I have missed my share of deer throughout the years, heck, maybe even more than my share. However, I have been lucky enough though to have collected four of the six biggest bucks that I've ever seen in the woods. (It does make me wonder about the biggest bucks that saw me without my seeing them, though.) I do also have had a few misses that still, years later, I can not even come close to explaining how or why I missed, but I also have a few rather interesting and funny ones I'd like to share that were finally "explained".
The first such miss occurred in 1996. This was the first year I hunted a very nice new patch of woods in north central Tennessee, where I live. I have been lucky enough to be able to hunt this area every season since, but have still yet to top my classic miss that first year.
It was muzzleloader season here in Tennessee, our first early one, scheduled before out modern rifle season which always opens the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I had put up a new stand, a ladder type, in what looked like a promising area and was hunting one afternoon after a heavy rain shower. I heard a slight noise behind me and when I turned to look, I saw that a buck had crept up close behind my stand and was feeding on some honeysuckle not 15 yards away.
I managed to get turned around and into shooting position and when he was turned away and occupied with his tasty treat, I raised my muzzleloader and aimed at his outstretched neck. (Most of the rest of the deer was obscured by the thick vines.) I steadied the rifle and squeezed off a shot. It took a few seconds for the smoke to clear and when it did I saw just what I had expected; the buck motionless on the ground.
I silently congratulated myself on collecting my first deer in my new hunting area and sat still, not needing to reload my smokepole. After a few more moments I noticed the deer, while still prone on the ground, did begin to move some. Not unusual, I told myself. But, when he then began to move even more and start to regain his feet, I knew that this was not something you might normally see.
I watched in total shock as the deer regained his feet completely and a second later bound away. Well, he took one "bound" and as he hit the ground, he did a complete somersault. Yup, 360 degrees, and off again bounding down the hillside. Because of the thick woods and wet ground, I soon lost track of his departure route.
I got out of my stand, reloaded and walked to where he had been when I fired. I could see clearly the area kicked up in the wet leaves from his dropping and afterwards regaining his feet easily enough, but no blood or hair was to be seen there. I was able to follow his tracks through the wet leaves and maybe 20' or so away I did find one small spot of blood, maybe the size of a nickel.
I was, of course, quite concerned about this turn of events; that being from a "dead" deer lying within less than 15 yards of my stand to now, no deer at all. I was able to follow his tracks through the wet leaves for a good ways, but never saw another speck of blood, anywhere. I continued to look until it was too dark to search any more and then was back out and in the stand the following morning, looking again at first light. Long story short here; no sign anywhere of that deer. I did rattle in and shoot another buck a few days later with my muzzleloader, but of course I still wondered about that first one.
The spot was still a good one and when some 10 days later the modern gun season opened, I found myself walking by late one morning after having shot a coyote from another stand. I decided to sit for a while and after only about 10 or 15 minutes on stand, I saw some movement that turned out to be a buck chasing a doe. I raised my rifle and at the crack the .35 Whelen did what it is best at, dropping him right in place.
I waited a few minutes and then climbed out of my stand and walked over to the deer. I laid my rifle down and grabbed the rack and had to laugh out loud at the sight I saw. This buck had a good-sized scab on the top of his head, between his eyes and his antlers. It all became clear, then.
When I had shot at the outstretched neck of the deer with my muzzleloader, he apparently had jerked his head down just as it went off. The smoke had obscured the fact that I had simply barely bounced that sabot round off the very top of his skull and knocked him out. He then regained his feet as I watched and, still dizzy from the impact, took that bound and rolled right over, and ran off not much worse for the wear. The one dot of blood I had found followed right along as that left by the small divot off his noggin as he did his somersault.
I had shot the same deer from the same stand about 10 days after the first time our paths crossed. His rack and his quarter-sized scab attested that fact to me with 100% certainty.
My next odd miss came a few years later, in 2003. This one occurred while hunting with my best friend Gary, in Connecticut. We were hunting a piece of private land that we had hunted several seasons before. It was a nice morning, still and crunchy, so we could hear any deer that moved about.
I heard some movement behind me, but it stopped after a bit and I continued sitting and listening. I saw a couple of deer run across in front of me, travelling too fast for a shot, so I held back. A moment or two later I saw the reason they were spooked, there was a large coyote on their trail. I got turned around and ready and when he paused for a moment I fired, dropping him in his tracks with my .243. As soon as I fired I heard something moving behind me once again and figured there had been some deer stopped or bedded behind me, out of sight.
After waiting a few minutes and hearing them begin to walk, I slowly turned around and seeing a buck standing there amongst a small group of deer, I remember saying to myself, "Gee a coyote and a buck harvested within 5 minutes from the same stand, not bad."
