I wanted to share this experience with my blog readers exactly how I felt it so I apologize for its lengthiness and somewhat disturbing nature:
Monday, November 8th: Monday morning we woke up to mild weather, 41 degrees and calm. We were settled in the stand well before daylight; I even stole a nap, I think. Three does were the first to cross the alfalfa field 100 yards from us around 8 a.m. The morning was dragging on. I kept looking at my watch and that made it seem longer.
Around 9:00 a.m. a doe and button buck walked right up to our stand. The doe couldn’t make the blob out that was in the tree and spent an entire 15 minutes circling us. The button buck was oblivious to the blob in the tree but found the ladder to my stand very amusing. He sniffed each rung and the handrails and the ground, circled the tree, and then walked over to his mother. That was exciting watching both of them playing the cat and mouse game and it took my mind off time that seemed to be frozen.
Around 9:30 a.m. I looked over at Richard and asked him, “What time are we going in?” He mouthed back at me “10:30-11:00”. I know I made an audible sigh. There always seems to be a particular hunt in a series of days that drag by so slowly and then there are those that don’t seem like they were long enough. THIS was one of those hunts that seemed never-ending and we had only been in the stand about 4 hours; I don’t know what came over me.
At 9:45 a.m. I saw movement about 80 yards down the side of the alfalfa field. The only thing that I actually could make out through all the branches was an eye. Then instantaneously I saw the shine of antlers. I said rather abruptly “Get up, get up, buck coming our way!” It took Richard about a split second for it to register that I was trying to convey a message to him. But he started to rise as he asked, “What do you see?” I said, “A Buck! Coming our way at 70 yards on the edge of the alfalfa.”
The buck stopped at a scrap and sniffed around. Then he smelled the licking branches where I had placed Northwestern Whitetail Scents. Then he walked over to a the edge of the alfalfa field and started rubbing on a 2” diameter sapling. He worked that tree, rather vigorously, for about 6-8 minutes before finally resuming his slow pace toward us. I looked at Richard. I said, “I am positive he is a shooter. Do you want me to shoot?” Richard mouthed back, “He IS a shooter, but that is left up to you if you want to shoot him.”
The buck walked to a scrap 20 yards from my stand and sniff around. He finally started to walk a few steps forward smelling some rice bran we placed on the ground for the game cameras on Saturday. As he approached the rice bran somewhat quartering to me, I drew back. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and I had to remind myself to breath in and slowly exhale. I placed my pin on his vitals. He made one more step forward and I slowly squeezed my release.
The buck leapt up in the air. Took off at a run about 50 yards across the alfalfa and he stopped. He stood there for about 30 seconds. I looked at Richard who said to me “Good Shot!” The buck was licking his mouth and he started to walk forward. It looked as if he were going to fall over any second. He walked about 25 more yards and stopped. He staggered about half a step and then regained his balance. I just knew he was about to go straight down; textbook perfect. He turned his head looking down the alfalfa field and he was panting, licking his lips and his throat was juggling. He just stood there for what seemed like eternity. I just kept saying, “He is about to go down.” I even looked at Richard and said, “He is dead on his hooves and don’t know it. “
We watched as he started walking again, slowly, methodically, not missing a step, but not covering very much ground at all. He walked like this for about 60 yards across the alfalfa field. Then Richard asked, “Are you sure you got a good shot.” I said, “Yes, a tad high but lung and liver on the left side.” We kept watching as the buck climbed the 6-foot embankment only to bed down with his head up and alert. I looked at Richard and said, “Let’s just watch him. I am sure he is down now.”
For 10 solid minutes, 10 long agonizing minutes, I watched as this buck looked around, never seeming to act any different than an uninjured bedded buck. Richard asked, “Are you positive you hit him?” “Yes, yes! I know I hit him. I followed my arrow. I saw a tuft of hair mark the entrance and I even seen the spot on his side as I watched him through the binoculars as he walked across the field.” At this point, I started praying for God to take him swiftly.
I watched as the buck struggled to his feet. I watched as he took a few steps and I seen him turn to go back down the ravine on the other side. He staggered, his back legs crossed and he tumbled down the ravine and I heard crashing leaves all the way across the field in my stand 230 yards away. My prayers had been answered. Not only is it hard to see an animal suffer, under any circumstances, it is horrible to know that you are the one who inflicted that suffering on that animal. I looked at Richard and said, “I heard him crash.” Richard answered, “I saw him stagger pretty good before he went down.
Even though we knew he had crashed and were pretty sure he would be piled up just the other side of that ravine, we still decided to give him an hour. We packed our gear in and headed to the truck up on the hill. We took extra layers of clothing off that was now unnecessary since the thermometer in the truck read 76 degrees. At the truck we talked about today’s hunt and how Richard would now have an entire 4 days to hunt. We also made plans to go to Big Ed’s in Bird City for one of the famous Ribeye dinners.
When the hour passed we drove the truck down the two-rut road to the last round bale of alfalfa and parked. I grabbed my bow and release and Richard grabbed the camera. What normally seemed like a long walk was cut in half with all the excitement. I told Richard that I could not wait to grab a hold of those antlers and touch and feel the deer for confirmation that I indeed killed my first Pope & Young buck; reaching one of my goals I had set for myself just this past September.
