This is my first year hunting. The general season ended yesterday (we're into extended antlerless now), and is the only day I actually drew on and shot at a deer. I've spent all season terrified to take a shot because I was terrified something would go wrong. My blind isn't in a bad area. The land I hunt on was stripped of its older evergreens, and whomever did it left the tops and side branches lying in piles. I found an area where the landowner had a feeder pen (filled with tops and branches) that lies in the middle of well-spaced oak trees. When I found the spot, the ground was literally covered in acorns and deer sign, so it seemed like a dream. I cleared the pen, set up a feeder, shoved my blind as far back into a brush pile as it would go, and drug brush around the front of it, set up a trail camera and left. After about two days, the deer started having parties in the pen. I spent all season watching deer walk past me, from 10-40 yards away, as I said, terrified.
Now, as my buddies pointed out, if I never take a shot, I'll never get a deer. So, I took one.
I've had my bow for a little over a year, and have practiced at least once a week, generally two or three times a week, like an exercise routine, trying to work up my draw weight. I got a Diamond Razor Edge because the draw was listed as 30-60#, I'm a petite female, and I could barely shoot 6 shots at 30# when I started. My bow is now at 45#, and I can draw 55, but at around 50#, I can't draw smoothly, so it's very awkward. I don't think I'm an awful shot; I can consistently group three arrows within four inches out to 30 yards, and within six to 35-40 yards. At 40+ yards, I'll admit I'm lost, as I don't have 40+ yards to shoot/practice in at home, and so my last pin is set to 35, and the only shooting I've done past that range was on the lease, shooting at a cardboard box stuffed with an old pillow. Because someone always seems to ask, I am shooting 100 grain Atom heads, as they were repeatedly recommended to me for low draw weights.
I'm also not new to hunting. I've been the camp bitch on and off since I was 16 (I'm 30 now), so I've learned how to gut, skin, and butcher things ranging from rabbits to moose. I love the outdoors and have also spent a lot of time stalking/tracking animals with a camera in hand, just for the thrill of starting out at the edge of a landscape with no animals in sight and using my brain and inherent OCD-ness to go find something to snap a picture of. I've tracked other peoples' animals for them before, when they wanted a new set of eyes, and have yet to lose one. I once tracked a doe through about two miles of forest (the day after a rain, thank heavens) only to find her bedded down midday with an arrow stuck in her tail.
Apologies for the ramble to say that I have familiarity, but lack experience.
I'm sitting in my blind, and it's the last day of the season. The entire morning is windy and the neighboring goats are bedded down from before sunrise until 3pm, so I spend most of my time screwing around on the internet on my phone, knowing it's highly unlikely I'll even see anything, how poetic I get pep-talked into "You can do it!" and the day goes sour. Around 4pm, the wind stops abruptly, and it's dead still for about an hour. I'm internally giving up on seeing anything this weekend when the P* Possee arrives - a group of seven does, who start picking their way through the trees toward the feeder, eating acorns. I watch them approach and work on ensuring I'm remaining calm and rational (I was so excited on the FIRST day of archery season that I almost vibrated myself off my stool and out of my blind from adrenaline).
At this point, I'm still not sure I actually want to shoot at anything, but the lead doe is basically beelining my blind, closer and closer, and when she reaches the brush, she walks around it, straight toward the feeder pen, and stops RIGHT on top of a huge rock I'd placed as "10 yards" in lieu of trees. And she doesn't move. She turns a little bit so that she's about halfway between quartering and broadside to me and has a pee. And she still doesn't move. She's just standing there, flicking her tail, staring at the feeder pen. And she's posed exactly like our 3D target, dead still, so I think "Hell yes, I can do this!" and get ready to draw. I'm watching her as I draw, and she puts her head down low and starts turning her head back toward me, and when I look, there's another doe coming around the opposite side of my blind. So, I turn my head back, and I'm thinking she'll spook, she'll see me move, she'll smell me, she'll something, but she doesn't. So I take my sweet time lining up the shot, take and release a deep breath, and pull my release.
Two things: I should have practiced shooting in my jacket. Learning to shoot from sitting on the ground to standing doesn't mean diddle when you're not paying attention to your clothing possibly getting in the way of your string. And, she startled while I was pulling the release, in that sudden legs out fashion. When my bowstring hit my sleeve with a loud "pop", she started blew, tossed her head, and took off running by herself.
