Trailing Tales

Sometimes deer stumble a few yards and fall dead. Other times, they never seem to want to die. That’s when things can get strange.

A decade ago, Todd Masson was about as accomplished a deer hunter as Ingrid Newkirk.

To help him change that, I invited him up to a tract I was leasing in St. Helena Parish. This section of woods could never be mistaken for Alabama’s Black Belt, but it held a decent number of small deer.

Since Masson had never killed a deer of any size, I didn’t figure he’d be too choosy.

It was still bow season, and the deer were far less cautious than they would be later in the year, so I knew Masson had a pretty decent shot of at least seeing something.

I put him on my No. 1 stand, a lock-on that I had been baiting. Deer regularly munched the gold magnets that I scattered within 20 yards of the tree.

My hunt that evening was fairly uneventful, but when I met him after the last of the day’s sunlight faded, Masson was barely controlling his excitement.

“I shot a spike,” he said.

He was still breathing heavy.

Grinning from the newbie’s infectious enthusiasm, I congratulated him and questioned him about shot placement.

“It felt like a pretty good shot,” Masson said. “I hit him in the shoulder.”

I winced a little as I heard “in the shoulder,” but hoped that his arrow had enough power to penetrate the hard bone and punch a hole in the buck’s lungs.

We slipped back into the woods, and the blood trail was easily found.

We began to trail the deer, and 30 minutes later we were in the middle of a huge thicket.

Still no sign of the deer, although the blood trail was solid enough.

“Let’s go back and get some help,” I said.

An hour later, there were six or eight hunters gathered under my stand. We followed the blood into the thicket, moving quickly with the aid of a rechargeable Q-Beam.

Soon, however, the blood trail faltered. The tracking was about to get tricky.

We all slowed down, circling and searching for the next drop of blood. Masson stood where the trail had ended, anxiously watching the lights move through the thicket.

“I’ve got blood,” one of the trackers yelled, and the party converged on him.

A few spots of blood showed the direction of the deer before the trail again ran dry.

Masson again marked the last blood, and we all circled until someone finally found the next blood trail. Often, we were forced to our hands and knees to inspect the leaves and crawl through the thicket.

But in a sense, the tracking wasn’t all that difficult, since the thicket made it easy to see travel corridors. All we had to do was carefully slip along these game trails closely inspecting the forest floor.

And there was plenty of blood, when we found it. There would be a heavy trail for several yards or 100 yards, but it always dried up.

We would be forced to circle until the next sign could be located.

That arduous process was repeated several times over the next couple of hours, by which time the trail had doubled back and crossed a four-wheeler trail about 50 yards from the stand.

We were now in a relatively open pine plantation, and we all groaned. The understory was wide open, and the buck could go any direction it wanted.

But the blood trail picked up for a short while. From the amount of blood we found, we became confident the buck would soon be found.

We ventured into the heart of the stand of trees, and then the trail went cold again.

Off we went, circling and leaving Masson with his thoughts.

At midnight, more than six hours after the buck was shot, we were still circling the latest dead end.

Not a sign of blood could be found within 100 yards of where Masson sat, back against a tree, head lolling from fatigue.

It was as if the deer had stopped, sewn up the wound, bandaged it and carefully walked away so no sign of its passage could be found.

Masson finally called off the hunt.

“I’ve got to drive back to Metairie tonight,” he said.

He left Wild Turkey Hunting Camp disgusted and tired. It was two years before he finally killed a deer, but he still remembers tracking that deer we all thought should have been dead.

It’s those experiences that make hunting exciting.

Sure, seeing a big buck or watching a deer fall stone-dead is fun, but it’s when you have to trail a deer that things can really get crazy.

Here are some other hunters’ stories of weird tracking experiences.


Tensas Knife Fight

Metairie hunters Jim Laborde and Chris Morris were bowhunting Tensas National Wildlife Refuge about five years ago, set up on a huge field, when they watched five big bucks walk across the open area.

The bucks headed for the back corner of the field, staying well out of bow range the entire time.

Morris finally couldn’t stand it any longer, so he climbed out of his tree and walked to where Morris was perched in a tree.

