The Deer Hunt.
Updated: Mar 17
Every morning I head out to the field, there is optimism in my heart that motivates me to wake up earlier than usual to absorb the stillness of the outdoors. Well, not only to sit and listen to the sound of nature awaken as best described by Steve Rinella when he likens that those moments to the sound of an orchestra warming up. I head to the field with my gear in tow, all for an opportunity to experience nature in an upfront and personal manner.
While on one hand, this experience (deer hunting) is new to me, many of the principles of success cross over from other adventures in the outdoors. Being still, listening, and watching. Exploring your surroundings for something that stands out among the rest of the beauty before your eyes. As I glaze hopefully across the trees looking for markings of a deer, what I often see are squirrels jumping from branch to branch. As I quietly listen for movement in the brush, it's the birds descending from high above that I hear as they land on branches below. While on one hand, these encounters lead to a feeling of disappointment (it wasn't a deer), on the other hand, it's like something new stands out each time.
One of these moments was my first time seeing a Red-Headed Wood Pecker as it chipped away on the tree above me. Another was when four turkeys pushed their way through the brush into an opening - all seemingly unaware of my presence. Not my first turkey encounter, but an excellent opportunity to study their movements and interactions as they remained wary of potential predators. At times the moments can seem like hours, and while the opposite can be just as true there is a belief that an incredible encounter is on the horizon.
Another of those experiences came on my seventh day in the field (of the season). Not long after my anticipation for activity had faded away, something caught my eye. Coming towards the clearing where I was stationed was a mature doe. She slowly and methodically moved along the brush line keeping her coverage optimized, making each step with significant reluctance. After about 15 minutes of observation, the doe faded away in the distance leaving me with an encounter that had my heart pumping and my muscles stilled from movement.
Maybe, If Only.
After more time in the field, I still hadn't seen a buck - to which I had a license/tag to fill. One particular Friday, I planned to get in the field later in the morning (by 9:00 a.m.) after touching base on a remote work project in the area. As these things can go, it took longer than expected and I didn't get to the field until much later in the afternoon. Either way, I thought I'd check my trail camera and refresh my corn pile. The instant I opened the folder of images on my memory card I let out an excited "Yes!" - I had a picture of a buck. What I had was a picture of hope and anticipation.
But as I looked at the picture again... I had a picture of a mature, solid structured deer that appeared in command of his surroundings. It was then I noticed these images were captured only a few hours earlier at 10:00 a.m. If only I had been in my stand early that morning I would've been there for this chance meeting. This image helped to reignite an optimistic outlook on my hunting endeavours. A couple of days later, with a fresh covering of snow, I headed back to my stand with anticipation of seeing this buck in person. To my dismay, it wouldn't be the day - but all the same, it was another opportunity to capture the moments that only snow-covered forests can offer.
Keep Your Eyes Open.
One week after my camera first captured images of this mature buck, I was back in the stand, doing all the things I believed would increase my odds of contact, or at minimum reduce the chances of keeping the deer away. After an early morning watching the sun rise and illuminate my surroundings things were unusually quiet.
For a moment I thought, maybe all the wildlife have moved to another area for the day. It was only 8:20 a.m. Either way, I kept doing the things I had been doing for days now; staying still, keeping quiet, and occasionally letting out a grunt call or two - yet nothing. So, I settled into my seat and thought maybe I should close my eyes for a couple minutes. It was now 8:40 a.m. and out of the corner of my left eye, I see something move in the brush. Anticipating it to be another squirrel I turned slowly (as I had plenty of practice doing) but this was different. I think my pupils dilated with astonishment as I recognized something I had never seen before. There it was. Unmistakably it was the buck from my trail cam closing in from no more than 25 yards. He slowly made his way from my left through the saplings and into the open - all the while unaware of my presence. As I had practiced many times on the various other small animals that popped out into the open, I slide my compound bow across the rail, leaned in, and locked the crosshairs of my scope on the target. I watched and waited for him to move a little more into the open. Now at about 15 yards, he bent his head down to the ground and then back up taking only a couple more steps in my direction. Cautiously he stopped one more time with his head even to his back. This was my opportunity. I breathed in and back out again, then squeezed the trigger. Suddenly the deer that was so steady and sure of his placement had bolted as though someone fired a starting pistol. From left to right it took off in a fury heading into the thick coverage disappearing as though it had never been in my sight.
