Well That Was Bound To Happen

December 13, 2012

“Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then I contradict myself.  I am large.  I contain multitudes.” 
Walt Whitman

“So?  I changed my mind.”

So after all that noise in yesterday’s post about sticking to the bow and all that, I had to know this morning would turn my plans upside down.  I wasn’t even going to hunt this morning, but instead I planned to leave things alone after missing that doe last night.  I was going to sleep in until daylight, tend to the horses, and get to work.

That was the plan.

It all started when something woke me up this morning at around 05:00.  I think it was probably the cats, bouncing off the walls as they’re wont to do in the wee hours.  Apparently they knocked something over, so I got up to make sure it wasn’t important.  It took a bit of looking before I discovered they’d somehow climbed up on the washing machine and knocked my binoculars off onto the floor.  Thank goodness for Leica’s shock-resistant sturdiness.

Well, once that happened, I was awake.  I stumbled around and cursed a bit, made coffee, and sat down at the computer.  I looked at the bow hanging in the laundry room, but just wasn’t that motivated to gear up and go sit in the tree.  Visions of that arrow sailing over the doe’s back pretty much sapped my enthusiasm.

Once the sun had started to light up the canyon, I decided to go ahead and feed the horses a little early.  As I started out, I noticed some movement down near the corner of the pasture, not too far from my tree stand.  “Goofy deer,” I thought out loud, but I grabbed the Leicas anyway.

spindlesThere were several deer, but the two that caught my interest were sort of circling one another, in and out of the cedars.  The light was still dim, but I definitely saw antler on at least one of them.  After a moment, I could see it was the wide, spindly six-point I’ve been seeing on my cameras.  The other deer still wouldn’t give me a good look, but it looked like he had a smaller rack.  The bucks weren’t exactly fighting, but they were definitely squared off.

I watched for a little bit.  The does and yearlings weren’t particularly interested in the bucks, and they browsed under the oaks along the edge of the woods.  The bucks would sort of follow one another around a tree, then stop and nonchalantly nibble some acorns or grass.  Then they’d circle again.  I kept watching that six-point, and it didn’t take long before I made a decision.

The Savage was in the back of the truck.  I grabbed it, and slowly snuck toward the barn, closing the distance and making sure I wouldn’t be shooting into the pasture where the horses were.  At about 120 yards, I took a rest against a power pole and found the deer in my scope.  They moved in and out of the thicket.  Every time I thought I had him dead to rights, he’d turn his butt to me, or move behind a cedar.

Finally, I had the shot I wanted.  The angle wasn’t ideal, but at 120 yards with the 30-06, I knew I could make it work.  With the pull of the trigger, I set a sequence of mildly regrettable events into motion.

First error… I either pulled the rifle, or the deer moved at precisely the moment of my shot.  Either way, I heard the bullet thump but I could see that it was further back than I’d wanted.  Had the angle been better, it would have been a perfect double-lung shot.  But he was turned more than I thought, which meant that the bullet ended up quartering back through the paunch, exiting behind the ribs, and then entering the off-side ham (Damn!).

Still, there was no question it was a fatal shot.  I watched him run into the thicket, and while all the other deer ran out, he didn’t.

So as I watched the other deer run, I realized that one of them was the spindly six.  I’d gotten mixed up by their little shell game in the cedars, and shot the other deer.  “Oh well,” I figured.  “I hunt for the meat and not the horns anyway.  No matter.”

I waited a few minutes and headed to the woods.  I decided to bring Iggy along.  I’ve wanted to work him on blood trails a little bit, but the last deer died so close to where I arrowed her, I didn’t even bother to go get him.  He was pretty excited by the shooting, and practically jumping over the fence when I went back to the house.  I put the rifle away (another mistake) and grabbed the .44 in case a coup de grace was necessary.

So the only work Iggy has done over the guns so far was when I worked him on doves a little, back in September.  He definitely gets the idea that, when I shoot, he gets to chase something.  I let him out of the gate and he led me toward the woods.  At the site where the deer were gathered, he struck a scent.  I wasn’t sure which deer he smelled, or if he was smelling all of them, so I held him back until I found a splatter of blood.  I pointed it out, and he looked at me like I was an idiot.  “Of course there’s blood, you fool,” he seemed to say.  “Now let me do my job.”

I should have put him on a leash.

