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Luke Clayton’s bow stand this past week was near this old whiskey still that has been resting here for well over 100 years.

For many years, I’ve found myself in a tree stand or ground blind in early October with my bow. I’ve taken some good-size bucks in northern states during early bow season, but here it’s usually younger bucks and does. I often see photos of mature bucks on my trail cameras, mostly at night. But as October transitions into November and the opening of rifle season, the breeding season comes closer and those big bucks become more active during daylight hours.

Thinking back, I haven’t arrowed a deer, buck or doe during early season in several years, but that’s not because of lack of opportunity. Years back, I would often attempt to harvest the first legal deer that came within range; fresh venison was my goal. With temperatures often in the 80s, it was always a mad rush to get harvested animals butchered and the meat chilled as quickly as possible.

Thus far this season, I’ve enjoyed three bow hunts and had the opportunity to shoot doe or spike bucks on all but one hunt. I won’t say I didn’t think about arrowing some fresh venison, but I held out for a mature buck. The does and young bucks came and went, squirrels scurried about storing acorns for the upcoming cold months, owls hooted and coyotes howled, and I sat there in a tree or ground blind taking it all in. I was happy as a lark and, to be honest, unwilling to disturb the tranquility by loosing an arrow, which would result in a mad dash to get venison in my ice chest.

There is plenty of time, and I’m sure opportunity, in upcoming weeks when the weather is cool and the big bucks are on the move. Early bow season this year was as much about honing my archery skills and enjoying watching the leaves turn from green to their fall colors as it was putting meat in the freezer. These quiet sits in the woods give me plenty of time to reflect upon past hunts and observe my surroundings.

I hunt a friend’s ranch a great deal, and we’ve got a ground blind situated near a huge steel tank that has been sitting way back in the woods for a long, long time. The land was purchased from an older gentleman, now deceased, who grew up on it back in the early part of the past century. He remembered as a boy hearing about the moonshine still I was hunting beside. All that’s left is an old tank, which is about the size of a Volkswagen. I wondered how they bent the heavy metal back in the day into pieces that, when welded together, formed a water (whiskey) tight vessel. I have little knowledge of how whiskey was made in such volume a century or so ago, but upon close inspection, I noticed a flume, which I assume controlled the fire that heated the mash. Several spigots were capped with threaded plugs to, I assume, fill and drain the big tank. I chuckled to myself a bit, sitting there in the blind wondering how those backwoods farmers ever got a crop in the ground with access to all that “firewater.”

A few yards from the old still grew one very large oak tree I’m sure was giving shade back when the moonshiners were doing their work at this spot. The oak was obviously old and was probably an acorn during the Civil War, but surprisingly, standing a couple feet from its base was the skeleton of another tree. This weathered old tree trunk was probably the remains of another ancient tree standing watch over the still when east Texas was really wild.

Whitetail update: With rifle season only days away, buck movement will be ramping up as the early stages of the rut begins. Many areas I’ve visited and from reports across much of the state, the acorn crop is below average and poor in some areas which should equate to deer hitting corn feeders hard as the season progresses. Timely rains have resulted in healthy food plots, which will really pull the deer in during mid to late season. I’ve already witnessed deer feeding on the sprouting food plots. Bucks have been hitting mock scrapes I’ve created using scents. Find an overhanging limb on a field or trail edge and spray the branch with a heavy dose of the preorbital scent, and chances are very good you will return to see a branch chewed by a buck and the ground pawed under the limb.

Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton via email at or visit his website

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