I invite you inside my world for a short SIX SECOND ride with me and the buck of my 55 year hunting life.
My tree stand was 24' up that tree. This pic from last year after leaves fell.
The shot was made about where the deer on right was. The picture was taken from the stand.
SECOND # ONE. “The first time ever I saw your face.” (Song by Roberta Flack.)
We had hundreds of game cam pics of him but this was the FIRST TIME I HAD EVER SEEN HIM IN THE FLESH. My first time on this lease was last year and even though I had 8 cameras and feeders running and I hunted a lot, he was never seen last year. This year about 6 weeks before bow season he started becoming a regular at this feeder. He would sometimes visit the two adjoining feeders about a half mile away(close for us) but he was at this feeder ¾ of the days for 6 weeks leading up to today. Immediately upon seeing him I THOUGHT it was him. If it was, he was definitely the one I was after this year. I was 24’ up in a huge tree overlooking a feeder at 28 yards. Thank goodness I had put this stand up last year in an attempt to get the biggest buck on the lease, but this guy was much bigger(scorewise). The feeder went off at 720 and two does came in by 725. I was facing South and the wind was 4mph from the ESE and it was a nice 49 degrees for Oct 5th. Skies had been clear for days and a full moon had been coming up close to dark and down close to daylight and before today the winds had been mostly kinda NE. It would only get up to 68 today and they had finally finished planting the adjacent wheat field and I had my lunch and was ready to hunt till dark. My approach had been unconventional as I had come from the SW across the open field in the moonlight and came down the treeline from the North to the tree. At SIX SECONDS before 730 he had come out from behind me where I couldn’t see at about 7 on a clock and was angling SW towards about 2 o’clock. When I saw him out of my lower left peripheral vision he was about 10 yards away and I had never really seen a buck from that looking down angle before.
SECOND # TWO. “Hello, is it ‘you’ Im looking for?” (To paraphrase the Lionel Richie song.)
In the instant of that first second that I saw him I thought IT WAS HIM I WAS LOOKING FOR but I had to QUICKLY make sure cause im not wasting time putting this guy down. This would be my first attempt at any type bow kill and I knew enough to know that anything can go wrong at bow range. During this SECOND second I quickly confirmed that it was him and immediately the decision to try and kill him was made. I didn’t have to study him much to confirm it was him. From game cams we knew he had 19 points but it took many many different angles to see all the points. One came off his left brow at the base on the inside and kind of wrapped around and went straight back about 4” total and could almost never be seen. Most of the other NT points came off the inside of his beam and he had a big split off his right G2. His basic typical frame was a 6x6 that we thought would score high 150s and then another seven NT points we thought would add another 22 to 28 inches. We studied pics a lot and thought he would score 175 to 190 and 180 was our best guess. He didn’t have a real big frame with a narrow spread and not real tall but he would score well, having that many points. Thankfully his tines splayed out some to give his frame a bigger look that his score wouldn’t show but it deserved. Considering his rack it would seem a slam dunk that he was real mature but that’s always a tough call and he was way bigger than anyone on the lease had ever killed so he was deemed to be “old enough.”
SECOND # THREE. “Let’s get it on.” (Song by Marvin Gaye.)
Im a big believer that once the decision to kill has been made you should GET IT ON. Remembering that slow is smooth and smooth is fast(a quote by FiremanJG and other more famous gunfighters before him.) I made an exception to that rule on my biggest buck ever in 2012 when I stalked him a half mile and when I re spotted him at 175 yards he was bedded. I sat down with my shooting sticks and before I shot him I took a picture of him. Im glad I have that pic but if I had it to do over again Im not sure I would of chanced the extra time.
“You don’t have time to think up there, if you think, you’re dead.” (Quote by Maverick in Top Gun.)
