This hunting season was shaping up much like last year’s, void of an archery deer harvest.
With frustration setting in, I had actually told a buddy in a phone call while scouting for gun season that I was hanging up the the bow until next season.
It had been over two full years and more than 150 archery hunts since I last got a deer with archery equipment. Countless missed opportunities and arrows missing the mark wouldn’t have been the case if I used my crossbow more often, but the thrill of using a recurve and compound had remained irresistible.
Since I enjoy eating plenty of deer meat, I figured I’d focus on my yearly tag-out mission by blazing lead. With the six tracts of public land I hunt, there would be plenty of gun and primitive hunting during the deer rut and colder weather throughout season’s end.
However, when I got off the phone, I instantly felt like I had failed. I immediately got back in my vehicle, headed to the camp and grabbed my bow before sunset.
I knew the only way to get that awful taste of failure out of my mouth would be to arrow a deer.
Even though I had been harvesting about four archery deer per season over the past several years, new tactics I had utilized left me driving home with an empty ice chest every weekend. Over the past two seasons, instead of focusing on deer quantity spots like before, I had begun focusing on mature buck spots.
I learned this only resulted in jumping bucks or seeing horns out of range: those mature daddies just don’t play fair.
But for this 51st bow hunt of the season, I went back to my old ways of hunting fresh deer sign instead of buck sign. Sure enough, at 4:00 on Bayou Cocodrie NWR, a lone doe stepped out of the palmetto ridge just 12 yards away. Even better, she was broadside and looking in the opposite direction.
I stood, drew, and flew. The only thing better than seeing those bloody feathers from my pass-through was texting the same buddy I had told I was hanging up my bow to let him know I just smoked a doe with my Mathews.
The shot had hit the mark... or had it?
After retrieving my arrow, I noticed a snapped paper-thin brown twig in the shot path. I never saw the arrow in flight, and even worse, my head cam was pointing too far up to video the shot. I smartly backed out slowly and began the track the next morning.
After a sleepless night, things started great as I followed a near-solid blood trail for 70 yards, but that ended with a deer-less blood puddle.
After utilizing my cone method, I found one small drop of blood 80 yards away in the button brush. Making another cone angling outward, I luckily came across three tiny drops of blood another 100 yards away, far off to the side in a palmetto ridge.
But after creating another search cone through this thick palmetto ridge that resulted in zero blood, doubt started to creep in. I was hours into the track and over 150 yards away from the last blood droplet, walking over 100 yards up and down each pass of the search cone. Yet I continued to bulldoze every palmetto patch of the cone’s outward perimeter, refusing to give up until my muscles could go no more.
Suddenly, there was the 155-pound doe, over ¼-mile from where the liver shot took place. The rush of emotion in finding the biggest doe I ever shot left me weaker in the knees than the previous day’s shot, which was quite nerve-racking, too.
Even on the grueling 1.5-mile drag, a big smile never left my face the rest of the day.
In my opinion, the joy of deer hunting directly correlates to the amount of hard work it takes to get one, not necessarily to the size of the rack. And the combination of all those unsuccessful bow hunts and that tough track made this harvest an extremely joyful one.
Now it was time for some fun: gun-hunting the rut. Even though I had a feeling for a few hunts I’d opt to take the bow instead.
In recent hunts on doe day in R.K. Yancey, I was able to put my brother Zack and a buddy, Ren, on some deer. Zack saw several deer, and I videoed a spike that walked right into Ren’s 130-grain Core Lokt minutes later.
One of the does Zack couldn’t get a clean shot on found yet another one of Ren’s bullets later that morning. After a tough sandy drag with a few thousand Mississippi River cockleburs attached to us, we had two deer bending my cargo rack.
The next day my wife almost had a spike from her ground blind at 30 yards, but he busted her grabbing the gun. She was even more upset when a gunshot blast came from the direction the deer ran.
Little did Laura know I had been stalking towards her from that direction. I saw the deer running through the thick bottom from the hilltop I was creeping along. I was able to make the tough freehanded shot at 80 yards with my .270, hitting the lungs and harvesting my first Sicily Island Hills WMA deer.
As I made it up the seventh hill of that long drag, I was just as happy to have shot a lightweight buck as an enormous one.
All of these deer and a demonstration of the cone method can be found in the attached video.