Shortly after he married my daughter, I found my new son-in-law, Clint, paying a great deal of attention to my longbows and recurves. His behavior suggested that he might be above average as sons-in-law go. Clint showed no interest in compound equipment, but he seemed intrigued by the idea of hunting with traditional gear. Before I knew it, Clint was shooting in my backyard range, and he soon became a regular at our local archery club tournaments, showing some skill with a recurve. That got me thinking, and I offered him a deal. With a family just started and a new job I knew money was tight for him, so I told Clint that if he took (and passed) bowhunter education, I would give him a bow and take him hunting.
Clint immediately accepted the offer, but then had to wait over a year to arrange his work schedule and get into a class. I am one of four instructors (two traditional shooters and two compound shooters) for our archery club. Although we differ in preference for equipment, our instructor group strongly agrees on and emphasizes all aspects of bowhunter ethics including knowing one’s limitations, proper shot placement, following blood trails, and making an exhaustive attempt to recover wounded game. One point we stressed time and again is the importance of using razor-sharp broadheads. Little did I suspect how these lessons were to play out for Clint in the next few weeks.
Our archery season opened shortly after Clint finished his bowhunter education course, and he was ready for his first bowhunting adventure. I was hunting a new area, and my pre-season scouting suggested deer, elk, and grouse were plentiful. The local conservation officer had also sent me a photo of a rather large grizzly that was in the neighborhood. Clint joined me the second day of the season. Reminding him of the importance of sharp broadheads, I outfitted him with some arrows and new broadheads that I knew were razor-sharp. They were not the blades I normally use, but I had picked them up prior to a hunt the year before and thought they should do the job. After getting some orientation, pouring over maps, and listening to me caution him about bears, Clint was anxious to get with the program.
He headed out to check a likely looking ridge with north facing slopes and dark timber while I went to a spring to sit. That evening I had a small bull elk 30 yards broadside, working his way toward me. While the bull stood in some small scraggly firs pondering his next move, I heard a noise behind me. Glancing back, I saw a dandy 6-point bull just 10 yards away. Unfortunately he was also downwind of me, and in less than a heartbeat he swapped ends and was gone. How such a large animal can move so fast has always been a source of amazement to me.
Unfortunately, the commotion alerted junior and he stayed in the cover, never providing an acceptable shot. I watched this young bull for at least 15 minutes. He clearly wanted a drink and was able to navigate his way to the spring while keeping some cover between us. The elk eventually eased back up the hill as the light faded. Arriving back in camp, I found a very excited hunting partner. A close encounter with a big 4-point mule deer will do that to a guy. My pre-season observations seemed to have been right on. We had lots of action for that early in the season and felt pumped for the next day.
For me, the next day did not have quite the level of excitement of the previous evening. I trailed into camp fairly late, but there was no sign of Clint. About half way through an adult beverage, I heard my hunting partner returning to camp. He showed up with eyes as big as saucers and eagerly told me about the nice shot he had made on a 2-point buck. Although he could not follow the blood trail in the dark, his description of the shot placement and penetration indicated that he had filled his deer tag only two days into his first bowhunting season.
The next morning found us up bright and early, heading out at first light to pick up the blood trail. Clint had stuck a bird arrow in the ground to indicate where we had to leave an old logging road and head up the hill. When we found the arrow, the nock was missing and the fletching had been chewed on. It seemed like a deer was having some fun with us. We did not know it at the time, but this was a portent of things to come that morning.
We arrived at the spot where Clint took his shot and with little effort found the blood trail. Initially there seemed to be a lot of blood, but I was quite certain it was not lung blood. Still, Clint was sure of his shot placement and arrow penetration. Things weren’t adding up. We followed the blood trail for almost 200 yards and then came upon Clint’s arrow. The shaft was covered in blood for most of its length. But not long after finding the arrow, the blood trail petered out. Although we tried our best we could not find another drop, and there was no sign of the deer.
Early morning light on a dusky grouse; these birds added variety to the hunt and provided fine table fare.
At that point we carefully examined the arrow and broadhead, trying to deduce what happened. Clint was crestfallen. He was sure that he had killed his first deer with a bow, but now those prospects looked bleak. The arrow seemed fine, but a close look at the broadhead showed that the tip was bent and the entire broadhead was twisted away from the ferrule. I told Clint he must have center-punched a rib, bending the tip and then the entire broadhead, while the bleeder blade guided the arrow down along the rib, giving the appearance of deep penetration. Hey, it seemed reasonable, and who could prove me wrong?
