Not Finding Big Whitetail Buck Enough to Make Me Sick

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I have to get this story over with. I never dislike writing, however, I dislike thinking about the 11-point whitetail deer I shot late last Thursday evening and never recovered, at least not yet.

At least I think it was an 11-point. The previous Sunday I’d been out sitting in a platform stand at GRIT Editor Hank Will’s house, a windy day for that platform stand, when just before the sun went down I heard footsteps coming out of the forest behind me on my right side.

Hiding my face, I turned and eyed a 6-pointer lazily grazing towards my tree. I’d just made up my mind to take him and was thinking about how to get a shot, when he lowered his head and started making a scrape in the earth to lay scent. That noise triggered another noise, slow, deliberate footsteps coming out of the timber. When a large buck caught my eye, I buried my face, tried to turn and prayed for enough daylight.

Once the larger, older, 11-point buck got to about 20 yards, he met the younger buck. They postured for about 3 seconds, and the smaller buck slowly backed off and headed to the timber, no doubt sure about whose area he was on.

If I’d have been a lefty, I’d have had a shot, but by the time the big buck made his own scrape and grazed his way behind me, now swinging to my left, there was not enough light left to see his vitals. I sat back and waited for the deer to leave before crawling out of my stand. It took about an hour, as more does and, judging by sound and the faint white of antlers I could make out, the 6-point came back near my stand. It was an awesome display of wildlife, and I was very thankful to get to observe it. Once it was clear, I stood, gathered my things and climbed down, completely psyched that this place was crawling with deer. It was a great hunt.

Which brings me to Thursday. I’d just finished “Nature’s Hidden Language” (a signs-of-wildlife article for the January/February issue of GRIT) and was headed back out to the woods at about 3:30 in the evening. Once in stand, I had one of those “Nowhere I’d rather be moments” and began glassing the land with my binoculars.

At about 4:30 (sun goes down around 6 now here in Kansas), a single fawn made its way from the timber behind me and walked right under me, emerging in the clearing out in front of where I sit (and most times stand).

Once out in the open, I saw a large doe (presumably the fawn’s mother) jump a fence and head towards it. They had probably 5 seconds alone together when the big buck – I think that same 11-point – jumped over the same fence and headed in towards the doe and fawn, trying to shoo away the fawn. After doing so he took to the trail that heads under my stand, grazing at a pace that seemed rather careless. At 10 yards and heading away, I drew back, praying that the arrow flew true and the deer would die quickly.

At about 20 yards, I steadied on the vitals, the deer was quartered away – a dream shot for a bowhunter – and released the arrow. It thumped him, halfway (up-to-down) on his body and a good three to four inches behind the shoulder, right in the bread basket (it would go forward once inside because of the angle) and, to this day, I still think a good shot.

I’ve never felt a better feeling, a great deer, good shot, now I just had to wait and go get him. After climbing down 30 minutes later and inspecting the impact site, I dialed my brother and other friends and began walking for the truck. “Let him stay the night” seemed to be the consensus, so after talking to Hank I headed home. The reason for not going after him right away was to avoid jumping him up and making him run for miles on adrenaline out of panic. I hoped he’d just go bed down and die a quick death.

At 6 the next morning on not much sleep, at daylight here, I was back out at the site, seeing no arrow but good blood. I’d seen the buck run off with the arrow still lodged, so I figured he would internally bleed until the hemorrhaging from the lung wound would end his life.

Good blood, no deer. I trailed it as far as I could, about 125 yards from impact, and lost blood. Hank has about 125 acres at his place, and I walked each and every one that I could that day, and then looked on some of the neighboring property.

My brother and one of his buddies from back home, both knowing what I was going through, brought up a hunting dog to cover the 60 acres of 6-feet-tall CRP on Hank’s land. They drove 4 hours, roundtrip, to help me recover this deer, which tells you how much they knew this deer meant to me and what awesome friends they are.

I searched Friday sunup to sundown, and never found my buck. Hank said he heard two gun shots at 3 a.m. My only explanation is that he never died or was poached.

And that’s the worst part about the sport I love so much; that’s bowhunting. But that doesn’t make it any easier. I may yet shoot a big buck this season, but I sure did love that buck. I’d seen him a total of three times, each time closer, and in the back of my mind I hope to see him again. I’m still sick over that deer. It sounds awfully romantic, but no creature on God’s green earth loved that deer as much as I did.

I hunted again Saturday morning, which helped, but I’m eager to get back in that same stand, with that same set of woods around me, sort of my way of getting back in the saddle.

On a positive note, my brother who I mentioned earlier – one of my best friends and one of the people who drove four hours for me and my deer – made me feel proud and altogether happy about bowhunting last night when he shot this tall 8-point, which green-scored 132.

Photo second from top: MacQueen – This is not the deer I saw or shot, it’s just to give you an idea.

Bottom photo: courtesy Josh Regan, taken by Adam LaRoche

Caleb Reganand his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on Google+.