Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Second Chances

      I weaved myself through a maze of thorns to get to my spot. The roost was 15' up a twisted wild cherry tree over looking some of the most briar choked scrub in Switzerland County. The entire hillside was covered in locust, hedge apple, walnuts, cedars, grapevines and just about every other species of tree and bush that like cut over woods and secondary growth. It was flat out nasty in there, but the deer absolutely love it. The holler forms a natural funnel and the trails are forever rutted into the earth. 


     Late October and the weather was perfect. The pre-rut was on and the bucks were up on their feet. The action was non-stop all evening and I knew it would just be a matter of time before a "good 'un" showed up...I was right. The crunching of leaves gave the big boy up. I could hear him long before seeing him through the tangle. Then he emerged on a trail that would take him 20 yards behind my stand. I weaseled myself between the forearm sized grapevine and the trunk of the cherry tree and contorted into shooting position. I glanced up the trail and found a shooting lane. The buck was on a mission and as he came closer, I got a better look at him. A short tined 10 pointer, lots of mass and long main beams. His face was scarred up and he no doubt was a bruiser. He slowly entered my shooting lane and auto pilot kicked in...focus behind the shoulder as the buck stepped forward, exposing his vitals...exhale, smooth release and the shaft was on its way. Slow motion and I can see the brightly colored orange and yellow feathers hurling towards the buck...Disaster! Just before striking home, the arrow turned 90 degrees and sunk into the buck's flank. The penetration looked marginal at best. In one move, the old boy wheeled about, tearing up the soft dirt and peeled down the hill and across the holler. I tried to watch him as far as I could, but the thickness of undergrowth made it nearly impossible. As I looked back at the shot location, the culprit revealed itself. A small limb of a bush was bouncing wildly back and forth and its fresh, white flesh cut away from the bark instantly told me that the arrow had made contact throwing off the shot. Dammit! How did I not see that??? 


     I was disgusted with myself and my lack of not cleaning out all my shooting lanes. I had hunted this same farm and this hillside for years. I knew better...We gave the old deer several hours before taking up the track. At first, you're optimistic. You tell yourself over and over, "maybe you nicked an artery and he'll be right over the ridge"...But, the longer the track goes on and the complete lack of spoor and you know it's not good. The only sign we located were the over turned leaves on the forest floor where he tore out of the area. One of my partners did manage to find my intact arrow about 200 yards from the shot. As I examined it like CSI, it was obvious there was little to no penetration and the blood left behind was minimal...The silver lining to the blown shot was that it didn't appear to be lethal and other than the buck being sore and more educated, he should make a complete recovery. For good measure, I went back the next morning and scoured the entire valley and a huge creek bottom...nothing. I was convinced that the big boy was safe and sound and lived to see another day. The arrow was cleaned up, the old Bear razorhead honed and placed back in the quiver...


     I took off from hunting the next couple of days and replayed the wounded buck over and over in my head. It started to get to me, that nagging feeling...No hunter likes the thought of wounding an animal or not recovering it, but it happens. I'm completely convinced he's still walking, but there is always that tinge of doubt...To make matters worse, he was a big buck by anyone's standards. The kind other guys come up and look at in the back of your truck and ask how it happened. The kind that puts envy in the eyes of other bowhunters...


     After having my little pity party, I decided to get back in the trees, hoping for a chance to redeem myself. Three days later found me in my "home" woods, sitting high up in the buddy stand. It was a beautiful, calm morning, not a breath of wind. As the sun was rising and light was just entering the woods...crunch, shuffle, pop...Like rice crispies...I could hear a deer walking and popping acorns as he snacked along. I strained my eyes in the grayness of the morning light and there were a set of antlers attached to a buck 50 yards away and leisurely walking along parallel to my set up. I recognized him in an instant. He was a big 6 pointer that I had seen 3 other times, but never given an opportunity to shoot. He wasn't the biggest buck in the woods, but he and I had some history together, we were familiar and I knew I'd make a go of him if given the chance. Unlike the cherry tree woods, this spot was wide open hardwoods, full of white and red oaks and hickories. I slowly stood to my feet, scanned the trail for the shooting lane. It looks long, but it feels right...Mrrrp, mrrrp, I grunted him to a stop. The draw and release were fluid. I lost sight of the arrow in flight, but the hollow thud assured me of a hit. The buck spun and made three bounds into the cedars. All was quiet. I listened and watched for any signs of him...nothing. A few seconds later and a faint sound. Did he lie down? Did he sneak out??? Now the second guessing begins.


     I managed to sit for a half hour before climbing down and gather myself. I hit auto rewind a dozen times and played it over in my head. I walked to the exact spot where he was standing and no blood, no arrow, no sign...Not again! I retraced my steps back to the treestand and took another look just to be certain. 35 paces...longer than I thought. Back to the spot and I found a slight scuff in the dead leaves that pointed me the right direction into the cedars. I didn't go far and there was the first smattering of crimson. A few more steps and it was obvious I wouldn't be trailing for long. His path was lit up with sign. I looked ahead and there he was! I rushed up and put my hands on him. A beautiful deer...my deer! Excitement, gratitude, remorse, all the emotions that go along with a kill hit me. I whispered my thank yous and set about getting some photos of the buck. 

     As I looked him over and did my post mortem, it struck me that the arrow that had done its lethal job was the very same one that wounded the buck a few days prior. The broken shaft will have a place on the wall right next to the buck's headgear, but the broadhead will be cleaned up, razor sharp and hopefully be part of many more hunts and many more memories...