Category: Hunting Videos
The Halloween Buck & Lessons Learned From Arrow Shot Deer by Jake Ehlinger

I’ll be the first hunter to admit that although I have taken over 90 deer with archery equipment since the early 70’s I have always found there is something to be learned from every bow or cross-bow kill & hit. I’m about to share an story and experience like no one would ever believe, but I’m here to tell you this is exactly what happened and I’ve got the photographic evidence to support it.

This story starts on Halloween afternoon/evening of this past fall. The weather had been very windy and warm for about 4-5 days prior to this evening hunt, a cold front was approaching and it was after all Halloween eve, the one day of the year that many good bucks are taken with archery equipment throughout the mid-west and here in Michigan as well. I remember talking on the phone earlier that afternoon with a taxidermy customer when he mentioned “darn it its Halloween and I’m going to be in a stand I don’t care how hard the wind is blowing”.

His statement rang true to my core hunting instincts and I too knew I would be taking my shower and going through my scent free preparations as soon as I hung up the phone. Fast forward to me making my final preparations’ with scentbuster dust all over my face and sliding my carbon dust immersed boots on as I grabbed my fanny pack mentally picking the stand I would be hunting. We had a very stiff north-north-west winds of 15+/- mph, it was over cast and the temps had steadily fallen all afternoon to now sitting in the low 40’s or upper 30’s.  Because it was so windy I decided to pick up my cross bow, I’d been having a few problems with my Mathews compound and felt with these windy gust I’d better play it safe.

The conditions were perfect for my tight funnel stand that is in a thin finger of timber between a 10 acre pond and my large food plot planted with Roundup-Ready soy beans. This location is ideal for rut movement as well as early season feeding to bed patterns too; this would be my first evening sit in this location.  My approach was methodical and I used every bit of screening cover to hide my movements as I made my 400 yard trek to this stand. Just before I arrived I heard a deer in the funnel timber moving and caught a glimpse of movement. I knew the deer had not smelled or seen me because I was downwind and with all the noise from the high winds it could not have heard my approach, it was in my mind a great sign that deer were using this it just as I planned on.

As soon as I made my way up into the multi-trunked white oak and got settled in I thought I heard a buck grunt….a few seconds later I heard three more about 40 yards into the thick bedding area that connects to this funnel. I just had that feeling that tonight was going to be a good hunt. Soon afterwards I catch movement and it’s a good looking 2-1/2 year old making his way out of the bedding area passing with-in 12-15 yards as he heads north into the wind doing his evening junket. I took some video as he stopped and drank from the pond edge and he soon moved out of sight.

Not long after a nice doe came out of the bedding cover, but I held tough….this was no time to do a doe harvest. I knew there was a good buck in here from the grunts I’d heard and I’ve yet to see him. Sitting in this stand under these windy cold conditions can be very uncomfortable, but on this hunt my mind was excited about what was yet to unfold it was early and knew I was in the right place. Every once in a while I would look behind me into the 1-3/4 acre field of Roundup-Ready soy beans, sure enough a doe and her twin button bucks were feeding directly downwind of me without a care, a testament to the scent control regimen I use and practice with each hunt.

Here are a couple close-ups of the 2-1/2 year old that slipped past me early in the afternoon hunt.

The wind was gusting so hard on occasions that I couldn’t hear a deer walking no matter how hard I tried, but between the wind gusts you could if it was close. So I had my senses tuned into ultra-sensitivity, I was enjoying this hunt watching the sights and sounds of sitting so close to the water with ducks quaking and geese honking.

As the evening approached the winds did seem to be lessening somewhat, sometimes it was almost what I would call “acceptable” it was during one of these breaks in the wind noise that I thought I heard footsteps. Let me tell you about this set up first I’m up about 22 feet off the ground in a hang-on stand there is a thin sliver of cover approximately 15 yards wide, the pond edge it’s very thick and choked with brush and mature trees. I have historically kept this tight pinch thick because over the years I have found that when you clear enough shooting lanes for you to be comfortable the mature deer will not use it during daylight. That’s a lesson I learned in this location over a dozen years ago. Out in front of me the ground drops off quickly so any deer moving through is at least 30 feet down when I take a shot.  Normally deer move close to the water’s edge in the transitional cover of shrubs and trees, I’ve taken a number of deer from this set over the past 25 years and all have been basically broad-side or at a slight angle.

