Trust your instincts when you think you’ve made a great shot.
During the 2014 archery season in Guilford County, North Carolina, I had found a large rub while putting out some corn. It looked like a great place to set up, but I didn’t want to hunt it until conditions were perfect.
On the second Saturday of the season, I asked my wife to drop me off so I could sneak in from a different direction that avoided a nearby bedding area. She had a birthday party to attend, which meant I would have to be in the stand around 2 p.m. That would put me in the woods for about six hours, which is a long time when the temperature is in the high 70s.
I got in quietly and hadn’t been set up more than an hour when I noticed movement at about 70 yards. It turned out to be four bedded bucks. How I got in there without disturbing them is beyond me. I thought about trying to get closer, but I felt sure doing so would ruin my chances at a shot, so I watched the deer for what seemed like forever.
About an hour before dark, I saw a deer coming down the trail. It was a 4-pointer, followed by a definite shooter. Behind that deer was a cow-horn spike, and then a very large buck that I couldn’t see clearly. The deer were all about 20 yards apart.
Knowing I was about to have four bucks at 20 yards was nerve-racking. The wind was right, but that’s about all I had going for me. The cow-horn was the first to come in. When the buck I had identified as a shooter, a 12-pointer, came to the bait, I was already standing with the crossbow up and ready. When I squeezed the trigger, he performed almost a complete back-flip and zoomed out of there. All the other deer took off through bedding area.
I was sure I had just taken a 150-inch or better buck. I made a few phone calls and headed home to meet friends and get ready to track the deer.
What started as a great hunt soon turned into a nightmare. We found a little blood, but then nothing.
We watched my GoPro video of the shot, and it looked perfect. Still, our search party was at a standstill.
I looked for that buck almost every day for several weeks with no luck. After seeing that video, I was not going to give up. I knew the deer was lying dead somewhere; I just had to find him.
I watched that video every day, and it was killing me. Finally, I spoke to someone who said he had seen some buzzards around the time I had shot the buck. When I arrived at the location, I found deer hair everywhere.
I looked around and saw an antler sticking out of the water in a swampy patch. I can’t explain the feeling that came over me. It was mostly relief, but also some sadness that I hadn’t found the buck right away. What surprised me the most was the deer had circled around and ended up almost right behind the ground blind.
I would have liked to put my hands on him the day I shot him, but it was rewarding to find him after sticking with the search for so long. One thing I learned for sure is don’t second-guess yourself or let anyone tell you that you missed. If you feel the shot was right, it probably was. Of course, I had video evidence that helped keep me going, but I would have kept after that buck no matter what.
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