Tracking the trackers

Sunday afternoon was sunny and warm. I was tired of working away in the basement, so I popped upstairs to the kitchen for a cup of tea and ran into Barry’s father, Dave.

“I just shot a deer,” he said, calmly rolling himself a cigarette.

“You WHAT?” I squealed, my jaw dropping. For as long as I’ve known Dave, he has hunted deer with a bow. In Ohio, he used to drive out to the country on the weekends, but for as long as I’ve known him, he’s always returned empty-handed. Here in Washington, he just walks out into his own wooded backyard, where he’s built a lovely tree house that he calls a “tree stand.” He’s an excellent shot, and I’ve seen enough deer in the neighborhood to know they’re out there. But for some reason, they avoid Dave when he has his bow.

There’s a carving in the family room that illustrates the scene of Dave’s last successful bow hunt, several decades ago. Although it has the feeling of a family legend, it’s decorated with real antlers from the buck he got. It’s proof that he can kill a deer with a bow, he just hasn’t done it in the years I’ve known him.

Now he was telling me he’d just shot a deer, no drama, no excitement. Where was it? I looked out in the backyard, expecting to see a dead deer. Dave explained that the deer was still out in the woods someplace. If it doesn’t just drop dead when you shoot it, it’s no good to chase it immediately. It will run that much farther and faster. It’s better to wait a half hour, then track it. I was practically jumping up and down with excitement, while he calmly waited out the half hour.

He and Sharon put on their boots and headed out to the woods to find it. “I’ll help you drag it back, if you need help,” I offered. Barry and I went back to our own projects and waited for the deer trackers to return.

A couple of hours later, there was no sign of them. We couldn’t stand it, so we followed them into the woods. Near the rear of the property, we saw a square of white toilet paper on the ground. Next to it was a patch of deer blood. We followed the toilet paper squares for a while, eventually coming to a forbidding bramble. “Who knows how far they had to go,” I said. “Maybe a couple of miles,” said Barry.

We turned back, not wanting to obliterate the trail or crawl through the thorns, and then heard their voices. They appeared from the thicket, disheveled and dejected. They’d followed the deer a long way, but eventually the blood stopped, and they could track it no further. “We spent an hour searching around the last spot, but there was nothing to follow,” Dave said.

I was in the lead as the four of us headed back down the trail to the house. As I approached the spot where Dave had shot the deer, I saw movement. Standing on the path, right at that very spot, was a doe. She looked at me reproachfully, then turned and ran through the woods.

A shiver went down my spine. Why was she standing right where the first piece of paper marked the trail of her fleeing friend? Did she know? Was it a coincidence? Are deer telepathic?

I know the deer population has to be controlled, and if we humans don’t act as predators, they’ll starve. But it’s hard for this soft-hearted former vegetarian to reconcile that with the look on the doe’s face. Still, I hope one of these days Dave manages to get a deer. The one that got away just doesn’t make much of a family legend, and it doesn’t make much venison steak, either.

4 thoughts on “Tracking the trackers

  1. If its been decades since his last bow kill, either your friend’s dad needs to learn to be patient with his shots, or stop shooting at deer altogether. Bow hunting requires the deer to be in close to your hunting spot, so I never take shots over 40 yards, most of my stands are placed in under 30. You must figure out where the deer eats and beds, then set your stand up 20 yards on the down-wind side of that path and stalk to your stand, waiting on the deer to pass by. All this you must decide for yourself. Successful bow hunting is more than just picking a spot and hoping an animal comes walking by. Honor the animal by taking a good shot, passing on those shots that you’re not confident in, and spending time tracking it until your options are exhausted. If you’re a bow hunter, you should be shooting 10-20 arrows each day, 1 month prior to the season starts so that you are confident in the shot and your abilities to place the arrow where you want it to go. A “good shot” is a relative term. The target on a deer you need to be able to hit is the size of a paper plate. If you can’t hit that 9 out of 10 times, you’re not shooting close enough… period.

    As far as tracking is concerned, a great double-lung or heart shot will leave a good blood trail that you can follow without even getting close to the ground. If something happens that screws the arrow’s flight path up, you have to be patient. Waiting enough to let the animal bleed out as mentioned before is imperative! Taking it super-slow, you will need to mark every blood spot you find, as your friend did with toilet paper. Don’t walk OVER the blood trail, but to the SIDE of it. If in doubt of a blood spot, hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle will cause the blood to bubble up and fizz on contact. Other products will cause the blood to glow in the dark, but are rather expensive,and would require a large amount in order to track an animal any distance at all. If it is too dark, don’t risk ruining the trail and get back out at first light and begin tracking again… the cool temperatures will keep the deer from going back until the next day.

    The best thing to do overall is get proper gear, practice with that gear, and give the animal the respect it deserves by taking it as quickly as possible. For those that are not good shots with a bow, doing so without regard or respect to the animal isn’t called “sporting”… it’s called being stubborn and stupid. you don’t hunt with a bow to prove you are a man, you hunt with a bow because #1 – you are proficient with one, #2 – you enjoy the science of scouting the animal, and #3 – you walk away with a sense of pride knowing that you did it all on your own.

    I wish your friend the best of luck on the next one.

  2. Sorry, I can’t answer questions about how to track a deer at night. I find the process of hunting and tracking interesting, but I know almost nothing about it, personally. I thought Dave’s trail of toilet paper was pretty ingenious, and I didn’t know there were more high-tech ways of following the trail.

  3. Hi:

    Just wondering about finding blood at night when tracking a deer. What is the best light? How is a black light for this purpose?
    How is a blue light for finding this trail? Looking forward to hearing from you.


  4. Hi Meps!

    I am glad that Dave is sporting enough to only hunt by bow. It’s manly of him to give the deer more an equal chance and it takes more skill to hunt by bow. Still, I’m glad to hear this one got away. It’s a good story and that’s what counts. Whatever venison on the little doe wouldn’t amount to as much importance as a good story.

    I’m still not in my apt. yet…. I talked to my landlord today about setting a realistic timeline so I’m not arranging my weekends around working there when it ends up he isn’t. (He has to do the plumbing and electrical. I can’t.)

    If you have time for dinner one night or some weekend activity, let me know. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow with Tina and Will at the Chinese Restaurant?

    I like your limericks. They are very clever.

    Take care! Janine

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