I was nestled into my blind, awaiting the arrival of shooting time when the two-way radios we all carry crackled. It was my youngest brother–let’s call him Dave. He had turned himself around in the woods en route to his stand. There was the slightest hint of panic in his voice.
Having been there myself on more than one occasion, I knew the feeling. Scary. We started discussing options. I asked about his compass; it was attached to the zipper of his coat, he said, and he’d dropped the coat he’d been carrying in somewhere along the line.
I asked if he could hear any road noise. No. Could he hear the nearby river? No. Could he see from which direction the light was approaching? No. (I knew where his stand was; it overlooked an opening in a spot that is otherwise as thick as whale blubber.)
My sister’s husband got on the radio, directing him to go to the compass app or the maps app on his smartphone. He said he couldn’t get a signal.
So I told him to stay put, I’d be right there. It was a calm morning, with little wind. He couldn’t have wandered that far. I walked out to my truck, drove to where he’d parked his, and laid on the horn. I got on the radio. He’d heard me.
So I stayed put, blasting the horn every couple of minutes, until, about 10 minutes later, he emerged from the woods (and from the direction he approached, he had been turned around).
I wanted to go look for his coat. He said that was hopeless: he had no idea when he’d dropped it and wouldn’t even know where to begin looking.
Fortunately, I had a spare (always bring a spare everything). I walked with him back to his stand–it was a lot easier to find in the daylight–got him situated and walked out.
I got back to my spot, parked, hiked to my blind, sat down, poured a cup of coffee, cracked open a novel, and read about three pages when I heard a shot from Dave’s direction. The radio crackled again.
“I just shot a buck,” he said. “But I’m going to need help finding him. He ran off.”
I told to stay put for at least 15 minutes–give the critter a chance to die–and I’d be there in a bit. Five minutes later I heard another shot.
“I just shot a doe,” he said. “She ran off, too.”
He was anxious to get on their trails. I told him to stay put, walked off to my truck, drove over and picked up my brother Paul. We drove to Dave’s truck. I loaded a shotgun with 00 buck; I’ve heard too many tales of guys trailing wounded deer only to have them jump up and disappear. I wanted at least a chance of stopping it if it happened.
By the time we got there, Dave had climbed down from his ladder stand. He told me he thought the doe had been hit harder, so we went that way first, found blood almost immediately, and, in short order, found the doe.
But the buck was not so easy. We went to where the deer was standing when he shot. No blood, anywhere. I put him back in his stand, flagged the spot where the deer had been and moved off into the woods until I was where he said he last saw the departing buck. I flagged that spot, too. Still no blood.
It has been my experience, when a deer is fatally wounded, it takes off like a nitro-burning dragster in a straight line until it runs into an obstacle or runs out of gas. But my experience is with heart- or lung-shot deer. The lack of blood indicated this wasn’t. So the three of us lined up, five yards apart, and started moving slowly, straight away from the two reference points, looking for blood. We went about 100 yards, then turned around, pivoting around my outside brother and started back. Still no blood.
So we started again, on a different angle, and repeated the drill. This time, maybe 50 yards out, Dave spotted a drop of blood.
We flagged it and began circling. Dave found another drop. Flag, continue. After we’d traveled maybe 50 yards, with a few drops of blood here and there, we lost the trail. So we started making semi-circles around the last flags (anybody remember when we used to have snow on opening day?) without much luck. Dave was unhappy. I remained optimistic.
Paul found the next drop (20, maybe 25 yards from the last) and then I found the next and, suddenly, there was more blood–still not what we wanted to see, but better, and I looked ahead I saw some on the side of a sapling, then a bigger splat, and there was finally a good blood trail. Another 75 yards or so and there was a dead deer.
It was a very honorable buck: eight point, big body, at least 2 ½-years-old, maybe 3 ½ (our deer don’t always seem to grow hats equivalent to their bodies up here) and Dave’s best ever. But now the fun began; we had two deer to drag out to the truck through an obstacle course of mixed aspen and young conifers.
Long story short, by the time we got them out and dressed and hung, it was past 1 p.m. when I finally settled into my blind.
So that’s my story from opening day. There’s a little more to tell, but I’ve already run out of space.
Images by Bob Gwizdz