I cried the whole drive home. I continued to cry when I arrived at my uncle’s house for a family get together. I cried as I called my friends. I cried for two days straight.
By Skye Goode
After logging more than 105 hours in a prime bowhunting stand since opening morning, I had blown my chance at a whitetail wall-hanger. As he came in on the trail 35 yards in front of me, not five minutes after a hot doe walked through, I knew he was going to give me a good broadside, quartering-away shot.
Thirty-five yards was a bit out of my range, and I did not have a pin set for more than 30 yards. I bleated loudly but the buck would not stop. Anticipating that I would lose my only open shot if I waited any longer, I took aim and squeezed my release. I missed just under his belly and he trotted off; not terribly alarmed but gave me a few snort wheezes and meandered into the brush. I watched his massive rack walk off with his 4½-year-old body, never to be seen again.
I was crushed, defeated, kicking myself for screwing up a shot on a nice buck. I cried all night and called a few friends to talk me through it. They told me stories of their misses over the years and it helped me realize that missing is just part of the game. Though we all want every shot to connect perfectly, missing is just as important. I learned that I need not take shots I am not generally comfortable with, and that stopping a deer on the move is very important when archery hunting.
I vowed to everyone who heard of the miss that I would never hunt again, but I was back in the woods within the week. I had seen a good amount of deer throughout the week; the corn was being cut across the road, the rut was in the full swing, and high winds made the deer constantly on the move at all hours of the day.
Since the September opener, I had encountered more shooter bucks than I ever had in one season. Opening weekend, I passed on a nice 7-pointer that appeared to be a young buck, and came in ready to fight to a grunt series. I had several encounters with shooter bucks that did not present a shot, came in after shooting light, or could not be pulled off the doe they were following. One week after my big miss, I had the opportunity to complete a full-day sit.
On Thursday, November 14th, with cool temps and a slight breeze, I went out to the stand mid-morning. It was the peak of the rut, so I periodically called with a series of estrous bleats and low grunts. Early afternoon, a nice buck walked from across a nearby town road, grunting in response to my calls. He stayed about 85 yards in front of me, and walked down into the bedding area, which was a low-lying swamp just west of the oaks I was sitting in. He had his head to the ground the whole time, so I figured he was tending a hot doe and would be impossible to pull in my direction. Throughout the afternoon, I repeated the same calling series in combination with rattling, mostly out of habit and a bit out of boredom. At some point in the afternoon, I heard a couple of different deer walk from the bedding area toward the feeding area, but they kept in the thick brush so I could see only their feet.
In the last 15 minutes of shooting light, I spotted a buck coming from the feeding area downwind of me, walking toward my stand at a quick gait. He was walking the exact trail that the bruiser from a week before had walked, though it was not the same buck. I grabbed my bow, clicked in my release, and with a second to spare, he walked right into my shooting lane.
No mistakes this time! I let out the loudest bleat I could and accounted for the extra yardage on my pin. The buck stopped dead in his tracks, broadside but quartering to, and I let the arrow fly. It was a solid hit, slightly back; one of those “knocked the wind out of him” kind of hits. He buckled up and labored to take off running.
The buck ran straight for the bedding area, and I lost sight of him around 80 yards out. Still shaking from the adrenaline, I got down from my stand and immediately checked the camera that was facing the trail, but it hadn’t taken a picture. I went to the spot of the hit and spotted his track, hair and my arrow broken in half, with the broadhead end lying 10 yards from the hit. It was covered in dark, chunky blood and smelled like the intestinal track. I was running out of daylight. I followed his running track for about 15 yards with no blood, so I put my coat where I found the broadhead and headed out to the road.
The landowner, Bill, happened to be turkey hunting this same night, and was sitting due west in a pine plantation about 125 yards from my stand. I waited for him to come out and told him I connected on a buck. He said he didn’t hear any crashing close to dark, so with me being on the east end, the paved road being the south end, and Bill on the west end, I was able to pinpoint that the buck was somewhere in that 125 yard rectangle of thick swamp. The veteran hunter confirmed my conclusion that the likely gutshot and cool temperatures called for delaying the tracking job until first light.
