If you hunt long enough, eventually you will have a deer get away from you. They know the best places to hide and the sneakiest ways to get there. Even well hit deer can seem to disappear despite our best tracking efforts. Over the years I have found over a dozen doe skulls and bleached racks from bucks that were wounded by a hunter from an adjacent property and crawled off into the “jungle.” This is an area of the farm that we hunt in Maryland that is about 20 acres of nothing but thick entanglements of briars, honeysuckle, poison ivy, and small saplings. A great place of refuge for live deer let alone a wounded one.
While trailing my own deer or while rabbit hunting, I typically come across a skull at least once a year. Finding a dead deer is unfortunate in any case, but finding dead bucks is just heartbreaking. The Maryland deer population is significantly dominated by does. This is one reason that the state has a very liberal amount of doe tags and recently reduced the number of buck tags by half.
I am not immune from having lost a deer. Several years ago I was hunting a creek bottom where there was a ton of sign leading to one of the corn fields on the farm. It was a warm, humid late september evening and I had used my climber to get about 15 feet up a thin ash tree. Fighting the mosquitos, I wasn’t sure if the deer were going to be moving before the sun went down. I happen to turn my head and instantly froze as I saw a small buck standing only 30 yards through the brush. I slowly stood and grabbed my old Martin bow to get ready.
The 1 1/2 year old buck made his way through the brush slowly. He was incredibly cautious. Back then my scent control practices were not what they are today and I’m sure that he knew something wasn’t right. Suddenly, two other bucks show up and pass the young five point on the trail. My heart was about to beat out of my chest, as these were much better bucks. Each were 8 points, but one had a great rack, probably a 130 class deer. Unfortunately, when they reached the opening that would have given me a 20 yard shot, they turned straight away and did not offer a good shot angle until they were out of bow range. Ony the five point remained.
I turned my attention back to the young buck. Although I had taken a much larger deer with my rifle, and several does with my bow, at that time I had never taken a buck with my bow. So this five point was a trophy in my book. He finally overcomes his fear and steps into the opening, but does the same as the bigger bucks before him, and turned away from me offering no shot. Except he makes the mistake of turning at 35 yards and presents an angle to his vitals. Whack!
The buck spins and runs uphill, amazingly enough, and disappears over the rise. I knew I made a good hit, but the arrow had stuck in the opposite shoulder. I give the deer 45 minutes to an hour and climbed down to begin to trail him. After following a sparse blood trail for a 150 yards, he had cleared the field and entered some very dense briars and honey suckle, but luckily not the “jungle.” By 200 yards the blood trail gave way and there was no longer any sign to follow. So I backed out and returned later with some help.
My father and I combed the thicket for several hours and unfortunately never found him. But a few months later, as I was returning from a muzzleloader hunt on Christmas morning, I walk past the same thicket. Wouldn’t you know it, I spotted a rack sticking out of the honeysuckle. Now that all the leaves had fallen from the briars, I could see that this deer had crawled under a briar bush that was mounded over by the honeysuckle vines. A perfect hiding spot. We must have walked by that deer 5 times when we searched and just couldn’t spot him. So even though I provided a feast for all the animals on that farm but me, at least I got some closure, learned a valuable lesson, and ended up with a nice Christmas present.