Another Day In the Long Texas Deer Season
October 15, 2012
The long day finally wound down. As the clock rolled past 5:00, I decided I’d had enough work for one day and set the laptop aside. Kat was on a conference call, so I stood and stared out the window. The clouds had set in early, and the evening was calm and grey and relatively cool. I knew what I was going to do.
15 minutes later, I’d fed the horses and was headed up the hill to my stand.
Here’s the thing about my tree stand. When I first started building it, I thought I had it pegged. On one side, it looks down on the pasture fence. The deer have been beating a trail along the fenceline since I first had it put in. On the other side, I had cut a clearing among the junipers (cedar – I’ve really got to start calling it by the local name). What I hadn’t counted on was the hillside that put the clearing right at eye-level with the stand. At 20 yards, any deer entering the opening would be right across from me, and the stand offered little cover.
And sure enough, the first evening I hunted the stand, the first deer that came down the trail blew out immediately. I hung some camo netting along the edges of the stand, but when I hunted the spot again last week, I got busted again. It was simply too close to the main deer trail. I’d need to make some adjustments with the chainsaw and clippers… open up the clearing another 20 yards or so, and maybe cut a shooting lane down into the ravine. Until then, the stand wasn’t likely to produce much more than frustration.
So as I climbed into the stand tonight, I really didn’t have much hope of success. I just needed some “tree time”. The other night when I was up here, I had the chance to watch a couple of young raccoons playing in the open. Later, a little barn owl lit on a branch just a few feet from my head, and we sort of stared at each other for a few minutes before he floated off to another branch. And then a thunderhead formed over the distant ridgeline, and I watched a mind-bending light show as lightning flared and flashed through the pink fluffs of cloud. I couldn’t hope for quite so much every night, but there’s something special about spending the waning hours of daylight perched in an oak tree as life goes on around you.
After about an hour in the stand, I was relaxing into the groove and just sort of letting the day go on. The horses were munching their hay. A flock of doves rocketed overhead like a flight of tiny F-15s. A squirrel leapt from limb to limb in a nearby oak, scrounging scarce acorns. A couple of little brown birds flitted through the understory beneath my perch. The last thing I really expected at this point was to see a deer.
Which is why the thin, brown legs moving through the thick cedars didn’t register in my mind at first. A doe was picking her way up the trail that would bring her out less than 15 yards from my stand… too close, really, for me to get into position and draw the bow. My daydreaming was my downfall, and even as my focus sharpened, the deer froze. I could see her white snout and the glint of setting sun in her eyes as she tried to define that man-shaped blob up in the oak tree. She stomped her foot, and I knew I was done. She had me pegged, and I just waited for the tell-tale “whoof” as she blew out and flew into the thick brush.
But she didn’t. She bobbed her head, trying to catch me moving. She craned her neck. My bow hung, useless, at my side. I couldn’t move to raise it, much less get to full draw. All I could do was await the inevitable. And finally, she turned and walked away with mincing steps. She never blew, or ran, but I had no doubt that encounter was final.
I settled back into the evening. There was a little disappointment, but it really didn’t ruin my night. I hadn’t expected success anyway. I counted the sighting as a bonus.
Shortly thereafter, I noticed the horses all staring at something across the pasture. A doe was standing out in the open, drinking from the horse trough. The trough was over 150 yards from the stand, so there wasn’t much to get excited about. Still, I watched, and after the deer finished her drink she started moving in my direction. Now my heartbeat accelerated… briefly. Still 100 yards away, the doe turned and wandered across the barn pasture toward the feeder.
I settled down again, and was about to take a seat when something caught my attention. The brown legs were back, on the same trail, and stopped in the same spot. Apparently the doe had decided that the funky shape in the tree wasn’t too much of a threat. But she was still very cautious. I stood as still as I could while she scoped me out. Finally, she took one more step, and her head went behind a thick branch. I eased the bow up, coming to full draw as I did. The pin centered in the peep, and I leveled it on the deer. I had a small hole to shoot through, but that hole showed me the perfect look at the crease of the deer’s shoulder.
