The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

As many of you know, I’ve been hunting fairly hard this year.  Despite several full-day and half-day hunts, I am still without fresh venison in the freezer.  A few days ago, while driving through our semi-suburban neighborhood I saw a fine looking eight point buck feeding with a doe in a small field.  I jokingly told my daughters to keep an eye out for him.

Warning, this post goes into fairly explicit detail about the realities of hunting wild game, and may be too much for children. Please do not read further unless you have made a considered decision about the appropriateness of this content for young readers. Thanks.

Here’s where it gets weird.

I came downstairs after work on Tuesday evening and my daughter runs up to me yelling, “Daddy we saw your deer!”  At this point I’m thinking they probably saw the buck in the same place I had as they were driving home.  So I say, “Great honey.  Where?”  To which she says, “Come here I’ll show you.”  Okay, now my ears are perked up.  She takes me by the hand and pulls me into the kitchen, pointing out the back window.

And there, standing about 50 yards from our house stands a beautiful, full bodied buck with a nice rack.  He and a doe are casually munching on some high grass between the woods and my workshop.  I run through the options in my head.  You see, hunting in our township is legal, in certain instances.  I would never consider shooting a rifle in this area; too much opportunity for tragedy.  Which means my crossbow.  Okay, the regs say I can shoot with the crossbow so long as I’m more than 50 yards from any house (unless I have permission to hunt closer).  Check.  I’m good to go there.  In the Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) I live in a buck has to have at least three points on one side, not counting the brow tines.  Check.  I can’t get a good enough look to count all of his points, but it’s clear he meets the criteria.  Some of you may be thinking this is unsporting.  And I’ll admit it’s not the classic hunt I envision all during the off season.  But those of you who would turn up your noses at a gift from God like this, have never stared down the barrel of a Winter with no venison.  No sir, if I can legally and ethically harvest this deer, I will do so.  Okay, so let’s do this.

Shoot!  My crossbow’s in the workshop.  You know, the workshop he’s standing behind.  Shoot!  Okay, I go out a door that keeps the shop between the buck and me.  I carefully, quietly open the door and sneak in.  I grab my crossbow out of its case, cock it, and load a bolt.  All of this seems to take about three hours, and causes more noise than a marching band.  But when I raise the crossbow and ease around the corner of the garage, he’s still there.  He’s now at about fifteen yards and he raises his head and looks at me, but doesn’t bolt.  He’s quartering to me a bit, but not enough to block the shot.  I can’t really see enough of the heart, but I’ve got both lungs.  I punch the safety, settle the red-dot, and slowly squeeze the trigger.

Perfect shot!  Right where I was aiming and well within the “red zone”.

The deer takes off and I walk back into the house.  Ms. SSP asks, “Did you get him?”  “Oh yeah.” I answer, “He’s smoked.”

The dark’s starting to come one now, which isn’t a problem.  But it’s also starting to drizzle, which is.  Ordinarily I’d wait at least 45 minutes before I started tracking, giving the deer time to settle in and expire.  But with the rain, I’m afraid I’ll lose the blood trail.  It’s classic quandary, do you wait and risk losing the trail, or do you follow up immediately and risk pushing the deer.  This time I decide to go in.  As it turns out, this was probably a mistake.  Still, it’s a good hit, and I immediately find a good solid blood trail.  “This isn’t going to take long.” I think.  Boy was I wrong. Last year’s buck bled only a little heavier and was down within 75-100 yards. I tracked this one for about 200-250 yards and then jump him out of his first bed. It’s too dark to see him, but I hear him go crashing out the hill and, minutes later I find his first bed. It’d sodden with blood. I have no idea how he had the strength to get up and run again, and I’m kicking myself for jumping him out. But even with the fresh blood trail I’ve got, it’s obvious the rain is washing some of it away, and now it’s starting to rain harder. I continue on.

Another hundred yards and I bump him out again. Same story, and thoroughly blood-soaked bed, but the buck just went bounding off. I estimate, conservatively, that he’s lost at least three quarts of blood at this point. How in the world is he still on his feet??? This happens one more time about 50 yards further out the trail. Another twenty yards, and I start to lose the blood trail. Another ten and it’s gone altogether. Because of the angle I didn’t get a through-and-through, and I haven’t found the bolt along the trail. So, theoretically the wound may have closed up around the bolt. I’m tempted to think the darned thing ran out of blood, but that’s just fanciful thinking. I’m at a loss. I do a limited grid search, as it’s dark, raining, cold, and my wife is undoubtedly about to the call the National Guard as I’ve been out here almost three hours. No luck. No deer. No more blood. Nothing.

With no other options, I go in for the night. By waiting until the next day to continue the search I’m basically giving up on the meat. It will spoil by morning. I’m practically ill. This is not how it’s done.
I have to work the next morning, but take some time in the early afternoon. I spend another two and a half hours doing a more extensive grid search. At first I think it’s going to be easy. He couldn’t have gone much further, and the daylight makes all the difference in being able to scan the landscape.
Nothing. Not a sign. ALL of the blood from the night before is gone. I can’t even find the beds that last night were soaked. Still, I’ve marked the spot where I last found blood, and I’m able to walk right to it. Still nothing. Two and a half hours later, I head back in.

This whole situation makes me ill. In about thirty five years of hunting, this is only the second time this has happened to me. The last time I was sixteen and made a poor shot on a little fork-horn. I still think about that sometimes. I hate losing the meat. I hate losing a wounded animal period. If there’s any consolation it’s that I’m confident the deer isn’t out there suffering. I am absolutely sure that deer died the night I shot it. No deer loses that much blood and lives. But that’s cold comfort. Again, this is not how it’s done. Losing wounded game is a black mark on a hunter’s skill, and at least a grey mark on his honor. I know, I know. If you hunt long enough it’s bound to happen. I haven’t given up. I’m going to continue looking for this buck. And I’m still going hunting on dad’s property this weekend. But I dreamt about my wounded buck last night.

All in all it’s been a rough couple of days.