Hunt date October 24, 2017
The buck stood just a mere 15 yards with one back leg lifted as if a dog on point. The setting sun’s glare was blinding as I settled into the stand, so I turned my back to it while waiting for its further descent to the horizon. The view on the other side of this short ladder-stand can be just as productive. Figures, just like turkeys, deer like to appear on your backside.
The first assumption is the buck has busted me in this seven-foot stand. However, buck’s eyes are focusing on something at ground level and not at my position. Apparently, this buck has come to find out what made the walking noise. Whenever approaching a deer stand, it is best to walk in like a deer, the noises made must be natural sounding within the cadence of the deer’s world. In this case, instead of thinking a hunter had moved in this beautiful buck came to investigate a potential doe.
The temptation is to count points while waiting for a good shot; longtime experience has taught me not to do this, stop the one, two, three… immediately and focus on the task at hand. This evening’s thermal current is gently cascading downhill from the buck to me; there is plenty of time.
When deer are in close moments must be slowly deliberate so that they don’t catch the deer’s attention by sight or sound, including neurological background noise. Like the hands of a clock, my lower torso shifts to align the bow when its time comes to rise. The front angle of the deer is too sharp for a shot; he needs to move down about eight feet for an arrow to hit the pocket behind the left shoulder and exit before the last rib on the opposite side.
Time seems to have stopped, I’m not sure if 54 years of deer hunting have numbed my excitement or if more concerning, shooting a buck no longer causes the fever. Sadly, I feel no excitement, only intense concentration to not screw this up because no matter the experience level, things can go wrong in a hurry.
The multipoint buck sniffs the thermals one more time before moving on the downhill trail, almost broadside he comes to a stop with his front shoulder extended forward. Perfect, the arrow is released. My buck bounds angle straight away uphill, stops, his antlers are above the brush then disappear while the sapling he was standing by vibrates as if life is leaving the deer or he is making a rub. It is time to wait at least a half hour; I give it 40 minutes even though my arrow is blood-soaked. Slowly descend to the ground, all senses alert. Upon inspection, the blood on the arrow has bubbled up and down the shaft, indicate substantial lung penetration. There’s chest color hair on the ground and a good blood trail to follow. However, this deer should not have gone up any hill, which always makes me suspicious that things are not as they first appear.
It takes me at least 15 minutes to move 50 yards towards a dead buck, the sound of a deer bounding downhill freezes me, and more deer sound like they are walking away side-hilling. More time passes, the sun is low, and light is fading fast as I reach the sapling. At the base of this little tree, an empty blood-soaked deer bed. Wait some more even though a substantial blood trail beckons me to follow.
The thick hillside brush makes moving sound like anything other than a human crashing their way ahead impossible. At any moment a carcass should be illuminated in my beam of light, depressingly, I find another bed, blood, and a good crimson trail leading off onto neighboring land. Time to seek permission.
The neighboring landowner was, perhaps, one of the most accommodating, he promptly granted permission to search. Shane with Calling all Turkeys was to arrive tonight so that we could video some fall turkey dogging. I called to let him know I’d likely be busy hauling a buck in, at that time, my expectation was for a smooth recovery. This year Shane was training his 9-month-old Blue Tick hound, Callie, for deer recovery, a leashed tracking dog is legal in Wisconsin. I agreed and waited until Shane arrived with Callie before resuming the buck’s trail.
We were back at the point of shot five hours later. Callie quickly picked up the trail as she started dragging Shane behind her. Large puddles of blood confirmed she was on the correct deer. With all Callie’s baying and commotion of us busting brush to keep, we flushed several other deer on the way. In spite of the distractions of the deer, Callie stayed on the track. However, that gut feeling of something is not going right begin to seep into me. During my half-century-plus of deer hunting, I have been on hundreds of recovery trails, for many of those years I was on the tracker’s call list to help other hunters; something was not going right here. A deer who has lost this much blood and continued to do so, should not be leaving yet another bed.
After a couple of more hours, the blood on the ground started turning a grainy black color typical of deteriorating lungs and not a lot of it. According to Callie’s nose, the deer crossed an open grassy field that took us to another woodlot. We decided to wait until sunrise before going further. We all needed rest and a break from the inky black night. My sleep was not restful as the mind kept replaying all the events of the shot and track over and over looking for some details it might have missed.
As the sun rose it all its splendor, we were back sorting through the evidence to figure out where this buck went. At a planted food plot the deer was expected to cut across to the other side, wounded animals are known to take the path of least resistance. The buck did not do this.
