The One Lunger
The wind was slightly breezy and crisp air filled the air. The weather was that of which many bow hunters dream of. As I drove to the property, relaxing music filled the truck cab and it was a hunt that started much like the rest. Dress up in camo, drive to the woods, take a mist bath in Scent Away, load all the gear on my back, freshen up with scent away once more and take off into the woods. It’s a routine that I seem to get faster at every time I do it sometimes feeling like I’m in a race against myself.
Walking to my newest blind setup a sudden rush of anxiousness fills my gut. It’s a familiar feeling that I get when something spine-tingling is about to happen. Considering that weather, barometric pressure and a few other ingredients seem to be playing into my favor for the evening hunt, I am certain that the feeling is appropriate in this situation. I walk slowly as the leaves crunch beneath my semi camouflaged insulated Muck boots, each step bringing me closer to the evening’s destination. As I approach a newly set up Ameristep ground blind, I examine the week-old brush in job with that of an eagle-eye. I critique my work and wonder if the cloak of tall weeds and leaves will mask my bag of bones from the sly whitetails keen vision. I gently unzip the door and creep inside, tucking myself away for the next several hours.
Sometimes the deer woods can seem lifeless. As minutes pass, the wind begins to pick up and animals seem completely nonexistent. It’s been hours since I have seen birds, or a squirrel and I begin to think that my gut feeling was wrong. I decide to stick it out and begin reading a book on my phone that I had started many months ago. Every few minutes is like opening presents on Christmas morning as a kid, scanning the field for movement not knowing what this round will bring. The exercise keeps my head from mental fatigue and breaks up the monotony of a slow evening hunt on a cut soybean field located somewhere in Southern Indiana.
Its like winning the lottery when the deer you’ve been watching for the past six months shows up and starts wandering your way. I slowly grab my bow making sure I am completely silent in my movements. My heart begins to race, and euphoria sets in as adrenaline fills my body. I stare at the buck while he makes his way around the corner, slipping out of sight and possibly out of my life forever as he veers towards the neighbor’s property. A feeling of excitement and disappointment surrounds me.
After all that excitement who couldn’t have their head back the game? I put my book away and begin continually scanning the field edges for movement. As the sun sets and the light slowly fades, I meticulously look down at my watch observing as every minute leads to last shooting light. Suddenly something catches my eye in the far corner causing me to quickly pick up my binoculars and begin glassing. I remember thinking to myself “That sure is a weird way for that deer to circle back around” not knowing at the time it was a completely different buck. As the deer approaches, I observe his antlers and recall capturing pictures on my game camera of him during the summer months.
Minutes pass and the buck starts making his way toward my blind. As the distance closes, I begin to notice that something isn’t quite right with the young buck. He’s moving slowly and limping so badly that I’m shocked he’s up and moving around. My heart once again begins to race, and I know that I must make a decision quickly. I grab my bow and set up for a shot as I prepare to do what I know is ethically right. Stepping into twenty-three yards, I release my carbon arrow and make the perfect double lung shot that all bow hunters dream of. I watch as the deer races across the field and disappears into the woods knowing that he didn’t go far. At least that’s what I thought.
It is common practice for bowhunters to wait no less than thirty minutes before trailing a deer that is thought to be hit in the vitals. Seconds seem like minutes as I force myself to wait out the clock. As the light begins to fade, I notice a green light glowing at the edge of the woods where the deer had entered. Seeing this told me that I did not get a complete pass through which can often lead to a lengthy blood trail that tends to fade out over time. I try to stay positive.
After the thirty minutes is up, I gather all my gear and begin making my way towards the glowing green knock laying in the semi flooded bean field. The arrow is covered in blood and shows air bubbles on the fletching, indicating that I certainly made lung shot. In my experience it’s rare to have bubbles on the fletching and not get a complete pass though so I begin to think that my blood trail might be stronger than I initially thought. I start following a heavy blood trail which slowly fades away by the time I reach the wood line. Something just isn’t quite right.
In my hunting bag, I always carry a cheap pack of glow sticks. For situations like this, I like to mark the blood trail every so many feet so that I can stay on track and not wonder off into oblivion. After following the blood trail about twenty yards into the woods, it is apparent that it’s going to be a very long evening of tracking. The unknown concerns me. The shot looked perfect but the pin drops of blood on the cracked and crumbly leaves say otherwise. I begin to mark the blood trail as I crawl through the woods on my hands and knees with a blood light. Its comparable to searching for a black cat in a coal cellar.
