Finally. The most anticipated day of the year had arrived and I was more excited than a toddler on Christmas Eve. It was the opening day of the long-awaited fall archery season and I’d been practicing diligently with my bow for several months. However, for me, this day also brought with it great anxiety. Not only was it the opening day of the fall archery season but it was also homecoming and the festivities were set to kick off at 2:00 PM. Back in the day, there were no “Friday night lights” in my part of the world. Heck, the town barely had any lights let alone the football field, therefore the games were always played on Saturday afternoon. Typically, this was not a problem for me. My friends had long given up on the idea of ever having me join them on any fall sports team because the four-week October archery season fell squarely in the middle of them. However, there were other serious forces at play this weekend but I won’t mention her name. It was the one distraction that could lure a teen- age boy away from most anything. Including the long-awaited archery opener.
Somewhat begrudgingly I slipped into my red plaid insulated flannel shirt, slapped on my robin hood style cap, picked up my recurve, and headed out the back door. As I climbed the hill behind the house, I couldn’t shake the notion that the girl “my girl” was sitting in the bleachers next to someone else. I swore if I heard of any such rumblings in school on Monday, there was gonna be a fight. As I stomped my way towards the distant hollow, my spirit began to lighten. My destination was several hundred yards in the distance where on the previous Saturday, while squirrel hunting, I’d discovered two apple trees dropping their fruit. Fresh deer droppings, tracks, and even a small rub next to the isolated fruit trees warranted an opening day hunt. The trees sat adjacent to a small stream and what was left of an old foundation that I assumed to be from the 1800s. Those stones could probably tell a tale but for me, they served a much greater purpose.
I could hop right up onto the three-foot high wall, walk about ten paces and climb directly into one of the apple trees. From its crotch, I was a solid eight feet off of the ground and could cover the fifteen-yard distance to the other apple tree. And to top it off, I could stay fairly comfortable for quite some time before I would have to move to another limb. This was shaping up to be a great evening as I shifted my focus from lover boy to predator. As the afternoon carried on, I passed the time by picking and eating apples that were within arm’s reach. Once finished, I would drop the chewed cores at the base of the tree. This went on for hours until suddenly a large doe materialized from seemingly nowhere and she was headed directly underneath me.
She was quite content cleaning up the apple cores I’d been drop- ping. She was so close that I could probably touch her with my boot if I tried. Two fawns also burst onto the scene and their playful chaos ensued. The family group toiled under the apple trees for nearly thirty minutes. Just for my amusement, when one of the fawns would get directly under me, I would drop an apple on it and watch it scamper away like a bucking bronco. I think they were enjoying the game as much as I was because they kept coming back for more. Eventually, they all moved on… as did life.
Twenty years later the anticipation of another archery season opener was still palpable. However, at this point in my life, there were no decisions left up to whimsical emotions. A vacation day had to be scheduled well in advance of the opener and with a wife and two small children added into the equation, even the best-laid plans could evaporate in the twinkling of an eye. On this occasion, all systems were go and when I got the two thumbs up from the Mrs. I launched at such an accelerated rate that even Maverick would’ve been proud.
After winding my way across the ridge top, I reached my twenty-foot high pre-hung treestand and tied my compound bow to its dangling pull rope. I ascended the screw-in tree steps, pulled up my bow, and dawned my camo face mask which perfectly matched my stick & leaf camo attire. I settled in for the three-hour vigil while noting the perfect wind conditions as the surrounding oaks dripped acorns. Uncertain of how many days I’d be able to bow hunt this season because of work and family obligations, I certainly wanted to take advantage of every moment in the woods. There could be no mistakes this year.
It wasn’t long before I picked up movement headed towards the dropping acorns. Five antlerless deer were picking their way directly towards me. Not interested in burning a tag on an antler- less deer, I left the bow on the hook and remained seated to take in the show. The old matriarch of the group dwarfed the rest of the deer and when she hit the thirty-yard mark she swung her head skyward and locked directly onto me. Oh no! Not again! My brain screamed. This scenario had become way too commonplace the past few seasons. I knew I hadn’t moved and I definitely had the wind on her, but the old girl had me pegged. I knew what was about to ensue and she didn’t disappoint. Head bobbing, foot stomping, and blowing reverberated across the ridge top for the next ten minutes as she tried desperately to get downwind of me to confirm her visual suspicion. By this point it was irrelevant. Another precious hunt had been ruined because I’d been picked off in my treestand.
I don’t know when the transformation occurred but it happened right before my very eyes. Having begun my bowhunting journey in the mid-’70s was a true blessing. I got to learn how to be a successful bowhunter long before there were any experts or must-have gadgets. And the deer were a lot dumber. Not one time in my formative years did scent control or wind direction ever enter into my thought process. And I consistently killed bucks. Albeit 100% of them were yearlings and an occasional two-year-old, but those were the same bucks being killed in the general firearms season. No one knew anything about aging a deer and there were certainly no big bucks around. A buck was a buck and if it was brown it was down. And…they never looked up. Yes. That’s a true statement kids. Deer never looked up and if you got above their line of sight they would never know you were there.
