My Uncle Dave has a great piece of land for hunting, he has horses and tons of space- a great mixture of fields and hard woods, thickets, green brier, and open woods. It seemed like a perfect option for my Dad and I for archery season this year, so weeks prior to archery, we worked on setting up trail cams, tree stands, and getting prepared for the season.
The trail cams that we had at our spots were seeing plenty of action including doe, buck, and turkey. There were a few nice bucks on the cameras, but I was especially impressed with a 7point buck with a tall rack; 3 high on one side and 4 on the other with no brow tines. Not having center spikes made it easily identifiable, and although he wasn't the biggest buck in the woods- there was something drawing me to him.
Archery season started and we were seeing a steady stream of buck and doe, but with the knowledge that the big guy was out there, I was holding steady. Over the course of the season, I did have two encounters with the 7point buck from the trail cam, but I was unable to get a shot off. In any case, my stand was in a great spot that saw a lot of traffic and had all the perks of getting in the woods before the sun rises in the morning.
On one of the last days of archery, Dad and I got to the woods around 2:30p for an afternoon hunt. I saw a few doe throughout the evening and then Dad called me at 3:57p to tell me that he just watched a nice buck go up into the field that was between our stands. As I hung up the phone and turned around, I saw the 7point buck about 150 yards away. I took out my Primos Doe Bleat Can. As I gave 2 bleats, the buck turned and started my way. When he got to about 75 yards I hit the bleat again and he started to run directly at me. As he came down over the hill, I drew back and when he got to around 10-15 yards I took my shot.
I was aiming low since my bow is sighted in at 30 yards, so I just grazed his underbelly and he ran down through the woods about 35 yards and stopped. I then nocked another arrow, and as the deer turned back to lick his wound I shot again down through the tree limbs and knocked the buck straight down.
He laid there for about 5 seconds, tried to get back up, and spun around as if he could not use his hind legs. After about 10 seconds he stood up and ran up over the hill.
I sat in the tree stand feeling pretty confident and excited about my shot on this buck I've been waiting on all season. I let him go for about 45 minutes and then began to track him. The blood trail started off heavy and then quickly ceased to only drops. I called my Dad and asked him for help since darkness was approaching at this point. While on his way over he called my Uncle and told him about the hit buck. My Uncle was actually on his tractor at about 4:30p and said he saw a nice buck run across the field. So, we went to the field that my Uncle saw the buck cross in the hopes to pick up a blood trail there.
After searching for about 15 minutes, we picked up blood again and were all relieved and rejuvenated to be on the right track again. At this point, we had myself, my Dad, my Uncle and my Aunt had even joined us - all of us coming together to track this buck. We were able to follow the trail halfway across the neighbor's field, across the road, down through the woods, across the Stoneycreek River, and up the next hillside. As we tracked him up the hillside the blood got thin and eventually stopped as we entered a big hardwoods part of the forest. The last thing I wanted to do was give up, and so we continued to look for more signs of blood til 9:30p but much to my dismay, the trail stopped there.
Dad and I even went back the next morning to continue tracking but again no more blood was found. We still searched though for a few more hours hoping to get lucky and stumble upon a piled up white belly but alas, I came up completely empty-handed.
This is one of those hard life lessons to learn that comes with being a hunter. It is a frustration that gets you right in the gut. After all that time, adrenaline, and focus to shoot something but then not to find it in the end is just brutal. And on top of it, you have the guilt of a wounded animal wandering around hanging over your head. It's a harsh reminder that hunters need to be at the top of their game, to make clean shots and with confidence that it will be successful and quick.
As horrible as it is, it's an event that usually happens at least once in every hunter's career. This is a life lesson that is invaluable - one that carries over into other parts of life - learning to process and come back from disappointment and guilt like that; from something that you have worked so hard for, that you want so much, and that you ultimately hold in the highest respect.
Even though the experience still haunts me, the thought of my family out there trying to help me track and then supporting me through the disappointment and feelings of guilt - that is a reminder to me just how lucky I am to be surrounded by a hunting family.