Thursday, December 24, 2009

It was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times . . .

The deer season calamity continues. I write this with much sorrow and anguish.

Rewind to Saturday morning at about 8:15 when my cell phone rings. My good friend Lee Flannery (who also hunts the same property I do) called with the sound of excitement in his voice. He and his son were out deer hunting and had just had a close encounter with a REALLY nice 10-point buck. Lee described the deer as "the biggest one he had seen on this place". Problem was, the deer was just across the fence on the property to the south of us. Lee had rattled the buck to within 50 yards, but he just couldn't coax him across the fence to be able to make a legal shot. However, he was able to snap a quick picture before the deer walked away.

This was actually Lee's second encounter with this big deer. The first time he saw him was a couple weeks ago, but the deer was several hundred yards away and it was really early in the morning when the light was still too low to really get a good look at him. Both times the deer showed up in pretty much the same spot - the edge of a winter wheat field on the very far south end of the property we hunt.

Lee was planning on hunting through Sunday morning, and said he would email me the picture as soon as he got home that afternoon. I had put in for some vacation days at work, and my plans were to go hunting beginning on Sunday evening. So I eagerly waited for the email with the picture of the bruiser buck. Although he saw a lot of deer over the course of the weekend, this buck never showed back up for Lee.

My dad and I have both been strictly bowhunting for the entire season. For this weekend we decided to change gears and break out the rifles in an effort to put some meat in the freezer. This would be the first time I have rifle hunted in several years - not because I don't like rifle hunting, I just love bowhunting that much.

We got to the lease in time to hunt Sunday evening, and we both hunted this same wheat field - my dad on the south end (where Lee had seen the big one) and I was several hundred yards away on the north end. I was planning on taking the first doe that provided a shot, so I picked out a spot where I had been seeing alot of deer cross from a mesquite thicket over into the field. I saw several deer that evening and even had a young buck within range, but the does I saw were in some real thick cover making even a rifle shot almost impossible. Most of the activity I saw was a pretty good distance to the north, and it seemed like quite a few deer were passing through a clearing on the opposite side of the thicket. So I decided that Monday morning I would move north about 200 yards and set up where I could see this clearing.

After the Sunday evening hunt, the much-anticipated email arrived on my inbox on my phone. I opened it up and this is what I saw.

"Oh my goodness! Lee, you weren't kidding. That's an exceptional deer!" - These were the thoughts going through my mind as I looked at this picture.

The area we hunt is not known for trophy deer. A buck in the 140" to 150" range would be a real trophy for this part of the country, and anything over 125" is definitely respectable. After looking at the picture closely I called Lee and we discussed the deer. We both agreed that he would go 130", as we had tried to conservatively estimate his Boone & Crockett score.

Monday morning arrived and we almost accidentally overslept. We headed to our spots and I found a good spot to sit on the ground against a mesquite tree. It was about 7:00 AM when I got situated. Sunrise was at 7:30, so it was already legal shooting hours by the time I got in place. The wind was out of the south, and I figured it would be in my favor if the deer crossed in the same spot as the evening before. About 20 minutes after I sat down I glanced to my left and saw three does about 50 yards away. The closest one was a nice mature one, so I eased the gun into shooting position and squeezed off a round. She bucked and ran about 50 yards and I saw her go down.

I have to admit, at that point I was thinking there is nothing to this whole rifle hunting thing, because that just seemed way too easy. Little did I know how quickly that thought would come back to haunt me.

I grabbed my phone and texted my wife and a couple friends to let them know I had just shot a doe. I thought I would sit there another half hour or so and maybe get another shot at a doe if one walked by. About 10 minutes later one of my friends replied back to my text and was asking me if I was really excited about shooting the doe. I started to reply back, and my text was going to read something like this - "Yeah I'm excited, but this rifle hunting doesn't get me as fired up as bowhunting". The text never got sent. Right as I was in the middle of typing it I heard something behind me.