Sometimes if you move TOO fast you will create problems but when you are experienced in something you can do many things in a short period of time and your best chance is for INSTINCTS TO TAKE OVER. This is especially true of highly trained athletes and others where time seems to slow down. Time must of slowed down for me cause a lot happens in this SECOND # THREE. As I confirmed it was indeed HIM, I was already starting to reach for my crossbow(Mission Sub 1-XR). Preparation had the bow already placed on the rest with a makeshift rear rest(monopod off my camera tripod) as well so its resting place was close to a likely shooting position. The stand I had designed and had made similar to any basic lock on stand. I really like rifle hunting out of a South Texas tripod so I designed the stand to accommodate their seat which has a shooting rest, roof and backdrop. As I slowly move the bow into shooting position many micro fast thoughts are firing through my brain. Ive gone through the preparation to shoot with a rifle so many times that its automatic BUT this was my first bow kill attempt. However, im rarely short on preparation so ive VISUALIZED multiple scenarios and practiced the prep and shoot(fake) sequence on does and other bucks many times. I had wondered if it was enough to be prepared and I wasn’t overly confident. Lots can go wrong between the decision to shoot and the actual shot, even with an experienced rifle hunter, but a raw rookie crossbow hunter with the buck of my lifetime at 15 yards and with other deer close, the possible missteps were as numerous as they were varied.
[[to illustrate Murphys Law… On opening morning I had tried to video with my left hand and shoot with my right a hog to run him off and the limbs opening from the shot hit and ruined my expensive camera(Nikon P1000). There was another mishap narrowly avoided this vary morning just 10 minutes before this buck walked in. As the distracting noise from feeder going off at 720 I sat up straight in my chair and repositioned my feet, as I had practiced, so I could sit higher for a steep angled shot. As I did that I bumped my head against the canvas roof and my quiver I had stashed ‘out of the way’ (yeah sure) in the roof fell towards the ground with the inevitable clinky clanky noise. However, quick reflexes and probably some luck allowed me to catch it in midair. STUFF HAPPENS!! Thank goodness I had just switched out the noisy cushion for folded carpet cause it was quieter and got me higher]]
Anyway, back to SECOND # THREE of my encounter. As I grabbed the bow I was simultaneously releasing the safety and making a slight turn to the unexpectedly closer and further right side shot that was quickly approaching. During this third second Im automatically deciding HOW SOON to shoot.
“Whole lotta shakin goin on.” (song by Jerry Lee Lewis.)
[[another side track, 50 years ago in Big G’s in Round Rock, after the Georgetown rodeo, I saw Jerry Lee play that song and watched a real beauty dance in her all pink cowgirl outfit. Cause of my drunken state, what I didn’t see was her boyfriend walk over and punch me completely out.}}
For those of you scoring at home, we are still just into SECOND # THREE. Even though I already stopped looking at his horns I still knew the enormity of what was likely a scant few seconds away so I sensed the first shimmers of what I hadn’t felt in a long time and its called BUCK FEVER(not to be confused with Cat Scratch Fever by Ted Nugent whom I saw perform it at the first TPWD Wildlife Appreciation Day back when our Governor was named Ann.) The possibility of worse buck fever, along with other wary deer at close range and knowing full well that anything can go wrong in any split second, I made the decision to shoot AS SOON as I had a real good shot.
SECOND # FOUR. “Fill your hands, you SOB.” (John Wayne in True Grit.)
I finished settling in for the shot (MY HANDS WERE FILLED.) If I went through the sequence like I visualized and practiced it would have been…safety off, decide aiming point based on body position and distance and angle, insure limbs able to open unobstructed, insure limbs level using mounted bubble level, acquire target, recheck level, start breathing, reacquire target, insure deer presenting proper body for shot placement, if not then wait and repeat sequence as needed.
SECOND # FIVE. “Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself.” (Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.)
