Sometimes, it takes all season to have deer-hunting success

The author closed out a long, frustrating deer season by taking this buck in a spot where another buck had gotten away.

Months of frustration turn to excitement as deer season wanes.

Some deer seasons, everything seems to go right, but others are a test of persistence. Luckily, archery hunters are blessed with a very long season, giving ample time to score on a deer.

This season started out amazingly, when I downed a record-book elk, using my vintage recurve bow, on the 13th day on my annual Colorado public-land trip. I hit the Louisiana woods feeling on top of the world but was quickly reminded that whitetails are much harder targets to hit with these slow-flying arrows. 

Tough hunts

October and November were filled with many close calls chasing does. On one hunt, my arrow drilled the one, tiny sapling in front of a doe after a near-perfect stalk. Another stalk on a windy morning resulted in a big doe inside of 20 yards ducking my arrow. On one hunt, I forgot my shooting glove and drew short, sending the arrow under the doe. And those were just a few of the does that got away.

I saw several bucks from my stand early in the season. I switched to my heavy-powered Black Widow recurve for some hunts. After many weeks of hard hunting, I was able to down a buck when one finally walked close enough. 

The next deer encounter was the most frustrating; I lost a buck while bowhunting. The video clearly showed the unalerted buck, 20 yards away, lunging forward around 18 inches in the split second the arrow was in flight. I gave the deer nearly 24 hours before tracking, but I still bumped him in a high, briar-filled cutover 70 yards from the spot of the shot. I never saw him again in multiple days of searching.

Bowhunters need to take into account how much a deer will drop or lunge when it hears an approaching arrow.

Arrow speeds 

I’ve had several deer duck my 330-feet- per-second compound bow arrows in the past, but my traditional arrows flying less than 160 feet per second gives the deer more than twice the time to dodge. One article I read that crunched deer reaction-time numbers using bowhunting videos, to avoid a deer vertically ducking a 230-fps arrow, you’d have to aim 6 inches low at 20 yards and 17 inches low at 30 yards. Sadly, these are estimates using an arrow flying nearly 50-percent faster than the ones I shoot. 

What’s worse is, one cannot accurately predict the horizontal direction the deer may react; sometimes it’s forward, sometimes it’s reverse. Then comes the unpredictable shifting and rotating of the deer’s torso. No matter how accurate one is in practice sessions, these jumpy deer can leave the most accurate shots landing far from the mark.

Arrow noise

Having a quiet rig will help dampen the thud from the arrow’s release, but the noise of the flying arrow is still something deer often react to within milliseconds. A hunter cannot hear how loud an approaching arrow really is. Sound testing videos taken of arrows flying from the target’s point of view demonstrate this whirling noise that the deer hears throughout the arrow’s flight.

Sometimes a deer doesn’t begin to react until hearing an approaching arrow in the final several yards. This still gives deer enough time to potentially move its vitals from the point of impact. Watching archery hunts in slow motion will really demonstrate the amazing reaction ability of a whitetail.

Heavier arrows fly slower and drop more quickly, but they are much quieter in flight. Larger feathers help stabilize arrows, but they decrease speed and increase noise. In archery, everything is a trade-off. 

Hit in the vitals with an arrow from the author’s recurve, this buck made it 70 yards before collapsing.

Woes continue

In December, I had more bad luck. Several times, I had nice, racked bucks on camera just after or before shooting hours or in daylight before arriving or leaving the location. Other times, while hunting one tree, I had other deer show up had deer show up on camera at my other, nearby spot. These cameras are great tools to use on WMAs, but they can really tease a hunter.

On one hunt, I was about to shoot a buck, and just before he got to the perfect spot, two other bucks ran in from another direction. I twisted around in hopes of shooting the bigger one. He was standing at 15 yards, looking at the first buck, presenting a quality shot. I was caught in between them and unable to draw. Soon, the closer buck glanced up and busted me. All three skipped out of range and fed together for a while.

