Mistakes were made that day, for sure... on my part and the part of a buck that had a very strong will to live.
I saw him coming in spite of the heavy cover.
Head low, apparently hot on the trail of seven does that had crossed the old log road in single file a few moments earlier... he moved across the oak flat with a purpose. One of them must have been in estrous, I thought... no logical explanation for him to be tracking like that - except for that reason. This appeared to be mistake # 1 for him.
Positioned only 12 feet up in a pine tree some 200 yards distant from where it appeared he would cross the log road, I knew I was in a tough position. This low vantage point was necessitated because of the tree cover in the area - climb any higher and you lost most of the view from the stand. Even with this low vantage point and the fact that you could see quite a distance, the tangled undergrowth and bushes in the area were going to make for a tough shot, particularly on a moving target.
It was fairly late in the year, season wise, at least in the South. Nearly Thanksgiving now, we do see some rutting activity at this time of the year, but it has mostly wound down by then... at least in the LowCountry of South Carolina.
A quick wind scan revealed it was nearly dead calm.
He was looking neither left nor right - he was on a mission. A hurried scan with the binoculars revealed a short legged and very muscular buck. Even at that distance, I could see well defined muscles and a thick neck. Dark chocolate antlers completed the picture, I recall even then noticing that from a considerable distance away.
Things were happening very quickly now, however... he was closing the distance quite rapidly to what was really the only one good area for a clear shot - when he crossed the logging road. The question is - will he stop?? Or... another question is - can you stop him from this distance?
One he came now... as I made a flustered and hurried attempt to get the binoculars down and the rifle up. I was in a Summit climber and was facing the tree - at least I had the trunk of the tree to use as a hand held sort of rifle rest - because he was definitely out there at about the far limit of my shooting ability.
I quickly determined that he was gonna cross at about 200 yards out but without the aid of a rangefinder (which I did not have time to use anyway!!!) I held the reticle of the scope in the general direction of the probable crossing spot and watched over the top of the rifle as on he came. I knew I had a MPBR of well beyond this distance, so all I had to do was to get on him and let the rifle and the projectile do the rest of the work.
As soon as I knew he would cross the road, I transitioned to the "through the scope view", flicked the safety to the off position and got a steady rest. Sure enough, into the narrow 2 rut road he came - and made a fateful stop, to look left and right. That was mistake # 2.
Holding my breath now, I put the #4 German reticle on the top of his shoulder and felt the snap of the trigger as the 7mm-08 rifle jumped in my hands. The 140 Grain Hornady Light Mag bullet leaped from the muzzle at almost 3000 feet per second - which is a screamer for what I consider to be one of the most highly underrated deer calibers out there today.
Struck high on the left shoulder in a textbook broadside shot, he went down like he was dropped from an airplane. I saw the legs kick once, twice and then three times and he fell still.
"Man", I thought, "that was a great shot... thank goodness he stopped!"
Calming my shaking hands (Why are you shaking now??? The hard part is over!), I extracted the spent cartridge, dropped it into my jacket pocket and worked the bolt forward, pulling the second cartridge into the chamber.
With an hour or more of daylight left, I settled back into the stand to wait a few moments.
I could see the buck laying in the road through the binos.
I let 30 minutes pass by before I climbed down and started the walk up the road to where he was.
I approached and he was laying with his back to me - still as could be and apparently dead. Now it is my turn to make Mistake # 1.
I casually approached and prodded him in the butt with the rifle barrel. In the waning light, he did not move at all. I walked around him - now I realize way too close to him. Mistake # 2 comes into play... right about now.
I only thought things happened quickly before - now they happened at seemingly WARP SPEED - much faster than my apparently addled mind could keep up... As I make my way around the deer, I could see his eyes... still bright and shiny and it seemed like, for some stupid reason, I went into slow motion... it was like I was under water and could not react quickly at all.
In retrospect, I can see it with clarity - but at the time, I felt like I was an observer and not a participant!!
In one instant, the buck seemed to explode back into life!! What was a fully prone deer a second ago was INSTANTLY on his feet and moving at lethal speed - and I was standing almost directly in front of him. That second mistake could have been a costly one, but it is said that God protects drunks and fools and I was certainly in the latter category this particular evening.
As if unharmed, he went past me at no less than 2 feet - running like a sprinter out of the blocks at the Olympics. Many observers would now state - why didn't you shoot him again - heck, you have a rifle in your hands!!
I would agree with that but I was still under water at this point, or so it seemed!
I could even smell the rank buck smell of him as he went hurtling past.
In four or five bounds, he was out of sight - the only thing that even gave a tell tale that something was wrong was that he brushed into the trunk of a pine tree as he made his way out of sight... Even in my stunned state, I knew better than that... a deer simply does not do that. It was not a headlong bump into the tree but it was enough to let me know that he was still not 100%.
I am standing there now, in falling darkness... stunned.
