Deer encounter on the archery opener

September 19, 2011

Faith Outdoors

I was excited as I headed out Saturday morning for the archery deer opener. Optimism ran high as I walked into the woods to my stand at about 6 a.m.

I had put up the stand two weeks ago in an area where there were lots of tracks. After practicing all summer — even once from the stand — I was confident I could make a 20-yard shot, possibly even a 30-yarder. It was just a matter of waiting to see if any deer would walk by.

I set up the stand so that the platform was parallel with the trail, which was to my left. That would put me in position for the kind of shot I could make.

Once in the stand, I saw a small clearing to my right that I hadn’t paid attention to when I put the stand up. I wondered what I would do if I a deer passed by there.

Early action

Wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what happened. At about 7 a.m., a doe appeared in the clearing, but I was facing the wrong way. I decided to try and grab my bow and turn all the way around to my right and toward the deer. I did so and stood up, and the deer looked up at me. But, it didn’t spook. So, I knocked an arrow and started to draw back.

Unfortunately, I accidentally hit my release and the arrow zinged harmlessly into the ground about 10 yards away. Amazingly, the deer did not spook or even react to the shot. So, I reached back around to my left to pull another arrow out of my quiver.

I turned back toward the deer again, and still, it didn’t spook, although it froze where it stood and continued looking up at me. It was standing perfectly broadside, so this was good news.

Because I was in an awkward position, I didn’t have good leverage to pull the bow back. In fact, it took me three tries to do it. Then, I encountered another problem. I had trouble seeing my 20-yard pin, which was the one I needed to use. But, I managed to find the deer’s body in my sight line and released the arrow.

I heard the telltale smack as the arrow hit the deer. She jumped up and ran off to my right.

Let the tracking begin

She disappeared quickly, and I knew the second phase of the hunt was now beginning — tracking. At that moment, I realized how little preparation I had done for this task. Unfortunately, this would end up costing me.

The first thing I did was send a text to my friend and hunting mentor, Steve Huettl, who works for Gamehide camouflage clothing. He advised me to wait an hour before attempting to find the deer. I had no problem with that. I was in no hurry, and the last thing I wanted to do was push the deer. Often after they’re hit, deer like to bed down. Sometimes, they will die right there.

I wish I had gotten his followup voicemail message before I went looking for the deer. In it, he said that if I’m not sure where I had hit the deer, I should climb down, leave the area and come back several hours later. That way, if the deer wasn’t hit in the vitals, it might bed down and, eventually, die from loss of blood.

At about 8:20, I climbed down and started walking toward where my arrow hit the deer. On my way over, a deer jumped up a ways to my left and ran off. Wow, I thought, another deer. Later, I would find out I was wrong — wrong in the worst way.

Enter agony

I found the arrow after  a few minutes and looked to see if it had blood on it. I was saddened to see that it did not. I wondered if I had missed, then noticed a brown, slimy substance covering the arrow. Then, it hit me — a gut shot!

That is every hunter’s worst nightmare. In many cases, the deer will die, but it can go a long ways, especially if it’s pushed. And, on top of that, gut shot wounds don’t bleed much. Thus, it’s very easy to lose the blood trail.

That’s exactly what happened. I saw some blood at first, then followed it a ways. The blood trail curved around and went back left, heading right in the direction of the deer I had spooked after climbing down. I then realized that the deer I had jumped was, indeed, the one I had hit. I saw a small pool of blood where it had been standing, then it went back to just a few drops here and there. I decided to go back and get some blaze orange tape so I could mark the blood trail.

Once back at the car, I called Steve one more time. He answered and told me about his earlier message. But, it was too late. The damage had been done — I had spooked the deer.

What’s sad is that it had been standing for a while in a spot very close to where it had stood when I hit it. Maybe, it would have bedded down right there, making for an easy recovery several hours later, which is the amount of time it takes for a gut-shot deer to die.

Time for learning

Well, now I know what to do the next time this happens. When in doubt, back away and wait several hours before tracking. Another thing I learned is that pin brightness matters in low light. The next day, when I hunted in the evening, I noticed that my red pins (for 20 and 40 yards) went dark well before legal shooting hours ended. But, my green pins seemed to stay bright a lot longer.

I wondered about this phenomenon and took my question to an expert — John Schaffer at Schaffer Performance Archery in Burnsville. He is a bow hunter himself, and when I asked him about pin brightness, he said yes, indeed, the red ones go dark in low light. He said I should make a green pin my 20-yard pin.

That won’t be a problem. I had the top one, which is green, as my 10-yard pin. But, I don’t need a 10-yard pin anymore because my bow shoots almost exactly the same at 10 yards as it does at 20, thanks to increasing the draw weight from 48 to 55 pounds. So, I’m good on that pin to at least 20 yards, probably 25. Then, my next pin, which is red, will become my 30-yard.

Nothing beats a good rest

This is an example of one of the little things that can make all the difference in bow hunting. Another is arrow rest, which I have been learning a lot about recently. Steve uses a new one designed by Schaffer Performance Archery called an opposition rest. Basically, it holds the arrow in place with two sliding plates that move horizontally. When the string is released, the plates slide away so that the arrow fletching does not touch them. Thus, you get a clean release. That, in turn, leads to greater accuracy and, ultimately, tighter shot groups.

The only downside is the price — $140. It’s a little high for me, but how can I say no to something that will improve accuracy? After all, I’ve already lost one gut-shot deer. I don’t want that happening again this season — or ever.

The guys at Schaffer say they can install the rest (at no charge if there aren’t any complications) and have me shooting accurately with it before I leave the shop. With more than three months left in the bow hunting season, maybe now’s a good time to switch.

My wallet may hurt, but that’s better than the pain of failing to recover a deer. Another tip I got, this one from shop owner John Schaffer, had to do with the peep sight mounted on my string. I told him I think this may have contributed to the visibility problem. My string is split three ways to hold the peep, which does cause some visibility issues, which, I believe, were compounded in low light when I tried to aim at the deer.

John said there is a better peep that only splits two ways and will not obstruct my vision in any way. I plan on paying a visit to his shop for a peep change.

Incidentally, I went back out Sunday night and saw a deer in the exact same spot as the one the day before. This time, the doe that came through spooked after I turned to grab my bow. That’s OK. Not sure I wanted to try that shot again anyway. I may try to move the stand so I can get a better shot angle on this spot. And, I’ll buy a pole saw to do some trimming.

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About Dave Hrbacek

Staff photographer and writer for The Catholic Spirit. Also, avid outdoors enthusiast with a passion for hunting, fishing and photography. Married to Julie and have four children, three boys and a girl.

View all posts by Dave Hrbacek