Who could have guessed that my best weekend of seeing deer was going to be during the 2019 shotgun season in Illinois. In total, I saw 29 deer over 2 days of hunting and 31 deer if you count the 2 I spooked on my way back in to look for my doe (more on that coming up). It’s a shame that I had to ask myself if I should back out.
That being said, the title suggests that things didn’t exactly go as planned. That is a total understatement. I had major camera problems with great footage lost. I made the decision to leave the tree when I shouldn’t have on day 2. Allowing others to convince me to follow a blood trail that I knew I shouldn’t was another mistake. The worst part? I had to ask myself “Should I back out?”
The Story of Day 1
Opening day was a great day for seeing deer. Before I was even set up in the tree, I heard a deer blowing off in the distance. My best guess was that it was blowing at my dad who was setting up about 100 or so yards away in the direction of the blowing deer. The other possibility that I thought of was that the deer was blowing after coming across my ground scent. Either possibility was equally valid.
Once set up, it wasn’t long before I saw my first deer. I had already told myself that I wasn’t going to shoot a doe on opening morning. Sure enough, the first deer I saw was a group of 3 does. I got the camera on and followed them all the way in to under 10 yards. The deer were underneath me for almost 10 minutes before finally pegging me in the tree messing around with the camera. It’s because the camera showed an error message and stopped. All of that footage was lost due to the issue.
I continued to have camera issues all day, but spent the entire day in the tree. I saw a total of 13 deer that day. There was never more than 2 hours that went by without seeing a deer. While I had a great day, most others in camp struggled to see more than 2 deer the entire day.
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Day 2 – Another Great Start To The Day
Though I liked the spot I saw on opening day, I decided to head up one bench higher for day 2. I had seen a lot of deer up there during the previous day but it was just out of range for me. Same as with day 1, I had activity before being completely set up. A doe came running in on me and ended up spotting me as she got within 5 yards. Luckily though, she was more concerned with what was chasing her. She changed directions and scooted out of sight. I scrambled to finish getting set up. Before finishing I found out what the doe was so worried about. A small buck appeared near where I saw the doe come from. He was a year and a half old fork. Not something I was going to shoot. I was glad that the morning was starting off great!
Around 10:30, I decided to get down for a couple of hours. I hadn’t seen a deer in quite a while and we were heading in to the time of day where I saw the least amount of deer the day before. I planned to be back out by 1 and head a little farther down the bench to overlook a different funnel.
Day 2 – An Afternoon of Issues
On my way back out, I knew it would be possible to run in to deer. Because of that, I basically stalked my way out. On my way out, as I passed where I sat for the morning, I noticed a good 3 year old buck. It was not before the buck heard me. It was trying to scoot out the back door as I made my way along the bench. I made a few maneuvers to try and get a shot, but it just didn’t pan out.
This made 2 mistakes in one. First, getting out of my tree in the first place. The buck had bedded down within gun range of my tree. And Second, I was moving too quick. The buck must have heard me moving along the bench. He wanted to sneak out of there without being noticed. The one thing I did do well was pay attention. That buck almost got out of there without ever being noticed. I didn’t hear him, only saw him out of the corner of my eye.
After that, I continued my stalk in to where I wanted to sit. 100 yards later, I was there. The problem was there wasn’t a great tree to sit in. There was one perfect tree, but it had the wrong position for the wind direction. I tried another tree, but it I didn’t like it once I got up there. I found a good tree and climbed up. Just after being ready to go, a group of 7 does came charging through. 3 of them stopped right in the funnel. There, they were eye level with me. Completely stuck, there was no way to get a shot.
Day 2 – Time To Ask myself If I Should Back Out
As the afternoon wore on, I saw several more deer. Nothing was close enough to get a comfortable shot. With under 30 minutes left of daylight, I had my opportunity. The group of 7 does came back up the draw heading in my direction. With all of the camera issues and not wanting to go home empty handed, I decided that I wasn’t going to try and get the shot on film. I settled the gun and waited for my shot. As my target doe entered my opening, I shot. I saw her run off and thought I saw her stop still within range. I looked through my scope and shot again. This time, nothing moved. Apparently, I did not see the deer stop there.
As the light faded, I got down to start the track. At first, I couldn’t find anything at all. I eventually found that the deer was standing 10 yards farther than I thought. I saw and waited at the spot of impact for some help. The spot of impact showed a lot of white hair (which was my first clue that I should back out). I did not see any blood there at all, but did find the plastic wad from the slug. Once help arrived, we fanned out to start looking for blood.
Day 3 – The Recovery?
It didn’t take very long for us to find something. The problem was, it wasn’t blood. I found a huge pile of stomach contents. This was the second clue and confirmed for me that we needed to back out.
The thing was, my help had taken a long time to get out there and were not ready to turn right around after only being there for 5 minutes. They pressed on while my brother and I said we needed to give the deer time. After following a trail of blood and stomach contents for 75 yards, the batteries started dying on flashlights and we backed out.
I headed back out to search for the doe just after sunrise the next morning. As I got to last blood, I immediately saw the next blood spot. Within 5 yards of the spot, I found the first bed. Covered in blood and stomach contents, I knew we had jumped her the night before. The trail was relatively easy to follow. 50 yards down the trail, another bed. This one was just blood. In fact, it almost looked like super fresh blood. It made me think that I may have jumped her again.
To make a long story short, I never did find that doe. It makes me sick. That was the second deer that I failed to recover this year. I can’t help but wonder if that deer was even dead the next morning when I went in. It’s been a rough season for me full of lots of blunders. All I can do is look forward and learn from things that have happened so far.
If you ever have any doubt about the quality of your shot, back out! I’m not convinced that I would have found the deer if I backed out. Even still, it would have been the right decision. See below for the video that goes along with this story and lesson.