I could barely walk. How was I going to scout, bow hunt and possibly recover a deer? What about the fact that there happened to be bear on the property?
I managed to hunt hard one to two days a week for nearly three painful months and finally bagged a small buck at the end of November. I was relieved in several ways. Finally I could rest until surgery. I had some meat to put into the freezer and I felt a sense of accomplishment.
Degenerative arthritis is an insidious disease that begins with very little pain. In my case, many years of being an athlete and a steady dose of military training, gradually wore off all of the lubricating cartilage of my left femoral head and acetabulum. It started years before with a curious click that I dismissed and continued to live large with no decrease in my physical activity.
By the summer of 2018, I had degraded to the point of walking painfully with a cane. With an optimistic outlook to get a bow hunt or two in, I scheduled hip replacement surgery after hunting season.
With bow season rapidly approaching and my hip degrading more rapidly, I knew this was going to be a miserable season, I started to reconsider and not hunt at all.
I had mostly decided not to hunt that season until an offer on an 80 acre lease was one I could not refuse. This small property would limit my walking distance and increase my chances at some deer without outside competition, as opposed to my usual Game Lands hunting. With that, my decision was made to push through the pain and hunt for as long as I could stand it.
I was determined to hunt even if I had to hop on one leg.
I had a little over a month to prepare. Just getting to know the land was going to be an act of pain management which would greatly diminish the joy of scouting. I decorated my cane with camouflage tape and headed out to my new playground to meet up with the property manager who was going to introduce me to the land.
The gate to the property was almost invisible from the paved road with a broken-in-half dead pine rising above the thick brush marking the entrance. To gain access, I would have to get out of the truck and open the combination lock to the gate, open it, pull onto the property beyond the gate, get out and close the gate behind myself, climb back in and drive a short distance. Not a problem for a healthy person, but a very uncomfortable chore for someone in my condition. Once inside the property and a short drive down the logging road, I was greeted by Clay, the property manager. I asked him about his sidearm and he casually mentioned the bear sign scattered throughout the property. I thought, “Great, another thing for a crippled guy to worry about on a hunt.”
We walked the last 100 yards of the barely visible logging road where it ran beside a small field overgrown with knee-high brush. The field was located at the center of the property slightly higher than the surrounding ground. Bordered on two sides was a thick grove of young pines, hardwoods on one side, and dropping abruptly to a draw with a winding creek at the bottom.
Clay pointed out the many post oaks and white oaks located in mostly overgrown fields. He showed me a large muddy puddle of water in the corner of the field that he called a mineral. The edge of the mineral was covered with many kinds of animal tracks, including bear.
In areas where the young pines are especially thick, you can still see the rows that used to be planted fields. This used to be a working farm and I wondered what it looked like back in those times. Continuing down the logging road, Clay pointed to the largest tree on the property, a gigantic white oak towering above the tall brush. The brush was overgrown so heavy around that tree that it would be difficult to get a stand near it. This would be a trip to take later in the season.
I would later study the Google map of my newly leased property and noticed what appeared to be the roof of a large structure right in the middle of the property and almost next to the giant white oak Clay had pointed out. Probably a tobacco barn or maybe the original farm home. Much more to explore as the fallen leaves would gradually expose the property.
After signing my new lease, I looked forward to getting on the property as soon as possible. My scouting was slow and deliberate. I dreaded a mis-step or getting tripped up in the brush. I wasn’t able to cover much ground at my slow pace. I never would have been able to hunt the game lands and cover some distance. How was I going to get my tree stand up? I had hoped to have a partner go in with me on the lease and accompany me for safety during the season. The partnership fell through as my hunting partner took a new job in a distant town.
My first set up was on the eastern edge of the overgrown field. I would climb a tree and have the rising sun at my back. I was debating on either using my climbing tree stand or a ground blind, but it soon became apparent that the high brush would force me to go higher.
I had not used my tree climber since the previous season which was before my hip was as bad. I did test climbs in the backyard and although I had to move very slow, I could safely get up a tree with moderate pain.
I am a meat hunter and my only concern is to procure deer for meat. I was hoping to bag something early in the season, then hang up the bow until I could walk again, post surgery.
I managed to get in one or two hunts each week. I saw deer on almost every occasion but none of them provided the right distance or circumstances to make a good shot.
As the days passed, the weather turned cooler and my hip got worse as it was a constant reminder of my hunting season coming to an end. I asked myself why was I going through this, I will be happy with a single deer for the season.
