The last fifteen minutes of shooting light and I was on pins and needles. My son was in a hot spot owned by a good friend and the bucks had been up and moving. I was full of anticipation and optimistic that the boy would get to release an arrow from his recurve bow.
I paced back and forth like an expectant father, constantly checking the time and keeping an eye to the sky as darkness was falling fast. The sign I was waiting for, my cell phone rang and as I answered it, the excited voice of my son on the other end blurted out that he had just arrowed a big buck. His voice shook with a rush of adrenaline and his breathing was heavy. I couldn't help but share in the excitement as he recounted the story.
He made his way out of the woods and we made our plan. The shot appeared to be a good one. A little high and a steep downward angle into the ribs, but he felt confident in the placement of the arrow. A heavy, keen broadhead should have done its job and hopefully we'd recover his trophy after a short trail. After a half an hour wait, we took up the track...
The night was dark, stars in the sky as we searched for sign with our flashlights. He had done a fine job of marking the buck's location and the last spot he had seen him as tore out of the area, but we struggled to find any evidence of the hit. No tell-tale crimson on the leaves or weeds, no hair to signal the hit. Only a couple of splayed hoof prints in the mud where the old buck had leaped a tangle of briars. I tried to remain optimistic for the boy and we decided to pull out for the night and hit it again at first light.
After a long, restless night, we were back at it at day break with a couple more sets of fresh eyes. We were certain that we'd find the deer piled up in one of the many hollers and drainages on our buddy's farm. Our little group covered what we thought was every inch of ground. We did manage to find the arrow, but the damp fog from over night had frozen on the aluminum shaft, all but erasing any sign of blood along the length of the arrow. We were at a loss and after several hours of the fruitless search, we all had convinced ourselves that the buck was lost. The boy wasn't so certain and still felt confident in the his arrow placement. You could see the disappointment and remorse on the kid's face. It was a long, quiet drive home.
A few days later and the boy was back at our friend's place, giving it one more shot before the woods was covered in fluorescent orange with the opening day of gun season. He took to the same stand where he had shot the big deer and I kept my fingers crossed that he'd get another crack at a good buck and erase the bad memory of losing a fine animal.
I hadn't been gone long when my friend called me with a surprise. “You're never gonna believe what I just found”, my good friend stated. “I found Drew's buck!” My pal had watched as a few buzzards circled around a spot on his farm. He slipped through the woods and made his way to an overgrown pond dam. There hidden in a low spot, nearly invisible from every angle was the kid's buck. A fine, mature 10 pointer.
We immediately called the boy and he climbed down from his stand and rushed to our spot. It was a bittersweet moment. None of us wanted to recover the buck like this, but it happened. We examined the deer and just as Drew had described, the arrow had taken him high towards the rear of the rib cage, hence the non-existent blood trail. We estimated that the buck hadn't traveled more than a couple hundred yards, had bedded down in the hidden spot and then expired. What made it even more of a difficult pill to swallow is that I had walked within 30' of the dead deer during our original, early morning search...
After some discussion, my son made the choice to stop his hunt for the evening and for the rest of the season. He claimed the buck and checked it in according the to rules and regulations of the State. It wasn't a tough decision for him and he had no regrets, other than not locating the deer sooner and the loss of the meat.
Yes, I'm happy that my boy had taken a trophy buck with his traditional bow in today's world of speed and technology, but I'm even more proud of the character he showed. The easy thing to do would have been to take the big buck's antlers and keep right on hunting and possibly harvesting another buck, but he chose to do the right thing and for me, that is the real trophy...Well done son, well done.