And that's just the start of where it all went wrong. I shoot, the string hits my sleeve, and I watch my arrow veer off to the left, and sink about halfway into the base of her skull. When she tosses her head, I can see it move, rigidly in line with her head. Then, she takes off running down the path she'd approached from. Right before she jumps the fence and I lose sight of her, I can see her tossing her head around wildly, with my arrow jutting out from an odd angle, neon green fletchings flashing in the air. At this point, everything I've feared seems to have come true, and it comes crashing down on me with guilt over having made a really awful shot, mixes with my mostly-empty stomach, and instead of spending the next 30 minutes sitting quietly panicking in my blind, I start getting nauseous. After about 5 minutes, I see her jump the fence again, arrow still in the side of her head at that odd angle, and head toward me again, but I completely lose it and manage to vomit all over the inside of my blind.
Well, vomiting spooks the doe closest to me, who starts blowing like mad and the entire group takes off over the fence. I sit out the nausea and shame for about 45 minutes, finally go get my husband out of his blind, and resolve to find this doe, dead or alive.
My biggest regret this season is that I never scouted the area around the property we're hunting on. The property line runs from under the crest of a large hill down the hill, and I'm vaguely aware that there's a "neighborhood" on the other side of the hill, and had even driven down in that direction to check it out and saw *what I expected to see in the area*, which was a rural "neighborhood" - houses and trailers on 3-10 acre lots regularly on either side of the road.
There's a clear, very clear path that the deer took in her first run at the fenceline, from where she dug in to take off to where she dug in the second time when I spooked all the does. And there's a very clear path for about 10 yards on the opposite side of the fence, and then, I don't even know how to describe it... there's about 40 yards of solid rock instead of ground, with dirt piled in places with 2.5' tall wispy grass growing on top of it, but that's it. The rock gets reabsorbed by the ground several yards away, but it's more of the same grass, and mostly rocky with little dirt. I've never tracked anything through anything even remotely similar to that bit of terrain, and it goes off like that away from the fence for a good 150 yards - hard ground devoid of tracks, with grass that only shows where things have laid and not where they've walked.
And then, there's the neighborhood. I went back down the road, past the 3-10 acre lots and actually went to find our fenceline from that side. The neighborhood that's actually there is... shocking.
First off, the two houses we could see from our side of the "mountain" aren't houses. One's a guest house, and the other is a garage with some sort of living space in it. The actual houses themselves are giant sprawling mansions, with impossibly well-manicured lawns, sculpted bushes, and impeccable flowerbeds. Our side of the mountain looks like the "neighborhood" I'd seen and erroneously accepted as "what was on the other side".
And, I really really wish I was making this part up, but there are deer everywhere. The most we'd seen at one time on our side were six does and three bucks crowded together in my feeder pen. Now, we're driving around this unbelievably fancy neighborhood, dressed in camo, haven't showered in four days, etc, etc, stopping every 10 yards to check deer for arrows in the head. I've never seen so many deer in one place in my life. I counted 21 does and 8 bucks before I really started freaking out. They were just wandering these people's lawns, nibbling on their sculpted bushes and lounging, for lack of a better word. It's like they found a place where it wasn't legal to shoot them (lots less than 10 acres, etc), word spread, and they gathered from miles around.
So, now I don't know what to do. I feel like a complete ass and a failure. I've spent all this time here and had no clue what was on the other side of the mountain. All of the houses are newer than the Google maps satellite photos I'd looked at, and what was on the photos was what I expected to see, as I said.
I don't know how fatal an arrow in the base of the skull is. I didn't find any blood anywhere, which, while difficult under the oak trees with the leaves, etc, on the ground, should have been absurdly easy to see on the gigantic stretch of white rock she ran across, and even walking a three foot search grid (long, straight lines three feet away from the last place I walked, I mean) and going OCD on the ground didn't reveal anything.
This site houses the only story I've seen that resulted in an archery head shot deer recovery. The rest of the references I find when Googling are along the lines of "I found a broadhead embedded in my deer's head". I feel awful. All my "experienced" buddies are telling me to give up, chalk it down as a lesson learned, and go home.
Am I supposed to report an attempted shot to the game warden? Should I go door to door? Will she live? Will she die? Ugh.