For the first time in more than 50 years Gladys Habeeb spent the opening day of deer season babysitting her grandchildren instead of in the woods hunting.
But for good reason.
Habeeb, 64, grew up with her five brothers on a dairy farm in rural Dallas Township. Money was tight on the farm and venison was always a welcome source of meals for the family. When Habeeb turned 12, she joined her brothers as a fellow hunter and shot her first buck that year.
Ever since then, Habeeb, who now resides in the Tunkhannock area, has never missed a deer season.
“It’s in-grained,” she said. “I became a hunter through a combination of necessity and desire.”
Over the last few years, however, that desire was tested. The cold weather during the rifle season became more of a challenge every year, Habeeb said. Making matters even more difficult was the fact that Habeeb hunted nearly every day of the season, enduring the cold, but didn’t have much to show for it.
“I got kind of tired of freezing and not seeing a buck in rifle season, or many doe either,” she said.
So Habeeb turned to archery. Last spring, she purchased a crossbow and made plans to hunt the October season when the weather was a bit milder. Having never archery hunted before, with a bow or crossbow, Habeeb turned to Kathy Bliss of T-Town Archery in Tunkhannock to learn how to shoot a crossbow safely and accurately.
“Even with a crossbow, Kathy was very accommodating and went through everything with me,” Habeeb said. “She started me shooting at 10 yards and we worked up to 30 yards. When archery season arrived, even though I was a beginner I still felt confident because of Kathy’s teaching and my hunting background.”
Aside from practicing with her crossbow, Habeeb also did more legwork to make sure everything was ready for opening day. At the top of the list was finding a place to hunt.
She didn’t have to look far.
Osterhout Mountain rises behind Habeeb’s home in Tunkhannock Township. She visited landowners seeking permission to hunt and went to the courthouse to research who owned other large blocks of land on the mountain. Many of the landowners were receptive and allowed Habeeb to archery hunt on their property.
“If you take the time to ask, you can get permission,” she said.
While Habeeb prefers to stillhunt, she said a crossbow is too heavy and awkward to carry around the woods. Instead, she opted to hunt from natural blinds on the ground such as fallen trees.
When the season opened, Habeeb cherished hunting in mild weather and saw doe about every morning she was out. Since Habeeb is retired, she logged countless hours in the woods with her crossbow, and it wasn’t long until she began seeing bucks as well.
The first one was a spike – not legal. The second buck she encountered, however, left no doubt.
“It was a 10-point. He was maybe 50 yards away and moving,” Habeeb said. “There was no shot, but after seeing that 10-point buck I was obsessed.”
Later in the season, Habeeb had a nice 6-point buck walk well within range on two occasions and she let it go. Habeeb was determined to wait for another chance at the big 10-point, even if it meant passing up legal bucks along the way.
She got a second chance on Nov. 9 during the last week of the season. Habeeb went out at 2 p.m. that day to the exact spot where she saw the 10-point buck earlier in the season. For the next hour she watched a flock of turkeys from her post on the ground behind a log.
Then, at 4:30 p.m. things got interesting.
Two doe appeared just 30 yards away. Habeeb watched as the doe suddenly lifted their heads and looked uphill.
“All of a sudden there he was. The 10-point,” Habeeb said.
While the doe concentrated on the buck, Habeeb slowly raised her crossbow into position and clicked the safety off. The buck walked cautiously down the hill toward the doe and in an instant stood broadside just 30 yards away.
The bolts that Habeeb uses for her crossbow have a white fletching. She feels the color would be noticeable with any movement, so she elected to leave her quiver at home and only use the bolt she loaded in her crossbow.
When the buck stopped, presenting a broadside shot, a single thought entered Habeeb’s mind.
“I have one shot so take your time and make it count. That’s all that was going through my mind,” she said. “When you know you only have one shot, you make it count.”
Habeeb shouldered the crossbow and fired at the buck’s front shoulder. The buck appeared to stumble by all three deer ran into the thick brush.
But Habeeb heard something that made her optimistic.
“I heard the way the buck crashed through the brush and I knew he was hit good,” she said. “A deer doesn’t crash through the woods like that.”
At that instant, Habeeb felt exhilaration knowing the shot she took would result in a quick, humane kill.
Habeeb called her husband, who told her to come home and give the buck time to bed down and stop moving. They returned at 6 p.m. and began scanning the area with flashlights, but couldn’t find a drop of blood.
“I was convinced the shot I had taken was lethal, but I wasn’t at ease,” Habeeb said. “The woods look entirely different after dark when all you have is a flashlight.”
After a half-hour of searching, Habeeb found the 10-point buck about 70 yards from where she took the shot. There was no blood trail, she said, because the arrow glanced off the front shoulder and struck the heart, but all the bleeding was contained inside the chest cavity.
“He was a good-sized mature deer,” Habeeb said. “My husband and I tried dragging him but I thought we both might have heart attacks. We called a neighbor who was able to bring a four-wheeler to help us get the deer out.”
While Habeeb spent the opening day of the rifle season babysitting, she also enjoyed a hearty meal of venison from her buck. She is having a full-shoulder mount done and intends to get the rack measured.
And Habeeb can’t wait for next October.
“Shooting a buck this big has spoiled me. I might be a little more selective when I see bucks during the season,” she said. “And I’ll definitely be archery hunting again. I’m hooked.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TLTomVenesky