Finally in Late November
In early November I had moved my tree stand to a corner of the field that grew a very large sycamore. The smooth bark made for a very nice 15 foot climb providing a field of view covering the entire brush field.
On this bright and frigid 25 degree morning, I managed to get myself up the large sycamore and settled in just as the sun was rising.
I spent most of the morning trying to keep warm. My sniper gloves were one of my favorite clothing items for this type of inactivity. The brightly shining sun on the cloudless morning helped to warm my body while creating loud dripping noises of melting dew onto the dry leaves.
Just after 11 am, I was alerted to what appeared to be a doe, stepping out of the wood line and out into the open. She was coming toward me, head down, sniffing and casually grazing.
I maintained my seated position and tried to steady my breathing. I always practiced shooting my longbow from kneeling, squatting and sitting, so I was comfortable from this shooting position. As the deer ambled into my shooting range at a slightly quartering angle toward me, I drew my string with a numb, “three below” until I barely felt the familiar middle finger at the corner of my mouth. It looked and sounded like a good hit but she sprinted into the steep draw as if she were only startled. Although I felt that I had made a good 15 yard shot, the way she ran off gave me a sense of doubt.
After spending at least thirty painful minutes inching my way down from the tree stand, then walking the short distance to where the doe had been, I was pleasantly surprised upon seeing the bright red blood, and felt a sense of excitement and dread. I knew that the tracking was going to be the most painful part of the hunt. I had no idea how far I was to walk to find my doe in that deep draw. I began to wish my hip was as numb as my hands had become.
The blood trail was vivid and plentiful! The only problem was that it went right into the very steep creek bed. I had no idea how far I was going to be tracking. I had time on my side being that it was 11:30 am. Let the tracking begin. My bow and cane were my implements of walking. Lack of vegetation and dryness allowed for easier walking.
As I trudged carefully toward the creek, the tip of my cane plunged deeper into the wet clay soil making it ever more difficult to move. As the blood trail became more pronounced, I forgot about my condition and focused on finding my deer.
The first thing I saw was my yellow and blue turkey feather fletching in contrast to the grays and browns of the creek bank. The deer was on its back with its head in the creek. Apparently my arrow had broken with the fletching pointed upward.
Luckily my tracking journey had ended with a short hobble down to the winding creek. I had been only 10 or 15 minutes into the search when I discovered my deer on its back with its head under water. As I pulled my deer by its back legs from the creek I quickly discovered my doe was actually a small spike buck. I wondered how I couldn’t see the small spikes in the sunlight at 15 yards, but I felt pleased that it was a buck.
Leaving my bow on the ground so I could use my cane as support, I limped the buck up from the creek with slow and steady, albeit painful steps, stopping every couple of minutes to rest and reposition my pull and planting my cane into the steep slope. I tenaciously kept the top of the draw in sight and vowed to get the job done and bring my deer home. I must have looked a freaky sight at the way I was walking, dragging and limping with a cane in one hand and a deer in the other.
Once I got the buck to the dirt road at the top of the draw, I was able to make a short walk to my truck and drive right to my buck where I spent another painful hour or so field dressing him and loading him into the back of the truck.
At Home and Processing My Own Deer
The cold temperatures were on my side with low 40s inside my garage. I hung a snatch block pulley and rope from my garage pull up bar to hoist my deer up for processing. He hung there overnight, and the next day I managed to process the entire deer and put it away into the freezer for a nice stash of protein for the winter.
I share my story to either discourage hunting in a similar condition or to motivate one as to what can be done by overcoming hardships like this in bow hunting situations. I learned that a degenerated hip such as mine does not get better by itself and one has to undergo major surgery to correct the situation. In my case, I should have had replacement sooner. I perpetuated my misery for several years before giving in. I am grateful for being able to hunt regardless of my condition. I am a firm believer in keeping in top shape as a hunter and especially as a traditional bowhunter. Although my one hip was bad, the rest of my body was maintained and strong enough to compensate and pull the load.
I have since fully recovered from a total hip replacement and rebuilt the surrounding muscle and connective tissue, hopefully providing many more years of bowhunting mileage.
Stay strong and keep pulling the string!
Equipment Notes: 68” Bama Bows Hunter longbow, 60#@ 28” draw, custom leather quiver, Black Widow three finger tab (my all time favorite), surplus sniper gloves, Beman Hunter carbon arrows cut and fletched by the author, classic Bear two blade broadhead (150 grain), and First Lite camo wear.