and wilder, much more my speed. I left with a full cooler and a full heart.
I can’t wait until I can return again to Muddy Marsh Outfitters with Sisterhood of the Outdoors.