Whether it’s your first or your 82nd, there’s something special about taking a deer with a bow.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 8, I couldn’t wait to take my climber to a location I had scouted two weeks before opening day of the Virginia archery season.
There were two scrapes under a couple of broken branches on an old logging trail. I had hunted there before and knew the area well. I just needed the right wind direction.
I had invited my 17-year-old nephew, Craig, to join me on the hunt. Fortunately for this high school senior, he gets out of school at 2 in the afternoon. Craig is a very experienced hunter — an absolute killing machine. He placed third in the Virginia Deer Classic youth division a few years back with a massive 9-pointer that got too close to his 12 gauge. But he had never take a deer with a bow.
Craig decided to climb a hickory tree near a deer trail that looked more like a hog troff. The deer pattern had changed dramatically when acorns began to drop, and had Craig not been with me I probably would have hunted from that tree.
I continued on another 75 yards or so and came across a new scrape and a super fresh rub. I could actually smell the buck when I walked by, and the bark shreds were still prominent on the ground below the tree.
The fresh sign made choosing a stand site easy, and although I was pretty close to Craig, we had a perfect, steady wind. Also, our entry had been near silent thanks to our previous efforts to rake out a clear walking path. We had also timed our walk in to coincide with the rumble of a distant train.
I was hunting a 150-yard-wide funnel that was bordered by a sloping hillside above a swamp. There was a terrific stand of white oaks to the east. I had thrown out some seed oats a few weeks before, and those the turkeys hadn’t gobbled up had taken root nicely.
Craig and I were settled by 4:15, and it was only about an hour later when I heard the familiar sound of an arrow being released, along with the reassuring thump like that of a hard kick on an under-filled ball.
Craig texted me that he had shot a big doe. She had been at just 20 yards, and he felt good about the shot. I congratulated him on his first bow deer and told him we should wait at least a half hour before getting down to check.
Even if Craig shooting didn’t tip me off that deer were on the move, I learned a long time ago to always be ready to make a shot when bowhunting. I don’t hang my bow from a hook, and it’s always in a position where I can raise it and shoot quickly with little movement.
Such precautions are even more necessary when you’ve shot guns for 45 years and your hearing isn’t what it used to be. Between my impaired hearing and the fact he approached on a cleared lane on a logging trail, I never heard the buck until he was right on top of me.
He walked in, head down, grazing on oats and acorns, and was at 12 yards before I could even blink.
I couldn’t stand up with the buck so close, so I quickly attached my release to the string loop and drew my bow.
Not only did he not see me, the deer also turned slightly and kindly opened up an even better shot at his vitals. When I released, I saw the arrow slice through brown hide. The buck jumped and then calmly walked away. He stopped at about 30 yards, looked around as if wondering where the sound had come from, and then continued on toward his bedding area.
It’s natural to replay a shot in your mind, especially when a deer acts like it isn’t even hit. Of course I started to second-guess myself.
With (hopefully) two deer hit, I instructed Craig to wait an additional hour before getting down. When the time was up, I remained in my stand and directed him to the location of my shot.
Craig found my arrow right away, and it was covered in bright red blood. I next directed him to where the buck had paused at 30 yards, and the young man gave me a big grin and a double thumbs-up signal.
He waited there for me to join him, and we took up the ample blood trail. When the blood stopped suddenly after another 10 yards, we paused to look for sign, and that’s when Craig said, “There he is!”
The buck made it just another 50 yards before dropping in his tracks, his head still in an upright position supported by a tree.
While it was my 82nd bow kill, it was by far one of my most memorable. The 5.5-year-old bruiser had a 23.5-inch spread, along with 10-inch P2s and 24-inch beams.
Sharing that moment with Craig, who recorded his first bow kill on the same hunt, made it even that much more special.