On the last day of muzzleloader season, expanded archery would also come to an end. I convinced John to go expanded hunting with me since I was seeing way more deer in the city than he was muzzleloader hunting, and at least in expanded archery, we each had a permit to shoot either a buck or a doe.
Instead of going where we had been going, John decided to take me to a spot he’s hunted for years in Oakland. He scouted it in advance and prepared two separate blinds out of brush for us. The first morning we hunted together, I followed him into the spot and took my place behind my blind…well, after he came back and led me to where it was. I had never been that way and even though he said, “it’s right there,” I went too far left and missed his trail entirely. As I stood in the dark trying to find my way, a figure in the dark walked by me…it was him. The wind was howling and it got cold. I didn’t think the wind was to our advantage, and I was ready to leave when my teeth started chattering. We didn’t see anything, but sign was abundant so I wasn’t too discouraged about coming back.
We may not have seen any deer, but we scored some fall oyster mushrooms, which are probably the best mushrooms we’ve eaten besides our chanterelles. Yum!
The following night, I couldn’t hunt, but John went. He decided to sit further in from our original spot, and although he didn’t see them, he heard two bucks fighting as their antlers clashed just before dark.
So the following weekend, we came in from a different way and took up new spots on the other side of the mountain. That morning before daylight, we hiked that tall, steep mountain. It was so steep and going was slow on the slippery snow. I thought I’d die trying to pace my breath before we got to the top only to sweat as soon as I made it to the top. Thank goodness I have good layers to wick away the moisture!
Eventually we made it into our spot, which was filled with acorns from all the oak trees in the area. The deer had been feeding here, so it would just a matter of timing before we’d see a deer. John had picked out a really nice spot for me right at the tip of a fallen-over hemlock tree. It made great cover right on the ridge of a valley. I could see all over the other side and all around me. Deer sign everywhere! All I had to do was sit still.
It wasn’t long after daylight when I heard a deer. At first I thought the deer was behind me. I realized I was also hearing a squirrel at the same time I was hearing the deer…out in front of me. John was sitting off to my right about 40 yards. I thought sure he’d see this deer. It made its way from the right to left slowly walking down the bank at a diagonal. It went out of sight when it reached the bottom of the valley because a big blown down poplar tree’s root ball on my side of the bank blocked my view. As I waited, I finally saw the right ear of the deer. She was coming right up in front of me at about 20 yards. I drew my bow and held it as I waited for her to step out. With the deer fully in sight, I lined up my peep sight with the knock on my bow. I realized the deer was looking right at me!
I released the arrow, and watched it hit the deer where I thought was just behind the left shoulder. The deer took off. I felt it was a good shot. However, the arrow did not light up when it hit as it did with my first deer. The deer bound to my left, then turned and headed down the hill, and then back up the other side where it stopped right at the top. I could hear the leaves rustling and thought it had gone down, but I couldn’t see clearly where it had gone. I saw more deer off in the distant. The hardest part about bow hunting is trying to capture what’s happening so you can remember everything. It’s much harder when there’s a bow in your hand, and everything happens so fast!
I texted John when he didn’t text me right away. I thought, hadn’t he seen the deer? I thought for sure he saw the whole thing go down.
Me: Schwack! (I was feeling pretty proud about now!)
Me: Didn’t you see the deer?
John: No, did you shoot?
Me: Yes, I hit it.
Me: I think anyways. (beginning to second guess my shot)
I could hear John coming my way, and at the same time, I saw the deer off in the distant coming our way. I couldn’t get John’s attention before the deer realized he was there and bound away. He was pretty disappointed he hadn’t seen the other deer, but there was a large tree that blocked the deer from his view. He had heard it but couldn’t see it. I chuckled when he said he couldn’t believe that I had once again taken a shot at a deer. After all, this was only my first season of bow hunting, and this shot made three deer I had taken a shot at. Apparently it’s not normally like this?
We talked about where the deer was standing, where the deer was shot, which way the deer went…and all before we even took a step away from my tree. John found the spot where I had hit the deer and where it ran. He found the spot where the arrow was broken off and laying on the ground in a bunch of spattered blood. The arrow had a lot of fat on the front of the arrow. There was no sign of a gut shot, so where was this deer?!
We followed blood sign, first tiny specks, then a whole bunch down over the valley and back up over the other side. Then the blood and trail seemed to disappear. No blood anywhere. Not even a speck. Are you kidding me?! I felt sick. We spent almost an hour trying to find where the trail went cold. We eventually found where the deer had ran and eventually we found a minute, tiny speck every once in a while that would keep us moving.
We really thought eventually this deer would lie down and bleed. Our only explanation was that either the arrow passed through the deer and the fletching end of the arrow was still in the deer and possibly plugging the wound, or I hit lower than I thought, and had only caused a superficial wound to the deer. But we made every effort to keep tracking as long as we could. I didn’t want to feed the coyotes.
After about two hours and quite a distance, we followed the deer’s tracks out into a road. On the other side, we spotted between 8 and 10 deer all in a group with one very big deer chasing around…a buck! John had left his bow back at my tree. I gave him my bow to take a shot. I hid behind a tree and gave a bleat on the doe call. The buck started running our way. Just as John drew, a doe on our right busted us, and every one of those deer turned and scattered in every direction.
Now we were discouraged. There was no way to tell which way the deer I had wounded ran if it wasn’t bleeding. We spent a while longer and I finally resolved that we wouldn’t find the deer. I was very disappointed. I never, ever thought I’d lose a deer. I really thought it was a good shot. What would people think? I pride myself on being a good shot and making a quick, clean kill. I know hunters who use both rifle and bow and have lost deer. I understand that it can happen. Nothing is a given, but it still feels awful. So I’ve decided that if I have anything to do with it, this will be my last lost deer.
I’m not going to get stuck in the woulda-shoulda-coulda trap. What I will do is practice. Practice more. Practice until I shoot that spot the size of a quarter. I’ve always hit, but never that tight of a grouping…but next season I will. Next season, there will be no question. I will learn to be more patient, not rush a shot, and have more faith in myself. I will use this failure to learn from, and not stop me from doing what I love to do. I will not let the possibility of failure stop me. I will make sure that I am prepared so that my possibility of failure is minimal. It still won’t be a given for success, but I can make sure that I’ve done everything I can do to make it is as failure-proof as it can be.
When you head out into the woods, don’t let the possibility of failure stop you from trying new things. Don’t let previous failures stop you from trying again.
Remember: There’s an adventure that awaits. Be prepared and your chances of success will follow.