It was the closing hour of the 2017 muzzleloader season and the weather had turned cold with wind chills in the single digits. If a deer was going to move before it got dark out, we were hoping tonight was the night.
CJ and I were sitting on opposite ends of a farm and I looked at my watch and saw there was only 15 minutes left in a season that I had put in nearly 40 hours into with a gun in hand.
With the cloud cover it was getting darker quicker which meant good news. Through the brush I saw a flicker that was different than the leaves that had quickened my pulse about 20 different times this night. With the strong Northwest wind I was not sure it was a deer as the flicker was downwind of me.
I had confidence in my scent reduction recipe. Religious care of my scent lok clothing and use of Wildlife research center Gold formula every time out. If a deer were coming in downwind I would hopefully pass by undetected.
Shortly after the initial flicker I watched as a fawn came rumbling towards me and out to the corn field. I was hunting some thick cover and knew that a bigger deer would not be that far behind.
I was not wrong as a bigger deer did show and stopped strongly quartering to me at 50 yards just having crested a hill. I put the scope up and saw a rack. Beggars cannot be choosers and I had yet to fill my buck tag this year. I had let Austin sit on my stand the Sunday of opening weekend and he shot a dandy buck with an 18” spread.
This buck stopped and surveyed the landscape, looking in every direction possible but as often as bucks will do he was not moving. I had a clear shot at him but he was quartering really hard and I figured he would follow the fawn’s path which would bring him only 20 yards away on the way to the field.
I waited and watched, trying my best not to steam up the scope and hoping he would inch forward. I checked my phone quick and there was only three minutes left to the muzzleloader season.
I bore down on the scope again. I was using Austin’s gun as CJ was using mine. I had confidence in his gun having shot a buck in Nebraska with it last year but had not shot it since then. Austin had sighted it in but since he had already filled his tag he did not need to hunt.
As the seconds ticked by I knew I had to take the shot. I zeroed in just in front of his right shoulder and slowly pulled the trigger. Smoke bellowed out of the gun and all I could see was a tail going in the direction the deer had come from.
I got out of the tree and went to look for blood, using just my phone light I saw none. I walked back to the barn to meet CJ and grab a better light. I told him the story and as I thought about it the following went through my mind.
-Most of the deer I have shot with a muzzleloader have dropped in their tracks. I am using a 300 grain bullet and that packs a wallop.
-I was aiming at the front shoulder so if I did hit it I figured it would have really sent him back. I had repacked the powder and bullet just before we went out. I had shot at deer with the muzzleloader before with day old powder and it failed but this one could not have.
-The deer turned around, a mortally hit deer would just plow forward.
As we got to the spot where the deer was standing it was lightly snowing but not enough to cover up blood. We found nothing. It was so thick that the only way the deer could have gone was back down the trail so we took about 50 yards of walking down it and found no sign.
I was really second guessing myself for not having sighted in the gun myself. It was the last day of the season and the gun has been used, in fact it has been in and out of the truck about a dozen times so maybe the sight was off.
I got back into my stand and shined the light and had CJ stand where the deer was. There was no doubt we were in the right spot. Well I personally was not happy yet with the situation and felt we needed to look a bit more. I know plenty of hunters that would not. I read a report on Wisconsin’s Facebook rut report of a guy who shot a deer and found it with no blood so I was hoping although not very optimistically. I told CJ that we would go down the trail again and look for blood.
As we got to where we turned around I said just a bit further. We were about to enter a valley and I figured with the spotlight that I would be able to see eyes if it were dead. We had brushed out the trail we were on in the summer and it was clear but as soon as you got off of it you were in thick blackberry brambles, so it was easy to see the trails going off and we were looking down them.
I honestly was going to go another twenty yards or so when I looked a head and said to CJ, “There he is, holy cow!” He was lying across the trail and we laughed together as we could not believe he was there.
We looked for a bullet hole and first noticed his left front leg was broken severely at the shoulder. Just in front of that was a small entrance hold from the sabot slug.
As I went to gut the deer out I looked inside to see a huge pool of blood, as I grabbed the heart I found the slug lodged right next to the heart having left a bruise on it.
I have shot plenty of deer in my day and have shot enough in the heart. Every single one of those deer gets amped up on adrenaline and runs. This buck was no different and the 100 yards that he went was about the same distance as all of the others. With no exit wound there was no way for the blood to come out, why he wheeled around is anyone’s guess but it surely raises a huge question.
How many hunters shoot deer, do not find any blood within 20 yards or so and give up? I have hunted with people that do. Especially on years without snow there is a significant difference in deer killed versus deer found.
It was a great lesson for CJ and one I know he won’t forget, lessons learned in the field are as valuable as they come. If you take the shot and you are sure of your shot, which you should be if you pull the trigger, you need to take the time to look for the animal until you are certain.