Not every bowhunt has a happy ending. And so it goes with my Day 4 hunt.
I went back to the stand I sat in on the first, and third mornings. Right at
dawn two does approached and fed by my stand. I could clearly hear a 3rd deer,
a buck, rubbing his antlers in the brush behind me, but I dared not move. With
the two does feeding in front of my stand, I slowly reached for my bow - just
in case the buck was a big one. A minute late dark form of a deer appeared in
my peripheral vision. When he showed in front of me I recognized him immediately
as the buck from day 1 (The 10:15 AM buck).
It was too dark to videotape the shot, and the does were becoming nervous.
Luckily, I wasn’t – yet. I positioned my body to get the shot and
waited for the perfect angle and distance. The heavy-beamed buck moved and
presented a good, slightly quartering shot at 8 yards. It was a steep angle
but a good position nonetheless. I picked a spot behind his front shoulder,
drew and anchored. The buck was unaware of my presence but the does were looking
at me. Once I was sure of the shot picture I released and the arrow passed
completely through the buck – right were I was looking. “Perfect
shot” - I thought.
Here are two pictures which were
taken off the video camera. My shot can clearly be seen on these frames.
Our only guess? The deer must have twisted the positioned of his body
at the moment I released - this split second reaction resulted in my arrow
passing inside of his shoulder but not penetrating to the chest cavity.
My arrow was positioned perfectly for a slightly quartering shot - there
is no other explanation.
The three deer busted out and the buck stopped 80 yards away. I flipped
on my camera to film him tipping over. But he didn’t tip over; in fact he
stood there confused for several minutes before walking away healthy. I watched
him cross a field and disappear into a Tamarack thicket 200 yards away. I
could see the Tamarack thicket clearly and never saw him exit, so I assumed
he just bedded there. I ran the video tape back and later found that my arrow
had entered perfectly – right where it should have been. What on earth happened?
His reaction was as if he was unscathed, or a superficial hit. I was confident
that my shot was good and looking back, I don’t think I could have done anything
differently. But I was puzzled. I waited for some light and then climbed
out of my stand to look for the arrow and any trace of blood. I found both.
The arrow was coated with blood and the bloodtrail started within 10 yards.
The trail was pretty consistent, but not heavy. Steady drips that were easily
seen on the Cottonwood leaves. Ok, I knew I had a pass-through, and a good
I got back in my stand and sat there till my scheduled pickup time of 11:30
AM. During that time I had a nice 8-point shooter show up and I could have
killed him 20x over - had I not had a wounded deer out there somewhere. I enjoyed
filming him until he walked away. At 11:45 AM, Kent and his partner Kent Woolfolk
showed up and I explained what happened. We were encouraged by the blood trail
but confused by his reaction after the shot. I considered a low liver hit but
had ruled out heart or lungs. It was possible that the buck reacted to the
shot and spun – undetected. I wished I had a video replay since my mind
saw only a perfect arrow entering right where it should have been.
This fawn was chewing a cow
bone behind my treestand. I had heard of this behavior before but never
actually witnessed it, until now.
Buck 2 - 9:30 AM
This exceptional 8-pt. appeared
under my stand at 9:30 AM. He gave me several perfect shot positions like
the one above at 8 yards. But I had a wounded deer out there somewhere
and was no longer hunting.
The blood trail was good for 100 yards, but then began petering out. We suspected
the worse. That would be the start of one of the most relentless pursuits of
a wounded animal in my 21 years of bowhunting.
Chronology of the blood trail
12:15, ground zero
Kent Jarnagin, Kent Woolfolk, and myself start
following the bloodtrail from within 10 yards of the shot, to the field
where I watched the buck disappear.
12:30 PM, 300 yards
We do grid patterns to find more blood sign,
I search the Tamarack thicket while Kent walks a nearby fence line.
Kent Woolfolk leaves to pick up the other bowhunter who is hunting another
12:55 PM, 300 yards
Kent Jarnagin and I decide to go back to last
blood and look harder. We need to know the direction the deer headed
out of the Tamaracks. Luckily we find the trail and follow it to the
fence. There is blood on the fence and now we know that the buck was
strong enough to jump a 4 foot fence and headed out into the miles of
sagebrush and sandhills.
1:45 PM, 500 yards
Kent and Reed show up and help us look. Reed
heads out into the sandhills to scour the plumb thickets, while we continue
searching for blood sign. Reed jumps the 8pt buck that came into my
stand and that buck races off, picking up my wounded buck along the
way. Kent Jarnagin spots him and marks his last location. We discuss
options and I suggest we dog him and see what he does. Kent agrees,
and we leave Kent and Reed and head off after the buck.
