It’s a rare September morning when you can see your breath, so this morning was rare. The water particles in each exhale spun out in vortices charged red by my headlamp and canvassed by a black predawn forest. It was the morning of the archery deer season opener in Missouri.
Last night, I’m sure Beth had to exercise some grace as I kept repeating, “I can’t believe deer season is almost here.” By now, she’s pretty good about stuff like that.
But it was true. I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that the thing I had been preparing and waiting for since January 16 was finally coming. I felt like a kid again waiting for my best friend to come over to go fishing. Pure anticipation.
I didn’t have to wait long to have contact with deer. On my way up a side ridge, two sets of round reflective eyes bobbed and blinked just beyond the reach of my headlamp’s beam. A doe and fawn, unable to scent check me but able to sense a disturbance in the forest (Star Wars, hah) waited until I got within 15 yards before silently bounding off.
By the time I settled into my stand, the sky had become light enough to profile the canopy of oaks blanketing my southern facing slope. Perfect. Any noise I’d made coming in would long be forgotten by the time daylight lifted the curtain on deer season.
Once the woods awoke, I was reminded how we’re in no danger of squirrels going extinct. I stopped counting at 30. Greys and fox squirrels skittered across leaves and along downed tree trunks, swapping their diligent winter prep with games of tag. Three raccoons materialized from a snag of dead trees and a fawn picked its way around my tree. God help me if I ever grow weary of being in the woods.
Then, as has happened countless times before, a larger, darker, methodical movement up the slope caught my eye. A deer’s head and neck bent low to browse in the dead leaves. There was no sound as the rest of its body moved out from behind a tree. Ears flicking, it reached back to relieve an itch, then folded its legs to bed down 55 yards away from me.
I spent the next hour continuing to scan the ridge side and checking back in on that bedded doe. At the end of that hour, she stood and began ambling towards the trail that would lead her directly in front of me. I stood slowly, reached for the bow and trained my Garmin Virb on the section of trail I expected to shoot her on…but she had another idea.
She must have picked up my scent from the path I took into the stand. Whatever it was, she stopped and began to circle to the downhill side of me. There was a small void of branches where she halted, allowing me to come to full draw. This was happening! The first day of deer season and I had a sight pin on a doe! As the arrow left the bow, a portion of the slack wire from the one earbud I had in my left ear got caught by the bowstring and ripped out. I’m guessing it came out somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 feet per second. It’s an effective albeit unnerving way to remove an earphone .
My best guess is my eyes were closed from wincing when the arrow hit, because I didn’t know where I hit her, just that I heard the arrow make contact. I waited forty minutes, then went down to check my arrow. Immediately I found this.
The blood trail was strong. Spurts and heavy drops linked to form a clear directional trail. The only problem was it soon became a longer trail into increasingly rough terrain. I guess if someone was trying to kill me, I’d make them work for it too.
150 anxious yards into the trail, a doe exploded out of a snarl of downed limbs and ran away, white tail flagging. My gut sank. Unless that was some other doe that happened to be in the area, I just bumped my deer…a big no-no in deer recovery. Mortally wounded deer can run a considerable distance when scared and in the past, when I’ve bumped deer, even with good blood like this one; I didn’t find them.
Thankfully the weather was comfortable with a southern breeze and sunlight dappling the forest floor, I figured I’d stop right there to keep pressure off the deer and have something to eat. It was my first lunch on a blood trail. Literally. I was laying on spatters, but if felt so good to stretch out that I didn’t care (nor did I care about the ticks I was simultaneously feeding).
Like this post, the blood trail continued on way longer than I preferred. Soon though, the blood started pointing downhill toward the intermittent creek. That was a good sign.
Ultimately, the deer expired in a smaller runoff near the main drainage for the valley. The temperature of her internals led me to believe she died shortly after I spooked her. The flies covering her reaffirmed that notion and also reminded me it was still September 15th which is still officially not fall and that my work was only beginning.
Want to see how this opener was a drag? Watch the rest of the story in the video below!