The Transformation - Bowhunting Whitetail Deer on Public Land

December 21, 2021 | Pnuma Outdoors

Author: Fred Bohm


He materializes out of the woods as a different creature. The thicket of locust trees acting as a time machine, advancing his age by years. 

In walked a girthy eight point deer, what walked out was a freak of nature.


My vertigo had subsided as the gale force winds died with the onset of evening. I felt more stable in my harness along with my chance of a shot unfettered by nature’s turbulence.


Now if he would just walk my direction to the scrapes I had strategically placed myself downwind of...


His indecision gives me time to think back at how my season started, very much like the wind moments ago, pushing and pulling me in whatever direction it chose. I felt unstable, mostly due to the self imposed pressure that seemed to rise exponentially over the last few years. Hunting was getting too serious, I cared about the results too much. Feelings like this sneak up on you, it’s never a punch in the face, rather a grip around the throat that is tightened ever so slightly over time so that you don’t notice the increased pressure. A few years go by and you’re red faced and gasping for air.


scouting for whitetail deer

Scouting for a big whitetail


So the pressure was relieved by being conscious of it at first. Once realized, you can pull the hands away with relative ease, the hard part is keeping a steady vigil against your tormentor so he doesn’t again settle his grip unnoticed.


Lack of experience and maturation often produces these feelings. My whitetail career is still in its infancy and I still have a lot to learn about this creature. This is a fun stage in any hunters career as often you see bountiful increases in knowledge over a relatively short time period. 


Upwind of deer bad, drawing while deer isn’t looking, good.


He turns his head and looks over his shoulder, giving me a show in the process. He’s a supermodel on the catwalk and plans on getting a contract with every worthwhile designer within view. I can tell you he certainly has my attention.


Kansas whitetail buck

A beautiful but perhaps undeserved Kansas whitetail deer. Photograph by Joe Kavanaugh

A year ago I would have set my stand on the corner directly upwind of him. My thought process being that I could see more of the standing corn and catch him in the act of skirting the field.

That would have flunked me out of Whitetail 101 on the first day of class. There’s never a perfect answer, but you can certainly start to narrow down what an old buck will do given the pressure of public land.



God bless the Drurys and the free information they provide, but how deer act on private land versus public land is about as similar as the two BLMs.



He finished surveying his domain and satisfied there were no up-and-comers gunning for his position in the pecking order, he picked his way through the thorn encrusted barrier of the locust forest. 


His nose is to the ground sucking in faint fumes of the fairer sex. 


whitetail deer kansas

Calling the family to give them the good news. Photograph by Joe Kavanaugh

Years back I would have walked that trail in to my stand. Either from pure negligence or outright laziness, it mattered little, the result would have been the same. One nostril full of my stink and he would have creeped out the back door like an unscrupulous lover, leaving me swaying in my saddle wondering why I was such an unlucky hunter. Oh well. I might as well fire up Candy Crush on the ol iPhone, there’s nothing moving in this woods anyway. 


I’ve learned it’s all the little things that start to add up. Not monumental mistakes like hunting your downtown city park (though the Seek One boys might just have proven that this would be the ideal place), but the little silly things that end up red flagging your presence. 

I noticed movement. Two more steps and his head would be completely covered. As he blindfolded himself for the fraction of a second I needed, I drew back and settled into my anchor. 

This crucial step I often neglected. When antler comes walking towards you it’s easy to throw the thousands of arrows you send down range with perfect form into the dumpster. Your bow rests  in your hand the same way, string touches your nose in the same place, knuckles envelop your jaw in the same spot. Nothing changes because there is a trophy in the line.

His trajectory will place him fifteen yards in front of me. The altitude sickness I’m feeling reminds me that the elevation I placed myself in the tree, coupled with the short range he’s soon to be at, will equate to a steep shot. Total Archery Challenge, Snowbird, Prime Course, Cliff Shot type steep. 


whitetail buck

Getting my hands on him for the first time.

I did everything I could to keep my concentration off of his oversized coat rack. Concentrate on where you want the arrow to go, not which wall in your house is going to show this behemoth off.

Sucking great volumes of air into his sniffer, he was too preoccupied to notice that death was hovering fifteen yards away. I stop him with the world’s worst impression of a buck grunt. In this scenario, horseshoes and hand grenades count.

He paused, unsure why he hadn’t seen this intruding buck.

I heard the “click” as my hinge release letting me know she was about to tear loose. 

The telltale sound of a pumpkin being walloped by a baseball bat resonated through the crisp fall air. He pounced off and then continued in a trot. Not good. I see the entrance wound and am not impressed with it.

My brain started to make the calculation of where I went wrong as I watched him walk into the cornfield and lay down. I knew the shot was deadly, but I also knew I screwed up and the deer would pay the price of a slow death for my mistake.

I ran through the process from drawing my bow, to the final release of the arrow. Everything felt perfect. Where was the outlier?

I looked down at the harness I dangled from, the position of my body and the angle of the shot. There was only one thing that stood out in my mind.

This was the first time you ever shot from a saddle.

Your arrogance caused this. Not lack of knowledge, not lack of general practice… just the excess of arrogance in your ability to shoot your bow in any situation.

Driving your truck to and from work everyday doesn’t qualify you to drive a race car. Shooting my bow at the range almost daily also doesn’t qualify me to shoot while dangling out of a tree by ropes. You need to practice that particular scenario.


archery practice

Shooting on the ground does not equate to shooting from a harness.

When you pay the price for your mistakes it becomes a hard lesson. When somebody or something else has to accept the consequences of your negligence, it’s unacceptable. 


I watched him lay there and struggle until the coming darkness graciously hid my mistake from me. I slipped out of the woods under the cover of darkness, and proceeded to do the walk of shame back to my truck. 


I knew I would be playing back the scenario like a bad horror movie on the backs of my eyelids tonight. A small penance to pay for such a costly mistake. 


The buck wouldn’t be so lucky.



From black to purple, purple to the gray of predawn, the day started and we began the search. Bed after bed, knowing that the night had taken him but not knowing where he would find his final resting place. 


Photograph by Joe Kavanaugh

Each circle of matted grass and the small pools of blood in it was a reminder of my mistake. A reminder that perhaps I had learned enough to get me a shot at this monarch, but I had so, so much more to learn. 


// Fred Bohm