So I hear footsteps I turn my head to the left and directly underneath me is a very large bodied buck, when you’re looking straight down its tough to see the antler tines and the rack shape as compared to if he was out in front of me 12-15 yards, but I could tell he had ten or more points from my first assessment, after that I never look at the antlers. He was doing what all cruising bucks do and that is moving quickly with a purpose; his line of travel would eliminate any chance for a shot in the next 5-7 yards of travel. I only had seconds to make the decision due to a cherry tree stretching out into a shooting lane that I have contemplated in cutting for a number of years while I’ve been on this stand. The one thing that put me in “auto-pilot” was this bucks big thick and long body.

I quickly got my cross-bow off the hanger and started following him in my sights, knowing this was going to be a very steep downward angle shot I let him continue on his path so the arrow would travel forward into his chest cavity the best it could considering he was maybe 5-7 yards away from my tree and I was up high and standing. I mentally made sure my point of aim was off from his spine but would hopefully pass through low in his armpit of his opposite shoulder. It was now or never and I squeezed the trigger. At the shot he mule kicked and quickly ran north where they all do in this funnel and was out of sight in 30 yards. I checked my watch it was 5:45pm I quickly got my binoculars out and scanned the ground looking for the fletching of my arrow to see if I did get a pass through, nothing. I waited until 6:40pm just as it was getting dark to climb down. I went right to where I shot and searched for my arrow, it was not there so that didn’t give me a good feeling. I thought to myself oh heck I’ll just walk along his trail a bit and see if there’s any sign, knowing It would be best for me to wait till morning to look because I knew it’s not the best shot placement. But I walked maybe 20 yards and found blood, and it was steady and soon it was looking very encouraging good spurts every 4-5 yards and drops on the leaves in between. I had traveled about 40-50 yards and found blood sprayed on trees and shrubs, from that type of sign I though gosh I just might find this deer tonight. During the 5-10 min’s I had slowly walked following the trail it had started raining with a mixture of sleet/snow so now my mind was pushing to make a decision of going forward against my instincts of waiting till morning.

I continued another 120 or so yards and the blood trail was easy to follow, but now I had gone 150+ yards and this was not a good sign. It was dark I was using my flashlight and decided to back out and wait till morning.

These photos were taken the morning after, so much of the sign had been washed away from the rain & snow showers we experienced Halloween eve/night.

As you can see the blood trail was steady and profuse in areas even the following morning, the left photo reveals air bubbles in the blood indicating at least a one lung hit.

I followed the steady trail for quite a ways, there was some winding going on and I thought at any moment I would find my buck. But the story had a different ending, soon the blood sign dissipated to where I was really working to find any sign. The large amounts now had turned to small pea sized smears and drops. I was able to trail him a good 300-400 yards where he changed his normal into the wind northerly travel to now heading straight west. This is not a surprise as he had traveled across my parents woodlot and was now within 20-30 yards of a large picked bean field to the north and like all mature bucks he was not going into the open and was traveling into a thick cover area that had been selective cut timbered 5-7 years ago and it was a thick tangle there. Raspberry bushes, and numerous other native underbrush and tree tops filled the area he moved into. The problem was I had now lost all fresh blood sign.

I was thinking well he’s lost a large amount of blood I didn’t get a pass through so now he’s just filling up inside and it’s not blowing out of his entrance wound along the top of his back. I then was left with what many of us in this situation are stuck with, doing a grid search. I spent 4-5 hours looking & searching, but the uneasiness in my gut was making me feel bad for sure. Without going into much detail I will say that if this had happened on my property I would have done much more in terms of continued searching and even possibly hiring one of those blood trailing dogs. But this was on my Mom & Dad’s property, they have always had a problem with any other dog on their property and to make matters worse they just have never been able to get over the fact that I hunt for mature bucks. It’s been a divide between us for well over a decade it is what it is, so I was not able to do what I would have liked to do and that’s to exhaust every possible avenue in locating my buck.

As most hunters and admirers of whitetail deer I was just sick, I hate taking an animal’s life and not being able to retrieve it. I owe it to these wonderful creatures to make a quick and humane kill. I stayed out of the woods until November 3rd replaying the events in mind over and over. That morning I felt re-energized again and went to one of my favorite swamp crossings it was magic in there that morning, does and bucks were cruising everywhere near my stand. Although a number of young bucks were in range no shooters provided a good shot, and after what I had just been through I was not taking a shot unless everything was right. The good news is that evening I re-located to a stand I had not been in yet this season and ended up taking a nice 8-point at about 10-12 yards. A follow-up video about my hunt and other deer I saw during that day will be on the Members’ side of the site.