I glanced over my right shoulder and noticed a little fork-antlered buck about 50 yards behind me. He was looking my direction, but then he started moving to the south so I slowly turned my head around the other way to watch. That's when I saw him - the buck from Lee's picture. The big buck was between 40 and 50 yards away standing directly facing me with his head turned to his right looking at the younger buck. The sun was just starting to creep over the horizon, and the silhouette of this buck against the pinkish-purple backdrop is an image stamped in my brain.

I immediately knew he was a shooter. There was no doubting that. I was already holding my binoculars so I eased them up to my face to take a better look. I took a quick look at his left antler and counted 5 points. I don't even remember looking at the other side. I eased the gun into shooting position and stared through the scope. I put the crosshairs right on his neck and then lowered them to the center of his chest and fired the gun.

He dropped like a sack of potatoes. It was like all four legs just collapsed underneath him. He was just laying there. I was so excited I couldn't believe what had just taken place. I could see him on the ground with his left antler sticking up above the grass and I just kept thinking how awesome he looked. This was my best deer ever.

I grabbed my binoculars again to take a better look at him. I stared at him for probably 20 or 30 seconds and I noticed he started flopping a little bit, but nothing unusual as it takes a little while for a deer to expire after the impact of the shot. He layed still again. I raised up to my knees to see a little better and I noticed that he tried to raise his head up but he wasn't having much luck. I continued to watch as he just lay there and then he started moving again - this time he tried to get to his feet and he staggered around for a few steps and fell back over. I figured he was down for the count. I continued to watch for another 20 or 30 seconds as he just lay there.

Then the unthinkable happened.

About a minute and a half after I had shot the deer, the buck hops to his feet and runs off, jumping a fence about 40 yards away. He disappeared into some mesquite trees and I lost sight of him. I called my dad on the phone and told him about the two deer I had just shot. He was really excited and he started making his way toward me so that we could look for the buck. It took my dad about 15 minutes to walk to my location, so I just sat there and waited for him. After he got there, we went and recovered the doe and brought her closer to the truck.

We found blood at the site where the big buck was standing when I shot, but not very much. With a straight-on chest shot that is to be expected, because more than likely there was not an exit wound. We found more blood at the fence where the deer had crossed and then began to pick up a decent blood trail. We followed the trail for about 60 or 70 yards and then couldn't find another drop. I was on my hands and knees looking and couldn't see a speck of blood anywhere.

To try to make this long, miserable story a little shorter - we never found the deer. We looked for the better part of the day. We gridded the area and tied ribbons to mark transects we had searched. I tried to find someone in the area with tracking dogs but had no luck. We searched more on Tuesday morning. Nothing.

I don't know what happened. I've had so many questions and emotions go through my mind since that shot that it has all been a whirlwind experience. It was one of the best hunting experiences I have ever had, and it was one of the worst hunting experiences I have ever had.

I've tried to look back at this episode and draw some kind of a positive from this whole turn of events and here is what I've come up with so far.
1. It was definitely a memorable moment that my dad and I will share for years to come.
2. I've learned some things I will do differently next time (like wait for a better shot angle).
3. Most importantly, it was a life-lesson in humility. Just when I thought I had it all together, things came crashing down. Pride comes before the fall.

I'm not going to let it ruin my season. The weekend did have a couple more memorable events that I will have to discuss in another post. There are still a few weeks left in the season and I plan on trying to take another doe to fill the freezer. For now, here is a picture of the doe I shot Monday morning. The big smile on my face is not only because I was happy about harvesting the doe, but I seriously thought I would be posing with a big 10-point in the near future. It just wasn't meant to be.


The Rabid Outdoorsman said...

Exciting story and one heck of a beauty deer. The one deer I never recovered was a doe and it bothered me for a long time.It was however a huge learning experience. I know keep the gun on them for up to 10 min if I have any question.

Curious what were you using for caliber?

LSP said...

That was a great post and a cautionary tale...

Have a great Christmas.