The One That Got Away

Doe in the WoodsWelcome back, and thank you for taking your time to stop and read the newest installment of “The Willes Way”. The topic in this issue is the basis of many nights of poor sleep and haunted dreams. A topic that brings out fear and dismay in many a bow hunter, and will forever be a concern of ethical hunters everywhere. Here is how the scenario started for me, just a short time ago.

It was opening weekend of the Wisconsin archery season. I was set up in one of my favorite stands, a large tree overlooking a seemingly endless marsh of impenetrable cattails that stood 7 feet tall. Tall enough to hide even the biggest of deer. In fact I am quite sure if a buffalo where to be walking through it, you would never know until you came eye to eye with it. Such thick, tangled cover offers the majestic whitetail deer the perfect cover to escape anything that might be wanting to harm and/or eat them. It had rained earlier in the day but the skies were dry by early afternoon. With no rain in sight on the weather radar, and no wind to speak of, I assumed clear sailing for remainder of the evening.

As I sat back in my tree, reminiscing hunts of the past from this stand, and reveling in the fact that hunting season was finally upon us, I heard a rustling in the marsh. Out popped 2 does from the tangled cattails. Now early in the season I like to take a couple does for multiple reason. One is it soothes my itchy trigger finger so I can better sit back and pass on deer waiting for the right one to come along, and two I am usually almost out of venison in my freezer by the time September rolls around. We have lots of summer barbecues around here. I inched my PSE bow from off of the cut off tree limb next to me and snap my release onto my string loop. As the does made their way to me I noticed that one was an adult and the other more than likely her fawn. Knowing the fawn was old enough to survive on it’s own this late in the year, I decided I would take the mature doe. I drew my bow back to wait on just the right shot. The doe walked right through my shooting lane a mere ten yards right in front of me. I gave a quick grunt and she stopped in her tracks. The shot scenario looked perfect. Ten yards, and perfectly broadside to me. The doe looked back at her fawn in the other direction and I knew this was it. I let my Carbon Express arrow, tipped with a Magnus Stinger Buzzcut broadhead fly. My Lumenock lit up and traced the shot to a perfect double lung. The doe, with it’s lightning fast reflexes actually managed to duck my arrow slightly as I was aiming for the heart. Either way I knew that deer was hit well and would not got far. Both deer high tailed it back into the thick cattails. In my personal experience, whitetails, when hit, tend to run for the nearest source of water, and here the cattail marsh was it.

Jumping for joy on the inside, while trying my damnedest to keep control on the outside, as to not fall out of my tree, I decided I wanted to give it a little bit to make sure it would bed up and die, to avoid as much tracking difficulties as humanly possible. As I sat there in my tree replaying the shot in my head to reassure myself that the shot was placed well, I noticed The one thing that could ruin it all.

The marsh that I was hunting the outskirts of, at this particular location, is about a half to three quarters of a mile across. From my vantage point in this tree, I could see clear across it to the trees on the other side. I noticed a haze developing on the other side of the marsh. I quickly grabbed my Iphone out from my pocket and loaded up my weather program. Sure enough it was about to rain! The rain shower on the radar appeared to be very small, and would end very quickly. It was also the only rain cloud within 50 miles! I wanted to jump from my stand and run to mark first blood, but it was useless. The rain had started before I could finish the thought. I flipped the hood up on my sweatshirt to ride it out. The shower only last a brief 2 minutes but came down heavy enough to soak everything, including myself. I could not believe it. It was like Mother Nature was “flipping me the bird”. When the rain stopped I got out of my stand to make my way to where the deer was standing. Now when I shot the deer, the arrow exploded through the chest cavity spraying blood in all directions and it should have been an easy trail to follow, had in not rained one minute after. There was no blood to be found. I followed its path to the marsh. I seen the trail it used through the thick grass to get to cattails and visually marked where it had entered it and its direction of travel. No blood. It was about 5:30 in the evening right now and dark was about 7:30 so I knew I had time. I slowly and methodically worked my way into the marsh, knowing full well that it would be close by. 5:30 soon turned to 6:00, then 6:30, and then 7:00. I was truly in a panic. The deer was hit perfectly and it had to have been dead, but in this marsh you could not see the ground unless you literally had you face pressed to it and when standing, you were lucky to see two feet in front of you. It is a thick, tangled mess. With no sign to follow I knew the only thing I could do was hope to literally trip over it if I were to find it. I knew it was going to be cool overnight, with lows dipping into the 30’s, so I backed out and called on a few friends for help the following morning. The next morning me and two friends, Johnny and Casper, drove out to the marsh and tried for 2 more hours to no avail. My heart sunk, but what was I to do.