More Questions Than Answers.
Now I could feel my heart racing - thinking I did it. This is what it was all about! A flood of thoughts and emotions entered my brain, but one of them that stood out among the rest was the notion that I hadn't noticed my bolt (arrow) in the side of the deer has it ran off. That was immediately followed by thinking I heard what resembled cracking just after I pulled the trigger. I looked in the direction of where I took the shot, scouring the ground for my bolt. As I did this I noticed some thin branches hanging high from the tree next to me. My inexperience had now created a rabbit hole for my mind to race within. What if I missed. What if the sound I heard was the branches, causing my bolt to deviate from its intended trajectory. With the deer long gone and some time having now passed, I thought I should hit the ground and see if my bolt is there.
After an initial search, there was nothing to be seen. No bolt, but also no blood. As I turned to look again, buried deep in the ground was the bolt I had fired. I immediately drew the conclusion that I had indeed missed. It made sense in my head. There was the bolt deep in the ground, no blood and the sound of what I assumed was branches snapping. This combination of evidence and my lack of experience provided a reasonable explanation.
After heading back to my stand to plan my next steps, I did two things. One, look for insights from the internet, and two, reach out to an experienced deer hunter for some advice. After some time had passed both of these sources gave me something to think about that I hadn't even considered. Leaning on the advice of my friend Ashley Pieterson (an experienced deer hunter) I accepted the concept that my shot was good and that the bolt simply went straight through the deer. After further investigation of the bolt, there was a little blood on the fletchings and some short hair in the broadhead (arrow).
Now after having let even more time pass I began looking for the deer. I circled out wide scouring the property and then later following the path the buck headed in after I pulled the trigger. With the assistance of my wife, Pamela, and our German Short-Haired Pointer Memphis, we covered kilometres of ground over a period of hours - still no blood trail and still no buck. At the end of the day, my head was spinning. When I put my head on my pillow that night my mind raced with the possibilities of what might have happened. Did I kinda miss? Was it a gutshot that left this deer wandering the evening with a likely fatal injury? I knew I did everything I could to look for the animal but believed at minimum my shot wasn't a great one. Now I could only hope it was so inaccurate that the deer would survive and recover.
Two days later I returned to the field for one last search. Not so much because I had faith that I would find this deer, but more so to say I gave it one more go and could rest better that the deer was nowhere to be seen. I started by retracing some steps from my earlier search. There within 100 yards of my tree stand, emerging against the landscape was the whitetail that marks these deer in their species that was accompanied by a large rack of antlers.
As impressively as the hide of the deer blended into the foliage around it, even at a distance, this mature buck could be unmistakably identified. When I knelt down beside this buck I took a moment to admire this impressive animal absorbing information that a picture or video could never provide. I was in awe. Following the processing of the animal, I was able to get the answers I was really searching for that day. Here they are:
Was it a bad/stomach shot? No. The bolt went straight through in a relatively decent location. The stomach was completely intact. The exit wound had a portion of the liver protruding from it. That being said, I've learned that based on the proximity of my shot it would be better to aim a little higher and further forward taking the angle into consideration.
What was the snapping sound? The evidence showed it was the cracking of the ribs. As the bolt cut through it broke ribs on the way in and out. A remarkably loud sound.
Why couldn't I find the deer the first day looking? I'm guessing here, but I'd say I bumped (startled) the deer as a result of both leaving my tree stand and searching for the deer too soon. Ideally, you want to allow the animal to find somewhere to lie down and succumb to its injury.
The way I see it, I have an incredible story to tell. A story that I hope others can learn from and be inspired by. I once heard that when it comes to hunting both patience and persistence are critical. I couldn't agree more. I'd add to this that hunting is an adventure where patience and opportunity have the chance of meeting - and if they do, you'll be a part of an experience that will put you in direct contact with the natural world. Throughout the timeline of my days in the field, I had a first-hand experience with red-tailed squirrel, grouse, turkey, red-headed woodpecker, and of course a few deer. One of which was a prized 11-Point buck who will remain a part of my story and a foundation to my growing hunting endeavours.
Excaliber MAG340 with Trailbazer 100 broadheads.
Big Game Striker XL Ladder Stand
Bushnell Trophy XLT Roof Prism Binoculars, 10x42mm
Primos Hardwood Hunter Grunt Call
Primos Original Can Doe Bleat
Morakniv Kansbol Fixed Blade Knife