In the past, we'd typically been able to close the deal in two days or less. This year, the deer were noticeably more scarce. After four days of waiting in tree stands for a deer to show itself during daylight hours, I'd yet to see a deer walk into the field. I also spent a bit of time still hunting the adjacent forest, where I managed to jump the same buck on two consecutive days, but it presented no shot.
The next evening and the day before the last day of the season, I finally had an opportunity to shoot a good sized doe and I took it. I shot a bit far forward, hitting the front shoulder blade that protected the heart and lungs. However, at close range and with 70 lbs of force behind a relatively heavy arrow, it blew through the front shoulder and into the vitals.
Not knowing how good the arrow penetration was, I decided to wait a couple hours before searching for the doe. It was well after dark when I started searching for sign with a headlamp. There was no blood in the vicinity of the shot, indicative of the lack of an exit wound. With no blood to follow and hoof prints essentially non-existent due to the frozen ground, tracking was not an option. I proceeded to scour the forest in likely places using a grid-like search pattern. After a couple hours of doing this in the dark, the needle-in-the-haystack feeling grew overwhelming and I decided to return at first light to continue my search.
The following morning I repeated my steps from the previous night, hoping that my improved ability to see would turn something up. Nothing. I extended my search deeper into the woods and still found nothing. Nearly out of options, I returned to the spot of the shot to consider any and all remaining options. At this point, I decided to walk downhill from the location of the shot, which is what wounded animals tend to do. I did this for about 70 yards until I exited the yard and entered the forest. I proceeded to wander in a downhill direction, pretending I was a wounded deer and taking the path of least resistance. When I hit a road I paralleled it until I could continue in a downward direction. About 30 yards into the forest (100 yards from where I shot) I noticed a small spot of blood on a fern leaf. The needle in the haystack was found!
I was able to follow the blood trail down, over, down, over, and down again until I entered a small creek bed. The trail then led me down the creek bed to a patch of fur, at which point I switched from micro-vision (focusing on the ground and low plants for trace amounts of blood) to macro-vision (looking further ahead and surveying my surroundings). In addition to the fur, I found a few entrails, two lower jaw bones, and a rib cage. At this point, I was about 300 yards from where I shot.
|Majority of what was left of my deer when I found it|
I was only about 90 percent convinced this was the deer I shot because I couldn't believe it could be so completely devoured in such a short period of time (I found it at about 10:30 am the day after I shot it). The only predators on the island are coyotes, so I surmised a good-sized pack found it right away and feasted most of the night (coyote tracks were abundant near the creek where I first noticed patches of fur). I soon found the fletched part of my arrow lying nearby, removing all doubt that this was the deer I shot the previous evening.
|Part of my arrow, confirming this was the deer I shot|
Like a detective at a crime scene, I pieced together the events of the previous night. The mortally wounded doe trotted downhill until it could no longer walk, dying shortly thereafter. This likely took it about 300 yards in about 2 or 3 minutes to where I found first sign of it in the creek bed. We stopped looking for it the previous night at about 9:30 and heard no coyotes up to that point. Between 9:30 pm and 7:00 am, coyotes discovered and devoured the doe, leaving me a grand total of . . . zero pounds of meat to take home.
Perhaps the only comical part of this whole episode is that while I was playing detective, I saw a neighbor dog trot down the hill. The dog had obviously scented the crime scene and was sniffing his way in to pick up any remaining scraps. He soon found the one remaining leg (the others had probably been carried off by the coyotes), which consisted of bone from hip joint to hoof, and carried the entire thing back up the hill as content as could be.
Coming full circle to where this story started, can I say we went 6 for 6? I'm not sure, and since I can't make up my mind, I'll call it 5.5. While I won't get to enjoy any of the meat, at least I know I made a pack of coyotes and a neighbor dog very happy.
Thanks a ton to Ann, Ron, and everyone else who helped out. This was likely my last year of deer hunting on Whidbey Island as I no longer live in Washington. The good times at Whidbey Deer Camp will be cherished forever.