Instead, he circled and bedded in the opposite side’s brush line. He bedded stretched out; the moist ground leaves
held an imprint of his body. And he had moved out yet again! Tracks and small spots of blood led us downhill towards a paved county road and past several trail cameras. Shane suggested I contact the landowner for permission to pull the cards so that we could perhaps see the condition of the deer was. Yeah, I, of course, was having doubts about my shot placement too; to my pleasant surprise, the landowner allowed us to pull the camera cards.
As we ate lunch, we perused all of the camera pictures and were shocked; there was no photo, not a single one of the buck! How could this be? The sign and Callie’s nose confirmed the buck had used the trails heading downhill.
After lunch and some rest, we replaced the camera cards. Unless this deer possesses powers from the gods not yet discovered by us mere mortals, there must be an earthly explanation. While Callie continued dragging Shane around in attempts to pick up the trail and that included attempting to take him for a walk along the busy county road, I started back trailing in an effort to find the
“earthly” reason for no pictures.
This old buck knew where the trail cameras were! Figured out he should let his picture get taken. He had left the trail to walk behind every one of the cameras! Never before had I encountered this kind of behavior from any deer. How could he possibly have figured out how hunters use and why hunters use cameras? Of course, my mind has worked on this quirky happening. The only thing that seems logical is the electronics in the camera make some noise that spooked a cautious buck; he did not like the sound or the flash causing him to move around the camera.
By this point in the day, I’m feeling queasy, hate not doing my part well and losing a deer and, the thought of giving up bowhunting gnaws in my head. The trail is cold and the final option, grid searching appears to be it. There’s a long grass swamp at the hill’s base along the road; he must be in there. As we searched I lost track of the deer remains that we found, one a small buck died within a week, others large, literally mossy covered natural European mounts and some more recent. What we could not locate was our buck.
In what was to be the final loop along an old logging trail that would allow Callie to scent on the downwind side of the swamp. As we moved around the swamp getting close to the county road, I was ready to give up on the recovery of this buck. Or at least until the vultures and crows showed me where he was in a few days. The case could not be made that he’d be OK and alive. In situations like this, I always consider my tag filled because clearly, I killed the animal.
Callie suddenly jerked Shane off the path into a thick bushy patch that lay between the trail and county road. Shane yelled. I got something in my eye and need help. Earlier Callie had dragged him through dense patches of cockleburr, and I had to get him to hold still while pulling some fragments out of his eye. Oh no, not again. But my partner needs my help so into the brush I go.
Shane had his camera pointed at me, his eye was ok and on the ground lays a large dead twelve point buck with a perfectly placed arrow wound. It’s about 3p, nearly 24 hours since the shot. Shane has a video of me he continues to laugh at–as my face from depression to ecstatic “Holy shit is that my buck?! I mean holy moly…” The back story there is Shane had made the reasonable request that I refrain from profanities during recordings.
We would not have recovered this deer without the aid of Callie the deer tracking hound. She had tried to take us along the buck’s trail along the shoulder of the road. We did not think a wounded deer would walk on the shoulder of a busy county road during daylight. Moral of this story, trust the dog. In this case, even if she is an inexperienced 9-month-old.
Excitement might not have hit me way back at the shot, had the buck been recovered from his first bed, I’d have been thrilled. But after all
that trailing and becoming ready to give up then finding him; well, I was in touch with a lot of that old-time deer excitement. The buck’s meat is perfectly fine and delicious, weighed over 200 pounds field dressed.
What went wrong? Why such a long trail?
This is an obvious question that all hunters think hard about, and the answer did not hit me until I was reading a piece by a chef regarding knife sharpening and proper knife selection for the task. The chef stated a knife cuts best by slicing, not pushing. It is the length of the back and forth pulls, causing the food to be sliced cleanly and not pressure pushing the blade down to get it through. Of course, I knew that! This year I had been convinced to use a different broadhead which has a wide stout blade. This head smashed its way into and out of the deer’s chest but did not do a good job cutting its way. Kind of like a hatchet would have performed.
An arrow kills by hemorrhage, which requires cutting like a knife, not a hatchet type whack. Broadheads that are wide, and short, even though they are sharp, are not as deadly as the longer knife like heads. A big wide broadhead causes entry damage, making for copious amounts of blood. However, internal cutting–hemorrhage may be minimal. Both lungs on this buck were penetrated, plus the edge of the liver. With my old Zwickey or Grizzly heads, he would have been dead within 60 yards with a hit like this.
In my experience, the Grizzly and Zwickey broadheads when adequately placed have killed deer without fail to cause the deer to drop dead within 60-70 yards. After my experience with the QAD Exodus this season, no one will talk me into using a broadhead that does not have enough cutting length to slice rather than tear its way through a chest cavity. Other broadhead designs may look “wicked,” but no company has done a study that refutes the finding of Dr. Ashby’s study of arrow lethality on African game. I should have known better.