Whitetail buck season ends in my part of Texas this weekend. It has been an up and down season for me; here is a recap.
Reconciliation: My son joined me this year on my hunting lease. It was his first whitetail season, and the first time he has hunted with me in close to two decades. Working on the lease together in preparation for the season has been one of my true joys this year. In the spring he scored his first ever Rio Grande wild turkey. Additionally he took his first buck on opening day of gun season. He added a doe later, so his freezer (and my heart) is full.
Recalibration: I moved to a new area of our lease, which required me to sit 35 yards away from the deer trail most often used. In prior years my shots were 20 yards or less, so I only used my top pin, and didn’t need to use a rangefinder. This year I had to dial in my 5 pins out to 50 yards. More options equaled more opportunities for confusion.
I knew I needed to continue to improve my shooting, since range was now an issue. I added a new thinner Focus grip to my Mathews Helim in an attempt to tighten my groups. I did see some improvement over the stock grip. I found the new grip more comfortable as well.
I experimented with Quickfletch from NAP. Ease of application was great, and again I saw a small improvement in my groups. I like the white color which allows me to see blood to better determine if the shot location was a good one. More on that later.
I videotaped one of my practice sessions and noted that while I started with an open bow hand, I unconsciously clenched my hand as the shot was released. I modified my grip to close my index finger under my thumb. This seemed to quell the torquing of my bow, and immediately improved my consistency.
Finally, tiring of shooting dots, I purchased a full sized deer 3-d target, which I have enjoyed a great deal. It helped me work on shot placement, as well as allowing me to practice out to 50 yards
Regrets: I passed on 2 very nice shooters on opening weekend. I was hunting a buddy’s stand, and felt like it wasn’t cool to take a nice buck from his spot when he hadn’t hunted it yet. Also, I didn’t want to tag out so soon. As it turned out, those were the best two bucks I put eyes on all season.
I missed a nice buck at 35 yards because I used the wrong pin (remember the comment above about too many options?). To prevent a recurrence, I re-checked my pins, and wrote down the yardage each was set for. I put a piece of medical tape on my riser with the yardages marked as a reference.
I missed a doe at 27 yards because I failed to practice at in between yardages. I have a 20 and 30 yard pin. Rather than bracketing the target with those two pins as I should have, I rushed the shot and used the top pin and shot under the doe. I wasn’t very happy to say the least, but at least it was a clean miss.
I connected on a spike at 35 yards that I tracked for hours but never recovered. The shot was a little forward, and penetration wasn’t too good. Again I rushed the shot a bit.
The best buck I killed this season was done in by running into the side of my F250. I got a healthy dent in the passenger side door and a slashed tire that had been put on just the day before.
Redemption?: I hunted hard through November and December. I had seen a very large 8 point on my trail camera, and was holding out hope that I would see him during the rut. I was very selective; and I never saw the bruiser. I began to feel the pressure of possibly not taking a buck this season.
I was in the stand the weekend after Christmas. During the morning hunt I only saw one buck, and he was gone before shooting light.
The evening however proved to be…eventful. A cold front came through about 3 hours earlier than forecast, dropping temperatures from mid 40’s to low 30’s by 3PM. Winds gusting to 25 MPH put the wind chill in the 20’s. Fortunately I learned last season that proper cold weather gear made for bowhunters was a necessity, so I was properly attired to sit for hours in this blast. At 4:36 I was rewarded with a 17 yard shot at a nice 8 point. I held the pin behind his shoulder and heard the Rage broadhead smack. I was confident of a good shot, but I dutifully waited 30 minutes to recover my arrow. To my shock, I saw bright red blood on 2 of the fletches, but dark blood on the third. A quick sniff confirmed I had apparently clipped digestive organs. I searched in the waning light for a blood trail and found none.
I enlisted help from a buddy to try to find the buck. After an hour of searching in the dark, I decided to call it a night. I drove the 2 hours back home brooding over the loss and the snake bit season.
Recovery: I decided to go back the next morning (after clearing it with my boss) to try to recover the buck. We have a healthy population of coyotes on the ranch, and I expected that they would find the deer before me. As I arrived at the ranch another one of our hunters who had been hunting for several days offered to come help me search for the buck.
In the bright sunlight, I was able to find a slight blood trail, and 30 minutes later with my friend’s help, we recovered the buck. Temps in the teens and low 20s kept the meat from spoiling. There was no coyote damage to the deer; I found out later from the ranch foreman they had been busy killing a lamb that night.
Reflection: This was my fourth season as a bow hunter, and I continue to grow. As was true last season, this one was full of hard lessons that could not have been learned as well by reading a book. Each failure taught me much more than I could have learned by tagging out that first weekend. It was challenging, but worth it.
Even though we have a couple more weeks of antlerless season, I am already planning for next year. I think I am ready for my first out of state hunt. I have already been scouting with help from a family member. Big bucks in big numbers are already beginning to draw me with anticipation of the 2014 season.