However, when bowhunting exploded in the late ‘80s it didn’t take long for the deer to figure out that the tree tops held dan- ger. In the state, I resided there were suddenly half a million new bowhunters blowing their newly invented grunt calls like kazoos and slamming antlers together from the high heavens. For the first eight years of my bowhunting life, I never saw an- other bowhunter. After that, I considered it odd if I didn’t encounter at least one bowhunter every time afield. The times had changed, and in turn, the deer literally walked around looking into the tree tops. I hadn’t noticed the transformation but it had occurred and I was having a tough time figuring out how to overcome it. My quick fix was to just hunt higher. For nearly a decade, I refused to hunt a stand that was under thirty feet. I also flirted with stand positioning and tried not to silhouette myself on the skyline. Both tactics helped to a degree, but neither was practical in every situation. Plus, I was still occasionally getting spotted in the tree by maternal does.
The quote; “necessity is the mother of invention” couldn’t have been more accurate in regards to my bowhunting journey. I’d figured it out on my own to this point and the sudden influx of bowhunting experts that were now writing magazine articles and putting out VHS tapes left a lot to be desired in my opinion. I thought most of them to be clueless, so I set out to once again figure this problem out on my own. With a couple of decades of bowhunting success under my belt and free time more readily available, my bowhunting priorities had begun to change. I was now a selective hunter with the time to perfect my craft, and my number one priority was to figure out how to become invisible while in a treestand.
The fix was much simpler than anticipated. The homemade wooden ladder stand that was erected in the corner of my back- yard for bow practicing purposes would serve as my test lab. The test subject would be a five-foot-tall (blow-up) green alien that one of my children had won at the county fair. I took every piece of camouflage that I had at my disposal and rotated it onto the alien, and then placed it in the eighteen-foot high treestand. To a garment, every stick and leaf pattern looked the same from ground level. All of the intricate patterns blended together giving the alien a singular blob-like-looking color. Next up were all of the solid color fabrics that I had access to. These included suits, jackets, and everyday wear. To my eye, two solid colors dis- appeared much better than the camouflage patterns; light gray and light blue. I found that interesting but didn’t know of any camouflage manufacturers that incorporated these colors into their patterns. (ASAT and Predator camouflage were not avail- able.)
I was also told by the experts that a deer’s vision was nothing like a human’s so I knew they would be the final test once I settled into a color. However, this was in the days before the internet and when you lived in the boondocks, securing much of anything out of the ordinary was always a challenge. Fortunately, I had a friend who was a big waterfowl hunter and when I explained my dilemma to him he produced a mail-in product catalog that had a thin parka style over garment that was about 50/50 gray and white. I was hesitant about the amount of surface white showing but I thought the light gray was perfect, so I made the purchase. When the jacket arrived, much to my disappointment, the pattern had a lot more white in it than anticipated. It was too late to split hairs at this point so it was de-scented and ready for some real-world testing.
Being it was the post-season and the landscape was void of foliage, the testing conditions were perfect. I must admit, I felt a little foolish walking through the bare forest wearing so much white. Once in the tree, I felt completely exposed and believed the white camouflage made me stand out like a beacon. That first experiment produced two deer sightings and both walked past in bow range without ever batting an eye. This piqued my curiosity but two deer does not warrant a conclusion. Through- out the off season I continued to experiment with this new camouflage and every time I had an encounter with a deer they never knew I was within a mile of them. My confidence in this newfound attire was really starting to grow.
After having dozens of deer encounters with no negative reactions, I began to see how much movement I could get away with while deer were within bow range. It was dumbfounding. I felt like I could do jumping jacks and the deer wouldn’t see me. I knew that I was really onto something and pushed the envelope even farther by purchasing snow camouflage which is primarily all white. The results were amazing. I felt invisible. I looked ridiculous to the human eye but the deer could not see me. I took the testing even further by starting to lower my stand height to find out at what point the deer would finally pick me off. It never happened. Not even once. I got the stand height down to as low as six feet with deer inside of ten yards and they never looked in my direction. This snow camo was magical and I couldn’t wait to tell my friends or anyone else who would listen. Unfortunately, everyone thought I was crazy and no one listened.
The final clincher for me came the following season when the trees were in full bloom with their green foliage. Even under such conditions, not one time did a deer ever give me a sideways look. Since those early experimental days, I’ve arrowed count- less deer while wearing snow camo in the stand and I’ve yet to be busted by deer even at heights under ten feet. Over the past couple of decades, I’ve been able to convince some others to give it a try, and they’ve all discovered what I already knew. You become invisible in the treestand. Once you make the transition from the traditional camouflage patterns to strictly wearing snow camouflage you can throw everything that you know, or have been told about treestand hunting out the window. Things like tree diameter, stand height, backdrop, and foliage color, all become irrelevant. Unfortunately, old habits die hard and the masses are not yet ready to conform to this new approach. When I hear bowhunters talk about concerns of being sky light- ed, how high they should hang their stands, or getting picked off while drawing their bow, I just shake my head. Why anyone would not want to rectify this problem is beyond me, and it’s an easy fix. Now with saddle hunting being the current rave, you’d think alternative concealment methods would become para- mount to bowhunters. Unfortunately, with the current status of social media, everyone’s already an expert, so most helpful suggestions fall upon deaf ears. One thing is for certain, however. You can bet that if I’m in a tree, I’ll be wearing snow camo and punching deer tags.