If At First You Don’t Succeed…
This past November found me once again back in the Land of Lincoln bow hunting for my favorite quarry, the Whitetail Deer. I was trying to redeem myself for a miss the prior year on a giant 8-point buck that still haunts me to this day.
The best I can recall, it was one of those perfect Midwest Whitetail set ups that a hunter from Northern Maine doesn’t get to experience too often. Second week of November, warm weather breaks, cold front comes in, blind call, buck comes to call, continues to within 30 yards, turns broadside… it was all going according to the script. I couldn’t believe my luck, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t somehow screwed all of this up by dropping something, or losing track of one of my appendages in my glee and clanking something off of my tree stand.
The way I remember it, it was like I was watching some other hunter on tv, you know how it goes…everything working in the hunters favor and you think to yourself…”Shoot the darn thing already, will ya?” Well, as it often happens…glee turned to disaster in a millisecond. I came to full draw, settled my pin on the beast’s chest, marked a mental notch on my imaginary hunting “belt” and hit the release.
Wait….what was that noise? Why did I just see a piece of something go flying behind the buck’s rear end? Why is he turning inside out and running away? It all happened that quickly.
Turns out, my clear shooting lane wasn’t all that clear. I managed to drive my arrow off the one and only branch, which turned out to be more like a twig, in my shooting lane. I watched the object of my obsession disappear over a ridge, never to be seen by these eyes again.
But this story isn’t really about the one that got away, it’s about getting back after it and making amends for a hunt gone bad. It’s also about showing the no quit attitude that makes the hunting lifestyle one that I am proud to live. So, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I was back in Illinois bow hunting Whitetails.
This was my third year hunting in Illinois with my good friend Jason. I’m still getting used to the lingo used to describe all of the different land forms in Illinois that we don’t have in Maine, at least not in the part of Maine I live in. Draw? Saddle? Finger? That’s all foreign to me. Where I live we have flat land and mountains. That’s it.
Jason dropped me off and gave me the instructions to walk down into the draw we were standing at the head of, go to that finger over there and climb up in that tree, the plan was to give me a perfect shot of any deer that may “side hill” the draw. So I watched Jason disappear into the golden landscape that is Southern Illinois in November and searched for my spot again before I trudged noisily through the fallen oak leaves. Somehow my “spot” disappeared just as Jason had. Honestly, it all looks the same to me. It’s all the same color, the trees look the same, there are seemingly a million fingers…I wasn’t lost, but I didn’t know where Jason wanted me to be either. So, I picked my own spot, made a makeshift ground blind and settled in for the morning hunt.
Not long after that I felt my phone vibrate, it’s a text message from Jason that read: “4 does headed your way. Don’t miss.” Thanks buddy! No pressure!
The does worked their way around the draw just as predicted. It was a lead mature doe, another smaller doe, a yearling and a lamb (Maine-speak for “fawn”). I wanted the lead doe, as I’ve never taken a mature doe with stick and string to this point in my archery hunting career. As she worked around I ranged a tree that I thought would intersect her path. Thirty-Five yards, slightly up hill. I can make that shot, or so I thought.
I came to full draw quietly as my arrow rested at the ready in my new 360 Capture Rest (that I had installed myself I might add). Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the yearling doe was about 15 yards to my left, and she had made me. I glanced back at the lead doe, and she had stopped where I thought I had ranged and stood looking at the yearling. She was broadside, I settled my pin on her vitals and touched off my arrow sending my 3-Blade BloodRunner towards it’s target. I heard a big “SLAP” and watched the doe turn and head up over the ridge, the others soon followed as I wait to hear her crash…..and wait…nothing. I couldn’t see anything from where I was that indicated a miss on my part, so I got up and headed over to where the doe was standing. When I got closer I could see that the Blood Runner had connected…on a young beech tree.
This near miss on a mature doe resulted in a clean kill on a young beech tree.
I quickly realized that the doe was standing about 10 yards closer to me than I had thought. It was a clean miss, right over her back. That’s good and bad. Good it was a clean miss, but bad that I had missed what amounts to a “chip” shot in archery terms, again.
Jason had heard my shot and came to investigate what transpired. I won’t go into detail about the conversation we had, but let’s just say that I had become “It” in camp for the next 24 hours. All tomfoolery and playful ribbing aside, I was beginning to worry about my shooting skills. Surely I practiced shooting 4 or 5 times a week, from elevation, at 3-D targets, in different settings etc. However, it was becoming clear that I was having some trouble hitting a live deer...or was it all in my head?
