Yesterday was a tough day for me. I’ve been hunting hard all through the archery season,
and have passed on lots of does and a few small bucks. Having seen more deer on the property, and a higher buck /doe ratio than I have ever seen on this farm, I was excited for the start of rifle season. And then . . . disaster. Shortly after first light I heard a deer coming in from behind me. Watching and waiting I saw a medium sized eight point come in from about 80 yards. He was probably a 3 1/2 year old with a mid-sized rack, but a pretty big body for his age. This is a deer I might have passed on most years. But with the time I’ve been putting in, and everything we’re tying to get done with the upcoming move, I decided it would be good to take the bird in the hand, and free up some weekends in December.
So he comes in to about 35 yards, turns broadside, and just stands there unaware. Excellent! I bring the rifle up, take the safety off, settle the cross-hairs on his shoulder, take a breath, and <<<BANG>>>! He runs off, but I’m not concerned. As goes I’m thinking to myself, “there goes a dead deer running”. I know the shot was good. I pride myself on shot selection, shot execution, and not taking the shot if I’m not sure of a clean, ethical kill. Did you notice the key word in that sentence? “Pride” We all know what that goeth before, right?
Even though I “know” I put a good shot on him, I take my time taking down my cameras, lowering my pack, unloading and lowering my rifle, and going about the not-quick process of descending the tree with a climber stand. I’m not in any particular hurry, but neither am I going slow. After all, there’s really no point in waiting, he’s already dead from a clean vitals shot, right?
So I walk toward where I expect to find first blood. From ten feet away I can see a lot of hair on the ground. Wait, most of the hair is white. That’s strange. As I get closer I see corn and fecal matter on the ground. What? Gut shot? But that doesn’t make sense. I shot him in the front shoulder. Well, he was quartering to me a bit, and I was shooting at a downward angle, so if my shot was even a little bit back, that’s probably still okay. The shot may have entered a little behind the front shoulder, transited through the left lung, and then passed through the gut before exiting. Probably still okay. Onward.
I pick up the blood about five yards away. There’s a good amount of bright arterial blood. But there are no bubbles to indicate a lung shot. Still, good blood is good blood, so on we go. For the first eighty yards or so I’ve got a good solid blood trail. I didn’t really expect him to go this far, but I’m still expecting to see him lying dead any minute. After about one hundred yards the blood starts to taper off a bit. And by a hundred and fifty yards it’s like someone turned off a faucet. I’m having to circle out ten yards to find even a pin prick of blood. Not good.
To make a long story at least somewhat shorter, I spent about six hours doing first a radial search, then a most-likely-direction search, and finally a wide grid search with negative results. I went thirty years without losing a wounded animal. Now, for the second time in three years I’ve mortally wounded a deer and been unable to recover it (see the first story here). Yes, I’ve taken several other animals in that time period. And yes, this is rare in the extreme for me. But as a hunter, nothing is worse. There’s a feeling that you let your quarry down; that you didn’t live up to your end of the deal; that you failed him. I can’t put into words how this feels, but suffice to say that I returned home late yesterday evening feeling disgusted, frustrated, and disappointed.
I’m going to hunt the combined antlered / antlerless seasons starting. I still love hunting. I still appreciate the tasty, nutritious meat hunting provides to my family. I appreciate the challenge and the time spent outdoors. But I have learned a big lesson in humility. I won’t take any shot for granted. I will rededicate myself to only taking clean, ethical shots, and to focusing on shot selection and shot execution. I’m still bothered by yesterday’s outcome. But even if I can’t appreciate the meat that animal would have provided, I can respect him and the lesson he provided me.