I stood in the near dark, sweating and perplexed. My knees felt wobbly from the residual adrenalin and I was tired from searching. An hour before I had made one of the best bow shots in my life, yet there was no blood trail, no arrow found, no dead deer and no daylight left to look further. It was a textbook scenario. I had done everything right. I felt cheated in a way. “God,” I said, “What is my lesson here?” I clicked on my brightest flashlight to look for a blood trail one last time. Deer approaching from the south spooked and scattered, something I had hoped to avoid. I finally gave up and went back to camp.
At 4pm I had looked out my office window after working at my desk all day. Suddenly that gut feeling came over me. I had to hit the woods. The cold rainy spell had broken and the red oaks on my north 40 were dropping acorns. The deer would be active & feeding - and it was pre-rut. A text message from a buddy saying the deer should be feeding after the cold spell cinched it. I was out at warp speed.
Within half an hour I was on a tree stand ¾ mile in. I had 16 stands to pick from, but this one just “smelled” right. I decided to stand so I would blend better with the tree. I had “mixed up” my camo using several different patterns for pants, leafy jacket, face mask, and face camo paint so I would not “blob” in the tree since most of the leaves were down.
Two hours later, I saw him: An 8 point buck. This was the largest deer I had seen on my property. Even though the leaves were dry and noisy, his approach was silent. He went to a tree I had ranged at 30 yards. In five more paces, he would be in a “thread the needle” shooting window - but he was taking his time snorkeling down acorns. I slowly turned around to face my tree, slipped my release on my bowstring and waited. The wind was in my favor. He looked my way a couple times doing the “funky neck” to get a better look, but I pressed closer to the tree and tried to look like bark.
Then he made that one last step, and I went to full draw. He stopped, I took my time. I placed the pin right behind his front leg, took a breath, let it out half way and held it. Thoop! The arrow pounced off my bowstring and hit the mark. The buck ran, then stopped, tail up, and walked out of my life. I could swear I had a good shot, but I sat tight for a half hour to be sure. Now, I could not find him. But I never, never, never give up.
I hunted the next morning in another stand, and went back and searched the area for hours to no avail. I had company in town and had to go home. I was incredulous. No arrow, no nothing.
The third morning, I hit the woods again, did a quick check on some stands for the hunters coming for deer firearms' season, and went back again to where I arrowed the buck. I had memorized the spot he stood when I shot, and his escape route. For the umpteenth time, I walked that route, doing circles and grids. There were a number of deer trails in all directions. Nothing. I just stood there, vexed. “If I was a mortally wounded deer, where would I run ?” I spied a dim trail along the tag alder swamp, and followed it - only by divinely-inspired instinct. Then I saw crows circling. I hid behind a tree and they appeared to be getting ready to land in the distance. I popped up sending them aloft. I went to where they were landing. There was a large downfall and piles of leaves everywhere at the swamp edge, but then I saw it – antler tips sticking out of the leaves in an uprooted tree root divot – and BLOOD! I fell on my knees and thanked God – I did the happy dance on my knees which was pretty comical… then popped up and ran to brush all the leaves off the animal. It was virtually invisible in the leaves and the rack was obscured by the downfall. Crows and varmints had eaten 1/5th of the deer away, and with the warm, windy weather the day before, the deer smelled bad. I ran to get my ATV and Otter sled, muscled the deer from the swamp edge and out of the woods to the sled and took it to register it. I could only cape the buck for taxidermy and even then, the hair was starting to ‘slip.’ I was not able salvage the meat.
I never did find my arrow, but my shot was true. It went through the middle of the left lung, out the back of the right lung, and lodged in the leg bone – no exit wound, so no blood trail.
Never, never, never give up, is a motto I live by in many aspects of life, and with hunting. Ethics with hunting is doing the right thing when no one will see you and when you could easily be lazy and do the wrong thing. When you make a shot, you should give as much due diligence as possible to find the animal. Too often hunters give up when it’s not easy to track a deer. If you did everything right, trust your gut, say a prayer, and never quit. It’s out there.
8 point buck, 182 pounds (per game scale, as found), 30 yard shot, ran 85 yards