2:30 PM, 1000 yards
We jump the big buck and watch him race off through
the sand hills. He appears to be very healthy. We run to keep him
in sight and Kent notices that he’s bleeding well again. Despite
a feeling that the hit is superficial, we decide to keep after him so
long as we have visibility and a blood trail.
3:00 PM, 1 mile
We followed the blood trail for a long ways,
and then the buck jumps up again. He is still healthy looking. Kent
and I discuss options, one of which is to abandon the trail and not
stress the deer any further, or keep dogging him. I leaned towards
the no-stress option and Kent agrees. But we both decide to circle
the sand hills one last time before heading back. When we did that,
our buck jumps up again but this time he quickly goes to a walk. Now
there is no question that he is getting weak, and we decide to keep
3:30 PM, 2 miles
We move in the direction that the buck headed,
just beneath a small cottonwood tree in a thick drainage. Kent and
I get there and split up, Kent bumps the deer again and we watch him
run to the next drainage, nearly a half-mile away. We run to keep up
with him and watched him disappear. Once there, we split up and cover
both downwind banks of the drainage. While I moved to the south, I
looked below me and there was my buck, bedded, and watching me. I was
only 30 yards away but had no shot through the trees. I waited until
his head turned and then tried to ease over the backside of my sandhill.
The buck spooked, and took off running. He turned and headed off into
4:00 PM, 2.75 miles
Kent and I had lost the deer almost immediately
and decided to split up and cover separate areas. I moved a half-mile
east of him and noticed the tops of some small trees ( which looked
like a good place to start ). I was ¾ of a mile from where we last
jumped the buck and finding him in these thigh-high sagebrush hills;
with plumb thicket draws and the occasional Tamarack groves would be
like finding a needle in a haystack. But we persisted and kept moving.
I walked for hundreds of yards from one high hill to the next before
dropping down into a draw which led to some trees. As I turned the
corner, I froze; my buck was bedded in the open, twenty yards in front
of me. I already had an arrow nocked and had to make a quick decision.
The deer was obviously stressed and was letting me get ridiculously
close. My options were few, the buck was bedded with this hind-quarters
facing me. This was not an ideal shot. But given that he was hurting
already, another arrow would likely put more blood on the ground and
may just stress him to the point that he either dies or lets us walk
up to him and finish him off. I decided to shoot him in his hindquarters
while he lay. The shot hits him square in the butt and he crashes off.
I walked back and got Kent, he was amazed that I had found him and got
a 2nd shot into him. We were both pretty confident that
the deer would be found quickly. But as we got to the spot where I
had shot, there was very little blood, we were back to square one.
4:40 PM, 3.5 miles
We scoured the area, both for blood or the deer.
As the sun was setting Kent found blood. We followed the trail for
100 yards and just at sundown, the buck stood up in front of me, 100
yards away, then he slipped away. We ran to where we had last seen
him and he had just vanished. We couldn’t believe the deer was
still alive, and still healthy. He headed toward Kent’s fence
line, which happens to separate Kansas from Oklahoma. At this point
it was nearly dark. We think we found his track where he had crossed
the fence into Oklahoma. Kent and I decided to abandon the search at
this point; we had been tracking this deer for hours and had made a
tremendous effort at recovery. I will never understand exactly where
my first shot hit, or why my hind-quarter shot netted us nothing. My
fear is that his deer will die in the sage but Kent thinks there may
be a good chance he could recover. When we last saw him, he was healthy.
It was a long walk back in the dark. Kent and I discussed the events, starting
with my early morning shot. I can honestly say that I would not have done anything
different, starting with my shot. I waited for a perfect shot, picked a spot,
and shot with perfect form. Something happened along the way - maybe the buck
spun in a split second presenting a poor angle which I could not detect. Whatever
happened, Kent and I have no regrets about our relentless pursuit of this deer,
we made every attempt to retrieve the buck and I feel good about that. Sometimes,
things just don’t work out like you hope. This was the first deer I’ve
lost in two years, and during that time I’ve shot 10 deer. It’s
obvious that both shots were flesh wounds, still, any bowhunter with a conscience
knows what I’m feeling.
Note on the live Hunt
Our apologies for missing the Day 4 update on time. After today’s
ordeal I didn’t have it in me to write the update, mentally or
physically. So I made a decision to get some rest and update you on
Day 5. I’m sure you understand.