It was one very sleepless night. I called a few of my closest comrades to ask for advice. My cousin Adam assured me that because of the shot being back and the fact that I immediately backed out and did not jump the deer from his first bed, the deer would die overnight. A good friend and trapping legend, Duane, completely agreed and suggested that I use my sleepless hours to prepare for the morning’s track. Duane’s first tip was to fill a spray bottle with Hydrogen Peroxide and a bright food coloring. Duane also suggested bringing along a roll of toilet paper to hang on each and every blood drop, track, hair, turned over leaf. If tracking gets difficult, you can turn around and look at the pattern of paper hanging on the trail to see if the deer started taking a particular direction, plus, it’s biodegradable so clean up is easy, he explained.
Both of these tips proved to be very beneficial on the next morning. I had never tracked a deer on my own before. I remember tagging along with the men in my family as they covered miles upon miles following tiny specks of blood. This would be my first tracking job all by myself, and it terrified me.
About an hour before the sun came up, I went to seek the advice and guidance of Bill. He helped me walk through the events that took place the night before, and assured me that with patience and attention to detail, I would recover my deer.
I headed out to the woods and the first thing I did was get back up in my treestand. I replayed the entire hunt, focused on where I shot and what I remembered the deer doing. I marked the landmarks in the area where I last saw the buck before he headed into the thick brush. After I was certain that I memorized every detail, I resumed tracking from the spot where I left my coat.
I heard something take off in the woods, but it was quiet and fast, so I knew that it couldn’t have been my buck; probably just another deer. At the first point of blood, I found the other half of my arrow with the fletching stained red. Blood was scarce and the only spots I found were dark, dime-sized droplets. I was careful and diligent, and hung a piece of toilet paper on every drip, every scuffed track and every broken sapling.
About 40 yards into the track job, the blood ceased. I became frustrated when I entered the swamp opening and saw that the buck’s track was not noticeable in the heavy swamp grass. Remembering the suggestions that Duane gave me, I pulled out my spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide and knelt down by the last blood. I sprayed a full 180-degree span on the ground. Immediately, a leaf about 3 feet from the blood foamed up and told me the direction the buck had gone. Like many wounded deer do, the buck began circling back to where he had been shot. This leaf did not have any blood on it, but clear juices from the deer body had dripped out and would have been undetectable to the human eye.
Another 25 yards on the track, I heard crows chattering like crazy. I looked up and saw my buck lying against a tree. The feeling that came over me was indescribable! I walked up to my trophy to find one of his back hams missing. The animal I kicked up at the beginning of my track job was likely a coyote feasting on my kill.
I might have been angry, but it seemed just a natural part of this story. We all play a vital role in the ecosystem, and the buck presenting me the opportunity to shoot him was no different than me giving the coyote an opportunity to grab an easy meal. It’s unfortunate that one ham was gone, but it was a meal well-appreciated and I had plenty of meat from the rest of the deer. I also see it as a way to feed the predator that I reluctantly pursue during the winter months.
We all remember every detail of our hunts, but sometimes forget that there are many key players in the game that help us to be the star. Someone taught me to hunt, someone granted me access to their land, someone helped me with the decision to not push the deer, someone gave me tracking tips and even the crows helped lead me to the recovery. I think even the miss from the week before played an intricate role in teaching me valuable lessons in resilience and perseverance. If I would have put down the bow at the moment I missed that deer, I would not have had the amazing opportunity to experience this hunt the way I did.
From Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine, the 2016 Whitetails Wall Calendar features the work of deer researchers Wayne Laroche and Charlie Alsheimer, who reveal the 2016 whitetail rut prediction, based on years of lunar cycle research. Utilize this deer moon phase calendar to find out which days the deer will be seeking and chasing so you can time the rut for the best time to hunt.