The next morning came and this time I was in the EXACT tree that Jason had picked out, he made sure of it! As the sun came up a young bobcat worked in and directly under my stand…don’t see that in Maine very often. I was unsure of how that might affect the rest of my mornings hunt. Although it was a chilly, bright and sunny morning in the hills of Southern Illinois there wasn’t much deer activity. This pretty much seemed like a recipe for good deer movement I thought, especially since we had endured 5 or 6 days of above average, to hot temperatures. I began to think about the miss on the doe, and how I may have boogered the area up.
Then I got a text…”You see him?” I look up and see horns coming my way. I made the decision not to count points so I didn’t mesmerize myself and lose focus.
I made a quick check of all my equipment to make sure that I wouldn’t have any further unforeseen mishaps. As the buck worked my way he stopped and looked like he was going to head off down into the bottom on the opposite side of the ridge. I reached for my doe estrous can call and turned it once. He looked my way and continued on in my direction. He stopped again, and looked down into the draw/bottom that I was hunting over. However, if he goes that way I won’t have a shot as he would be too far away. I reached behind me and “uphill” with the can and turned it again. His ears perked up and he turned yet again and headed in my direction. I ranged a few spots along his path so that I’d know what distance I’d be shooting if I stopped him here, or if he decided to stop there.
Yet again, I find myself in Illinois, with a buck in bow range, and everything going according to the plan. As he hits the 30 yard mark I decide that the time is now to draw my bow‑‑I figured it was all academic from here. One problem though … remember I mentioned it was cold? Well, turns out it was cold enough that I couldn’t draw my bow. I had “buck fever”. I had read about this happening to other hunters, but had never experienced the phenomenon myself.
Still, I’ve never been a quitter, and made the quick decision that I wasn’t going to start being one now. I mustered every bit of strength that I could, and came to full draw. I quickly settled the pin on the sweet spot and sent the BloodRunner on its’ way. I heard the tell tale thwack of the arrow as it collided with the buck’s chest, then as he kicked his hind legs and turned to go down the opposite side of the ridge from my position I saw a large red spot right in the middle of his chest. To say I was ecstatic is an understatement.
A small part of me thought I had missed again, however what I couldn’t miss was the massive hole the BloodRunner had put in that deer. I sat my bow down and tried to recreate the scene that had just happened as I usually like to do after a shot. I began to shake uncontrollably and then got another text from Jason. I would like to think the text read “Did you hit him?”, but I think it actually read: “Did you miss again?”. All in good fun of course.
I couldn’t sit any longer, so I decided to let my gear down and reconnect myself with the Earth. Once on the ground I nocked another arrow, just in case, and went to the spot the buck was standing when I shot. Blood! Lots of blood! I continued on to where he barreled over the edge and dumped down into the hollow and found my arrow, it was literally covered from BloodRunner-to-QuikSpin in red bubbly blood.
Though it wasn't needed, the wound left by the Bloodrunner provided a very impressive bloodtrail.
Aside from seeing the entrance wound on the side of the buck, this evidence relieved me as I now knew that my shot was true, and my 3-year Illinois quest was successful. I decided to wait on the ridge for Jason and our other hunting buddy JT to come help me find the buck. I looked down into the hollow and could see that white belly shine in the bottom!
We decided to bloodtrail my buck just to see what kind of sign there was. It was like the scene out of a horror movie. Let me tell you, I am color blind and can’t follow a blood trail too well, if at all. It wasn’t a problem this time. There was blood splashed all over the ground and up the sides of trees like it was thrown there from a paint bucket. Blood was blowing out both sides and at one point we measured a spot where the blood had blown out of him and covered a 6-7 foot span.
As we made our way to the bottom, I stopped following the trail and went to the deer. He was a beautiful, young, 7 point buck. I was so proud to have him. He carried a common trait for the area, that being a double throat patch. As for the entrance hole the Bloodrunner left in the buck ... all I can think of to call it is an actual “gaping hole”, because that’s what it was. Somebody suggested that I flip the buck over and check the exit hole. It was amazing, as the blood continued to run out of the deer, I heard one of the others say, “That’s why they call it the BloodRunner!”
It was at this point that I realized the truth in the saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!” I finally succeeded in tagging my first Illinois buck, and my best bow kill to date.