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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.

 

Comments

15 Responses to “Another Day In the Long Texas Deer Season”

  1. Jim Tantillo on October 16th, 2012 04:08

    Nice writeup, Phillip–congratulations!

  2. Neil H on October 16th, 2012 06:58

    Congratulations, Phillip. Must be considerably a great moment to be enjoying venison from the place you’ve made for yourself down there.

    The lack of blood makes me think of my deer this year. I was on a high overlook, shooting steeply downhill at a bedded buck. I wasn’t the most confident, because I’d missed a similar shot the week before- first time I’d missed a standing animal. The buck jumped up and ran off, not a panicked bolt, or hunched, maybe just a touch slow. I do down there, and no blood. Not a drop, or hair, or bullet impact on the ground. I was almost incredulous because the shot felt right. We looked and looked, and then started following where we saw it go. Finally one drop on a piece of grass. Then a few more, and a good bit on some tall grass. It actually went down about 5 feet from where we last saw it, as soon as it passed out of sight. The funny thing was, the bullet had taken out a lung and severed the aorta, but almost none of that blood made it way out.

    On that note, you have a nice but relatively limited area you’re hunting. Do you have good relations with your neighbors if you need to track further?

  3. Dann on October 16th, 2012 07:44

    The sense of satisfaction must be overwhelming. The years struggling to make a dream come true, the cross country move, the new ranch and now, the first deer.

    You sir, are home.

  4. Phillip on October 16th, 2012 08:08

    Thanks all. I’m pretty stoked, to say the least. It does feel like all the work is coming together, and I’ve pretty much got the rest of a lifetime to enjoy it (and to do a lot more work).

    Neil, the blood trail was a little discomfitting. The post mortem showed that the broadhead (100gr Slick Trick) did everything it was supposed to do inside the chest cavity. The lungs were wrecked, several major blood vessels were busted, and due to the angle when she spun, the arrow went back and nicked intestines and maybe the liver (I didn’t check the liver at that point… things were messy). The cavity was full of blood when I cut the breastplate. Why there wasn’t more blood on the ground I don’t quite know… except that once the arrow came out, she really only went another 20 or 25 yards. Maybe if she’d gone further, the flow would have started in earnest.

    I’m seriously considering switching to one of the new mechanicals. My brother swears by the Rage, and I do like its reputation for leaving big blood trails.

    As far as the neighbors, that’s a good question and one anyone who hunts small properties should consider. In my case, there are three adjacent properties I have to consider (there’s no way a hard-hit deer is going to go up and over my ridgeline). To my northeast, the neighbor is a hunting cabin. The guy that owns it lives in Houston, and I think I’ve seen him down here twice since I bought this place. He’s a nice guy, and would have no problem with me legitimately tracking a deer on his property. To my west is a nice couple who stop and chat from time to time. I have no doubt they’d be OK with me tracking a deer there, although I’d probably go up to the house and ask permission first. Manners matter… especially down here.

    The property on the southern end of my place has a blind and feeder on it, but I’ve never seen anyone there. None of the locals can tell me who it belongs to, so I’m sort of hoping the owner will show up during the rifle season so I can meet him. I expect it won’t be an issue if I had to trail over there, but it’s always good to be sure.

    Now, it’s time to go butcher my venison!

  5. David on October 16th, 2012 09:52

    Congrats Phillip! More young tender venison in the freezer. What a hard earned trophy. Good job brother!

  6. The Suburban Bushwhacker on October 16th, 2012 11:22

    Nice tale well told, good to see you settling in to the new place.
    Keep well
    SBW

  7. Al Quackenbush on October 16th, 2012 16:57

    Congratulations, Phillip! Now that you have that first one at the new place under your belt you can fill the rest of the freezer. Great job. Finding blood can be tricky and I would have done the same thing you did. I am not perfect and I know that I’d be going crazy sitting it the stand, even for a few minutes. When it’s that warm out I tend to start looking soon after the shot just taking my time. Well done!

  8. Phillip on October 17th, 2012 11:52

    Thanks again, guys. Sten, good to see you passing through here. Definitely settling in, although there’s still a ton of work to be done. At this point, though, I can work at my own pace. The critical stuff is done.

    Al, I’ve never been real good at sitting on a blood trail without pushing ahead, especially when I’m hunting solo. There always seems to be a good excuse justification for going ahead and following up. It’s too hot to let it sit. Gators. Coyotes. Impending rain. Etc. Fortunately, I’ve only had a couple of instances where I followed too soon and pushed an animal, but that’s mostly just good luck.

  9. Neil H on October 18th, 2012 01:54

    You’re not alone on that. It’s almost impossible for me without checking a clock. If it’s for pigs, I usually go up to a ridgeline and make a phone call. Really. Passes the time, and I can let someone know I have a pig down for safety’s sake. I don’t recommend that doing that stylistically, but it is pretty hard to sit and wait.