What the heck happened?
Did I hit him in the shoulder after all?
Did I shoot high and maybe just give him a spine shock?
I looked down now, pulling out my flashlight and could see some blood on the ground - but precious little.
I began to really question the shot placement now... a look back toward the climber showed it was a long way....
"Darn it, how did things go from great to bad that quick", I wondered as I tried to figure out a good plan of action.... realizing now that I had just narrowly escaped what could have been a very dangerous encounter.
Gathering my wits, I immediately got out a small pack of tissue paper and dropped a sheet right where he was laying and then went some 30 yards away and hung a sheet on a bush where he had brushed the tree. These were the only indicators I had at this point to work with.
I moved into the now dark woods, looking for additional signs... blood, broken branches - any sign of which way he went.
Mistake # 3 of course.
I had not made it 30 yards further than I hear a crashing ahead of me and a departing deer. A few choice expletives later, cursing my stupidity - I thought "get your head out of your backside" and start thinking!!!!
Moving rearward, I departed slowly and went and sat down in the road, examining all the mistakes I had made.
Darkness had fallen completely now.. and I see approaching headlights... my buddy Dale has heard the shot and is coming now to offer assistance.
I explain the series of events and he tries to console me, telling me that everyone makes errors and that what really matters is how we handle it from here forward.
Let's back out, he states... let's go to the camp, get Dixie and come back in an hour or so.
Dixie is a mixed breed female with a heavy pit bull influence that Dale had rescued some years ago when she wandered into camp, skinny as a rail. She now lives a life of luxury, riding in the cab of the pickup and eating like a queen in a castle!!
Back to the scene we go, eventually - but we can find no blood trail or evidence of where the deer went. We snap the bell on Dixie and put her at the pine tree. Slowly she circles and we try to guide her into the direction we know the buck went.
We do not get a feeling that she has picked up the scent at all as we meander slowly forward.
We find ourselves in the thickest blackberry brier thicket you could imagine - there were a few sparse deer trails in the area and these were the only way you could really walk in there.
Back and forth we go on a moonless night as a feeling of gloom settles over me...
Thirty minutes stretches into an hour as we weave back and forth... we have to be a good 300 yards from the log road now... I think.
I hear the bell stop tinkling... Dixie has stopped just ahead... "Can we be that lucky" I wondered???
BAAAROOOW, she lets out one short, sharp bark....
Dale and I plow forward and come to a image that seems more twilight zone that a hunting scene.
We find Dixie crouched down, no more that 10 yards from a still standing buck, growling down deep in her throat!
The buck appears unharmed - just standing there - with humans pointing flashlights at him and a dog growling at him!!
He is almost broadside to us and I recall, vividly, that he turned his head away from us and just stood there.
Dale's .357 roars in the night, the muzzle flame bright in the darkness... I literally see the side of the buck take the full impact of the bullet - but he does not buckle or move....
"What the heck is wrong with this darn deer... he does not want to die!", I think as I bring the shotgun to bear. From less than 25 feet, a full load of buckshot hits him right in the front shoulders.
He staggers sideways but does not go down!
Seconds seem to tick slowly now.... the smell of gunpowder hangs heavily in the air as the stars twinkle in mute witness. The noise seems to jangle... ringing in my ears - as the surreal drama plays out.
Four actors now, in a silent play - just standing there...
His front legs buckle and he takes a lurching step forward and falls to the earth.
I wait a few moments as Dale and I stare at one another - wondering if we really saw what just happened!
Why didn't he run?
Why stand there with some many reasons to run?
I can not answer those questions, other than to say he had the constitution of one very tough customer.
When we dressed him, the first bullet did hit him directly on the top of the shoulder, but just a little rearward. Incredibly, it passed through the meaty part of the rear of his shoulder, missing the shoulder bone and then the spine by about 1-2 inches and exited the other side of his body. It did not break a single bone on entry and only snapped the upper section of a rib on the other side as it passed through him. There was a little entry hole and a good exit hole...
The only thing I can figure is that it stunned him unconscious and did not blow a lung (or both lungs) up. That part was hard to tell because of the additional damage from the pistol and shotgun.
The fact that he laid there at least 30 minutes lends credence to this theory, otherwise he would have bled out. I had made that same shot many times in the past - and many times since that day, with great results every other time... in that the deer hits the deck and expires immediately.
I do not fault the cartridge at all, it has performed superbly for me.
I think it was just a freak occurence that you could not replicate if you tried.
I did range the shot the following day - 237 yards from stand to deer. That was - and still is - my longest shot at a deer.
He was a very muscular and compact deer. He was in superior shape and while his darkly colored rack was not that large, it was thick and very strong.
In closing, he made a few mistakes and I made a bunch of them.... ones I have learned by, for sure. He was a tough buck with a strong will to live and I am just thankful that he did not suffer and die a slow death out in the woods.
Drunks and fools... drunks and fools.