“I said, ‘Let’s loop around the back end of the field and see if we can head them off,’” Laborde said.

Soon, the two hunters were standing at the edge of the other side of the field, tall grass blocking their vision.

“I shinnied up a tree, and there were about 30 deer in the field,” Laborde said.

The bucks were still there, but all of them were still well out of reach of arrows.

“I told Chris he had to come up and see,” Laborde said. “We were sitting in a little branch in the tree.”

After watching the deer mill about, movement caught Laborde’s eye, and he saw a huge animal walking through the grass toward the gathered deer.

“I said, ‘Chris, there’s a cow coming into the field,’” he said.

But when he put his binoculars to work, it was soon evident that the massive creature was a buck.

“It was an 8-point with about a 24-inch inside spread,” Laborde said. “It weighed about 300 pounds.”

The hunters watched as the buck entered the field and sidled up to the group of deer.

“The rest of the bucks just scattered,” Laborde said. “One of them ran to us, and then stopped.”

That buck looked around and then slowly began walking toward the hidden hunters.

“When it was about 200 yards away, I said, ‘He’s going to come to us,’” Laborde said.

As the deer continued to ease closer, Laborde hatched a plan to ambush the buck.

“I told Chris that I’d stay in the tree and tell him where to go to get a shot,” he said.

Morris eased out of the tree and back into the tall grass, listening for Laborde’s whispered instructions.

“I told him to go about 70 yards,” Laborde said.

As Morris slunk through the grass, Laborde watched the buck cross a canal and shake off.

“When it was coming up the bank, Chris shot it straight-on,” Laborde said.

The buck streaked away, and the hunters eased away to give the deer time to die.

Two hours later, they returned and picked up the blood trail.

An hour and more than half a mile later, they sighted the buck — which was still alive.

“He jumped up and started slipping off,” Laborde said.

It was only about 60 yards away, but seemed in no big hurry.

“We started following him through the woods,” Laborde said. “He was going pretty slow.”

But the buck kept the distance at between 60 and 70 yards. The hunters could clearly see the nice 8-point rack floating above the deer’s head.

“At one point, I tried to run and catch him,” Laborde said.

Finally, Morris tried another shot at the deer.

“He shot under him,” Laborde said.

The deer simply walked away, and the procession continued.

“We’re just following this deer through the woods,” Laborde said.

Morris missed a second, and then a third shot.

“He kept shooting under him,” Laborde said. “The shots were always 60 to 65 yards.”

Unfortunately, Morris only had three arrows, and Laborde didn’t have his bow.

So after the third miss, Morris began searching for his arrow while Laborde kept the buck in sight.

Finally, Morris dug his arrow out of the mud and rejoined the chase.

“I told him, ‘You’ve been aiming 4 feet over his back and shooting under him, so aim 5 feet over his back,’” Laborde said.

The arrow hit the deer, but it wasn’t a kill shot.

“He cut the achilles tendon on his back leg,” Laborde said.

The deer at this point tried to get away, but could only walk in long circles because of the sliced tendon.

“All we had was Chris’ Buck knife,” Laborde said.

Ever the thinker, Laborde quickly came up with another plan.

“I told Chris that I would fake a run at the deer, and when (the buck) charged me, he could run in and stick it with the knife,” he said.

At the last moment, Morris backed down.

“He said, ‘If I run in there, the deer’s going to charge me and run off with me on its antlers,’” Laborde laughed.

Laborde said they could switch roles, and when Morris feinted toward the deer it charged.

“The buck charged him, and I ran and stuck him,” Laborde said. “He had his head down running, and was running after Chris.

“I pushed the knife between his ribs and cut his lung.”

The hunters skittered away from the twice-wounded deer, and waited.

Soon the deer was dead, and the hunters collected their trophy.

“Chris had shot it dead-on, and he had hit it just off center of the brisket,” Laborde said. “The arrow glanced off his breastplate and came out behind the shoulder.”

The wound was a profuse bleeder, and Laborde said the deer was destined for death, no matter what.

