This weekend was my last chance to hunt some public ground in north-central Missouri, an area I’ve come to know well. It’s hard to put a figure on how many hours I’ve devoted to hunting this area. I’ve scouted it during the preseason, hunted it in both spring and fall. Mostly I’ve been interested in a flock of 7-8 wild turkeys that roost in the dense woods between two ridges. I’ve seen deer there, too: at least a couple of groups of does with yearlings in tow.
Based on my hunts this year and footage from my digital scouting camera, I had come to focus my efforts on a key east-west ridge. At the bottom (west) there’s a creek that runs south to an area where I’ve watched turkeys congregate and strut. Later, I found feathers there. Last time out, I set my ground blind just north of the clearing between the two ridges. watched a mature doe and two yearlings approach out of the southeast and begin crossing the ridge until they caught my scent and made a U-turn.
This time I changed my strategy: I set up right in the middle of that key ridge, about 20 yards above the creek bed with good shooting lanes there. Wind was out of the south, gusting, so I was looking for a group of deer to follow that same route out of the southeast right past my blind. I got into the woods an hour before sunrise, but sneaking in and setting up always seem to take longer than they should. Luckily I was in place by around official sunrise, 7:20. Unfortunately, none of my sleepy tree yelps or soft clucks got any response. The turkeys weren’t home.
Hunting in the Ground Blind
As the sun came up, the wind really picked up. It was still mostly out of the south, but I hate blustery days. I closed my southern window of the blind to provide some cover and some wind protection. That would prove critical later.
At around 8:15, I was heard the noise behind me that every hunter dreads: the sounds of deer blowing out after they’ve been spooked. A pair of them, small does, had come down the ridge from the east, north of my position. Obviously they’d caught my scent as they passed downwind, and bugged out. My grunt call had no effect. I switched to my original can instead, in case the doe bleats might bring them back.
Five minutes later I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, toward the southeast. Here came three deer (does) and I could tell in a half-second glance they were headed right toward me. It was the same path the deer had taken on my last hunt. I ducked out of view inside my Doghouse ground blind, using the closed window as cover as I raised my bow.
The big doe in the lead walked right in front of my open window at 15 yards. It was the perfect opportunity. I went to draw… and could not. I simply couldn’t pull back my bow. What the ****? Maybe it was the cold, or just nerves, but my frustrated attempts caught the doe’s eye. She snorted and jumped away about 5 yards. Luckily I had my grunt tube at hand, I hit it once.
She hesitated, peering into the blind, just as I finally summoned the strength to draw. I took aim with my 20 yard pin, steadied, and released. Thrum-thump. A hit! I thought it a good one, too, low and behind the shoulder. The doe fled left along the top of the ridge, and her tail was down. I took that as a good sign. Meanwhile, the other two deer hesitated… if I’d had another arrow ready, I might have drawn on one o them. Instead I watched where they went, and waited.
After the Shot
They ran north along the ridge but not terribly far. After a few minutes, two of them backtracked south, through denser woods farther away from my blind. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but I thought it encouraging. Five or ten minutes later, a third doe appeared from my left, seeming to follow the trail of the others south. She went behind a clump of trees and I lost sight of her. I didn’t see her come out on the other side.
I waited exactly half an hour, then slipped out of the blind (with an arrow nocked) to where the doe had stood when I took the shot. I didn’t see any blood, but couldn’t find my arrow. This was surprising because I’d shot a bit uphill, and thought my arrow would be easier to find. No dice. It might have slid under the leaves, but I wasn’t sure. Come to think of it, I have never found an arrow released in the deep woods. I tied an orange ribbon at the location, and started working my way north the way they’d gone.
No blood was evident, and I started to get very disappointed. I followed an old rusty wire fence along the ridge — the deer that backtracked had gone around this before heading south — to where the fence ended at an old creek bed. Here I turned, looked to the southeast, and I saw something. It was about 40 yards away, slightly uphill, but it didn’t look like a stump. I took a look through my waterproof hunting binoculars. Yes, it looked like a deer.
The doubter in me was wondering if this was coincidence. Maybe this deer had died of natural causes. But such a carcass wouldn’t last one night in this area. Too many coyotes. I approached slowly, still checking with my field glasses, keeping an arrow ready. Now I was paranoid that the deer would jump up and run off. I watched the flanks for signs of breathing, and saw none. I came closer.
It was a big doe, and when I got close enough to see the eyes, there was no life in them. I gave the deer a nudge with my boot, just to be sure, figuring that if it tried to jump up then, I’d physically tackle it. Seriously. Now I came around to the front and got a good look. There was no visible wound, but I spotted blood on the ground. Now I was convinced. This was my deer. I knelt and said a prayer of thanks.
As it turned out, the third deer I’d seen backtrack but disappear from view was this one. She left no trail, but fell about 30 yards from where she’d stood her, no more than 10 minutes after the shot. That was the only place I found blood, and there was plenty. It turned out that I’d made a perfect shot, the so-called double-lung heart shot. All of that target practice had paid off. I was glad to have made a precise, clean kill. I went back to take down the ground blind and pack up; my weekend of hunting was over!
I was also glad the deer hadn’t fled downhill, because it was heavy. Of course, this was the one outing I’d forgotten my field dressing kit at home, but at least I had a good length of strong cord. I made a harness and dragged it out to the edge of the woods, maybe 30 yards, and it wasn’t easy. Then I got my gear out. I was in a neighbor’s field, maybe half a mile from the road. I blessed him for having brush-hogged recently. I made a loop-harness out of the cord so I could put it around my torso to make this trek.
On the way back, I couldn’t raise my wife and inlaws on the radio, so I called my father-in-law on the phone.
“Hey Dan, are you lost?” he asked, when he answered.
“No, I but I have a question. Is your trailer still operable?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“Good. Well, I’m gonna need it.”
It was my first bowhunting harvest on this heavily-pressured public land in north-central Missouri, a young doe but a big one. What a month this has been!