During the prior weekend, I was set up on another oak point 250 yards northwest of where I was Thursday. I run a mobile stand so I don’t have to sit in the same tree more than once. I hate it when the deer know I’ve been somewhere. Well, on the past Saturday afternoon/evening I had a couple of little bucks walkthrough at 6:40. About ten minutes later, a big ten-pointer snuck in behind me and instead of coming onto the point to hit the acorns, he skirted me and walked onto the CRP field that I expected deer to be bedded in. I opted to leave my stand up that night and hunted there again Sunday morning and evening, but the big boy never showed.
Fast forward through the following week: Monday through Wednesday, off work due to weather, Thursday morning, drivers’ safety meeting, and no concrete going out. I clocked out, swung by the house, grabbed my bow, and set out on the hour drive to the woods.
My buddy, Jeff was out hunting earlier that morning and had shot a doe. I headed out to meet him and maybe do some rabbit hunting. Then I thought with the weather having been crappy all week, the deer would probably be up and about, perhaps earlier than over the weekend. I figured out the wind and decided to go hunt the same area from a different perspective.
I have a hard time taking my deer hunting too seriously. When I pulled into the parking area I would hike in from to hunt, I grabbed my longbow, blunt-tipped arrows, and binoculars to stalk a field for rabbits. I ended up jumping one rabbit, but I was unable to get a shot off. After a good walk, I decided it was time to grab my pack and treestand and head into the woods.
I slipped into the creek bottom that separates the bedding and such from the easily accessible grounds. I found a few white oaks with plenty of acorns and sign around them. I set up Wensel high, (about ten feet up) in a red oak a little further up the point with good shooting to the corner of the CRP and the trails through two edges of it in the timber. I cussed a squirrel or two for a couple of hours as I tried to juggle switching back and forth from broadhead tipped arrow to blunt, to no avail.
Around a quarter to six, while standing for a bit, I looked behind my tree. I didn’t expect deer to come from that direction and saw a nice doe with a set of antlers following close behind her. If she kept on her bearing, she’d get downwind of me and I’d be done, but she veered to her left and around to the front of my tree: game on. She stopped two yards from the base of my tree and I was sure she would look up and peg me, but instead, she peed on her hocks and kept walking to my right.
Now for the moment of truth: the buck stayed on her trail and walked in front of me, obviously too close to get an arrow into both lungs. Lucky for me, his nose was on the ground, giving me the chance to turn on the stand in preparation for a shot. He stopped at about ten yards, barely giving me a slight view of his ribs on the right. I was already holding at full draw, but I needed a better angle. I gave a deep vocal grunt to try to get him to turn. His ears laid back toward me, then he turned his head, but not enough to open up his ribs to me.
The doe had gone north through the edge of the timber alongside the CRP, and he was determined to stay with her. As he turned left to follow, saplings and vines overshadowed him, I looked ahead for a gap, a pocket, a window, anything to get an arrow through. There! A few feet ahead of him, a 10-12 inch window of opportunity.
This past year for me has been full of bowhunting practice, refreshers, and building a solid, repeatable shot sequence. At our club’s range, I am challenged by myself and the guys I shoot with, to find and make these shots through what may seem impossible to some. As a public land bowhunter, I know that there isn’t much of a chance at taking a lot of wide-open shots over a manicured lane, to a predetermined position. As a traditional bowhunter, I have learned the trajectory of my arrows and know that if my intended point of impact is three feet beyond, and a few inches below a twig, if I shoot the gap over the twig, my shot is money.
Again, I’m at full draw, and as he approached the window, I gave him the ever-annoying “mearp” that so many hunters utilize to get a deer to stop. One last step and he stops ribs in the window. Split-second analysis of shot sequence checks, (setup, aim, switch focus from aiming to tension), the shot breaks, and the arrow is gone. Upon impact, it sounded like I’d shot a blunt-tipped arrow into a watermelon. The arrow sank well into the cresting.
He’s off in a streak, making a dead run north, crashing through everything in his path. He’d been scorned and wanted nothing more than to escape whatever just happened. I crouched on my platform to watch him as long as I could, but soon he was swallowed up by the canopy and I could no longer see him. At that point, all I knew was he ran straight north. I quickly pulled the squirrel arrow from my quiver and fired it to the spot where he was standing when I shot him…All was quiet.
