Having hunted for the last 12 years in Washington where I went as long as 4 years without getting a deer (and this even when I lived and worked in the woods as a forester), the idea that I could sit in one spot and expect one to walk within 50 yards seems almost laughable. For instance, during last year's season in Washington, I hunted in the foothills above Bellingham, covered over 20 miles in a day (okay -- I didn't plan to go quite that far, but became navigationally challenged) and didn't see so much as a single doe. Hunting in Michigan is different.
This morning was opening day of bow season, so I figured I'd go out and sit in my new treestand and stare at the trees and birds for an hour or two before I had to start work this morning, which is all that would happen if I tried this back in Washington.
About 10 minutes after sunrise, a doe came down the trail I had come in on. She paused about 20 yards away, pretending to eat some leaves while keeping her eyes and ears focused on me, then popping her head up to see if I had moved. She knew something was up, and finally turned around and left.
Another 20 minutes after she left, I heard the sound of a horse. Not sure what you'd call it, but it's the sound a horse makes when they exhale and let their lips flap. Maybe the neighbors were out riding horses, I thought. I turned my head to see three bucks making their way through the woods past me, about 50 yards away (about the maximum effective range of a bow). The first was at least an 8 point, and the two behind him both appeared to be 6 pointers.
I drew my bow on the leader, just as he disapppeared behind some trees. Then buck #2 came into clear sight, so I let the arrow fly, and the deer bolted. It was a long shot, and chances are that I misjudged the distance (arrows have a very curved trajectory compared to a bullet, so guessing the distance wrong by 5 yards is enough to send your arrow into the bushes rather than the intended target). I waited a bit, as you're supposed to do to keep a wounded deer from running rather than bedding down nearby as they grow tired.
Finally I climbed down to see where my arrow ended up. Sitting in the bushes, there it was. It had pink frothy blood on it, indicating that it had passed through the lungs. That's a good sign -- it means the arrow hit the "kill zone", and that the deer won't go far. Now to just find the blood trail...
I could clearly see the soil churned up where the 3 bucks had run off, so started following. And following. The woods here are a latticework of deer trails, but it had just stopped raining, so the old tracks were washed out and relatively easy to tell from the new tracks. As the deer run, however, they might only leave a hoofprint every 10-15 feet, so it's not always easy to know if they've turned on a side trail until you follow it.
I followed the trail as far as I could -- about 1/8th of a mile, where I could no longer find any fresh tracks. Not once did I see a drop of blood, which seemed odd for a lung shot, and made me think that the wounded deer had given me the slip on a side trail somewhere.
I headed back to the house (saw two big turkeys on the way), letting Rachel know about my adventures, and picked up our dog Memphis. She's old and deaf, but she loves deer and still has a good sniffer. In her younger days, she would go nuts seeing one outside our camper, and would chase them through the woods as fast as she could go, letting out yelps of frustration as they easily outran her through the brush.
Memphis and I headed back to the scene of the crime, travelling through a brushy area that I thought the deer may have gone through (but to which I saw no tracks). It wasn't long before
she became "occupied" and stopped following me. I turned around to follow her, and came accross a very well marked blood trail. Memphis had wandered down to the pond, and there, floating about 20 feet out, was a big furry deer back.
I'm not sure why he would've chosen to run into the water. Maybe it makes a good hiding spot (we spooked a fawn hiding in this pond last summer). I've heard of other deer doing the same thing, but never thought it might be a pattern until now. I couldn't see the rack though, until I waded out to pick him up. I phoned Rachel to let her know the good news, and decided to just pull the deer through the water over to where we could load him into the pickup. She met me just as I reached the end of the pond, where she snapped the two photos you'll see in the link for 10/1/08.