Being my first bow kill attempt and the size of this buck, IN ALL THE EXCITEMENT I KIND OF LOST TRACK if I actually went through much of the pre described pre shot sequence. He was closer than expected and I had confidence in my hi end Mission xbow and the solid rest and he was so unalert that if the sights were steady and at a good spot I felt confident, regardless of the gnat nut shaving details.
During the 4 seconds it took me to get ready to shoot he had angled L to R out to about 20 to 25 yards and had stopped(thank you) to nibble at corn. He hadn’t gone right to the feeder and was actually almost out of sight cause of the huge limbs and foliage of my tree. I “think” he would of turned to the feeder but that’s why you don’t waste time cause you never know what a deer will do and I already had decided to take first good shot even if he was settled in under feeder. There he was, like Goldilocks, just right, and it may not of been now or never but I KNEW it was NOW!!
SECOND # SIX. “Ill never forget the first time I saw Virgil Cole shoot.” (Everett Hitch in Appaloosa.)
All that was left was to finish pulling the trigger since I was locked in and he was turned perfectly and I had pre considered distance and angle. The sight picture is still burned into my memory as the trigger broke(not sure I squeezed but he was close and I was steady.)
POST SHOT:::::: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” (Robert Duval in Apocalypse Now.)
Those xbows kinda THUMP WHEN THEY FIRE and I saw him kinda hunch or blast off in the direction he was pointing.
“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” (Mrs Robinson by Simon & Garfunkel.)
My tree foliage kept me from seeing his path after a couple strides, but not for lack of effort. I was bobbing my head up and down and all around trying to catch a glimpse of him in the occasional small openings in the tree(WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?). Once again my heart was thumping, this time with excitement more than nervousness. The feeder sets on the edge of an 80 acre wheat field which they had been planting each day after my 4 morning hunts. He apparently ran cutting across the SE corner of that field that was rectangular and 400 yards E to W by 800 yards N to S. Guessing at his path he would exit the field in 75 yards where the grass would get tall and thick and then in 50 yards very thick briars and thickets and trees.
“Oh Lord wont you buy me a Mercedes Benz. My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.” (Mercedes Benz by Janis Joplin.)
After a few minutes of seeing what little I could see and listening for what little I could hear, I climbed down just a few feet so that I could see under the foliage. OH LORD WONT YOU LET HIM BE LYING IN THE OPEN FIELD. Nope, not just laying out there! Nobody ever said it would be EASY.
“You better think (think).” (Think by Aretha Franklin.)
I climbed back up and THOUGHT. It’s a long story but Im not comfortable with bow hunting for Trophies cause of the concern with recovering the deer(ask tlk). Its always been a huge concern of mine and if Im going to continue bow hunting I will research all aspects of it before next season. While I considered my options, the emotions ran through me as I continued to look around through the small openings for any clues.
“Ive seen the needle and the damage done.” (The Needle and the Damage Done by Neil Young.)
“There will be Blood.” (The movie.)
I decided to get down and assess the impact spot for any DAMAGE DONE, being careful not to disturb. NO arrow(250gr 19” Mission with 100gr Rage Hypodermic mechanical.) THERE IS BLOOD. The field was very sandy and soft so I could use my binos to search for blood from where I was. I could see about three different big splotches of blood about every 7 to 10 yards. Oh, what a feeling, but hes for sure not in the open field. The blood was dark and thick and his tracks and the blood angled as I thought towards the edge of the field 75 yards away. No arrow was no surprise since he was a full quarter turn away from me and the shot should of caught him midway back and angled through the vitals and into the off side shoulder which was my aiming point. My vertical bow hunting friend had suggested if I get that shot the speed of the xbow(410 fps) will probably exit the off side shoulder, but of course, every situation is different and there are few absolutes. I scanned the field edges with my naked eye and binos but no antlers sticking up. I saw all the clues that I knew to look for and didn’t want to go further for now so I went back up the tree.
THE WAIT::::: “Wait.” (Wait by The Beetles.)