This wasn’t shaping up to be one of my hotter seasons, when I saw plenty of deer and let smaller ones walk. I was going to have to work harder than ever to fill another tag. My hunting buddy had missed several deer, including three trophy bucks, and he had wounded a nice buck with his traditional bow, so at least I had a friend with whom to commiserate. When you’re using a recurve bow, the deer will win most of the time, and that’s part of the ultimate challenge one must accept.

Triple duel

Then came my late-season face-offs with an elusive 6-point buck. He ducked and twisted away from my arrow not once, not twice, but three times. The first time, I waited too long to draw, worrying about getting busted when he was in the open and broadside at 15 yards. Instead, I drew undetected, but the 23-yard quartering away shot where I forgot to aim low enough gave the buck more time to drop and twist so much that the arrow hit his antlers.

The next time, one evening after having my range finder break in the morning. I thought I knew most of my gaps at this spot, but apparently I didn’t know the one gap the rattled-in buck passed through, and I misjudged it by 5 yards. Not aiming low enough, the arrow passed just over his back as he dipped down. 

The third time, I watched this buck feed for several minutes around a nuttall oak 22 yards away. I passed all the shots, hoping he would come to a closer nuttall, but he finally began to head in another direction. I had a good look, aimed low, but I lost focus of a branch in the shot path and hit it instead of the deer. 

My cousin told me he had one buck dodge his recurve arrows three times this season as well. We agreed: at least they’ll be bigger next year.

The final weekend

Driving to north Louisiana every weekend to hunt a different public land with newfound excitement, but coming home utterly defeated every Sunday was taking its toll. On the last weekend, I thought it was finally going to come together. I was set up at my bad-memory spot; a location I shot an 8-point with my recurve the previous season, one that had ducked hard, resulting in a non-lethal hit above the spine.

The area was still hot this season as a racked buck approached late in the morning along my doe-in-heat scent drag line. However, I couldn’t shoot with a recurve from where he was standing, with the tree and my stand being in the way of the bow’s limbs. I was using my short, 52-inch Kodiak Magnum bow, but even that isn’t like a compound that can be drawn easily in advance and shot from most angles from a climber. 

Finally, the buck came around to my side and into a shootable gap in the thick brush 15 yards away. My bow was pointed at him, but I couldn’t draw with the deer looking around for a hot doe and up into the treetops for the human he also smelled. The deer eventually turned his head, but as soon as I started to draw, he picked me up in his peripheral vision and bolted. That evening, at another spot, I saw does out of range. 

Finishing focused

A friend shared a great quote from a legendary hunter that kept me focused. “You can’t get a deer by giving up or being worried about the past failures. It isn’t about all the unsuccessful days and hours spent hunted; it’s all about being there and ready in the next minute of the next hunt.”

I woke up the next morning at 4 a.m., went for a 10-mile run and decided to hike back to the previous morning’s tree one last time. Once again, late into the morning, after all the duck and squirrel blasting stopped, a buck approached from upwind. He walked right into the same gap where the previous day’s buck had stood. When my Steel Force 2-bladed broadhead struck just above his heart, my bad-memory spot turned into a great-memory spot.

I was barely able to see the 4 pointer sprint about 70 yards and crash. The water and leaves quit shaking quickly, but I continued to shake for quite some time. I hiked out of the woods and went to review my head-camera footage. Exact shot placement is something that’s hard to tell during the rush of the moment, and checking video gives extra time that an animal may need to expire. 

The video showed the 650-grain arrow appearing to fly way too low for a lethal hit, just under the buck. However, that’s where I aimed, and in the final few yards of the 15-yard shot, the deer dipped down more than one-half foot for a flawless center-height pass-through behind the shoulder. I went right back in find my 2 1/2-year-old deer, which was easily located, but the 2-mile drag was far from easy.

Conclusion

After having more missed deer opportunities in this one testing season than I had in the past decade, I persevered to harvest my first whitetail using my 72-pound, vintage 1960s bow I call “The Wolverine.” Sure, bucks are scored by inches, but this measurement is just a fun number to quibble with. What really matters to me is the unique, unquantifiable meaning that lies within each set of horns.

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