Thinking it Through
Optimism and rational thought can go a long way in a bad situation. It’s easy to forget this when the evidence suggests things are not going to end well. During the weekend of October 6th this point was made very clear when I shot a deer under less than ideal conditions.
It was an overcast morning with a significant chance of rain predicted but when I got to my stand the rain had not started. I sat for about two hours before seeing a deer. It was large doe and shortly after her appearance 20 yards from my stand a pair of fawns walked up behind her. As I moved to stand up a second large doe walked in from the same direction. At this point all four deer where between 10 and 20 yards away, none giving any indication that it saw me. I waited for one of the does to walk behind a tree before coming to full draw. She walked out from behind the tree and I shot. I could see a distinct mark on the deer where the arrow hit. It was a bit further back than I had intended but not bad enough to suspect a gut shot. I watched the deer race straight away from my stand for approximately 60 yards before turning to my right, heading South and covering about 100 yards before I lost sight of her. I could hear her crashing through the brush and following a slight ridge, coming back toward me. The deer ran past my stand, roughly 75 yards away and continued behind my stand before stopping. At this point the other deer had run off, with some now in the same area as the deer I had shot. Then they all moved down hill away from the stand into a low, swampy area that has never given up a wounded deer. As far as I knew at that moment the deer I shot had made a run like an upside down J before I lost track of her, with the end of the J’s hook being the location of my stand. I lowered my bow, got my gear packed up and climbed down. The arrow was stuck in the ground and covered with blood. I resisted the urge to go to the last spot I saw my deer and started on the blood trail instead. I had covered a modest 7 or 8 yards when the first rain drops hit the ground. It quickly picked up the pace until a steady, mild rain was washing the ground. The blood trail was not heavy to begin with. I raced from blood spot to blood spot as fast as I could manage knowing the rain could very well wash away the blood before I found my deer.
After about 30 minutes of looking I had only covered fifty yards and the blood trail ended. There were a few smears on a golden rod leaf in a small patch of undergrowth. The last blood spot happened to be right at the junction of several game trails, all of which had been recently used. I marked the spot with a blaze on a sapling and started searching the trail that led to the South. It had been raining for almost an hour at this point and I had no expectations of finding blood. I headed for the last place I saw my deer. When I got there I cleared the leaf litter off a large square piece of ground to use as a reference point and began searching in a grid pattern. I kept my eyes peeled for anything that looked like it might be a dead deer or any piece of cover where a wounded deer might hide. I worked my way downhill until I got to the swamp.
The swamp was never all that wet, but it was too wet to allow trees to take root. Vegetation was of two principle types: thigh-high grasses and dense shrubs or bushes that were about six feet tall with thick, woody limbs. These bushes grew so close together as to be impassible without something to cut them down. Over the years I have helped track several deer into that swamp and we have never recovered any of them. But that was where it looked like my deer had gone so that was where I was going to look. I left my bow and pack out in the open and headed in. I spent about an hour trying to make some headway but called it quits after barely making a dent. It was just too thick for one person to have much luck. As I was fumbling around in the swamp I mulled over what I knew about the situation and it occurred to me that I did not know for a fact that the deer I saw running through the woods was my deer. I watched my deer run away from the stand and turn, but then I lost sight of it before picking up a deer running back toward the stand. Wasn’t it entirely possible that that deer was a different one that got spooked by my deer running through?
I went back to the last blood spot to make another search. Although I was loosing hope of finding my deer I knew I had not exhausted all the possibilities. I walked a zigzag pattern up the hill from the swamp toward the blood trail. My eyes were on the ground looking for evidence of a wounded deer with only an occasional glance upward to help keep my bearings. I was some surprised when I saw a deer on the ground 10 feet away. Apparently I was right to question whether or not my deer had run the course I initially thought. My deer hadjumped another deer which I saw running through the brush. Mydeer went the exact opposite direction. Had I not lost the blood trail it would have only been a matter of minutes before found her.
I didn’t have a lot of time to relax and congratulate myself. The temperature was only in the low sixties and this deer had been sitting for at least two hours. I had at least a mile drag ahead of me with a significant uphill component. As I got to work all I could think was how glad I was that I had thought to search the end of the blood trail again.