It was a cool, crisp October morning in Clearfield County, PA. I awoke early with the pure excitement of grabbing my crossbow and gear and heading to the woods. Fortunately enough, I lived in a farm house which allowed me to walk out of the back door, straight to the woods to my blind. After getting dressed and polishing off my last cup of coffee, my filming partner, Tom, and I headed out.
I remember when stepping out of the house that is was rather foggy. The ground was covered with the morning frost leaving an impression in the grass with each step we took. My blind was atop a hill looking down on an open ravine where the deer traveled from the corn field back down to their bedding areas. We chose to take the long way around so that we did not disturb the deer in their early morning feeding routine. We approached the path leading down to the bottom of the hill to an open field. We made sure that we took each step very carefully as the leaves were crunchy from the fall frost.
My filming partner took the lead and I followed him stepping where he had stepped. About half way down the hill, I stopped abruptly thinking that I heard a clang; I wasn’t sure, so I continued down the hill. After taking three more steps both of us stopped. He looked back at me and asked, “Did you hear that?” I told him yes and that I thought I had heard that same sound just as we started down the hill. We very quietly tip-toed down the hill and we both would have to stop again. We kept getting closer and closer to the sound. It was after that we realized there was a vivacious sound of two bucks sparring.
By this time, we had reached the bottom of the hill. My partner leaned around the tree line that was skirting the open field and could see the two bucks. He turned to me and stated that one was a small buck and the other was shooter. I began to shake and my breathing rapidly increased. We contemplated crawling the wood line ten yards or so. I was recovering from back surgery that I had had earlier that September, and I didn’t think I could crawl.
We sat there for a minute or two as the bucks were still going at it. I was enjoying the sounds; I had never actually heard two bucks sparring. Tom suggested that we switch places, putting me in front of him so that I could get prepared for a shot. I suggested that we try grunting, or either just wait it out. Still shaking I began to grunt. The fog had lifted some by this time and I could see both bucks. The smaller buck responded to the grunt call and began to walk our way. He was a small four pointer and he seemed fearless, but yet curious. He came right out into the middle of the field while the bigger buck stayed close to the edge of the wood line.
My heart was pounding, while I was down on one knee trying to stay steady. I could see the bigger buck and that he was a big beautiful eight pointer. By this time the smaller buck was starring straight at us. Tom and I froze and he was unable to get the video camera out and ready. I was very nervous as I was trying to balance myself down on one knee holding my crossbow pointing in the direction of the smaller buck. I looked to the left and realized that I would have a shot at the big guy if he would just take a couple more steps.
I asked Tom if he could see the shooter buck, he said “No, but if I had a shot to take it.” The big guy held his head up from grazing and glanced around to check things out. I slowly swiveled myself to the left, being very cautious that I didn’t make any sudden movement. He continued to graze, and I was still unsure if I had a shot.
I waited, a collaboration of thoughts were running threw my head. It was one year ago, that same very week, that I was face to face with a monster buck. Sitting in my blind, I did not have a broad side shot on him. I decided to sit and wait in hopes that he would turn broadside. I did not want to take a risky shot and wound a perfectly great mature buck. I let him walk. I did not second guess myself for the rest of the season; I knew I had made the ethical decision.
So, here I am kneeling with a perfect broad side shot on this eight pointer. Again, many thoughts were running through my head. Do I shoot? Do I wait? Is he close enough? At this point, the smaller buck became restless. I was afraid that he was going to snort, or stomp, or run off. Within that split second, the big guy raised his head and took a step. I had the red dot just behind the shoulder and squeezed the trigger. Thump! I turned to Tom and said “I hit him, I hit him.” We were both a wreck! The little buck still standing in the middle of the field had no idea what had just took place. We waited and waited, and every few minutes Tom would ask, “Are you sure you hit it?” Still shaking and unable to speak, I just shook my head yes.
The little buck continued standing in the field, fearless. We made noises, stood up, and even took a step toward him before he leaped into the woods. We waited about thirty minutes which seemed like an eternity and then walked down to where the buck was standing when I shot. There lay my bolt with the broad head facing in the direction from where I shot. The broad head had blood on it and was bent. I was so excited to see blood, but was very confused as to why the bolt was facing me. The broad head was bent; that was when Tom informed me that I had obviously hit the buck in the shoulder bone and that there was not enough penetration to be lethal.
I was freaking out! Looking all around for a blood trail… Nothing, nothing, nothing at all! I just sat right down in the middle of the field with my head in my hands. My disappointment was overwhelming. I ask Tom if he would go look again to see if there was a blood trail. I must have asked him a hundred times, “Are you sure it didn’t penetrate enough?” My entire day was ruined. I kept replaying that moment in my mind for the next month. I should have waited. If, I had just waited for him to come a little closer! I was so mad with myself, I just wanted to cry! After the incident last year, I was hoping for a different scenario this year. Yet again, I came out of the woods…buckless!
What did I learn? I learned that patience is the key to hunting. If I had only waited and let the buck get ten yards closer, and not underestimated the yardage. Maybe the outcome would have been different. I learned that I need to know how to gage yardage and to utilize my hunting gear to its fullest potential. I learned that being aggressive in that situation, did not pay off.
I then reached into my backpack and grabbed my range finder; it was a 52 yard shot. I was pleased to know that the bolt made it to the buck, but unsure that if it hadn’t hit the shoulder that it would have penetrated at 52 yards. I found myself being very disappointed that I didn’t have the patience to allow the buck to come closer and therefore, it was not a perfect shot.
I later came to the realization, as those who came before me, that old age conclusion…there’s always next year!