In Hunting… And in Life… Patience is a Virtue

Every time I head into the field, there are new lessons to be learned. The most valuable lessons
are often the ones I learn the hard way: by making mistakes. The fact is, every hunter, even the
most seasoned, makes a mistake in judgment from time to time. Anyone who tells you
otherwise is…well…mistaken. Mistakes help us grow and improve – as long as we learn from
Last November, while hunting Idaho whitetails during the rut, I had been sitting all day over a
small bowl at the edge of the timber. Early in the day, a small group of does had moved
through the bowl, but hours had passed with nothing more than a squirrel and a few birds
presenting themselves. A cold front was moving in and I was starting to feel the chill. Daylight
was starting to fade when I caught movement 200 yards off to my right. To my surprise, a nice
buck was slowly working his way toward the timber below me. With the wind in my face, I knew
he couldn’t smell me. However, as I raised my binoculars to get a closer look at him, he turned
and looked straight at me. I froze as he looked my way, barely breathing or blinking until he
started to move again. As he continued to work his way toward the timber I slowly moved
myself into position for a shot. Every time I moved he looked in my direction. Each time I was
sure he had busted me, and I expected him to turn tail and run any second. But to my surprise
he continued on his path toward the trees. I finally was able to get set up for a shot and waited
for him to step into a small gap in the thicket of short “Christmas trees” (Noble firs) in front of
me. As soon as his front shoulder presented itself in the opening, I took my shot. I could tell by
the way he jumped and spun around that he had been hit hard. And as I watched him run out of
sight back in the direction he had come, I could see him slowing down, clearly not looking
Almost as soon as he was out of sight, I began to gather my things to go find him. Here is where
I made my mistake. I have hunted with a rifle for years and all of the deer I have taken have
dropped within sight. I had never had to track a rifle-shot deer. With my archery kills, I knew I
had to wait prior to tracking an arrow hit deer. However, in my excitement, I didn’t stop to
think that I should do the same with this deer. Darkness was quickly approaching and I was
eager to find him before it got too hard to see. Plus, again, I was just excited! I had put in many
long days hunting for this deer…three years, in fact. This was my first Idaho whitetail buck and
my anticipation got the best of me.
I quickly dropped down into the bowl to look for a blood trail. I found several drops of blood and
some hair where he had been standing, followed by a sparse trail of drops. As I neared the spot
where I had last seen the buck, I heard crashing in the brush nearby, which was a thick stand of
small, closely packed fir trees. I could tell it was a deer and followed the sound of hooves and
crashing brush as it raced away from me. At the time, I didn’t know if it was my deer or a
different one. I continued to look for a blood trail, but was unable to find more spots near the
sound of the crashing deer.
By this time my husband had worked his way over to me to help me find my buck. We searched
the direction he had appeared to be heading, but neither of us could find any blood. Finally, I
decided to go back into the trees where I had heard the crashing and look again. After a few
minutes of wading through the dense mini forest, I came into a small opening in the trees and
found a large pool of blood. It was obvious that my buck had lain down here just after he had
disappeared from view. Given a few more minutes he surely would have died right there, but I
had, in my haste, pushed him from this spot. I wanted to kick myself. It was a stupid mistake.
By now, it was completely dark and we continued our search by headlamp. Following the most
likely paths the deer would have followed, we spread out in ever-widening circles, trying to
locate even a minute spot of blood. After an hour of looking without success, and with a cold,
drizzling rain starting to fall, we abandoned our search for the night with plans to return the
next morning. I was sick! I hated the thought of leaving a potentially wounded deer in the
woods and worried that we might not find him even in the light of day. To make matters worse,
the weather forecast was for snow. I feared that snow would obliterate any blood trail that may
have existed.
As is so often the case, the weatherman was wrong, thankfully. There was no snow and instead,
it was a beautiful day. Ken and I were at it again by mid morning. Going back to the area where
the deer had bedded the night before, we again tried to pick up the blood trail. I started to
follow not only a trail, but my gut. Despite finding no blood on the trail, something inside me
told me that this was the direction I should follow. Knowing that a wounded animal will head
downhill, I kept working my way down the trail until I looked ahead and couldn’t believe my
eyes when I saw my buck lying dead under a tree – 150 yards from where I’d shot him. It had
taken me less than 10 minutes to find him and I had not found a single drop of blood between
him and his first bedding site.
I learned two valuable lessons from that hunt. First – and this applies for both bow and rifle – if
you shoot an animal and it doesn’t drop within sight, don’t start looking for it too soon. If you
are sure you hit it, wait at least 30 minutes to track it; if you track it too soon, you risk bumping
it and potentially pushing it to somewhere you may not be able to recover it. When you do start
tracking, proceed slowly. If you are unsure whether you hit it, you can look for blood and hair
where the animal was standing, then try to follow its direction of flight as far as you can to look
for additional blood sign before concluding that you missed it.
The second lesson is to not give up. If you know you have wounded a deer, exhaust every option
you have to maximize your chances of recovery. Even in the absence of a blood trail, search
every possible direction the deer could have gone, taking into consideration that a wounded
deer will usually head downhill and often toward water. If you have family or friends who can
help you search, call them up! Even bringing along a pet dog with a good nose can help you
recover a deer (just keep him on a leash so he doesn’t chase after healthy deer!). Keep
searching until you have recovered your deer or decide that the injury was a non lethal one.
Ethical hunters make every effort to deliver a clean, quick kill. Unfortunately, there are
occasions where, despite our best intentions, we need to track game in order to recover it. Out
of respect for the animals we hunt, we owe it to them to make every effort to recover what we
shoot. Patience and perseverance are the keys to recovery and the culmination of a successful

Mar 21, 2013 | Category: Blog | Comments: 2


2 comments on “In Hunting… And in Life… Patience is a Virtue

  1. Tom Payton

    Another great article. I think this is a mistake we have all made at on time or another.
    Waiting is such a hard thing to do …

  2. Candace

    This has probably happened to EVERY hunter! I know I have been in this situation! Excitement is sometimes hard to contain in these moments but it will usually pay off in the end!! Great blogThia!!

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