Disclaimer: This post is about the harvesting of Whitetail Deer. If you are opposed to hunting, don’t bother to read it. And don’t consider negative comments, because I will not approve such commentary. Our family hunts to put meat in the freezer, instead of going to the grocery store and buying packaged meat of unknown sources or quality conditions. We are licensed and follow the state’s hunting rules and regulations.
November 14 marked the close of the 2015 Archery Deer Season here in Pennsylvania. Although this is my 4th season hunting, I have yet to shoot a buck, and this was my first time hunting with a crossbow.
Prior to the season opening, DJ helped me prepare by first teaching me how to shoot the crossbow. Then we went up to the field where one of our ladder stands sits, and I was given a lesson on climbing up and down, raising and lowering my gear with a rope, and getting situated as quietly as possible. Next, I practiced shooting to various points in the field so I would understand the range of my crossbow, and how to best get into position to take a shot when the deer was in range. Also, DJ mowed nice circles in the field so I would know the yardage, what a guy!
We also reviewed trail camera pictures to see what time the deer were around the stand and learn their patterns. We have several cameras around our property, so we checked all the cameras several times each week in order to figure out when the bucks started chasing the does. No sense sitting out when the big boys aren’t even in the area.
I don’t know exactly how many mornings and afternoons I sat in one of our many stands. What I did learn is that the bucks usually didn’t come into the field until after dark and it is not legal to shoot. The squirrels were busy all hours. Turkey season opened halfway through archery deer season, but those birds must have a calendar because after the first day, I never saw or heard a turkey.
We have another ladder stand in a pine section of the woods, and when DJ wasn’t sitting there, I would use it. The deer tended to pass through that part of the woods any time of day, but only went into the field early morning or late afternoon and after dark. Again, the squirrels (at least 2 dozen of them, no exaggeration!) tended to be out all day.
One morning after DJ had gone to work, I slipped out to the pine stand. It was around 8 in the morning when I left the house for the 15 minute sneak into the woods. I was just catching my breath and getting comfortable when I spotted movement about 60 yards away. I slowly brought my crossbow around and discovered a nice 6 point walking directly toward me in the stand.
He was still well out of range, but slowly, ever so slowly crept closer. Occasionally, he stopped and seemed to look up at me, but kept coming, apparently I was invisible. Finally, he was within my outer range, but still walking straight for me so I couldn’t take the shot. He closed the distance to about 12 or 15 yards and I had to re-position myself to get him lined up in my sights, but he was still head on.
At last, he turned and gave me a broadside. By this time, my heart was pounding and I took several slow breaths to calm myself. I pulled the trigger and let my arrow fly, and…I missed! I watched helplessly as he ran and bounced into the next county. I was fairly certain I missed cleanly, and was relieved when I recovered my arrow and found no hair or blood. I was back in the house less than an hour after I left.
Thursday, the 12th was a rainy and windy day. I decided to stay in bed, but DJ went out before daylight. He was back at 8 but he did not look happy. He told me he hit a nice buck, but the arrow had broken off instead of going clean through. He saw it run down one hill and up the other until it was out of his line of sight. Having a wounded deer is bad enough, but it was raining, and any possibility of following a blood trail to recover the deer had washed away. DJ called his dad, and the 3 of us set off to find the deer.
We knew the general direction the deer ran, but without any sign of blood, we had to go slowly. Best case scenario, the deer laid down and died, which sometimes can take more than an hour. The worst thing one can do is startle the deer forcing it to get up and run. Our caution paid off and DJ was able to recover his nice 9 point within about an hour of searching.
Saturday morning was the final day of archery season. This time, DJ slept in and I headed out to the woods before daylight. I went into the pine stand again, figuring I had as good a chance there as any other place.
About a half hour after daybreak, I heard something coming. I searched desperately for the source. Just out of my range, I saw a buck heading in my direction. I desperately tried to count the points to see if he was legal, but his movement was too jerky to be certain. As he came into range and turned, I could see he was the Piebald deer we had seen a few times on the cameras over the last month. DJ told me, “If you see the Piebald, he is legal, shoot him.”
Here we go again, heart racing, deep breathing, closer, closer… You see, as a novice hunter, I tend to wait for optimal conditions. My target needs to be standing still, with no obstructions. Everything has to be lined up nicely, and packaged with a bow. Once all this criteria is met, I pull the trigger. Thunk! (The sound the arrow makes leaving the crossbow.) It looks good to me, he jumps and kicks and starts running. He circles around and starts down the hill. Seconds later and out of sight, I hear the crashing sound of a deer falling. Then, the only sound I hear is my own heart thudding in my ears.
I radio DJ and he tells me to sit tight. Half hour later, I’m wondering if he fell in a hole on the way up. It’s less than a 10 minute walk when you don’t have to sneak in. He finally arrives and I climb down from the stand. We locate the arrow, which has hair and blood. A good sign, except we don’t see blood anywhere else. Since I knew in what direction the buck ran, we head off to search. Still, no blood. About 120 yards from where he started, I spot his white body laying on the ground. We stopped about 20 yards away to watch for a few minutes to make sure he didn’t get up and run again.
Finally, DJ gives me the all clear and we go in to take a look. My first buck! On the last day of the season, with the crossbow. And it is a Piebald, not very common, so it makes it even more special. Here are two pictures of him from the trail cameras in October.
He isn’t the biggest buck we’ve seen this season, but he is pretty isn’t he? And since he is a special deer, we are having the hide tanned to hang on the wall. Perhaps when that is done in 6 months or so, I’ll post pictures.