At first he worked the trail like a pro, staying just ahead of me as we entered the woods.  But he started going faster, and suddenly disappeared with a leap.  A moment later, the buck charged out of the woods, followed closely by the black blur that was Iggy.   Even if I’d had the presence of mind to get the gun up, I couldn’t have taken the shot with him so close.  I yelled to stop him, but by then they were halfway across the pasture and headed for the road.  I yelled again, and then remembered that I’d at least had enough sense to put the electric collar on him.  I hit the “nip” button, and that didn’t even slow him.  Reluctantly, I hit the continuous button.  That got his attention, and he finally pulled back.

My pasture lays on a downhill slope, and right before the fence there’s a low spot where the deer like to cross.  I saw the deer go down there, but I didn’t see him come up.  I hoped he’d run into a brush pile to die, but just in case, I held the pistol ready as I moved across the pasture toward the spot.  Iggy was behaving well now, staying a couple of yards ahead of me with his nose to the ground.

We hit the brush pile, and the deer staggered up about 50 yards away.  Because he looked so unsteady, and because I’m not the greatest shot with the .44, I decided to get closer (if I’d brought the rifle instead, this story would have ended here).   Finally, I closed to about 20 yards and had the deer clear and broadside.  I leveled the pistol, but as I was cocking the hammer, a black blur ran into the scene again!  Iggy couldn’t take the excitement of seeing his quarry this close and broke into my line of fire.  I raised the muzzle into the air and waited for an opportunity.

The deer ran to the fence and weakly tried to jump it.  His side and flank were covered in blood, and I could see he wouldn’t live long.  But he managed enough strength to finally clamber over the fence to the road.  In a couple of bounds he was across, and into the thicket on the neighboring property.  I called Iggy back and watched through the branches as the deer staggered down into a draw and out of sight.

The tale does have a happy ending, though.

I brought Iggy back to the house, then went in and had breakfast, got some work email answered, and waited for about two hours.  Given how hard the deer was bleeding when he hit the fence, I figured that would be more than enough time to let him bed down and die.  When in doubt, back out… right?

When we got to where the deer had crossed the fence, the blood trail was pretty obvious.  Iggy hit it and was almost gone again before I reined him back.  This time I made him stay right with me as I Iggy the Blood-trailing Dawgcrawled and stumbled through the cedars.  Iggy followed the trail right to a clump of agarita bushes, and then started worrying something on the ground.  I caught up and saw that it was a thick pool of gore.  The ground was tracked up where the deer had gone down and dragged himself into the thicket.  Iggy had blood-trailed his first deer.

Could I have tracked the deer without him?  Yeah, although it would have been much slower… especially at first, as the blood sign was spread out and hard to see in the cedars.  Of course, had I been tracking without the dog, I’d probably have found the deer where it laid down the first time, and been able to finish it there and then with the pistol.

It was definitely a learning experience for me, as well as for Iggy.  The next time, I won’t set him on a real hot trail.  If a shot is questionable, I’ll wait a couple of hours, and then go in with him on a leash so he doesn’t push the wounded animal.  I also think that sort of tracking would have been better with a shotgun loaded with buckshot, instead of the .44.  Of course, I went in thinking that the deer was probably already dead and if anything, I’d have to put a shot in its head at powderburn range.  Obviously, it pays to plan for the worst case rather than being over-confident.

In which standards are lowered and lessons are learned…



11 Responses to “Well That Was Bound To Happen”

  1. Shotgunner on December 13th, 2012 12:54

    So why does television hunting have to be all about the perfect shot and the perfect track?? This is a far better story line and far more recognizable to the average hunter. Even a guy with all your experience has trials and tribulations while in the field. What’s wrong with that??

  2. Phillip on December 13th, 2012 15:57

    Great question! I do think some shows try to get a little bit of this in there, but in general you don’t really see a lot of the real world situations on TV. Not that they don’t happen, because they do, but the programs tend to use a little post-production magic to clean up those gut shots, cut out the whiffs, and shorten the tracking jobs.

  3. Al Quackenbush on December 13th, 2012 16:43

    Thanks for sharing the details of the hunt, Phillip. Not every hunt happens the way we want it to, but you have meat in the freezer and Iggy worked for his supper! Sounds like you have a great dog there and hey, you were able to get out and hunt. Cheers!

  4. JAC on December 14th, 2012 10:21

    I really enjoyed this piece. Honest and gritty prose and an homage to Whitman, what’s an English major not to love? Your writing chops are in fine fettle, Phillip.

    In mind of your excellent advice piece now folded into my hat, how was cleaning that deer?