I struggled. With the exception of this tiny window, the rest of the deer was well covered. If the deer continued on its path, it would step into the open for a perfect broadside… but that opening was a good ten yards from where she stood. Could I hold out that long? Would she go that far before her caution got the better of her?
At 20 yards with this Mathews bow, I’m extremely confident. I don’t even like to shoot targets with it at that range, because I tend to cut my fletchings and break arrows. As I thought it through, I couldn’t see any reason not to take the shot… and no sooner had that thought entered my mind than I touched the release and let the arrow fly.
Even though the deer wasn’t looking right at me, she was tense. As quiet as this bow is, she heard something and spun, just as the arrow arrived. I winced, dreading the worst, but as best I could tell the arrow plunged just behind her shoulder, angling down and back. She sprinted off into the thick junipers, crashing through branches at a dead run for a few seconds, until the noise stopped. I heard another deer blow, and bound off through the woods, circling with the wind until it passed only 30 or 40 yards from my stand.
I sat tight as long as I could stand, trying to at least wait 30 minutes before going to check for blood. The blood would tell me what to do next. I remember checking my phone after the shot to see that it was 6:28. After an interminable period, I checked it again. It was 6:40. I sat for a few more minutes, and couldn’t stand it anymore. I climbed down and crept over to the opening where the doe had been standing.
My first feeling was disappointment. The tracks were easy to find where they spun and threw dirt across the trail. But there wasn’t a speck of blood. Not a droplet. The other thing missing, however, was my arrow. If I’d missed, it should have been sticking in the dirt under the junipers. On the other hand, at 20 yards, a good, clean hit should have passed clean through. The arrow should have been right there.
I had a decision to make. The smart thing, probably, was to pull out. I should go back to the house, have dinner or something, and come back in a couple of hours. But without any blood, I was a little concerned about trying find the trail after dark. This was my first deer on the new place. I’d hate to lose it. So I could follow now, and risk blowing it out for good… or I could wait, and risk missing the trail in the dark and losing the deer.
I played the shot over and over in my mind. Every time I saw it, the arrow hit right where it needed to be. I heard the hollow thump of impact that told me it should have been right in the chest cavity. A shoulder bone would have been a crack, or a paunch shot tends to have a sort of zipper sound. The other audible clue was the crashing charge through the limbs, followed by silence. This wasn’t the sound of a healthy deer bounding off down a trail.
I compromised and decided to follow the tracks until I found blood, and make the decision to continue or not afterward. If the blood looked good, I’d keep going. If it looked like muscle or gut, I’d back off and come back later.
About 25 yards from the first tracks, I found a drop of blood. Not a splash, or a dribble, but a drop… about the size of a pencil eraser. About five yards from that spot, I found another one. Just past that, I saw a funny shaped limb, sticking up amidst the juniper branches. On closer inspection, the “limb” was the lower half of my arrow, and it was covered in thick blood. One sniff of the blood told me this was good stuff… not guts, and not the mild scent of muscle blood. My confidence soared, despite the fact that the blood spoor was still sparse.
About 10 yards from the arrow, the ground was torn up where the deer had obviously stumbled. I crawled to that spot (this is pretty thick stuff) and found another spot of blood. The area was a little more open, and I stood up and looked around the area. There were only two possible trails, and the blood seemed to point pretty clearly to the one to my left. I gathered my breath and looked for more blood. Then it hit me. A few yards away, there was my deer… stone dead. I’d probably looked right at her five times without realizing that the tan clump on the ground was made of fur and flesh.
So there it is. My first deer from the new place. She’s on ice now, and I’ll do the butchering tomorrow. It’s too warm to let her hang, so I’ll cut her up and get the meat in the freezer… except the tenderloins. Those are going on the grill tomorrow night.