It was last year in early fall, October 6th to be exact. I woke up later than I’d intended and puttered around for another 20 minutes before getting under way. I made good time to the conservation area but still arrived after 6. Much later than I wanted. It was the first in many mistakes that day. One of the things I hate about getting there late is that you see more people, especially non-hunters, and that ruins some of the fun of it. There was a crew with an earth-mover in the parking lot (they were doing some construction in a field in the area). Later I passed a huge combine that was just sitting there with the engine running.
Setting Up My Tree Stand
I decided to try a wheeled cart to lug my stand out, as there are grass trails most of the way and it’s about a 1.5 mile walk. One thing I hadn’t considered: the cart was LOUD. It clanked along making a huge racket. Between the tractors and machinery and my clanking cart, I was thinking I’d be stunned if any deer were left within miles.
I finally ditched the cart and shouldered about a MILLION pounds of stand, climber, backpack, and bow. The steps of the climber were sticking out at a 45 degree angle, but I was too lazy to adjust. I’d regret that; it kept catching on the foliage once I went into the woods. Halfway to my intended spot, I saw what I thought was a fresh rub in the pre-dawn twilight. The ground was open and there were a few possible trees. I picked one southeast of the rub (wind was out of the ESE). Given the challenges of stand hunting on public land, I figured it was about as good as anything.
As usual, putting up the stand was a chore. I have two strap-on sets of climbing steps. Those are easy. But lugging the steel stand up atop them and getting it strapped on is hard, sweaty, noisy work. It’s brutal. I have yet to figure out a better way (other than just buying a climber-type stand). The first time I got it set up, I climbed on and found that it was at a 20 degree downward angle. I had to lower my bow on a rope (safety!), climb out, and adjust it. Thank God, it was much better after that.
An Unexpected Bowhunting Buck
Then I got settled and lifted my bow, which had lost about 2 arrows because they fell out of the quiver when I’d lowered it. I nocked one of the remaining arrows, and was just catching my breath, when the buck came. He walked in from the east, hidden mostly from view by a bunch of saplings. I froze (I did that part right). Should I draw? Will he see me or smell me and bolt at any second? He started going left into my shooting lane, then seemed to change his mind. He turned around, and I managed to wait until he was behind a tree to pivot right. But he didn’t come. What? Where was he.
Almost too late, I realized he was moving left again, and about to come out into the open. I pivoted and drew. My hands quivered. He heard or sensed something and looked up before he was clear. I held fast, heart pounding, blood thundering in my ears. Then he moseyed left into a perfect little window.
“That’s 30 yards,” I told myself. I almost forgot to aim, almost shot just by nerves and instinct. But I found the pin, put it just behind his shoulder and fired.
Thrum! Thwap! He bolted away from me. Was that a hit? I wondered while I listened to him charge away. His tail had been down. He moved quick but did seem to be hobbled. Once my pulse slowed, I examined my shooting lane again. It was probably more like 25 yards from my stand. That meant I’d hit him high, and it worried me.
I’d loosed the arrow at 7:20 a.m. At around 8:00, I climbed down and crept forward in the direction he’d gone. There wasn’t much to see in the place where he’d stood. I couldn’t find my arrow. I started quietly along his trail. Twenty yards along, I found a splash of blood. The tracking began.
Following A Whitetail Buck’s Blood Trail
It’s the first time that I’ve followed a blood trail through the woods, and I admit it was a learning experience. What I learned:
- Yellow shooting glasses sometimes helped. Especially when it got brighter out; they gave my eyes some relief. I took them on and off so many times that I lost my pair. I’ll have to pick up a new pair for this year.
- The blood trail went largely in a single direction. I suppose I expected more zig-zagging and random changes. But he simply ran, much like he probably traveled in the woods.
- I didn’t wait long enough. I found a couple of very good blood spots where he’d stood for a long time. Most likely I bumped him when I was in pursuit.
- Preparation helps. I wish I’d brought a roll of bright orange tape or something else to mark each spot as I found it. Instead, I scoured my backpack for bits of paper. I used trash and things I found in the woods. It was pathetic.
- Tracking is incredibly disorienting. In spite of trying to keep tabs on my location, I got totally turned around. It turned out that the trail went back in the direction of the park entrance, and I didn’t even realize it! Thank goodness for GPS.
It was a long, arduous day of tracking. I spent several hours and covered more than a mile. But I learned something about myself. I was capable of doing the hard work after the shot. At some points I was on my hands and knees, finding drops of blood the size of a pin’s head. It’s rather incredible that I could track him as long and as far as I did. There was a long delay when he seemed to cross a bit of marsh covered in long weeds – no matter how many times I searched it, I couldn’t pick up the trail afterward. At last I discovered that he’d gone around. Then the trail disappeared entirely in open woods aside a large field.
I didn’t give up. I eventually looked at the deer’s direction of travel and guessed where he’d keep heading. I crossed the open field and, amazingly, picked up the trail again perhaps 1/4 mile away. It slowed even more after that, though. In another half mile, I found the very last drop. By then he probably wasn’t bleeding at all.
It made for an interesting hunting experience: a few thrilling moments of adrenaline, and then a long exhausting day. I was SO disappointed. But that’s all right, I’ll find him again this year. And I’ll be sure to keep my aim down.