We hunted public land for both the morning and evening on day two and we shot sporting clays again during lunch. However, Alex decided to stay back this time and scout hunt back at the public during lunch instead of shooting clays. Sam and I ended up bringing lunch back for Alex, and we met at the truck for an update and a bite to eat. Earlier that morning we sat on a wooded ridge with plenty of fresh sign overlooking a cornfield finger that poked into a bottom with a pond. Just beyond the immediate bottom and pond were several stretches of marsh grass. During the morning hunt, we never saw deer but did hear movement behind us on the ridge that we were pretty sure were deer.
The evening hunt was more of a field edge hunt with one guy (Sam) set up by the water source. We all went to our positions, and I was set up just off a game trail entering the cornfield sitting in a folding chair in the middle of a downed tree. The tree was right next to the field edge with the brushy wooded ridge directly above and behind me. Almost immediately after I was settled, I heard a tractor just over the ridge. I remember thinking to myself what rotten luck because he is going to till the cut cornfield right in front of me and spook every deer within five miles. However, I would soon learn my assumption was very wrong.
A couple of minutes after the tractor left the field for the next stretch of land, two does walked out of the game trail and into the field that was about 10 yards to my left. They immediately started to put their face in the fresh dirt, eating anything that was just turned up by the tractor. Apparently, a freshly tilled lot is a dinner bell. What a great lesson to learn, and it was by total accident. However, that lesson paid dividends a month later in the gun season.
As soon as they entered the field my heart rate was elevated. This was the first time in my limited hunting experience that I had encountered deer, and they were potentially in shooting range. I was hunting with a traditional bow I bought from Cabela’s and I had been avidly practicing all summer with hybrid aiming methods using peripheral vision and utilizing the arrow tip in relation to the target. I felt extremely confident at 20 yards or less even though I had taken shots out to 30 yards comfortably. These two deer came out and hung up at 40 yards and casually fed their way across the 60-yard opening. When they seemed as if they were about to vanish into the next stretch of woods, I decided to try and call them back. I had never successfully called any game into range, especially while having the chance to interact with an animal I was able to observe while calling. But I figured they were about to leave anyway so why not try.
I was able to get the deer to turn around and keep in the area with a few doe bleats, which fueled my excitement, Eventually, after another calling sequence, one of the two does started to come towards me in the field. Now my heart was really starting to pound. I knew there was a serious chance I was going to get a shot at this deer. I slowly gripped my bow which already had an arrow nocked and was resting on my knee. The deer continued walking at me and once it cleared the branches of the blowdown it started to feed about 15 yards from me. This was it; my mind was focused, and my heart was taking flight. I slowly stood up from my chair, drawing as I stood. I got to a standing position, aimed, and released my arrow. The arrow drifted slightly left of my aiming point and stuck in the shoulder closest to me. There was penetration but it did not pass through. The deer ran off across the field and into the wood patch next to the pond. I was shooting a lighted nock and watched it lay down in the darkness of the woods with only the red nock indicating its location.
I was still breathing heavily, heart-pounding, and overcome with emotion. I had just shot my first deer and it was from the ground, without a blind, and with a recurve bow. At the time the significance of these details meant nothing to me. It was the only way I learned to hunt, and I had no knowledge of the niche communities that focus on several different aspects of what I had just accomplished. But as I quickly learned and had heard many times, everything up to the shot is the easy part. The real work begins after the shot.
At the point the deer laid down, Alex was walking towards me out of his spot finished for the evening as it was getting past shooting time. I quickly explained what happened and pointed into the woods across the field. We walked out and looked for blood at the point of impact, but we found none. I had watched where the deer ran into the woods and made a mental note. We waited 45 minutes before we started trying to track the deer. Which in retrospect was probably a poor choice (too soon). We did end up finding deer hair on a branch where the deer had entered the wood patch from the field. We ended up searching in the dark with headlamps for four hours with no more deer sign or blood trail. I had called a good buddy to help look in addition to the three of us and we found nothing (not even the arrow). We decided with coyotes howling close by, that it may have run into the marsh behind the pond and we bumped it too soon. We decided to pull out and come back in the morning to continue the search.
I went home with mixed emotions that night. I replayed the shot sequence repeatedly in my mind. Many friends reached out and explained that this kind of thing happens eventually if you hunt long enough. However, it sucks it happened on your first one. I was torn between a gut-wrenching feeling of potentially only wounding an animal or not ever recovering a kill. I was also experiencing a great deal of affirmation that my actions in that hunt had resulted in an opportunity to take a shot. I had finally broken through the glass ceiling of doing enough things right to have a chance at being successful. But I was immediately inundated with the ethical gravity of shooting to kill another life, and the failure to execute according to plan.
The silver lining was the seed of mental change that was planted. The thought processes that keep you going, growing, and learning to be better and to continue to ethically pursue your passion. Just getting back in the saddle is not enough, but it is exactly the next step. Your mind must be right, and I was able to come back the next morning with optimism and better clarity of my actions, consequences, and desires. It was an experience that propelled me further into hunting and forced me to learn exponentially in the middle of a trip, with another full day of hunting ahead.