Ok, fast forward to the morning of November 19th, I am working in my taxidermy shop and get a knock at my door, it’s my dad and he informs me there is a nice buck lying in the water next to what he calls the dam. It turns out that my older brother Joe was hunting in the “dam” area the night before and shot at and missed a doe, as he was looking around for sign of a hit he saw the buck laying with its head under water and a small portion of the right antler sticking out of the water. We discussed that it was a shame that the one I hit back on Halloween went so far and eventually died in the edge of their large duck pond/swamp. We agreed that we would meet in the late afternoon and would take a rope and drag him out of the water so I could inspect him assess the arrow hit and lean more as a trophy that got away.

We did meet around 4:00pm that afternoon and were able to get a rope on him and pull him up onto the dam so we could inspect him, and deal with a stinky 2-1/2 week old deer.

Here he lies after my dad and I pulled him from the pond; notice his huge body dwarfs his rack.

The area the buck died was approximately 250-350 yards from where I had lost the last blood, and was south west from the area I had done a major grid search on the morning of November 1st. For most hunters we would think this is where the story ends, with realizing that big mature deer hit in one lung can go a long ways and once they stop leaving blood sign you really have no idea as to where they go and how far they travel. After inspecting the buck it was clear my arrow had entered about a few inches from his backbone on his right side angled into his chest cavity and did not exit it stopped just at his left armpit, bulging the skin but not breaking through it.

But this story is about to take a very interesting turn. I had moved my game camera the evening of November 14th and pulled the memory card, as usual I had hundreds of photos and ran through them quickly noting some good bucks, but also realizing the last camera set up was pointing too high and I was getting mainly photos of deer backs, I had set the camera in my corn for about 10-12 days.

So once I had returned back to my taxidermy chores I got to thinking, gosh didn’t I see this buck in my game camera photos? And I didn’t even set it up until the mid-afternoon of November 3rd. So once I was finished up with my evening chores of my thriving European skull mount business, I sat down to review the camera photos id just downloaded a few days before. Sure enough the buck I shot on the evening of October 31 is in the corn feeding, as he approached the game camera you can distinctly see about ½ inch of my cross bow arrow sticking out his right side as you’d expect from a very steep angling shot. How could this be? But it was.

You can clearly see the knock end of my cross bow arrow in both of these photos 3-1/2 days after I had shot him…how tough are these animals?

The buck turned out to be a basic 5 x 5 ten point 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 year old; he has broken off the G2 and G3 on his right side from fighting for hierarchy dominance during this year’s rut. As I previously mentioned when I took the shot at him, he was directly underneath me and I could clearly see the crab claws on the ends of each of his right and left main beams. Plus his large body made up my mind in an instant because I manage and hunt more for age than for antler score, and always will. He is a basic 125-130sh class ten point, not all older mature bucks grow to 150 class bucks and my property has a history of old bucks with smaller antlers. This is something a well-known deer biologist Charlie Alsheimer’s has written about many times….most bucks will not grow trophy antlers, he claims large trophy bucks are not the norm and somewhat “freaks of nature.” Regardless he was the buck I chose to kill on Halloween evening and I am thrilled to have closure on my experience as it has turned out. The memories of the hunt and the events including inspecting him where he died will represent one of my greatest hunting stories that I put in my time and effort in for a successful hunt, and this experience will stay with me forever.

Here again is the date stamp with the knock sticking out his back along his spine angling into his opposite left lung chest area.

Well I’m here to tell all that read this that I have again continued to learn from a very unpredictable story concerning what I felt at the time was a great fatal archery hit buck. I will never take this steep angle shot again, I have in the past taken a doe and another good buck from the same steep angle shot and found each deer with a fairly short recovery. When it comes to large mature bucks a less than perfect angle resulting in only hitting one lung can as you have read and seen add some unpredictable twists and turns to your deer trailing efforts. As it has turned out I’m very glad I didn’t hire one of those blood trailing dogs because we would not have been able to recover this buck. I still don’t know what day and time this buck did eventually succumb to the arrows damage, but it was after November 3rd around midnight. The area where I photographed him with my game camera is at least 1/3 mile from where he was found dead in the pond on my parent’s property.

I hope those that take the time to read this long winded story gain knowledge from what it shows about poor shot opportunities and steep angled shots with archery equipment. Although I do have the memories and lesson learned I would have much better have enjoyed a short blood trail being able to recover him and utilize all his meat to feed my family, rather than let the scavengers feast on his remains.

Hunt hard, work hard and remember we can always learn in everything we do during our pursuits of these wonderful creatures we call the whitetailed deer.

Jake