Wednesday, February 1, 2017

THE Weekend Hunt

Hunting in South Texas, you have to get accustomed to hunting conditions that better lend themselves to wearing shorts and a t-shirt, than what most typically think of as hunting gear.  That was the case for the majority of the 2016-2017 Texas Whitetail season in the lower end of the state.  There even was a time when I threw in the towel having grown tired of sweat beads rolling down by my back.

We did have that weekend though; the one where the front rolls in and there is no place the hunter would rather be than out in the brush.  It was late December and as I made my way from the Texas Gulf Coast to Dimmit County, the temperature just kept getting colder.  When I arrived at the ranch, it was in the mid 30's and with a clear sky, it was bound to dip below freezing.

After a chilly night in our hunting cabin that is only warmed by small space heaters, I climbed out of bed and got ready for the morning hunt with a bit of trepidation knowing it was going to be a chilly sit. The car thermometer read 24 degrees, but I did find some consolation knowing the winds had calmed from the day before when the front initially blew in, and with 3 layers of clothing on, I knew it wouldn't be too bad.

I didn't know it as I climbed into my homemade ground blind, but this was going to be one of those days.  The days hunters live to see!  Deer were on the move, and although it wasn't the peak of the rut, there was plenty of rut behavior that had bucks acting in ways they typically would not for the majority of the year.  This was certainly the case when, right as the sun came up, ran within 3-4 yards of my ground blind (consequently giving me quite a start).  He had apparently lost track of the doe he was chasing, and we has frantically running circles trying to pick up her scent.  The action didn't stay as feverish as that, but I did plenty of deer all morning, and really had the feeling that today was going to be a great day.

Just watching the deer was such a treat this chilly morning.  Bucks making runs at does, bucks interacting with each other, small bucks play-fighting as they pushed each other back and forth, and all the interactions that make you just marvel at how lucky we are to enjoy this sport.  Even though it was cold, there was no place I would have rather been at that moment.

After some time of enjoying the sights, I was now narrowing down the options of what I may try to take.  A doe was the original plan, but here was a heavy horned main frame 8 with several kickers, and a cull 5 pt that was too old to sport a rack as meager as he was showing.  Given the number of does on the ranch, it was the most obvious choice to take the doe, but that was really a tough choice with the heavy horned 8 standing broadside at 20 yards.  I did decide to stick to the original plan and take a doe, and given how perfectly the morning went, I didn't see how it could possibly go wrong.

In front of me were two solid bucks; an unimpressive 8, a nice 4 1/2 year of 10 that was getting pass to make sure he had plenty of chances to breed, and a decent doe.  The bucks were not overly impressed with each other's presence so there was a fair amount of posturing and intimidation going on, with no real threat of any true brawl.  As is often the case though, if you are patient, the place switching and moving of the deer usually will work to your advantage, and now the doe was squarely in front of me at 20 yards with both bucks completely out of the way.  This was going down!

Raising and lifting my bow alerted the doe to presence (mistake #1; nothing I couldn't overcome), although the ground blind I had constructed was so beautifully put together that she really did know I was there.  She bolted slightly and turned at 25 yards looking directly at me trying to decipher the threat.  That unimpressive 8 was looking my way too, but only because the doe was, as he had no idea what was going on.  During all of this I bumped the video camera with my arrow (mistake #2: now I was just getting lucky that these weren't smarter deer), but the deer didn't run.  As I came to full draw (get a load of this!) the winter ski mask I was wearing blocked the view of my pin from my right eye (mistake #3: you got to be kidding me, right??).  This was a ski mask I had never worn before and only took as an afterthought because it was going to be so cold.  Huge lesson here, don't venture into the brush with untested gear!  Given this while fully drawn and 2 deer staring directly at me, I had to take my right hand and try to pull the ski mask to allow sight to my pin, which I was able to do as the deer just continued to look on, probably completely perplexed by the actions of the idiot hunter 20 yards away from them.

Things were not going my way, but here I was fully drawn on the game of choice at 20 yards.  It was time to let 'er rip.  I gently squeeze the release and the arrow was off...way off.  Like "what the heck just happened" off!  I knew I was high and left and had missed the deer, but I could not figure out how I could have been that far off.  Reviewing the video showed that the arrow had flow over the doe's head.  To help paint the picture, I aimed at the doe's rib cage looking to double lung her, and the arrow flew over the does head!  That has to be off by a couple FEET!

The doe fled, so did the bucks with her, and I sat there completely beside myself trying to piece together what happened.  I exited the ground blind and retrieved my arrow.  It was broken in half and only being held together by one vein. So happened?

Near as I can tell, the arrow had a crack in it that was not noticeable to the naked eye, but caused a defect in the arrow.  When the arrow was released the kinetic force broke the arrow and caused the erratic flight and allowed the doe to live another day.

This is a hunt I may always remember.  It started off so perfectly and ended so shamefully.  Should have better inspected my equipment before going out?  Probably, but what are the odd?  Now I had used the arrow before on a javelina, but who doesn't recycle arrows?  I've also used the arrow on many targets, but don't you do that, too?  It was definitely one that had left me scratching my head looking for the lesson to be learned.  But I think the lesson is this, and it's one we all know.

Every trip that we are fortunate enough to make is a special hunt.  That morning I saw deer like many only dream of seeing, and every year the opportunity to hunt is afforded by fewer and fewer people.  Consequently, more and more people are losing touch with a sport that dates back to the beginning of time and is such a rich part of our heritage.  Next time I go into the field (which is 3 days away and can't get here soon enough), I'm going to try to make it a point to see forest AND the trees, listen to the birds, notice the sunrise, and truly be thankful for such a great opportunity...and oh by the way, maybe I'll get to shoot some quail, too!

I hope you get to enjoy it soon yourself!

The highlights of that hunt can be seen here: