Yet another crazy adventure of mine took place in what should've have been one of the easiest harvests of all my hunts.
I never have any luck tagging a deer in the first two weeks of the season, but every year come October 1, I’m in a tree waiting on venison to tease me just out of range on R.K. Yancey Wildlife Management Area.
Well, this opening day, things went differently.
Extensive camera patterning and learning from previous mistakes led me to hunting my most productive deer funnel ever. Instead of my usual hopeless spots — like where a large buck walked in front my camera one night, but probably won't be there again until the following summer — I was ready this time.
I paddled deep in the hot woods with my stand, bow and gear in my Apex Kayak, the smallest, cheapest kayak they had at the store. This stealthy sneak-in is what I needed because a walk through this summer’s growth will leave a hunter busted before the hunt even begins.
At 9:30 a.m., a deer was walking perfectly to me from upwind. But the deer was moving so fast, I wasn't able to stand in time, partially due to shakes so badly I couldn't even lift my bow off the bow hook. I was caught in that paralyzing feeling when you try to move your hand without budging any other part of your body, but nothing at all seems to move.
I saw velvet. Not much because it was just a spike, but velvet — something in all my years of hunting I had never seen from the stand.
As the buck walked underneath me, I stood, drew, and hoped the buck would keep trotting along without a whiff of my scent and end up for a quartering away shot.
But there was a whiff, all right, but not my scent. The buck made the mistake of starting to lick the empty can of V8 blueberry pomegranate juice I had tossed on the ground.
For a change, this would be way too easy: I was going to put my arrow on the side of the spine and into the lungs and heart.
But the old saying goes, ‘When things are too good to be true they usually are,’ and this was a perfect example.
Because when my finger hit the trigger — kaboom!
My wrist got smacked, and my bow disintegrated — with a popped string and bent cams. (Check out the hunt highlights on my video here.)
Somehow the arrow still found its mark and landed in the body of the deer around the liver, but I didn’t get a pass-through. My arrow was sticking out the top of the deer as he hauled tail.
With hardly any blood, I backed out after the shot. Then, my dog and I paddled back in with my kayak seven hours later, expecting a tough track.
But as fate would have it, no tracking would be needed — we found the buck floating a quarter-mile from the shot in the very bayou we were paddling in.
I guess sometimes you can get lucky and unlucky in the same hunt: My new bow exploded, but we found the deer without even looking. But I bet that 400-yard, mostly bloodless track would have given us some serious frustration. (The arrow ended up going through the bottom of the guts, which leaves virtually no blood to trail.)
My friend who accompanied me on the track in his pirogue also found a bow-shot buck several years back with similar arrow placement floating in the water. So be sure to check nearby water sources if you have a marginally shot deer, because the water apparently makes for a soothing spot to lie down.
I loaded up the buck, but all that was above the water line was my head and toes. The tiny kayak, filled up with me, my dog and the deer, was almost submerged on the slow half-mile paddle out of the woods. But it was one fun, exciting trip getting unlucky and lucky on opening day!
The goal now is bigger horns, but there’s just something about completing a public land bow hunt that gets me going. I get far more enjoyment from that spike and the other smaller bucks I’ve shot with my bow than any of my much larger public firearm kills.
I guess it’s about the hunting experience — for me, success just can’t be measured by an arbitrary number of inches.
The bow will be repaired for free by my PSE's lifetime warranty, but with the cams on backorder, I was facing a long six-week wait, especially since it happened on Day 1 of the season.
So it was back-up plan time. I could have used my crossbow, but that was too easy, and I came up with a wild idea.
My wife's birthday was two days away on October 3, so I decided to field test her new present: A right-handed PSE Fever I bought her. (Even though I’m left-handed, I figured I needed to make sure it actually worked before I gave it to her.) Hey, there aren't many weapons out there I can't figure out how make lethal.
So I woke up at 1:50 a.m. on Oct. 2, and with the assistance of my truck's headlights, I had the bow shooting tight 40-yard groupings by daybreak.
The $300 PSE Fever one is the most adjustable single-cam bows out there, with a draw length of 18- to 29-inches and an adjustable draw weight of 20 to 60 pounds. At my maxed out setting, it shoots 312 fps IBO (faster than my old 70 lb. Mathews Feathermax). Also, it’s much smoother and more shooter-friendly than my Mathews, and even my $1,100 Full Throttle.
I was back in the woods again, and it wouldn't take long for me to see how this micro-bow marketed for kids and women performed on an animal even even tougher than a deer.
That evening some hogs came downwind in my funnel, and they grunted when they smelled my presence. Some of the hogs were backtracking, but the lead bore took one step too many in my direction. I pulled back the right-handed bow with my left arm and aimed across the cables and released.
This time it was the hog that received the "Smack!”
A few hours later, we took my 1-year-old Vizsla for her first-ever blood trail. The 125-yard track over patches of blood-soaked mud invisible to the human eye was no trouble for Shasseh. I gave her the Cajun-French command “Sang” (pronounced 'sohn,' meaning blood) and she ran us through head-high picker bushes and found the hog just before an all-night rain.
I tossed the hog over my shoulder and cooked my wife tender buck and young hog backstrap for her birthday, and surprised her with a bow that’s already a proven killer.
But the excitement didn’t end there. On the next evening's hunt in Mississippi on St. Catherine's Creek NWR, I saw a rack and hooves at 14 yards. The thick cypress trees gave me no shots at the body, and the deer walked off after being near me for several minutes.
After being so close to a racked buck with no way to shoot, I studied every inch of those cypress trees, upset with a missed opportunity on a stationary, broadside buck at such close range.
Sure enough, on the following hunt there, the same buck came cruising through at about the same time from the same place, just like clockwork.
He was with two other deer, but I clearly caught a glimpse of that same legal rack sporting 8 points and a cool acorn on his G3. It was so thick I could hardly see any of the deer, but my studying had me ready for this final test.
The buck had busted me in our first encounter and now it was my turn to bust him. When those vitals passed through a tiny gap, I threaded the needle through 13 yards of twigs for the kill shot.
I had just stuck my first-ever racked buck with a compound bow out of hundreds of bowhunts in my 11 years of hunting — and I did it with the wife's new bow.
While tracking the next morning in darkness, I knew my buck was close when I saw a beautiful gray fox along the blood trail. And sure enough, my deer was down only 80 yards away.
While filming commentary with the light on the deer, and me unable to see anything, that hungry fox kept scaring the jeepers out of me as he circled just yards away, very unhappy I stole his free meal.
I can't imagine a better way to start a season off than with this perfect trifecta!