“The deer was bleeding badly. If we had let it lay for a few more hours, it would have died,” he said.


Determined Doe

Baton Rouge’s Brad Thibodaux has hunted for years, so he knew that he had shot the doe a little too far back during a trip in the woods around Centerville, Miss., several years back.

“I made a gut shot, but I knew I would find the deer since I was using an anectine pod on my arrow,” he said.

A few minutes later, Thibodaux climbed out of his tree and trailed the doe.

No problem: It hadn’t run but about 50 yards, and he had watched it most of the way.

The deer wasn’t quite dead yet, but it wasn’t far from it.

“It was laying there, just trembling and barely breathing,” Thibodaux said.

Using his safety harness, the 64-year-old hunter dragged the doe out of the thicket and onto the four-wheeler trail, where he cut its throat to hasten death.

He left the deer, which was struggling to breath by this point, and retrieved his ATV.

“When I got close to where I had left the deer, a deer ran off in my headlight,” Thibodaux said. “I thought to myself, ‘That must be a deer coming to the food plot.’”

Thinking he had just experienced a nice bonus, Thibodaux continued to where he had left the deer and stopped his bike.

“I found two piles of blood — one from the wound where I shot it, and one from where I had slit its throat,” he said.

There was no deer to be seen.

That’s when it hit him.

“I said, ‘That was my deer running off,’” Thibodaux said.

He followed his first instinct, and ran after the deer, which was still trying to get away at the edges of his bike’s headlight.

That’s right: He ran after the deer.

“It was running sort of funny, but I couldn’t catch it,” Thibodaux said.

After slowing down, Thibodaux trailed it a little ways, but soon gave up.

“I figured we’d look for it the next morning,” he said.

He and buddy returned the following day to search the surrounding woods.

“We tracked that deer for 2 1/2 hours, and there’d be a little drop of blood here and there, but we never found it,” Thibodaux said.

As to why the deer was able to stumble away, the hunter has been able to come up with only one possible explanation.

“Apparently, when I cut its throat, I only cut the windpipe, and it was able to get more air,” Thibodaux said.

The story is now the subject of much laughter among his hunting fraternity.

“People don’t believe me when I tell them,” he said. “I was never so embarrassed in my life.”

He doesn’t take any chances now, however.

“The next deer I killed was a buck,” Thibodaux said. “I tied his horns to a red oak to make sure it was there when I got back.

“I’m serious.”


Two in the Bush

Ed McIntyre had years of experience running dogs on White Line Hunting Club outside of Vicksburg, Miss., and he had seen a lot of deer go down in front of his pack.

“I supplied the dogs, and every once in a while a member would bring me a horse to ride,” the Brandon, Miss., hunter said.

And it was on a borrowed horse that McIntyre found himself one cold November morning about 15 years ago.

He was moving through the woods, urging his dogs on, when he heard a rifle shot.

“I spurred my horse, and rode in the direction of the gunshot,” he said. “I came upon one of our hunters, and asked him what happened.

“He said that he had shot at a nice 6-point.”

McIntyre questioned the hunter, trying to determine in which direction the deer had fled.

The hunter pointed out the general direction, and McIntyre turned his horse and began easing through the woods.

“I looked carefully over the terrain, looking for a brush top or blow-down where the buck would take refuge,” he said.

A likely hideout laid about 100 yards away, and McIntyre zoomed in on the tangle of branches.

“I very cautiously approached the blown-down tree top and knocked the safety off my shotgun,” he said.

As he neared the cover, a buck sprang from the top in an escape attempt.

“I let him have it, like shooting a bird on the covey rise,” McIntyre said.

The buck hit the ground, and McIntyre swung from the horse to ensure it was dead.

“As I walked toward the deer on the ground … I heard a shout from behind me,” he said. “It was the hunter who had first shot.”

The hunter was shouting his thanks to McIntyre.

“Here he is, deputy. You got him for me,” the excited man yelled.

McIntyre turned, confusion plain on his face.

“The problem was the fact that (the hunter) was behind me in the tree top,” McIntyre said. “I was looking at a dead 8-point out in the open that I had just shot.”