Clint was undeterred and hit the hills again and again looking for elk and “his” deer. Amazingly, he saw that deer several times over the next week. He said he was sure it was the same animal, because he could see the wound. Despite his best efforts, he could not get close enough for a final shot. I admired his persistence and was starting to believe that his patience might pay off. We both continued to have opportunities at elk and deer. Dusky (formerly blue) grouse were also plentiful and provided entertaining diversion. In spite of some miserable weather and concern over the wounded deer, we were having a good time.
About ten days after the bent broadhead incident, our families joined us for a weekend in camp. I stayed in camp both mornings to cook breakfast while Clint hunted. He got into elk and deer on Saturday, but did not have any opportunities for a shot. Sunday morning was a bit hectic, as Clint’s two-year-old daughter was acting up. He was finally able to sneak out of camp around 8:00 a.m. I had barely got the pancake batter going when my grandson yelled that his Dad was coming back. Within a half hour of leaving camp, Clint had returned and with the same wide-eyed look I had seen before. He breathlessly reported that the deer he had shot was lying dead on an old logging road just ten minutes from camp. More amazingly, he said it looked like it had just died, apparently after being hit in the paunch by some unknown hunter the night before.
Clint begins the skinning process and starts to look for the wound from his arrow.
We returned to the deer, and after looking it over I agreed with Clint that it had just died and the animal appeared to be in fine shape. I told Clint it looked like he did just get his first deer with a bow, not very conventionally to be sure, but his first bow-killed deer nonetheless. We dragged the field dressed deer back to camp accompanied by my eight-year-old grandson, Jake. This was his “first deer” too, and he jabbered like a magpie all the way back. He was more excited than his Dad and wanted in on the skinning, examining of wounds, and everything else, claiming the 2-point rack as his trophy.
A close examination of the skinned carcass showed that my initial assumption was wrong. Clint had not center-punched a rib as I previously thought. Instead, the broadhead caught the edge of the rib and then penetrated one to two inches into the body cavity. Hitting the edge of the rib seemed to be enough to severely damage that broadhead. Clint was correct; he had made a good shot. It was a little high, but still should have resulted in a dead deer. The mysterious bowhunter who delivered the second arrow hit it immediately in front of the right rear leg, with the shaft exiting low and behind the rib cage. We will likely never know the circumstances surrounding that shot. We do know that no one stopped by our camp to tell us about a wounded deer, nor did we see anyone in the area trying to recover the animal. I kept wondering what the odds were of that deer dying on an old logging road just an hour or so before Clint walked down it. If he had left camp at his normal time, he probably would not have found it.
After reflecting on this odd event, Clint remarked that much of what the instructors had emphasized in bowhunter education played out with this deer. A well-placed shot within his comfort zone, followed by carefully tracking the blood trail, together with Clint’s persistence in trying to take the wounded animal finally led to his tag being filled. Clint was also able to experience the near tragedy of a poorly placed arrow. His recovery of the wounded deer was indeed fortuitous. I have no doubt that the deer would have never been recovered if Clint had not gotten a late start and headed down that old logging road.
Clint indicated that the hunt was a real learning experience. In retrospect, it seems he was destined to get this deer. It also seems that I will have to modify our discussion of broadheads in our bowhunter education class to stress using razor sharp, well-made points, with some discussion of what constitutes a well-made broadhead.
Clint’s bowhunting adventure did not end with that deer. In some Idaho big game units (including the one we hunt) bowhunters may encounter both grizzly and black bears. Just prior to the opening of our archery season there were three grizzly bear attacks in that unit. So, another topic we cover extensively in bowhunter education is use of bear spray and how to avoid unwanted bear encounters. Later that season, as he was still trying to fill his elk tag, Clint also had a chance to put this training into action, but that’s another story for another time. Suffice it to say that Clint’s experiences have hooked him on traditional bowhunting, and he is already planning for next season.
Equipment Notes: On this hunt Clint used a 55# Great Plains recurve and Gold Tip Shafts. He switched to 2-blade Magnus broadheads after the bent broadhead incident. The author used a 52# Great Northern Lil’ Creep longbow, Gold Tip shafts, and 2-blade Magnus broadheads.