    A second question if I may, what sort of ammunition you were using? Are you still reloading or are you firing factory rounds these days? If it’s factory, what are you shooting? If you’re reloading, mind sharing your recipe? I acidentally bought a 30-06 on Gunbroker (let that be a lesson to us all), hence my interest. Whose bullet are you shooting, and in what weight? I ask partly because of the ammunition tests you’ve done over the years, and partly to get a sneak peek behind the curtain at the Lead Ban Chronicles.

    Happy Holidays! Is your e-mail still the elwing one?

  5. Phillip on December 14th, 2012 21:57

    Thanks for dropping by, Al. Meat in the freezer… that’s goal #1. How it gets there is usually a big part of the equation though.

    John, thanks. The Whitman quote has served me particularly well, although that is probably my favorite period of US literature too.

    So cleaning the deer was exactly how you might imagine… pretty unpleasant. The bullet (180gr ETip – factory loaded) pushes a pretty good wave in front of it, and it ripped through everything from the onside lung until it exited at the back of the paunch. How it managed to exit there and still hit the offside ham is a bit of a mystery. Bullets do strange things, but I’m guessing the deer must have been twisting back toward the other buck when I shot. On the upside, while I definitely lost some meat in the ham, it wasn’t as bad as a direct hit.

    In the 30-06 I’m still hunting with those 180gr ETips Winchester sent me (they sent me a case). They’ve sort of become my go-to in that rifle, because they’re accurate as hell and I like the terminal performance. If you “accidentally” bought a 30-06, I’d say this is a good bullet to start with… although the -06 is supposedly optimized for something more in the 168-165gr range. I’m really not sure the 180gr gives enough benefit to really justify a little extra recoil, but I’m sort of a creature of habit when it comes time to hunt and I don’t like changing up my scope.

    I’ve got some of the Barnes VorTX factory loads, and they grouped pretty well out of my test rifle (Savage Axis), but the scope I was working with sort of sucked, so I’m not sure I got the most out of them. I know the Barnes TSX is a good bullet, and that’s what I handload for my .325wsm (although the guys at Winchester keep swearing the 8mm ETip is coming soon).

    If I ever get my reloading bench set up (which would require that I finish building my shop), I’ve got a bunch of the .30cal Hornady GMX and the ETips to experiment with reloads. The Hornady guys say to load theirs with the same recipe you use for their lead bullets. I don’t have a recipe for the ETips yet. I’ve got one for the Barnes, but it runs a little hot and I plan to tone it down a bit next time I load a batch.

    That’s probably no help at all. When I get my bench running again, I’ll have more of this info at my fingertips and I can share with you a little bit.

    And yeah, the email is still the same.

  6. Holly Heyser on December 17th, 2012 11:18

    I’m glad you got your deer, and that Iggy got a chance to play a vital role in your hunt. And while this may seem odd, given the series of events after this shot, I am completely envious that you are living the dream – living in a place where you can walk outside your house in the morning and shoot dinner. I’m a long way from that, I think.

  7. Phillip on December 17th, 2012 11:57

    Holly, I’m thankful for every bit of it, trust me. There’s a lot more that I appreciate about living here, but the backyard hunting is definitely a bonus. Every morning I look out the kitchen door and watch the deer under the feeder. While I’m not particularly motivated to do so, I know that any time I want to (during season, of course) I can grab the rifle and put one in the freezer.

    The most awesome thing, to me, is that even with the tracking job I had to do, I was able to shoot that deer, recover him, skin him and process him without missing any of my work day.

  8. Remus on December 20th, 2012 20:59

    Bloody cats. Mine do the same thing, 5am go crazy. But hey it got you up and out there so good on them.. That was a good read. Its always good to find real hunting stories that one can relate to. There is only some much over hyped hunting TV one can watch before it all seems the same. Thanks for that, anyways the morning looks good outside here in Western Australia and its hot as hell so time to go ground blind my favorite waterhole. If your a boar today might not be the best day to drink…. 🙂

  9. Phillip on December 21st, 2012 13:53

    Glad you enjoyed, Remus! Good luck on those summertime hogs!

  10. Bryan on December 23rd, 2012 18:02

    Nice job Phil! Haven’t been on this site for sometime. Glad to see your little piece of paradise is coming together. Any hog activity yet?

  11. Phillip on December 30th, 2012 10:46

    Hey, Bryan. Thanks!

    No hogs here lately. No rain, light acorn crop… just not much reason for them to leave the river bottoms.