When I met Philip in 2018 he learned that I was a pretty decent shot with a long bow. I mentioned to him that I’d like to learn to bow hunt. Shortly thereafter Philip bought me my first compound bow. I practiced and practiced and finally made it to my first hunting season. You can read about it here.
It’s been three seasons now since that first year and with the exception of one shot that I screwed up and released the arrow before I had drawn back, I have never once drawn my bow on a deer to even attempt a shot. Each year, I hope that maybe this year, I will get my first shot on a deer.
I’m persistent though and even knowing how expensive out of state hunting licenses are, Philip encouraged me to get one every year, though I’ve never put a deer on it.
This year I sat frequently on the new property in a double stand that sits in the back corner of the upper field. We have a feeder and two food plots in that area. I’ve seen plenty of deer, some small yearlings, from that spot, but still no deer to take a shot on.
Watching the Deer Come In, Maybe I’ll Get a Shot
It was an evening sit, the sun was close to setting and I saw the deer on the far side of the field. I was pretty sure it was the yearlings again. They were being playful in the field, not cautious as older deer tend to be. There was one deer that was behaving differently. He was sizable and carefully watching his surroundings. I thought it might be a buck, but I couldn’t make out the antlers clearly enough to know for sure. The sun was sinking deeper into the horizon. He was too far out of range to take a shot.
The larger deer started to move out further into the field, away from the wood line, it’s about 15 minutes after sunset, the deer is still far out of range. All of a sudden he took a turn and began to walk towards my position. I still can’t see his antlers but I could see clearly he was a big deer.
Here’s my chance… I drew my bow, took aim and released the arrow. I hit!!! A solid shoulder shot.
It’s a wild experience, everything is happening fast, you know it is, but it still all seems to be happening in slow motion. Philips training all stuck with me, I carefully paid attention to the direction the deer went. He’s moving wildly, I can see the light up knock on my arrow flailing as he runs. He entered the wood line close to my stand and lost what I thought was the arrow.
I try to call Philip, I’m trembling like a leaf and I can’t seem to get my fingers to do what I need. I can hear my deer bulling through the woods. When Philip answers the phone, first thing he asks if I’m ok? He can hear a ruckus in the woods.
“I shot a deer.”
I can hear his excitement, he’s trying to be quiet since my deer is headed straight towards him but he wants to keep me on the phone while the adrenaline rush hits me. He’s giving me instructions but I can’t hear him, my responses are loud on his end.
The deer comes within 20 yards of his tree stand, Philip confirms, the deer is definitely a buck. He’s only a 4 point. We have a group of bucks with one straight horn and then regular antlers on the other side. He had antlers like these.
The buck starts to head to the back of the property, Philip wants to head him off before he does, but climbing out of the lock on stand spooks the deer.
Time to Retrieve My Very First Deer
I finally climb down and head to camp. From there I went to get the 4 wheeler, cart, flashlights and other supplies. I meet Philip at his lock on stand and together we head in the direction the deer went. We weren’t successful finding him, so we head back to my stand to get the blood trail.
I knew exactly where the deer had entered the woods. Before going back to camp I tried to retrieve my arrow but all I retrieved was the light up knock. We easily picked up the blood trail and began following him.
Its very dark at this point, a moonless night. We follow the blood drop by drop. I’d stay with the current trail and we’d look for the next, moving forward with each drop. Sometimes the blood was plentiful and we’d make fast progression. Other times it would be a drop the size of the tip of your pinky finger that we had difficulty locating. Slowly we tracked the deer off property. We recovered my arrow, 4” of it broke off and presumably embedded in his shoulder.
We contacted the land owner and got permission to recover the deer. For three hours in the pitch black woods we followed the blood trail. The trail eventually ran out and Philip didn’t want to mess up the area. We had 3 flashlights but only one still had power. Philip decided we had to head in. I’m disappointed, the night is cold, hopefully cold enough to preserve the meat, we head home to try and sleep.
A New Day to Continue the Search
The next morning I wake up later than planned, I jump out of bed, dress immediately and wait for Philip. He feels rushed by my waiting and doesn’t prepare himself as well as he liked. We had called the landowner to let him know we needed to go back. It was the opening day of muzzleloader season as well so we wanted to be sure we wouldn’t run into hunters.
At the top of the hill above where we lost the trail, Philip picks up the blood trail. I don’t know how he does it… this neighbor owns 200 acres of fields and woods and we find drops of blood in this huge area. We begin tracking again. It’s easier in the daylight and we use flags to mark the blood droplets. The flags enable us to visualize the direction of travel and allow us to make big jumps of progression . We make our way across the field. I’m tracking the trail and Philip goes ahead to see if he can pick it up ahead.
I hear him yell “Get the cart”. When I turn, I see a deer standing in the field close to Philip.
I run back to retrieve the hand cart to load the deer. Unknown to me at that moment, the deer in the field was my buck. He survived the night and was resting in the field. When Philip yelled back to me, the deer jumped up and took off again.
Tracking a live deer changed the game. We have Roxie with us and the cart. We’re not exactly quiet. We decide to split up. Philip continued tracking the deer and we wait until he calls me to continue.
We use an app called HuntStand to map the property. It has a feature called Friend Locator that allows us to see the location of our friends. It’s not live, but as long as you periodically go in the app it updates your location. This allowed us to keep track of each other. It also allowed me to view the aerial map. Rather than bull through the woods, I stayed in the power line corridor and open fields when I could. I wanted to get ahead of the deer and push him back to Philip.
We tracked for five hours that day. Philip would lose the trail and then recover it later… I realized my phone was almost dead. My app was my means of keeping track of Philip and my map of the area. I reviewed the map carefully to make a plan to get back home if I lost power.
Calling off the Search
I let Philip know my power issue and he realized that his phone was also low on power. As much as he hated to he decided we needed to call off the search. He wanted to recover this deer so badly for me, knowing he represented years of effort. We searched much longer than most would have. A total of 8 hours and 5 miles of tracking.
A Very Disappointing End
It never occurred to me when I started bowhunting that this ended any other way then a picture of a smiling huntress with her bow laid over the deer. This hunt ended in tears.
We hunt for meat for our families, not trophies. My intention is not to injure deer and have them die lost in the woods. Every hunter that hears my story tells me that this just happens sometimes, no matter how skilled the hunter. Some well intended friends tell me that maybe he’ll recover, but I know that he had 4” of my arrow and a broadhead in his shoulder. He may survive for a short while, but he will perish from his injuries.
I cried on the way home. I’m done with hunting. I refuse to just injure animals. I pack up my bow as soon as we get home and my hunting clothes.
It’s about a month since that day and I have since returned to the woods to hunt. I’ve not seen a deer to draw on, so we’ll see if I can actually do it. Thankfully for us, Philip is an accomplished hunter, so I don’t worry about a vegan winter.
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.