As we approached the edge of the field where we last seen the buck, I nocked an arrow on my bow, and slowly walked up the embankment. For a second it crossed my mind that the minute I laid eyes on him, I would turn to Richard and say, “He is not there. He is gone.” I tried quietly to climb to the top of that embankment with leaves crunching under my boots. I made it to the top and was squatted down. I attached my release to my bowstring and raised slowly looking straight down….to the left….to the right…NOTHING! No deer! I didn’t have to joke with Richard—it was true. No crumpled Pope & Young prize on the other side of the embankment. I turned to Richard and I know he knew instantly what the outcome was by the look on my face.
He turned off the camera and walked up the embankment. He showed me the last place he believed he saw the deer and I agreed that was indeed the last place I saw him before I heard the crashing of leaves. Richard walked 3 yards to the bedded area that the buck laid in and there was a lot of blood, not a 5 gallon bucket full, but enough to know this deer was seriously injured. I just sighed and said, “Well, we have to start tracking now and it looks like it may be a long afternoon.”
Richard walked back toward me and instantly, with a lot of noise from dry fallen leaves and dead limbs on the ground, the buck jumped up from an area 10 yards to our left where he bedded down between a fallen tree trunk and other thick cover. I pointed real quick and said, “There he is!!” Richard watched what direction the buck was going and told me to back out quickly.
I was back on the alfalfa field in about four leaps and Richard met me there, Richard said, “I am sorry sweetie!” I said, it wasn’t your fault; I made the shot. Richard then said we needed to go back to the cabin and look at the footage on the big screen to see where my arrow hit. I said to him again, after numerous times—my shot looked good but I feel I may have been a little high from the tuft of hair I saw through the binoculars but surely not high enough to be in the void area between his vitals and backbone.
We watched the video and the buck ducked my string and the shot was about two inches high and definitely clipped the liver. Unfortunately, because the buck was somewhat quartering to me, the exit side could have possibly clipped the gut area. We decided to give the buck about 5 hours before we went back looking for him. I thought those 5 hours were agonizing….
We did not hunt an afternoon hunt and moved stands for Richard’s hunt. An entire 6 hours had passed. We headed back to the area we last seen the buck. Richard told me to go to the end of the alfalfa field and sit on the other side of the embankment in case the buck was to still be alive, it would possibly run in that direction away from him.
I was sitting on the ridge when I heard Richard call my name. I turned and he motioned for me to come to him in the alfalfa field. When I got to him, he said I seen him in there. He is still alive. I think he is bedded because all I could see was one side of his antlers and his ear moved. I sighed and said ‘This is horrible.” Richard said, “We will give him until tomorrow morning. He hasn’t moved 50 yards since you shot him over 6 hours ago so I am pretty confident he will not move overnight unless the coyotes push him out of there.
We backed out and headed home. The ribeye dinner at Big Ed’s in Bird City was not even on my mind any more. I didn’t feel like eating—I just wanted to go to bed. What a horrible feeling. What agonizing torment, hour by hour…not knowing what we will find in the morning. If he were to die in the middle of the night, the coyotes would have him half eaten in the morning. If he didn’t die over night, what was going to happen to him? Was he going to suffer until he died? Will he survive and heal up? What a mind-boggling night—I wasn’t sure if it would ever end. I didn’t want to talk about it, write about it, look at the footage anymore….heck, I didn’t need to; I played the shot through my eyes over and over. My mind ached, my heart hurt…first, I find a button buck dead in the fence…then I placed a shot on a buck that was going to possibly bring him a slow lingering death or a long road to recovery.
Richard hunted the next morning and I was behind the camera. We sat in the same stand and had brought a change of clothes so we could trail this buck if needed. One good sign was a flock of crows were raising cane over the area where the buck was bedded. That is always a sure sign of something they are guarding for eating. We headed over to the area we left him bedded and headed in. Richard told me to, once again, go to the end of the field in case he is on his feet and runs away from the noise of Richard walking in. I told Richard Okay, but if you find him dead…whoot at me so I will know to come to you.
I walked to the end of the field, up the embankment and viewed the area, nothing. I stood there straining…nothing. Then I heard it. Richard half-hearted whooted! Okay that wasn’t a full-fledged whoot. Did that mean get ready he is coming your way or was that an “I found him half-hearted whoot”. Then he yelled my name. I let out a little sigh, still not knowing if he just needed me to come to him to finish off the buck or the buck was down for good.
I got to him quickly. The buck had expired. The coyotes had started eating his hindquarters and I could smell bile. My shot clipped his liver on the entrance but definitely clipped his stomach on the exit. This was devastating to me but I also knew that it is always a possibility with bowhunting. I said a little prayer under my breath and I patted the buck’s neck and said “This was not all in vane buddy!” I am proud of you and will honor this experience always. Another milestone met and cherished and one that I will display proudly on my wall, never forgetting the emotions this hunt left in me.
Unfortunately, with the damage the coyotes had done and the bile that was engulfed through the meat not destroyed by the coyotes, we could not salvage any meat from this harvest. Another hard thing for me swallow since I am adamant about not harvesting what cannot be consumed. Definitely an experience but I am proud of this buck, the goal reached and I will definitely make sure the taking of its life is not in vain.
It is now Richard’s turn to hunt and I will be behind the camera. I hope I don’t fail miserably as I did on last year’s Kansas trip where I filmed for him. Wish us luck!