On the morning of November 2nd, 2017, I was settled in a good stand site along an acorn laden ridge; I had good luck spotting deer in the spot through the first several weeks of archery season—especially in the mornings. A storm system had passed through the previous evening, leaving the forest floor saturated and silent. An hour after sunrise, a crafty six point buck sneaked in behind me and offered no shot. Soon after another six point buck worked his way down the ridge toward me, and I foolishly rushed a shot in fear of losing another opportunity. The buck ambled off grazed but no worse for the wear. I would see one more buck, a nice 8-point out of range before concluding my morning hunt. I was not discouraged, but rather hopeful that more action would come my way before the day was through.
After lunch I switched to my favorite evening stand, a long walk from the trailhead in the state game lands near my home. Hiking in, I met my father, George, and my Uncle Tom, who were concluding their first hunt of the day. They planned to grab some lunch and pick up my brother-in-law Danny, who was visiting from Paris, France, and who had jumped at the opportunity to spend some time hunting with us after practicing with my old crossbow.
Little did I realize how fortunate I would be to have family hunting with me on this particular day.
It was a lazy, comfortable November afternoon. The sun was warm on my back and the woods were quiet. But soon, the last hour, the magic hour would arrive. The cooler air incited deer activity almost immediately. A small pod of does worked along the ridge to my right at 70 yards enjoying an evening meal. I began to hear movement in the bedding area directly in front of my stand. A doe hopped out of the cover and behind her, a beautiful buck gave chase. I stood, heart hammering, watching classic rut activity. The doe worked her way toward me, feeding on acorns. I knew she was my ticket to the buck, so I concentrated on her position and movement in order to keep my cover. She seemed at ease and continued to feed, occasionally glancing back at the mature buck, who stood sentinel still at the edge of the thicket. My heart continued to hammer and my mind willed him to move into a shooting lane. For nearly ten minutes the buck stayed put, scenting the air and checking the surroundings. Finally...finally he moved toward the doe. Slowly he worked toward her and then with a quick burst he pushed into a decent shooting lane and I drew the bow and placed my 20-yard pin on his side as he quartered away.
Hindsight is 20-20. I probably had more time than I realized in the moment, but I was worried the buck was about to charge off in pursuit of the doe and I would lose a good chance at him. The buck paused and looked toward me and then away, and I let an arrow fly from my PSE 3G Stinger.
It was a hit. The buck wheezed, turned tail, and burst away through the hollow and into the heavy brush. My arrow had hit a bit farther back than I intended, and I could see the bright green and white fletching sticking out of him as he ran.
Initially, I was concerned that I had only struck muscle and the deer was lost. Light was fading fast, so after 15 minutes of anxious waiting, I climbed down and checked for blood. Almost immediately I picked up a decent blood trail and followed it into the bramble nearly 80 yards away. I found my arrow, covered in bright red blood. At this point, I had to switch on my headlamp to see in the gathering darkness. Concern grew. I did not want to push this buck if it was still alive and lose it. So, I began to back off, and decided to hike out and check in with my family who were by now waiting and wondering what I was up to.
By the time I made it to the trailhead, everyone was there waiting and so was WCO Michael Ondik. Officer Ondik checked my license, checked out my arrow, and offered advice about how to proceed. We were all thankful for his help and good nature in the matter. He did much to instill in me the confidence that the buck was indeed down and out. At this point nearly two hours had passed since I arrowed the buck. For the rest of my life, I will be thankful for two specific pieces of this particular hunt. First, I was glad I backed off. Successfully recovering the buck may have certainly depended on it. Second, the help of family is invaluable. Having four sets of eyes to follow a blood trail in the night is exponentially better than being alone.
An hour later, our party of four arrived at the search site and took up the endeavor of finding the buck. Excitement pervaded, and with each new discovery of fresh blood my doubts dissipated. Things looks good. But still no deer. Then, Uncle Tom picked up a penultimate clue and Danny found the final one, and there he was catching the rays of my headlamp, a beautiful mature six-point whitetail buck!
How shall I ever forget the joy of the moment? With shouts of joy we all embraced and a litany of thank yous I expressed to my family not only for helping but also for being there to enjoy the memory. Barred owls hooted in the dark night, and we cheered the good fortune a buck brings to the archer on a November evening deep in the Pennsylvania woods.