As it turned out, the wounded buck had, indeed, sought shelter in the tree top.

However, he died right where he laid.

The buck that McIntyre shot apparently was already in the top when the wounded buck crawled in.

The one that I had just shot was just at the wrong place at the wrong time,” McIntyre said.

Two Better Than One

Jay Leto had just learned to shoot a bow he borrowed from his uncle.

And opening weekend found the Gonzales hunter hanging from a tree in St. Francisville, hoping for his first kill.

Moments after securing his climbing stand about 2:30 p.m., Leto was amazed to see a doe step out of a nearby thicket and head straight toward his stand site.

“She came right under my stand,” he said. “She stayed there for several minutes. It was driving me crazy.”

So the fledgling bowhunter leaned out, took aim and loosed his arrow.

But he forgot one thing — at zero yards, his shot would be high.

“When I shot, it barely cut the skin on her rib cage. It didn’t bleed or anything; it was just deep enough that you could see the tallow,” Leto said.

The doe jumped a few steps, and then stopped and licked the wound before easing away.

Leto’s heart sunk, but he hunkered down to see if another deer would provide a shot.

As the sun was sinking and shooting hours were growing short, Leto saw movement near his stand.

A doe was easing into an opening, and Leto was almost sure he could see a bright, white streak down the deer’s rib cage.

This time, the deer wasn’t right under the stand, and when Leto released another arrow, it hit true.

The excited hunter climbed down and followed a clear blood trial into the thicket.

“It was hands-and-knees stuff,” Leto said.

About 75 yards into the thicket, the deer lay dead.

And a quick inspection confirmed his suspicions.

“She had about a 7-inch white tear on her rib cage,” he said. “I don’t think it bled a drop.”


Gator Bait

Chris Loewen of Alabama was perched in a tree in the Mississippi Delta north of Vidalia, hoping a doe would walk into range.

“He wanted to shoot a doe. Every time you shoot a doe, your name is in the drawing for a free hunt next season,” said Giles Island hunting lodge’s Jimmy Riley.

Lowen, a guest on the island, was determined to be in that lottery.

Sure enough, a doe walked out, and guide Poco Martin OK’d the hit.

Loewen drew back, took aim and let the arrow fly.

“He thought he hit a little low,” Riley said. “The deer ran into the thicket.”

Loewen and Martin decide to wait it out, in hopes that a buck would make an appearance.

About an hour later, they heard some crashing in the thicket, and Martin told his hunter that maybe the doe was finally giving up.

But soon, Martin saw something swimming away from the thicket, crossing the large slough over which he and Loewen were hunting.

“He though it was an alligator it was so close to the water, but when he looked through his binoculars, he saw that it was a doe,” Riley said.

The doe reached the opposite side of the slough, struggled out of the water and dropped dead.

Martin shook his head, knowing retrieving the deer would be no small matter.

“There was no way to get around the slough, and it was too deep to cross,” Riley said.

So the pair headed back to the lodge to get a boat to paddle across.

Soon, Martin, Loewen and guide Matt Wiggins were piled into the boat and easing across the slough.

“There were three of them in a 10-foot boat,” Riley laughed. “They get there, and there’s no doe.”

The deer had seemingly just disappeared.

Riley said Martin shone his light around the area, and illuminated an amazing sight.

“There’s an alligator dragging the doe down the middle of the channel,” Riley said. “It was a 10-footer. It was as big as the boat they were in.”

Martin shrugged, and told his client that they might as well head back.

“Chris said, ‘No way. I want that deer. My name’s going in that drawing,’” Riley chuckled.

The two guides looked down the slough at the alligator, which was an estimated 10 feet long, and Martin quickly agreed.

“He told Matt (the second guide), ‘I’m going to ease up to it, and you grab the doe and pull it away from the alligator,’” Riley said.

Wiggins was, understandably, less than enthusiastic.

“He asked Poco why he didn’t just ease up to it and push the deer to the bank,” Riley said.

Martin, however, simply eased up to the retreating alligator and grabbed the doe.

The gator let go and slipped away.

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.