After 36 years of bowhunting and following blood trails, you’d think I’d seen everything. But during Oklahoma’s 2017 archery season, I learned a new lesson I’d like to share with Buckmasters fans.
I’d settled into my ladder stand around noon on a cloudy November afternoon, and I was highly optimistic. The wind was in my face, conditions were ideal and the bucks had shredded a stand of willow saplings nearby.
My stand was located alongside a well-used trail, in a promising pinch-point, and I knew rut was ready to bust loose any minute. The bucks were in full cruise mode, so I was sitting on go.
Squirrels and a couple of raccoons provided entertainment for the first two hours, but later the peaceful afternoon was interrupted by the unmistakable shuffling gait of a big deer moving through a carpet of leaves.
I glimpsed movement in the timber and prepared for a shot opportunity. As soon as the deer stepped into full view, I knew instantly it was a shooter buck. I only had the blink of an eye to admire its perfect 8-point rack.
The buck moved directly toward my stand at a gentle, steady pace . . . 30 yards . . . 25 yards . . . 20 yards . . .
I brought my Mathews Z7 Xtreme to full draw and waited for the buck to pass an obstructing oak. When it cleared, I bleated softly with my mouth and the deer stopped 17 yards away.
The 8-pointer was facing toward me for a steeply quartering shot, so the angle was not the best, but it was now or never.
I placed my pin inside the front shoulder, avoiding bone, knowing a pass-through would likely take out the heart, at least one lung and possibly some paunch.
The arrow passed completely through, just where I’d aimed. The buck mule-kicked, then trotted 25 yards and stood for what seemed like an eternity.
Finally, it walked slowly away, tail twitching feverishly with every step. I knew then it was mortally wounded but I was unsure just how much of the vital area was damaged so I didn’t know how far it might go.
My mantra is When in doubt, back out! And that’s just what I did, opting to return the next morning to begin blood trailing.
It was a sleepless night as I continually replayed the scenario in my head, but that’s what good bowhunters do.
My wife, Rosa, who has the eyes of a hawk for finding sign, accompanied me the next morning. After two hours, we finally found a small speck of blood on a leaf 75 yards from my arrow. We continued up the likely path and found a sparse blood trail that continued another 100 yards.
We came upon a spot where the buck had obviously stopped in front of a barbed-wire fence, but the trail ended there — or so we thought!
After two hours of searching ahead, we turned around to walk back, exhausted and dejected. Surely the wound had clotted, or the shot was not fatal.
Suddenly, my wife exclaimed, “Hey, there’s some blood!”
Nearly 25 yards back down the trail from where the blood had ended, another scant blood trail veered to the east.
Not having enough gas in the tank to jump the fence, the buck had doubled back. From there, the sign improved and we found my 8-pointer piled up not far off the original trail.
For those who have hunted long enough, you know the feeling of pure joy and relief when you find a deer you thought you’d never see again!
This is another case of it being a good decision to back out after the shot. But here’s the real lesson: If a blood trail suddenly ends, there is a strong possibility the buck doubled back and left you another trail to search.
And if there is an obstacle in the trail where the blood ends, that’s a more likely case for a backtracking scenario.
– Photo Courtesy Jeff Gardner
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