When I filled both of my deer management tags the afternoon of the opening day of the big-game season in the Southern Zone, I remember thinking, what a great way to start.
Both does were taken from my tree stand in Allegany County just 10 minutes apart, and both were one-shot-and-down kills. As a hunter, this is the way you want all your hunts to end. But it doesn’t always happen that way, as I was about to find out the very next morning in the very same area.
It was about 6:10 a.m. when I arrived at my tree stand, tied my backpack to the pull-up rope, shouldered my unloaded Savage 99E and slowly ascended the ladder to the 15-foot platform. Once in the stand, I loaded my rifle and hung it on the tree hook and attached my safety harness to the tree.
Conditions were perfect, with the wind blowing gently in my face. Perhaps this would be the morning I got a shot at a buck. Reaching into my pocket for my gloves, I felt my Executioner grunt call and thought I would make a few gentle calls in the event there was a curious buck around so I could keep him around until shooting time.
I made about four or five soft grunt calls, added a short wheezing call, then put the call away. It was very dark and quiet, and legal shooting time (sunrise) was still about 30 minutes away. I’d just reached for the rope to pull up my pack when I heard a noise out in front of the stand, and there, in the shadows, was the outline of a deer standing broadside to me. On its head, above its ears, were antlers. I could not tell how many, but it was definitely a buck. I could only assume he had come in to my calls. Slowly, as he moved off to my left, I lifted my rifle off of the hook and rested it on my lap and watched him feed. He was not moving fast, but he was moving away. I could only hope that he stayed within sight and range for the next 25 minutes or so.
In the next 20 minutes, I watched the buck feeding through my scope, and must had looked at my watch at least 20 times. It was getting light, and he definitely had six points. With just a few minutes to go, I rested the gun on the railing of the stand. The buck was now right at the edge of the woods, and the only shot he offered was at his neck or rump, neither of which I wanted to take. Inside the open hardwoods, I ranged him at just about 178 yards when he turned slightly back to look toward me, exposing his left front shoulder. It was now or never, and I touched off the shot.
I watched his retreat for several seconds, and once I thought I saw him stumble and then disappear over a ridge. There was no way to tell if I had hit him or not, and it’s a feeling that every hunter hates to experience. Forcing myself to stay in the stand and give the deer a chance to lay down if he was hit was extremely difficult; but I waited a full hour before I moved.
There was no blood at the point of impact, but he left a very visible trail in the leaves that I followed. About 50 yards out, I found the first blood, perhaps the size of a baseball, and then scattered dime-sized dots leading to the edge of a very steep gorge. From here down, there were small drops of blood every 8-10 feet leading down to a small creek at the bottom of the gorge. The spots continued up the other side about the same distance apart, and half-way up, they just ended. In past experiences, I knew that the exertion he put out going up this steep incline should have produced much more blood. It was time to call for help.
Tim Guy of Glens Falls and Ed “Doc” Degner of Clifton Park arrived about 15 minutes later and marked the last blood and spread out to try and find more. And after two hours of looking, sometimes on our hands and knees, we abandoned the search. We all agreed that it was probably a grazing shot across the brisket and that the deer would survive, but that really didn’t make me feel any better. No hunter likes to wound its prey. But it does happen, and it’s a part of hunting.
AFTER THE SHOT
When a deer falls within sight of the shooter, recovery is simple, but when it doesn’t, as in the case I just highlighted, there are certain procedures that should be followed. Let’s take a refresher course on exactly what to do in this situation, should it happen to you. These are hard rules which allow for little deviation and when followed, will often — if the animal is hit hard enough — lead to its retrieval.
After the shot, always assume you hit the deer. Sit tight and wait at least one half-hour. One hour is better. Don’t chase the deer. If it’s hit, it’ll usually lay down if not pushed. Go to the spot where the deer was standing when you shot. Always be careful where you step so you don’t disturb any signs. If blood is found, be especially careful of where you walk. A constant and heavy blood trail is easy to follow and will generally lead to the dead deer. But when it’s sporadic and/or stops, it’s time to call for help, but no more than two helpers. Too many people in the woods can destroy signs. Always leave one person where the last blood was found. Then should the blood trail end, this is where you should begin circling at
10-foot intervals. If after an hour or so of expanding these circles nothing is found, chances are the deer is not mortally wounded and you can give up your search.
However, if there’s still daylight remaining. I like to spend the rest of the day just wandering around the area sneaking and peeking just in case I stumble onto the deer or more sign. In the case of the deer above, I didn’t find anything wandering.