You should never assume you missed a deer without spending lots of time in persistent pursuit of it. Today I’ll tell you a few stories of mine that demonstrate this point.
Ethan Emerson triggered these memories in his column in the February, 2017 issue of The Maine Sportsman. The title of his column is “A Hunter’s Ethical Responsibility To Track Down Wounded Game” and he notes that, “The real work begins after you pull the trigger.” He tells his own story too, of a long several-days pursuit of a wounded buck by one of his friends.
About 40 years ago, the first huge buck I’d ever seen while hunting sauntered by me. I got off five shots, but was shaking so badly that I was sure I’d missed. I checked out the area where the buck was walking when I shot, saw no signs that I’d hit him, and headed home, morose.
When Dad arrived to join me in the woods that day, he insisted we return to that spot and make sure I’d missed. And sure enough, after tracking the deer about 100 yards, we found a spot where he’d laid down. And there was blood in that spot.
Unfortunately, by that time he’d gotten up, ran down to the stream, and swam across to the other side, disappearing up the forested hill. I hunted that area for the next three days but couldn’t find him. I did, however, learn an important lesson, and I never gave up on another deer that I’d shot at.
Dad shot a doe late in the day one time, in a downpour, and we couldn’t find it as darkness settled in. But we came back the next day and still had no luck. Three days later, I happened upon the doe, dead, out in our bog. Dad insisted on tagging the deer, even though the meat was spoiled.
One of my best stories involves a doe that Dad shot late in the day, just after it stepped out into the field at the end of my road. He hit it in the shoulder and it quickly returned to the woods. We tried to follow it but it got dark quickly and we had to give up.
The next day we picked up the trail again, and actually followed that deer all day. It went along my stream for a long ways, then veered up onto the hill, taking us all the way to Readfield and back. We jumped and saw the deer several times that day, but couldn’t get off a shot.
Dad was discouraged and ready to give up, but as we hiked out of the woods at the end of that day, I told him we’d come back the next day and try again.
The next morning, Dad took a position at the top of the hill on the edge of a clear cut, and I walked down to where I was pretty sure the deer had laid down after we stopped pursuing it. And sure enough, I jumped the deer and it headed Dad’s way.
It was hobbling pretty badly by then, and as it entered the clear cut, I started running, almost catching up with it. I’m not sure what I was thinking. I guess I was going to tackle it. But then I came to my senses and backed off so Dad could get off a shot, which he did, dropping the doe once and for all.
One of my biggest bucks, an 8-point 123 pounder, provided another great pursuit story. Sitting in a fir thicket overlooking a ground scrape and the nearby bog, reading a novel, I looked up one morning to see the big buck straddling the scrape. I had not heard him approach.
I quickly put the book down, picked up my rifle, and shot at him. He whirled around and took off as I got off a second shot which took a tine right off his antler.
When I walked up to the scrape, there was lots of blood. Now I know you are supposed to wait and give the deer time to lay down and hopefully die, but I was way too excited to do that, so I took off after him. Twice I jumped him and got off shots, missing both times. He was still bleeding a lot, so finally I backed off after tracking him into a thick area of small firs up near the road.
I hiked out of the woods and drove up to the Vienna Grange where I was supposed to meet Dad for a hunters’ breakfast. After the breakfast, Dad and our friend Ray returned to the woods with me. I put them on the far sides of the fir thicket, and strode on into it, jumping the buck and chasing him out right near Dad, who finished him off.
Yes, persistence pays off when you are pursuing deer!