Something happened to me a week ago that has only happened one time before in my life. I lost a deer. Not only that, but it was a really nice deer. I can feel good in the fact that the loss was not my fault, but rather the complete malfunction of a mechanical broadhead-tipped arrow shot from a crossbow. The shot looked good, perhaps a tad high, but not when you considered the angle and certainly in an area that I have killed dozens of deer before. Here’s what happened. I climbed into my tree stand a little past 3 p.m. The only action I saw was a diving hawk as I climbed up the tree. He was close enough that I flinched and nearly reversed direction! Around 4:30, I heard and saw a deer walking up the ravine from over my right shoulder. I stood and readied myself as I realized he was a shooter.
The deer walked to the north side of my tree. I stopped him with a grunt; he was quartering-to at 14 yards. He looked right at me as I squeezed the trigger. I watched the arrow disappear behind his left shoulder and was surprised to see it hanging out the far side as he ran away.
My first thought: “That is a dead deer.” I even heard a crash from about 100 yards up the ravine.
It was starting to get dark, so I waited about 10 minutes. I gathered my gear, lowered it to the ground, and carefully climbed out of the tree. Quickly, I walked over to the area where the deer had been standing. No blood.
I walked along the path he took toward a winter wheat field. No blood. Then, I skipped ahead to the area where I had seen him go from the field back into the brush. No blood. I knew I didn’t miss. I saw the bolt go in and out. I called in some help, and three of us began the search. I found blood- 150 yards from where I shot the deer. It was good, red blood with no hint of paunch material. Due to the distance from the initial hit, we decided to back out and give the deer overnight.
I hardly slept a wink. This was probably the biggest whitetail I had ever shot. The scenario replayed itself over and over. The other hunters in camp assured me—“that’s a dead deer.” We’ll find it in the morning. At first light, we were on the ground. We found blood, more blood, and yet more blood. We walked at a fairly rapid pace expecting to find the buck in the next thicket or in the next bend of the creek. Then, the blood just stopped. Five of us circled for 30 yards and found nothing but an old shed antler hanging from a thorn bush. We were puzzled.
Then my host looked down and said, “Hey, what’s that on the tip?” It was blood. The deer had gone through the thorn bush and bled on the antler. We were back on the trail, and now finding more blood that was close together and on a trail that was clearly headed toward a pond. My confidence was up. I figured the deer was hurt and had probably gone to the pond for water, had bedded, and we would find him dead.
Then the blood trail simply ended. Five experienced deer hunters, at times on our hands and knees, could not find another drop of blood in a grass field on a trail that was rather clear. Two hours later—walking every possible trail we thought a deer could have taken—and after walking concentric circles, we finally gave up the chase. The follow-up had taken almost four hours and spanned nearly one mile. The determination was made that the shot was not as solid as I had perceived.
I couldn’t believe it. Instead of going to another stand that afternoon, I went back to the same stand and replayed the scenario in my head. I got down on my hands and knees in the buck’s tracks and, inch-by-inch, followed the trail toward the field. I found blood—good, red blood. I moved forward slowly about 20 yards and found the front 75% of my arrow. I immediately saw what happened. The broadhead was mangled, with the blades twisted around the shaft. Instead of a two-inch swath being cut through the animal’s body, there was a hole the diameter of an arrow shaft.
I hunted for the next three days, spending my lunch break around the same field looking for signs of death—Coyotes, crows, even cows congregating in one area… to no avail. I can only hope that there is a 150-class, 8 pointer out there who is a little wiser, walks with a limp and has one helluva story of survival to tell.
Have you ever made a heartbreak shot on an animal and failed to recover it? Share your story in the comment section.