I told myself I was getting out of the tree station by 10am at the latest. Putting it off any longer could have meant a missed flight from Louisville to Montana—and a world of trouble from my wife.
It was the last day of a five-day hunt in the rolling hills of north-central Kentucky. I had had several encounters with good whitetail deer throughout the trip. I had been struck by a beautiful 7-pointer that went into a can, then watched helplessly as a tall, beautifully symmetrical eight walked under my stand and out of my life, my bow hanging on a hook 12 inches above mine. head.
But this last day’s landing was my last ditch effort, and the new 6-pointer I was hoping for appeared with only five minutes left in my self-imposed deadline. He climbed an old roadbed and rounded a corner that put him in an overgrown pasture to my left. When he got past a hanging limb that was obscuring his vitals, I slowly drew my bow, buried the 30-yard needle behind his shoulder, and squeezed the trigger on my release.
My bottom fell out of my stomach when I saw how far the shot had hit him. The broadhead didn’t go behind the shoulder, where I was aiming, but all the way to the deer’s back. I saw a flash of red before the buck jumped through the safety of the woodline and disappeared into a thick layer of osage orange and locust.
My mind went into a spin. I immediately regretted releasing the arrow. Why hadn’t I dug in, stopped, and taken a more careful shot while the buck was standing? Instead, I assumed I’d likely injured a deer that could take hours, if not days, to recover from—the kind of time I didn’t have before I had to catch my flight to Bozeman. .
At the same time, my gut told me the deer was dead. That flash of blood I saw was significant, indicating a possible stroke in the femoral artery. I stood in the stands for over an hour as these competing scenarios ran through my head on a torturous loop. I was still in the tree when my two cousins showed up to help with the tracking job. Wordlessly, I pointed out where I had joined the deer, and they soaked in blood.
Within minutes, they found him—stone dead in the thicket with my arrow sticking out of his right quiver. The broadhead was connected to the vital artery, as I suspected or hoped. Between hauling the deer back, field dressing him and hanging from the hide pole by the cabin, we cut it close – but I made it to the airport in time. As the plane took off and the northern Kentucky landscape rolled by below me, I reflected on the wild array of emotions I had experienced over the past five days:
- First, I had experienced something akin to grief when I took a chance on that beautiful 8-pointer early in the hunt.
- Afterwards, I had rekindled a sense of hope for the last morning’s landing…
- …only to have that hope dashed once, I thought I had wounded a deer with a hasty shot that missed the mark.
- Finally, I was deeply grateful for some last-minute luck—not to mention some much-needed venison in the freezer.
Emotions — and memories — like that are what make whitetail hunting so great.
Best of 2022 is a series of stories from the editors about their favorite moments of the past year on the field or on the air.