I lined up on the deer quartering towards me at about 40 yards and pulled the trigger. He ran off to my right and appeared to be hit. I listened as he went out of sight into a nearby gully and felt that he had probably dropped right there, maybe 70 yards away. I waited my normal 10 minutes and as I rose to walk to where I had lost sight of the fleeing buck I heard my buddy Gary fire a shot some 400 yards or so away. I thought for a moment wow, a coyote and two deer for us in about 15 minutes, what a really good morning!
Well, as I reached the side of the gully and looked around, but I did not see my dead buck there as I had expected. At that point I walked back to the spot he had been standing, and on the way found the ground covered with deer hair in a couple of different spots. There were literally, handfuls of hair in the area he had been and run through, but interestingly enough, no blood.
About this time I heard a noise and turned to see Gary walking up through the woods. He asked if I had shot one, and I replied, yes, but I can't locate him or any blood. I also told him that I'd shot a big coyote with my first shot, and he was excited at that luck.
He then told me of the nice little buck he had dropped while it followed 2 does past his stand. After chatting a few minutes he took directions from me while I stood at my stand location and, as soon as he got to the spot I directed him to he said, "I know what happened." I walked over and he pointed to a small 1 1/2" diameter sapling with a hole through one side (completely through). It wasn't quite perfectly center punched but you could see that the bullet from the .243 had passed clear through it.
I had an idea of why I hadn't found my buck close by, and immediately asked Gary if the one he shot was a 6 point and if it had looked wounded as it passed by. His answer was that it appeared the picture of health and was a nice 4 point, anyway. He then left to complete his field dressing and dragging chores and I told him I'd be along to assist in a bit, after I felt confident my deer had not been seriously wounded.
I continued to search the area for about 30 minutes and found only the large amount of hair I'd seen before and never so much as one drop of blood. Satisfied that I'd done all I could to feel comfortable the deer and I had survived the incident, and figuring Gary to be about done gutting and dragging, I made my way over to meet him.
Yup, I'd been right; he was just about done with the downhill drag (my timing was perfect). I asked if he'd seen any evidence of a hit while dressing the deer and he said he hadn't seen anything odd. So we loaded the deer into the back of his jeep, along with the coyote and went to check it in.
After we checked the deer and dropped the coyote off to someone who enjoyed working with the hides, we traveled to another friend's house to hang the buck to age in their cooler. We pulled the deer out of the back of the jeep and began to cut the back legs off to make it easier to hang in the cooler.
As I held the second leg for Gary to cut, I happened to notice a "line" down the body of the deer. I moved my hand to it and as I traced it from front to rear down the side of the buck I said "check this out". It had clearly been cut by something there. There was no blood or even so much as a scratch, but the hair had been trimmed as if by a straight razor for about 18" down the right side of the deer. As we marveled at what we supposed had to have been my errant shot, I followed the cut hair back to where it ended where the buck's flank tapered to his hip.
I followed the apparent route over this unaffected area and felt my finger touch something on the side of his rear quarter, on his right hip. I easily pulled what turned out to be the remains of the 100 grain bullet from the .243 where it had lodged, still not even having penetrated the hide fully.
So, at last, mystery solved. This had indeed been the same deer I had fired a shot at. The bullet penetrated the sapling and was deflected so that it barely touched the deer as it zipped down the side and flank area, cutting off a huge amount of hair as it did so.
After going about 8" through thin air after leaving the razor-like cut down the side, it then imbedded, albeit just barely, into the right rear quarter, still not fully penetrating the hide or causing so much as one drop of blood. The hide, as a matter of fact, was only pinkish in color right where the bullet was found stuck for maybe 2".
I had obviously been wrong about my deer being a 6 point, as he turned out to be the 4 point that Gary had harvested about 10 minutes later. But as luck would have it, I did harvest another buck, literally a twin in body size but with a barely larger rack, 2 days later. Yup, You're right, Gary did have to put up with all the ribbing about my larger deer (a "6" point) for the remainder of our hunt together.
To finish on a bit more serious note, as ethical fair chase hunters we always owe our quarry the effort to locate any animal, if at all possible, anytime we fire a shot. We MUST make an effort to search for any signs of a hit, and any being found, we then must make an honest effort to either locate and dispatch, if necessary, or follow our game until we cannot possibly locate it.
In one case here there was a small amount of blood found at the scene, and a several hour search failed to locate any more, or the animal itself. The other occurrence had no blood to aid our search, but did show evidence in the form of hair literally cut by the bullet, which pretty much occurs any time we hit a deer, as evidence of some type of hit.
I can't say that all my misses have had such a bizarre and positive ending, but these, along with some others, have taught me to be open minded, thinking outside the box, when trying to analyze any shot taken at a then "missing" deer. Always follow up on any shot taken, no matter what you saw or felt. It is the ethical and the ONLY course of action for a true hunter. Happy and safe hunting to all.
Story Thumbnail: The 2nd chance buck and the M7400 in .35 Whelen that finally dropped him for good
A picture of Me and the "bigger" deer I shot after Gary finally toppled my first one
Both the 2nd chance deer and the little coyote harvested on the same morning