I’ve been hunting the same property for the past seventeen years. It’s a heavily wooded twelve acres where I’ll build a home — one day. I know every square inch of the property like the back of my hand. It’s where we fish in the summer, and we hunt in the fall. Today, I used the land to harvest a small deer. A really small deer.
Over the summer, we moved around a few treestands. This year I’ve only had the opportunity to go out three times during bow season. As of yesterday, bow season has been open for nineteen days.
Yesterday, I got in the stand at 4:12 pm. My iPhone immediately began a relentless attack. I had a pressing issue at work that needed my attention.
So, there I was texting like a high school girl getting ready for prom. Utterly oblivious to what was going on around me in the woods. I’m brought back to reality by the sound of a doe blowing at me. She’s behind me and slightly to the right.
After a minute or two, I feel like I have the opportunity to stand up, turn around to see my rival. The doe who knows I’m there. The sly female who smelled me, but hasn’t located me yet.
When I turn around, I get a look at four deer meandering their way across the ravine. The leaves on the trees are blocking a clear view of the first two does.
I don’t have shooting lanes cut on this side of the tree.
Why don’t I have shooting lanes cut on this side of the tree?
The Window Of Opportunity
Do I have a shot? Should I take a chance? Last year I let a lot of deer walk, and because of that, I didn’t have a great hunting season. This year, I told myself if I had an opportunity, I would take it.
But through the tangle of leaves and branches, there’s just enough room to run an arrow. But the deer will need to cross in the exact spot, or there’s zero chance of success. No shot, no glory, no tag filled.
It’s 4:40 pm. I’ve only been in the stand for 25 minutes. A deer in hand is better than two in the bush. Don’t let them walk this year. All of these things are rolling through my head as I draw my bow.
My bow is drawn, I’m lined up on the only spot that my arrow can fly. Now the doe needs to cross through. 30 seconds go by; my right arms is starting to quiver. 40 seconds, I steady myself and just let my site float.
Her head passes through my site. Just one more step. Take one more step and I’ll let this arrow go.
The GoldTip HunterXT and the NAP Spitfire are in the air, on the way to their target.
Shwaaack! She’s off to the races.
Your Mind Plays Tricks On You
As she’s running like a scalded dog through the swamp, I’m doing my best to keep an eye on where she’s headed. My vision is almost completely blocked out by the leaves that are just starting to change to their autumn tones.
I watch her run through the water, bear right, cross a clearing, and disappear over the hill. After ten minutes, I get down from the stand to find my arrow and the spot where the NAP Spitfire made contact.
I quickly find the blood, mark the area, and start the slow walk back to the truck and my hunting partner, Jake.
We’ve made a habit of attempting to paint the picture of the shot, where the deer travelled, and what the best course of action will be for the recovery. We do this with every shot, most of the time it’s overkill, but it keeps us working together as a team. We can get in and out of the woods efficiently. We go in with a plan, and come out with a deer.
Remember what I told Jake.
- She ran through the swamp
- Turned right
- Made it to dry land
- Went over the hill.
We decide to try and stay on dry land, walk around the swamp, and try to pick up the blood trail on the dry land where I saw her come out. We know it’s a good shot. We know she’s dead. We just don’t know where she’s dead.
We walk to the edge of the swamp, it’s 5:30 pm, and the woods are starting to lose light. We can’t find a single drop of blood. Not- a-single-drop. We begin to fan out in opposite directions, and pretty soon we’re off our game plan.
I’m nearing 50 years old, in the last year my eyesight has got so bad that I’ve needed to get bifocals. I simply can’t see the blood on the leaves like I could when I was 20 years old. We need to find this deer before we need flashlights. We’re not working together. We’re wandering around.
Time To Regroup
I call Jake back to the huddle, we talk about it and decide that he’ll stay where I think she came out of the swamp, and I’ll go back to where she entered the swamp. At that point, we’ll try to map out how she traveled. Mind you, when I say “swamp” I mean water. It’s a body of muddy water. There’s virtually no chance to track blood through it.
Once I get back to the entry point, I decide that I’ll start walking into the water. I’ve got my muck boots on, but I have no idea how deep the water is, but we’re about to find out.
Maybe if I can wade out to a few of the trees in the water, I can pick up the blood trail again. Ten-foot in, my right leg sinks up to my waste. It’s just a hole. Might as well keep going, I’m wet now.
There’s blood!…There’s some more…Now I’m headed in the right direction. Jake is standing 60 yards to the right of me, as I give him the play-by-play.
I’m 25 yards into the swamp…
That’s A Small Deer.
How did I shoot such a small deer? Why did I shoot such a small deer? She didn’t look small through my peep from 40 yds away. What happened?
Deflated, I grab her rear leg and pull her out of the swamp. Now back at Jake, as friends do, he starts to bust my balls immediately.
“Why did you shoot the family dog?” He says jokingly.
We drag her over to a flat area and field dress her. Twenty minutes later we’ve got her strapped to the truck and we’re on our way to the processor.
The Re-Cap of The Hunt
I have a couple of personal rules when I hunt. I don’t shoot bucks under 120″ and I don’t shoot does younger than two years old. But here I am with a doe that’s barely a year old in the back of my rig.
Don’t get me wrong; this was a great hunt. I made a difficult shot at 40 yards. We stuck with our game plan and got in and out of the woods quickly and efficiently during the track. But she’s friggin’ small. In 40 years of hunting, she’s the smallest deer I’ve ever taken.
So How Did it Happen?
Every hunter knows that when you see a big deer, you don’t have to ask yourself if it’s a shooter. You know it’s a shooter the moment you see it. On this hunt, I was more concerned with whether or not I could fit an arrow through a very tight shooting lane than I was worried about the size of the deer. I simply focused more on the difficulty of the shot than I did the actual target.
But something even more extraordinary happened after the shot. My eyewitness account of her running through the swamp was 100% wrong.
Remember, This is What I Saw:
- She ran through the swamp
- Turned right (didn’t happen)
- Made it to dry land (didn’t happen)
- Went over the hill. (didn’t happen)
- Disappeared. (didn’t happen)
What really happened; she ran 25 yds into the swamp and crashed in the water. My adrenaline-fueled eyewitness account wasn’t even close to being correct. Out of five things I knew I saw, only one was correct. She went into the swamp.
Every year hunters fail to recover their quarry. Some are because of bad shots, and some are because of mistakes in tracking. The one thing that un-recovered deer have in common? The hunter leaves the woods with his head hanging and depressed.
Take it from me, as you’re tracking your next deer. The one thing that will never lie to you is the bloodtrail. This little doe isn’t what I wanted to bring home. I’ll be the butt of a few jokes from my buddies the rest of the season and possibly my life, I’ll look back on this hunt as one of my favorites.