It was not a wise shot to take. I knew it wasnt, but this was the first buck I had gotten in range all season and time was running out. I wasnt going to let him get away.
It was December 9th in Ontario, which means it was muzzleloader season. There was fresh snow on the ground and it was cold. I had spent a lot of time hunting with my Exocet and had seen a number of does but with no tag they were just a tease, a reminder that there must be bucks out there somewhere. I had seen, and spooked, a small buck early in the season as I shifted my weight while he was in my sights. So close. Now I had another target: a good looking ten point. The only ten point I have ever seen. And I had a muzzleloader, and he was close.
He came from back to my left around 30 yards away. The woods were dead silent, but I didnt hear him coming. I dont know how he wasnt crunching through the snow, but I moved my eyes left and I saw him there, standing still, lookiing straight in front of himself. I didnt take the time to size up his antlers just yet. I just knew there were big, and I got excited. I had a few minutes of light left, but not enough that I wanted to wait around too long.
The longest minute I have ever experienced dragged on, and finally he moved. He snorted once and began to walk forwards. 50 yards. I drew the muzzeloader up from my lap and before I got him in the crosshairs, he cut left and began to run in great bounds directly towards the closest woods, only 20 yards away. He had sensed danger. At some point since our encounter began I had dropped the primer safety to expose the primer cap to the hammer. Maybe thats what spooked him. I continued to follow him in the scope, not wanting to take a shot at a running deer. I switched the safety off out of habit, and I felt helpless as he ran to the safety of the cedars.
He entered the cedars and stopped in partial cover. He was quartering away from me and I had a clear view of his upper shoulders and head, and his rear half. He looked back at me, directly down the scope, as if to say Not this time. The only part of him that was concealed was his vital area, but I knew where it was. 80 yards. It was not a wise shot, but at only 80 yards, I took it. And he ran.
My dad picked me up from the stand about five minutes later. I wanted to go look for the deer right away, but he made me wait half an hour. We got our flashlights and I showed him the tracks where the deer was walking, then where he ran to the cedars, then where I shot him, and where he began to run again. Tracking was easy in the fresh snow. There was no blood at all.
"Musta missed him," my dad said. "Nah, no way," I felt confident that I had him him. So we tracked him further in to the woods. About 50 yards in we found a place where the buck and stumbled. About 100 yards in we found a spot where he had laid down in the snow and emptied his bowels. Still no blood. We went further, and further... 200 yards. We heard russling ahead, so we stopped and went back to the car and waited another half hour before continuing.
Back in the woods we went, in the cold and the dark, to find this injured lad. A couple times we caught up to him and heard him crashing away and we werr worried that we were pushing him farther. We still had not seen him, but the tracks were good and we knew he was there and that he was injured.
"Gut shot," my dad said, "damn." We now had a choice to make: wait until tomorrow and see if we can find him in the morning, or find him now and finish him off. A choice of morality and ethics vs law.
GAME WARDENS STOP READING HERE.
I followed the now well-beaten trail back to the car and got the gun. About a hundred yards farther in to the woods we found the buck laying down. His head was up and he looked at me from only about 20 yards away as I finished him off. Then began the long carry back to the car... my resourceful dad hog-tied him to a fallen cedar trunk so we could share the weight easier, and we trudged through the woods like hunter-gatherers of old, brandishing our bounty together.
This is the first time I have shot at a deer and not had a clean hit. I got lucky and found the animal before the coyotes, but without the fresh snow I would never have found him. It appears the first shot I took struck the buck in the head, about half an inch below the left eye, and exited a little farther forward on the right side of his head. The other side of the skull is a mess. The buck likely would have lived for days in this condition, unable to eat or scent predators, and I am grateful that I was able to find and finish him in a timely manner.
After this experience, I will not take similar shots in the future.
Here is the mount I made from him: