It’s no secret that bowhunting teaches ones many lessons and can provide a hunter with as many emotions over the course of the season. Obviously, before the season begins we are about to explode with excitement and anticipation about the season that lies ahead, and can’t wait to get up a tree. This year was no different for me, however; I was quickly brought back down to earth after self-inflicted difficult first hunt. If bowhunting hasn’t taught you about humility, allow the recollection of my opening weekend to be a brief introduction.
Bright red blood with bubbles staind the forest floor in Virginia early Saturday morning, but no deer were recovered. I have only one choice now, learn from my mistakes and keep moving forward!
I had predicted that I would shoot a deer on opening day in my blog back during the spring due the success of my food plots. When opening morning rolled around, I was as confident as ever that I would accomplish that goal. My food plots were booming with as many as 15-20 deer feeding in them regularly each and every afternoon. With temperatures in the upper 30s opening morning, I elected to go to my best stand site with the hopes of arrowing at least a mature doe. I had turnips to my west, clover and oats to my Northwest, and acorns due north; I was downwind of all of it. I had a good feeling.
My Mathews Z7 Xtreme waiting patiently...
I welcomed the early season tranquility like a long lost friend, and patiently waited for the deer to wander past my stand on their way to bed down for the day. Around 8:00 I had two mature does and their little ones meander their way toward my stand before a deer about 100 yards to my North began to blow nervously before finally trotting off. Even with my scent control regimen in full force, the deer must have crossed my entrance path and picked up my scent. The two does and fawns trusted their sister’s warning blows and casually began feeding in the opposite direction. No worries I thought, the morning is still young. About 8:30 I happened to look directly behind me in the forest opening and saw two fawns chasing one another back and forth about 40 yards away, playing and enjoying the warm sunlight. I looked even closer and there was their mother 20 yards downwind of me and closing quickly. I grabbed my Mathews, but thought for sure she would wind before I could get a shot. My Scent Blocker suit performed admirably in the situation, as she continued on. In less than 30 seconds from the time I first saw her, she was underneath my stand and walking away on a mission. I waited until she got 15 yards (I hope I never shoot straight down on a deer) from my stand, stopper her, and released my arrow. She mule kicked and tore down into the steep creek bottom below me out of sight. “Yes!” I thought to myself. Mission accomplished; doe down on opening day. The thick foliage kept me from watching her too far from the point of impact, but I was confident she was down close. Then, my excitement turned to worry. I glassed down to look at my arrow and saw no blood on it. This made me nervous. I waited a half hour, got down, retrieved my arrow and found only muscle on the arrow. I immediately backed out, texted some friends, and decided to give her a couple of hours. I had hit her forward, but was still confident I would find her.
There are few things better in this world than a Mathews bow and the beautiful fall colors!
After waiting a couple hours, I dressed down, grabbed my bow and camera and headed out to pick up the trail. I found blood about 20 yards from the POI and it became easier and easier to follow as I headed down the steep ridge I was hunting. My hope strengthened when I found bubbles complimenting the bright red blood trail. “She can’t be far,” I thought. The blood trail weakened as she started making her way up the steep ridge adjacent to my stand, but it was still consistent enough for me to follow without much difficulty. I took my time; meticulously following the blood trail and marking my trail so I could better figure out which way she was headed and how badly she may have been hit. I followed the trail some 500 yards over the course of 3 hours before it abruptly ended. It wasn’t a great blood trail, but I could follow it easily enough and its consistency led me to believe me she may bleed out soon. Each time I crested a knoll or entered some fallen trees, I thought for sure I would find her, but no luck.
Opening weekend wasn't a TOTAL bust, as I got a picture of this buck on my Stealth Cam. This buck is the biggest buck that I have ever gotten on trail camera on my property, and would be the biggest buck ever harvested if I, my brother or dad can harvest him.
I decided to back out again and wait for my dad to get home, 2 hours later, and we would pick up the trail together. Sure enough, roughly 200 yards from where I lost blood, my dad picked up the trail. Again, decent blood with bubbles (they had dried by this point). After I lost blood earlier, I wasn’t confident we would find her. But she was bleeding badly enough and heading straight down into the steepest creek bottoms Millboro, Virginia, has to offer. My dad and I followed the blood another 100 yards through the creek bottom, confident we would look up and find her dead trying to get out of the steep ridges. Again, no such luck. As we pressed on I told dad, “If she’s going to die, she’ll die in these bottoms. Trying to get up and out of here would be enough to kill her.” It didn’t. We lost blood and scoured the ridge tops and bottoms looking for a dead deer another 2 hours, but we never found her. I can only hope she made it out alive, but I am afraid that’s just wishful thinking.
Daytime photos of shooter bucks are always exciting!
Very rarely do plans come together as perfectly as they did opening morning on my hunting property, and it truly sickens me that I made a bad shot on the deer. She came in quickly and I rushed the shot, no excuses. However, given the opportunity, I would likely handle the situation the same. In fact, in 2009 I harvested a doe in the exact same scenario from the exact same stand at the exact same spot I shot this doe. She came in quickly; I grabbed my bow, stopped her at 14 yards and put an arrow through both lungs. She died within 50 yards. Bowhunting is a game of inches and I missed my spot by just inches.
I now have two photos of the same buck (pictured above), at two very different locations. I now have a general idea of where he is spending his time and luckily, I can hunt travel routes that he'll likely use once the rut approaches.
I am sure that a blog dedicated to the wounding of a deer and not recovering it is about as unexciting and buzz killing as it can get for a deer hunter this time of year, but I felt the need to tell the story, because it is real. Refusing to do so would be unfair to you, the reader, who will follow my blog throughout the fall. I feel it would also be criminally disrespectful to the deer and nature to neglect sharing my unfortunate experiences due to pride or arrogance. When it comes to hunting whitetails, I want to be held accountable and responsible for all the decisions and experiences I have in the woods.
Losing a deer is tough, but it’s real, and I must move on. Fortunately, there is a lot of season ahead of me and I have a lot to look forward to. My trail cameras captured photos of two different bucks that I will spend a lot of time trying to kill this fall. What’s even more encouraging is that the bucks in the photos were feeding in my clover food plot, close to a handful of my stands. Granted, the photos were at night, but it’s still early and those bucks are getting more and more restless by the day. I encourage you to follow my blog throughout the season to see how my fall progresses. Sure, I hit a small bump in the road early on, but I plan on making this a season to remember, so you’ll want to keep checking back for more updates!