I sent a group message to the boys, “Got him”. One reply that I found rather amusing was, “the squirrel?” Jonas called and we talked about what happened. My mind’s eye says the shot was a little low, possibly a bit back. I told him I wasn’t going to the point of impact any sooner than it would take me to pull my stand and sticks, and get everything packed to haul out.
Once my breakdown and pack-up were complete, I opened the kill compartment in my pack. There are several knives, zip ties, a fine point felt pen, zip lock bags, game bags, and handling gloves in this space. I took out only a zip tie and the pen. It’s like an unspoken ritual when I draw blood, as if I’m subconsciously telling myself to prepare to tag the animal.
I grabbed a headlamp and a flashlight in case it would get dark on me and headed over to inspect the shot location. I approached the space cautiously, as to not disturb any sign, but I wasn’t picking up any cues: no hair, no blood splatter, nothing. I looked ahead a few feet north. Thankfully the wet weather we received over the past few days softened things up a bit. I could see two huge divots left from his hooves digging in as he sprinted away. A few feet farther, more deep tracks, kicked up leaves, snapped deadfall branches, and finally, a drop of blood. With the arrow still in him, I didn’t expect to find much blood on the ground, but I knew that with the shot being low, there should surely be some to follow.
I looked cautiously on and began to find more blood. Soon there was blood, so evident, that I could follow at a steady pace and then it was on both sides of the trail. Things were looking good. Bright, clean blood. Not a lot of bubbles, but some, and I told myself that with the arrow sticking out of both sides of the body cavity, the froth from the lung blood was being held in and the blood on the ground is what was able to get out around the arrow shaft.
Phone buzzed: Lance is on his way out. Phone buzzed again: Jonas is on his way out. I’d called Aaron, but he didn’t answer. He called back: he’s on his way out. Treading slowly alongside the trail, I heard a deer blow in the distance north of me. It was getting dusky, but I picked up a flagging whitetail with my binoculars. “God please don’t let that be him.” I decided to back out, remembering that just north of me is a property line. If I hadn’t bumped him by this point and he’s still alive, I didn’t want to push him over onto the private land beyond the fence ahead.
I went back to my tree, loaded my pack and stand on my back, and began the hike out to the truck. A few phone conversations on the way out and suddenly, I was alone with my thoughts. When I got to the truck, I dropped the tailgate, climbed into camp and boiled a cup of coffee. I generally don’t like to pray about hunting or killing animals (feels kind of paganistic) but I couldn’t stop asking for a clean kill and that the buck hadn’t crossed the property line. Just in case, I pulled up the landowner to the north’s information, but failed to find a phone number anywhere.
Before I could finish my coffee, I heard an approaching vehicle over the hill. I killed the lights and waited for it to pass, but it was Lance. Shortly thereafter, Jonas pulled up with a cheeseburger from Sonic. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was well after dark now, so the burger was greatly appreciated and well-received. By the time I finished eating and crawled out of the Taj Mahal, Aaron had arrived with his two oldest boys, Levi and Landon.
Now that everyone was on deck, we headed into the woods. We picked up the trail from the shot site. Landon and Levi were having a good time with the blood trail. I’d already been through about 60 yards or so of the trail, so we were quick to my stopping point. I remarked that the trail had veered slightly to the left, as I decided to back out earlier, and said how I’d wished the buck would just be laying in the short grass of the CRP field. Jonas, being the tallest in the group of us, shined his light up onto the field and said, “Bro, he’s right there.”
To say that I lost it a little would be an understatement. Relief, excitement, and a wave of joy and gratitude washed over me, seeing that big boy lying there just a few yards beyond where I’d stopped trailing earlier. He was stiff and had died on the run within seconds after the shot. I am most grateful that I was able to make a clean kill and that the buck hadn’t suffered. I am grateful to God for the blessings that He has given me in this hunting season. Last, but not least, I’m grateful for good friends, who at a moment’s notice, were willing to drop everything on a weeknight and drive an hour out to walk through recovery with me.
This deer is my biggest whitetail to date. I am not concerned with the score of his antlers, but after listening to Jim Willems talk about the true mission of the Pope and Young Club on The Push podcast in a 2018 episode, I may have him measured in the near future.
Equipment Notes: 62″ 50# John Holzrichter Custom Longbow, Ebony, shooting tapered Douglas Fir Surewood Shafts(self-built), 185 grain Grizzly single bevel broadheads.