Now this is a scenario that plays out to most hunters that are worth their salt. I know some deer hunters that have been lucky enough to escape this torturous turn of events, but they are usually what we call “weekend warriors”. People that deer hunt, but not very often and have had very few shot opportunities. Needless to say, if you spend enough time in your life deer hunting, odds are this will happen to you. I am in no way the greatest deer hunter ever, and would never claim to be. I dont have a Boone and Crocket or Pope and Young buck on my wall, yet, but I do take my hunting very seriously. I practice religiously with my bow and firearms. I take time out of my busy schedule to do preseason scouting. I do everything I possibly can to make each season a successful one. But sometime these things just happen. This is not my first deer I have lost. In fact I have lost five deer over the course of my life, and believe me, I remember every one of them vividly. It is not something I take lightly no ethical hunter would. It is never acceptable to waste such a majestic creature, but like I said these things happen.

Now with the technology of today, there are many items on the market that can aid you in your tracking, so you can limit your odds on this happening to you. One of the products currently available for your online shopping convenience in Blood Glow. Blood Glow is a chemical used by law enforcement and criminal forensic scientists to locate blood not normally visible. It is one product that I wish I had that fateful day. It claims to work even after it rains. It is easily available to hunters and can be purchased at How it works is after the sun goes down and it is dark, you spray the area with this product and if blood is present, it will literally glow in the dark. While I have not been able to personally test this product, I figure if it is reliable enough for law enforcement, it should work well for hunters.

Many hunting equipment manufacturers are now producing blood tracking flashlights that are billed to make blood stick out like a sour thumb, so to speak. They work by combining different colors of light to make the blood stand out. Now some of these models of flashlights I have tried and do agree, it does make the blood really pop out, but you still have to be very observant and look close to see it, especially if the ground has alot of dew or wet leaves. While these products help in the aiding of tracking wounded deer, it is not idiot proof. Now if money is no object, there is always a FLIR inferred cameras such as the ones used by firefighters, but these are not a very realistic option for most hunters.

In states where it is legal, you can use trained dogs to find wounded deer. This is a very effective option for those that are allowed to use them. Wisconsin, the state in which I reside, does not allow the use of dogs while hunting deer. You are allowed to use them to track wounded deer, but keep in mind you are not allowed to have a weapon on your person while doing so if using dogs. You must also have the dog leashed while doing so. Some dog breeds are better than others in this task. Blood hounds obviously being one of the better breeds for this job, but there are quite a few breeds that are equipped to do the job, assuming they have the right training. As most people know a canines sense of smell is 100 times better than a humans. This is the reason they are used for sniffing out drugs, explosives, and even people trapped under avalanches in the mountains. They are also catching on for those that love to get out and look for shed antlers in the spring.

With all the products out there to help you in your quest to track a wounded deer, nothing will ever replace experience and knowledge. Knowing the land in which you are hunting, and the tactics used by wounded deer to escape and hide in that area, are some of the best ways for assuring you do not have to suffer the fate that I did, just a couple weeks ago.

Thank you for taking the time to read my latest article. I would like to wish everyone a happy, fun, safe, and successful hunting season this year. Just remember, if you run into this problem this season, just take your time, go slow, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Try some of these methods and tools I have shared with you today and hopefully, you will not have to relive the terrible feeling of losing a wounded deer, or whatever your quarry may be. Happy hunting!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up for the HuntFishTravel Newsletter!

Also, just so you know: I respect your privacy and will not share your personal information with third parties or partners. You and I are buds, and buds don’t share personal info!