Ok, guys, what do bowhunters call the time period between the shot and the start of tracking? The bow hunting community or your group of friends HAS to have a name for this WAIT. Ive been around bow hunters and experienced this unique phenomenon and it deserves labeling. Last season on my WTx lease, 2 brothers and a best friend all bow killed their best bucks ever within a 25 hour period. I witnessed “The Wait” and it was similar to having a pink elephant in camp and no one was wanting to shoot it OR hug it. So close to victory yet so close to defeat. Its too weird to say I enjoy it, too much at stake. Everything I know about deer and weapons told me he was dead and likely relatively close, but that’s not for sure and even if dead he may be too far into thick thick cover to successfully recover.
“Help, I need somebody.” (Help! By The Beetles.)
I knew I needed to give the deer some time and not push him so I utilized my time by texting an experienced bow hunting friend for HELP. It was 758 am and 28 minutes after the shot. Describing the shot and blood, he assured me(needed that) he was dead and probably not far and to wait at least 30 minutes after the shot or an hour for good measure. My desire to close the deal far exceeded any desire to rush so I could easily wait. I texted another friend hunting the lease but a good ways away and updated him and asked him to stay away as killing a deer for me was just about me and him. As I waited I continued to glass what little I could see in his direction. Many deer had scattered and then some came outa the woods like bystanders gawking at a car wreck. One doe was looking very intently in the likely direction where he would of exited the field so that gave me some hope. Lots was going through my mind and my emotions were very mixed. The possibility of my biggest buck ever would soon be either my BIGGEST VICTORY or my WORST DEFEAT. Think World Series game 7 bottom of nine bases loaded 2 outs 3/2 count and a one run game. Agony or ecstasy, what will it be?
THE TRACK:::: “Who are those guys?” (Butch from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.)
After about an hour(830) I got down and started the track. Before starting I once again scanned ahead with my eyes and binos but no rack sticking up out of the tall grass. In the very soft sandy soil of the field his tracks were deep but lots of other deer had been around and I had walked through the area after each of my previous hunts. It was still a good tracking situation and at least for now there was good blood. I could of easily anticipated where he left the field and looked for blood and tracks there but I don’t usually do EASY. I walked slowly outside the blood trail that I could see several yards ahead.
“Houston, we have a problem.” (Tom Hanks in Apollo 13.)
After 30 to 40 yards the big splotchy blowouts of blood stopped and the fairly steady drops of blood slowed way down. WE HAVE A PROBLEM. To compound the lessening of blood, I had waited long enough that the blood started soaking into the very soft sand (cant make this stuff up) and hardly looked like blood. Im on hands and knees now and started marking each blood with flag tape. About every 2’ to 8’ I would see a little blood. Looking ahead I couldn’t see any obvious splotches. Binos didn’t help for blood ahead or for antlers in the grass.
“Say it aint so, Joe!” (Reporter to Shoeless Joe Jackson about his involvement in baseball cheating.)
After going 40 to 50 yards and the heavy grass and brush just 35 yards away I worried if the blood continued to slow there may be no way I could find blood in the thick stuff ahead! Even if I could track him without blood to the fields edge the volume of grass and then briars and thickets was daunting! For the first time my pessimism out weighed my optimism. SURELY he was dead, but could I FIND him???
“Who shot J.R?” (Marketing catchphrase to promote the ‘Dallas’ TV series.)
Some of yall are likely too young to remember this as one of the first “cliffhanger” endings to the finale of a seasons TV series. 80 million viewers tuned in 8 months later to find out who shot him. Well, I wont get that many viewers and I wont make yall wait that long but I am going to pause my story for a little intermission.
“Somebody please tell me was I right or wrong?” (A sad song by Lynyrd Skynyrd.)
As I just leave yall with this incomplete story I invite you to tell me WAS I RIGHT OR WRONG? What did I do right or wrong in preparation or execution? What about the wait? What about the track? What should I do next? Did I find the buck or did I not?