After a few hours of crawling around and about a dozen glow sticks placed throughout the woods, there is no question that I’m not making much progress. As I look down the trail, I can see blue, pink, and green glow sticks illuminating the path that I had marked. Thirty yards of blood trail after looking for three hours is not a good sign and I know that I’m not going to find this buck. I begin to feel sick to my stomach as I wonder if I made the situation worse by shooting the already wounded deer. I decide giving up is not an option yet as I set off walking down the closest deer trail near where I found the last drop of blood. It was comparable to that of someone who pricked their finger with a needle and then let one single drop fall on a leaf that was rained on the night before. It was bad and I was hopeless.
The trail didn’t last long before it faded into thick brush that was impossible to navigate though. I was running out of options and it was now ten at night. I decided to make my way back to the last spot I had found blood and give it one more shot before calling off the search. Making my way back to the last precisely placed glow stick, I stumble across a significant amount of blood, more than I had seen during the whole blood track. I mark the spot and begin searching for the next spot of blood. After a few minutes of searching I find another pin drop again marking the spot as I go. After about thirty minutes of marking and searching, the blood trail runs cold. I knew I had lost the deer. I turn on my extremely bright headlamp and give the woods one good scan, something I would normally never do.
As I begin to scan the darkened woods, I notice a set of eyes blinking in the brush less than twenty yards away. As my eyes begin to adjust, I realize that I am looking at the buck that I had shot hours ago! Blood drips out of his side as he lays there looking confused and dazed. I grab my bow and nock an arrow as I slowly approach from the side. I stand fifteen yards from the wounded animal struggling to get my pins lined up on his chest cavity. I turn off my light and prepare to release an arrow, hesitating at the last second and deciding not to shoot.
It’s so dark that I can’t see my hand in front of my face without a light, but the light is so bright that I can’t shoot with it on. I know I have to do the legal and ethical thing and harvest the deer, but I can’t seem to figure out a method of doing so. I turn my light on to reassess the situation which startles the deer and causes him to jump to all fours and begin charging me.
The buck lunges towards me and with a distance of about ten yards between us he darts off to my left. I hear a loud rustling sound for a moment and then complete silence. I begin to believe that he’s finally bled out. I quickly turn off my light and decide to wait a few more minutes making sure I give him as much time as possible to expire. I’m still reluctant to turn on my light and walk towards the area that I know he’s lying in, but I strategize a new plan and proceed.
As I make my way towards the buck again, it’s apparent that he’s still alive. I know that I must get it right this time, because it will likely be my last chance. I decide to approach the deer from the back side with a light, aim my bow, flick the light off quickly and release my arrow. I approach slowly and proceed with my plan.
At the moment of the arrow release a feeling of doubt fills my head. How could I possibly hit this wounded animal with no light? I hear the buck roll around in the leaves and again complete silence. I wait what seemed to be hours but only minutes and decide once more to turn on my light. I somehow managed to get a complete pass though double lung shot causing the deer to expire. I was relieved it was all over.
Harvesting an animal is generally the easy part of hunting and the real work starts after the animal is down. Over the course of the next hour, I dragged my buck through brush, thorn thickets, downed logs and finally across an open field. Throughout this hour, I fell many times, debated quitting hunting, and wondered why I put myself though some of the misery that all hunters know is part of the adventure.
Upon arriving at the truck, I knew it was time to solve the mystery once and for all. I quickly gutted the animal, sacked up the heart for the freezer and loaded him into the truck. Next, I proceeded to inspect the rest of the gut pile to figure out what exactly went wrong. After a little detective work, I found what I suspected the second I had seen air bubbles on the fletching combined with pin drops of blood. A wound that would certainly lead to the death of the animal over the course of the next several hours if not days. A one lung hit deer.
To this day I’m not sure if I misjudged my yardage or if I pulled the shot at the moment I released the arrow. A one lung deer can run a long way and it’s well known that many hunters never find deer hit in this manner. After it’s all said and done, I’m glad I decided to take this buck as I feel he was so badly injured that he wouldn’t have made it through the winter. I wish things would have went a little more smoothly in the harvest but I’m glad that I stuck with it and overcame the obstacles that were thrown at me. Hunting isn’t always pretty and a lot of times you have to deal with difficult situations as they arise, but if you tough it out and stick with a plan, it will often pay off in the end. It sure did for me.
It was a whitetail hunt that I will never forget.