Once the fly fishing season is over, I put my gear away and head to the woods for my second outdoor passion - archery. I've been at it for roughly ten years and am in no way an expert, but I enjoy it nonetheless.
Last week week while on a favorite early season stand, I was caught up looking to the west as the deer started pouring over a barbed wire fence into a freshly grown food plot put there on an adjacent property. That small speck of brilliant green drew deer to it non-stop for hours. As I casually looked to my right towards a couple of mature apple trees that get hit in the early season by a variety of whitetails, all I saw were antlers underneth it. Thinking I had to hurry, which was a huge mistake in hindsight, I got my bow, stood up, drew, aimed at the buck from roughly 28 yards and shot the first chance I had when he turned broadside. I watched the flight of the arrow slide right under the belly of the large eight pointer, and then nothing.
I stood and watched as my heart was in my throat, but he casually walked to the edge of the woodline and field and stood for a good fifteen minutes. Having never gut shot a deer with a bow, I had no idea what to make of his behavior, but in hindsight, he was clearly hurt.
He meandered quietly into the woods some time later, and I stayed put for the remainder of the evening as other deer filtered through my area, including one larger than the one I shot. He was travling with two other bucks, and he was the only one interested in making scrapes at that point.
Getting down off stand, I retrieved my arrow easily. There was no blood or fat on it, just a brown goo that I came to find out later from a bow hunting friend is the unmistaken scent of inestinal juice. I didn't push the animal, but rather I left it for the next day.
I found it the next evening after work just before dusk with really little effort, but this is when things went south in a hurry. I only packed flashlights with me that evening, considering that I wan't convinced I'd be able to find it alone in the dark, and I had very little light, which leads to screw-ups two and three: always bring your knife and get a friend to help. Bowhunting is hugely a solitary sport, but in this situation, haiving a friend or two to help is essential.
I went back for the second time in the night to try and field dress the buck, but as you can see from this cluster of errors, I never managed to find it that evening. Darkness has a way of easily turning around even someone who is familiar with the lay of the land they are hunting, and I was no exception in this case. Randy Lage, my other bow hunting friend, suggested to do what he does in the event of tracking deer. Bring some toilet paper along and leave a trail and/or mark the area where the animal is down. That great piece of advice didn't help me at the time.
I did finally find and harvest the animal the next morning although not without great pains, most of which were completely unnecessary and avoidable.