Prior to the start of the 2012 bow season I was very optimistic about my chances of filling a tag. I had spent a great deal of time preparing for the rigors of chasing “Mountain” whitetails and was looking forward to opening day. Much of this preparation revolved around physical conditioning. After all, the mountains don’t care if you show up out of shape. They will beat you down regardless. Ideally, with only a few weeks to go, I was starting to peak…physically. Thus, my anticipation was at an all-time high. Then it happened.
It is funny how a simple task can turn your entire life upside down. One moment everything is going according to plan, and the next, everything falls apart. Now, I’m not comparing what happened to the loss of a loved one or terminal medical diagnosis, but for an avid bowhunter like me, destroying your knee 2 weeks shy of opening day is pretty traumatic; especially when the whitetails you chase call home to some of the toughest terrain around. However, that is exactly what happened. I simply missed my step while unloading my ATV and in the process pinned my leg behind the trailer tongue. As I rolled sideways over the tongue, my foot was planted firmly on the ground behind it. Something had to give. Unfortunately, that something was my MCL, ACL, Meniscus, and cartilage.
After the MRI and consultation with a specialist, it was determined that my MCL was completely torn, my ACL was partially torn, and I had some cartilage and Meniscus damage. As bad as that all sounds, luckily, the ACL tear didn’t warrant any surgery and the other tears would heal themselves over time. Unfortunately, time was something I didn’t have a lot of. But I had prayer.
For the author, this doe was about more than just filling the freezer.
So, the weeks went by as I sat out the early bow season expecting that my knee would heal just in time for the rut. While it wasn’t the year I expected I decided to make the best of it. After all, I place a lot of my eggs in the “Rut Basket”, so if I could just participate in that part of the season I was confident I could still fill my tags. However, a few weeks before the start of the rut, I was blessed with perhaps the coolest hunting experience ever. This doe (pictured above), which happened to be feeding in a low-lying area of the mountains near my home, offered an easy shot but whirled on me at the release of the arrow. As a result, I ended up hitting her badly. As I watched her limp away I decided that even though I didn’t want to risk injuring my knee by climbing the snow covered mountain, I owed her nothing less. So off I went. I tried to keep up but I couldn’t.
After following the blood trail into a thicket I found myself looking for a single drop of blood, but found none. Of course, I felt as though I had been punched in the gut. The last thing I want to do is wound an animal. With my knee hurting and my confidence in the gutter I sat down and contemplated my situation. It didn’t take long until I started praying for a good outcome, praying to God for help. An hour later….I still had no deer. I was cold and ready to give up; at least for the moment. After all, I basically threw a jacket on and walked out my door to pursue this deer. I wasn’t exactly dressed for the occasion.
After returning home with nothing to show for my efforts but a bloody arrow and a sick stomach, my phone rings. A neighbor informs me that a deer has just followed me out of the mountains, crossed a busy two-lane road, walked under a bridge that connects to my property, and has bedded down within 25 yards of my front door. Astonished and full of doubt regarding the accuracy of such a tail, I grab my bow and walk out the front door to find my doe lying peacefully next to my house. My arrow finds its mark this time and within seconds it is done. Her final resting place is where she is lying in this picture. I never doubt that my prayers are heard, but I never could have dreamed this would happen.
After filling my freezer with this “blessing” it was time to turn my concentration back to the rut. My regular rehab sessions, along with a steady dose of faith, had brought my knee back to working condition; at least enough so that I felt confident I could handle the rigors of mountain bowhunting. With vacation days submitted and broadheads sharpened, I set my sights on my favorite stand. This particular spot is a natural travel corridor for cruising bucks and always provides plenty of action.
The ups and downs of my season finally came to an end when this mature “Mountain” buck walked within bowrange.
Day one offered a lot of movement as a number of does worked their way out of the adjoining thicket in search of food. Of course, a number of small, immature bucks followed closely behind in hopes of finding a mate; but no shooters. I even heard what sounded like two “heavyweights” fighting just below my stand; yet too far to see. Day two was slow and offered very little action. However, day three began with some classic rut “chasing” that was hidden only by the cover of darkness. As the minutes passed, I prayed that the buck in hot pursuit was indeed mature and that he would somehow decide to stay in the area after the sun came up.
As I watched a large group of squirrels frantically search for the last pieces of the fall bounty, I suddenly heard a faint sound to my right. Slowly turning my head to the direction of the noise I was pleasantly surprised to see antlers bobbing up the steep hillside below me. Grabbing my Mathews bow I attached my release-aid to the string and readied myself for the shot. As the buck approached I waited for him to make a decision on the final course he was going to take. Because my stand sits right in the “Hub” of a pinch point deer can approach from any direction. Typically though, they must first travel past my stand before branching off to one side of the point or the other.
Closer, and closer, and closer the buck came—-uphill, straight at me, waiting until just the last moment before deciding where to go. Left or right? Left it was. I slowly shuffled me feet and turned my body for the shot. As his head passed behind a small sapling I came to full draw. Stopping at 12 yards the tall-tined 8 pointer decided to thrash his antlers into some briars and brush that was hanging over the trail he was walking on. Within seconds after he stopped my bowstring jumped forward and my arrow zipped through him as if he were a patch of fog. Taking two sizeable leaps he stopped dead in his tracks. I watched in amazement as he stood motionless; only flicking his tail as he looked around. Knowing, or suspecting, that I had made a lethal hit, I decided not to take any chances and began to reach for a second arrow. Suddenly, one of his hind legs began to wobble, only briefly, and then he regained his footing. Immediately my mind began to shout “Go Down! Go Down! Please God, let him go down”. Again, his back legs began to shake. Only this time it was apparent he wasn’t recovering from the damage my broadhead had inflicted. In one final attempt to stay afoot, the buck succumbed and crashed to the ground like he was hit with Thor’s hammer. I couldn’t stop shaking inside. I was speechless.
Bowhunting whitetails in the mountains is tough but very rewarding.
As I stood in my stand looking down at my trophy a mere 30 yards away, I couldn’t help but reflect on the previous 2 months. A rush of emotions came over me as I tried to put into perspective the rollercoaster ride I had experienced. From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, nothing about this season was as I had expected. But, looking back now, I think I needed a season like this; a season that would force me to grow. In all honesty, I did a lot of soul searching after destroying my knee. And even though a few doctors and numerous “friends” suggested that my season was a bust, I kept my faith and pushed along; regardless of the negatives that were thrown at me. I couldn’t have done that on my own.
Now, as the season winds down and Christmas just around the corner, I still have one bow tag left to fill. Maybe I will get it done, maybe I won’t. Either way, I am excited and eager to finish strong and begin preparing for next year. My knee is ready for more strength training and cardio is definitely in the picture again. You see, for the “Mountain” bowhunter the preparation never stops. If you want to be successful you have to be physically ready. That is what makes chasing Mountain Whitetails so unique and what I believe sets this type of hunting apart from the rest of the bowhunting world. In essence, the odds of success are stacked against you. I wouldn’t have it any other way.