  10. Dan on October 18th, 2012 03:52

    Funny how sometimes a very well hit animal won’t leave a drop of blood behind. I’m a rifle hunter and have had situations with a number of species both at home and abroad where an entry wound will seal over with subcutaneous fat and the bullet will exit, animal makes a dash and is inevitably found dead, but only after a few very tense moments of “surely I didn’t miss from here?!”

    Gret shooting, good to have some venison away. And all at home in the garden. Perfect.

  11. Phillip on October 18th, 2012 07:30

    Dead on, Dan. I’ve experienced this many times with hogs, but even our thin-skinned whitetails and mule deer can close up on us sometimes. That’s when lots of practice tracking sign comes in handy. But that feeling you describe, “surely I didn’t miss from here” sure rings true.

    Thanks for dropping by, by the way. I managed to take a few minutes to hop over to your blog, and it’s quite excellent. I’ll be adding you to my blog roll right away. I’ll probably also be referencing the giraffe post in the future, for anyone who wonders what happens with the meat of these African animals. Good stuff!

  12. Bruce Cherry on October 18th, 2012 11:10

    Phillip:

    Excuse me a moment while I wipe the drool off my chin and put on my shades so you can’t see my eyes green with envy. Man, do I miss deer hunting!! I hunt big game about once a week here on the Big Island but there is something about deer hunting….

    Above was mentioned that sometimes animals, hit hard in the boiler room, leave little or no blood. Ain’t that the truth!! I’ve shot several hogs at under 25 yards with a .300 Win Mag and watched them run off into the brush. I wait about 5 minutes and follow. No blood any where. Not a drop. My reaction is always the same: How the heck did I miss? I keep snooping around and finally there it is, deader than King Tut, double lung shot, complete pass-thru, and not a drop of blood anywhere but on the bristles. I imagine a lot of dead animals have been lost because the hunter wasn’t confident in the shot and/or wasn’t persistent in the follow-up.

    And now, a few dozen questions: How large are the mulies and whitetails in your area? Have any axis deer shown up in the trailcam? How about hogs? Seen any of those? How much do you, a resident, pay for your hunting license and tags?

    I enjoy this blog immensely. Hope to someday shake your hand and go an a deer/hog hunt with you, here or there.

    Aloha.

    Bruce

  13. Phillip on October 18th, 2012 13:25

    Heya, Bruce!

    Hard to imagine anyone living over in paradise drooling over our little old whitetails… but I know what you mean. Funny enough, I was having similar thoughts about pig hunting yesterday. I was just craving a good hog hunt. How the hell I managed to find the one spot in Texas that isn’t crawling with hogs is a mystery to me, but there ya go!

    So where I am, we only have whitetails. You have to drive a few hours north to hit mule deer country. I don’t think the body size or antlers compare to what you get in the Sierra, much less in CO, WY, or MT. I won’t do it this year, but hope to get up there at some point and give it a go.

    The whitetails in this part of the Hill Country are generally smallish deer, about the same size as the coastal blacktails up in CA. That doe I shot looks pretty small in relation to my bow, but she was actually a decent sized deer for the area. The ones you see on all the TV shows are usually from south Texas and the Brush Country, where the racks get bigger, even if the bodies still aren’t all that large. We’re too close to the equator for the big bodies like you see in Illinois or Saskatchewan (see Bergmann’s Rule). However, there are genetic freaks, farm-raised and manipulated deer that bely their geographical location. Most of those are inside fences though.

    No axis yet. I keep hoping, and it makes me nuts to drive a mile down the hill and see a dozen or more out in the flats… but there’s just nothing up here that they want. Maybe, when the drought breaks and the creeks and springs start running again, they’ll wander back up here. I’m also sort of hoping pressure during rifle season will push them around, but my bet is that they’ll go down in the river bed first. I think most of that is off-limits to shooting.

    No hogs yet. Everyone keeps telling me they’re around, but the only place I’ve even seen sign is down at the river. Not even roadkill… Locals all blame the drought, which is probably accurate.

    My license, which basically covers any hunting or fishing in the state, ran me about $60. Next year, I’ll drop $1800 for my lifetime combo license. That’ll give me lifetime hunting here, along with my lifetime licenses in NC and CA. I’d buy one for Colorado too, but it wouldn’t include my elk tag… and that’s about the only thing I want to hunt in CO.

    I’m really glad you enjoy the blog. Wish I had more hunting tales to tell these days, but that’s improving. Likewise, I look forward to meeting you in person and getting after some sort of critters.

    Aloha.

  14. Greg C on November 22nd, 2012 22:55

    Phillip,

    I always enjoy your writing about your hunts. There’s always a well thought variety of tangents that are cohesive to the story, and bring the reader to the hunt with you.

    I too, cannot believe you found property in Texas with not one hog on it!

    Who was your agent? J/K

    Greg

  15. Phillip on November 25th, 2012 15:37

    Thanks, Greg.

    Still waiting on rain. Water means hogs. In the meantime, I’m passing deer on a fairly regular basis. The rut should be getting in gear soon, and with plenty of meat for now, I’m just hanging tight for a good buck. Story will change in December, when it’s time to put at least two more deer in the freezer.

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