Leggett: Another deer, another day — until this day

I was settled into my Double Bull hunting chair, my bow — arrow already nocked — resting on my left thigh, waiting for the feeder to begin paying off and going through my checklist of chores I’d performed before the morning hunt.

  • Doe in estrus scent scattered in the mock scrape I’d made several days earlier: Check.
  • Natural scent cover spray over my entire outer layer of clothes: Check.
  • Rangefinder binoculars, which I’d taken to forgetting lately, strapped tight: Not check.

Back in the truck, which was 300 yards away up the power line. Ooops. No worries. I’d hunted enough in this particular spot that I knew the exact distance to every tree, every bush, every prickly pear within 50 yards of where Lee Bullard and I had stashed the popup ground blind beneath a giant creekside live oak.

But that got me to thinking. How many successful hunting trips have started after I got lucky on some kind of detail I’d missed? There were plenty that hadn’t ended well, like the time I shot the spruce tree instead of a big New Mexico bull elk.

But I’d gotten lucky earlier this season when I killed a monster 5x5 up there with a 43-yard shot. He ran 25 yards and piled up, which was doubly neat because he was the same big bull that I’d missed at exactly 25 yards during the fall of 2014.

I still don’t know how that happened because I’d guessed him at 30 yards and somehow shot under him. That ended an arduous stalk that covered more than a mile of stumbling downhill and running uphill at more than 10,000 feet of elevation.

I’m figuring my luck has changed at this point, even though the big (by Hill Country standards) 10-pointer I’d been hunting all season — after we found him on a trail camera picture Lee had sent me — had gotten away from me more than once already. Once he’d slipped in from behind and was standing in the little creek drainage within 15 yards of my blind 18 feet up in an elm tree.

I thought I had him then, even though he spooked a little when I sneezed. I turned to see him swing around into a thicket to my right, undecided and trying to decide what to do next. What he did was turn to his right and start out across an open hillside bordering the creek, a track that took him to 24 yards and into a broadside stop behind a mesquite.

Knowing he would step into an opening with his next move, I ranged the distance and drew the arrow. Already I was thinking, “Hah, I got you,” just as he took the first move into the opening. Disaster struck.

My quiver, which I had carefully stashed in a spider web of tiny limbs behind me in the elm tree, suddenly broke through its rest and began a clattering slide down out of the tree, landing in the leaf litter below the stand.

The buck stopped with one foot exposed in the opening, then turned to his left and bounded noiselessly out of sight, disappearing into the creek bottom he’d come through at the beginning. There was an hour of daylight left, but I just broke out of my cloud of self-pity and climbed down out of the tree. Another day, another deer.

That was several weeks ago, though, and I’m still smarting from that disaster. But today I’m sitting in the ground blind where nothing can go wrong. At least that’s my thinking. Nature has other thoughts on the matter.

A movement to my left and 60 yards away breaks through the loser thoughts and focuses my attention on a nice buck working down the treeline about 75 yards from where I’m sitting.

He stops just short of the dirt road that’s running toward him from my left and looks toward the mock scrape I’ve created beneath a mesquite. Bucks have been scraping there for the last two years and it seemed a natural place to start my own scent-marking spot. I’ve scraped out the earth beneath with a shed antler and dripped doe urine into the moist dirt.

The only wind is a slight air movement in his direction and he begins walking toward the scrape, which is hidden by a giant stand of prickly pear. Fortunately, though, I can see 10 points on his antlers and he appears to be mature enough to take.

And in another dose of good luck, a mature doe has wandered in the clearing where my bow blind is hidden, giving him another incentive for coming close enough for a shot.

The doe is joined by her fawn of the year and the buck wanders over to check them out, as well as pick up a few bites of corn under the feeder. As soon as he comes in from behind the feeder, though, something happens and all three deer spook away to the north.

They immediately begin drifting back toward me, though, and I make preparations for letting an arrow go if he gets himself broadside for a decent shot. In a few minutes, the buck is 20 yards away and perfectly left-to-right.

I’m always prepared for a train wreck when I draw the bow from a ground blind. There is some sound and enough movement for three sets of eyes to pick it up, but nothing happens today.

I drop the 20-yard pin onto the spot behind his shoulder and wait for him to move back into position. When he does, instinct takes over and I trip the release.

There’s a metallic clank and deer and sparks fly when the arrow hits one of the legs on the feeder, which I’ve conveniently blocked out by concentrating so hard on the buck standing just behind the spot.

All three deer stop about 30 yards away, looking confused and scared by the sound of the arrow connecting with the feeder leg. The arrow, with the broadhead firmly implanted in the metal leg of the feeder, is vibrating enticingly.

The buck eventually wanders back in just to the left of the spot where he was standing earlier, putting a large prickly pear in front of most of his body. But the shot is close and I feel I have enough room to put the arrow just over the pear and into his rib cage.

Nocking another arrow takes a little time, but nobody is moving and I get into position at full draw one more time. Distracted by the doe, the buck doesn’t glance in my direction at all and I release the second arrow.

With an expandable Rage Hyperdermic broadhead attached, the arrow rips through a pear pad just below where I though I’d been aiming. The buck dashes away down the creek and I think I’ve messed up again. I wait 15 minutes to get out of the blind, messaging my friends Bullard and Killis LaGrone, who are hunting nearby, while I decide what to do about this buck.

Behind the pear, I find a handful of light-colored hair but no blood and no sign of the buck except some deep tracks where he sprinted away across the muddy ground. They lead away down a small hill and across the creek, which is running from recent rain.

Lee comes over to help and finds my arrow lying in a muddy trail leading away toward the creek. There’s a tiny drop of blood there, but nothing else to note what’s happened. While he goes off looking through the heavy brush, I begin following the tracks across the creek and toward a nearby boundary fence for our lease.

A hundred yards away, just before reaching the fence, I spot the deer’s rear end lying right in the trail. That was a nice moment and a harbinger of things to come.

Just a few days later, hunting at Jack Brittingham’s Rancho Encantado in South Texas, I would stick and arrow into a giant buck that would turn out to be my all-time best archery deer. A main frame eight-pointer with three extra points, the 6-year-old sprinted away into the heavy South Texas brush to pay up for more than an hour.

We left him there and went back to camp for dinner and a glass of wine to semi-celebrate. Then ranch manager Cade Green and I took one of his tracking dogs back to the spot and found the buck less than a hundred yards from where he’d jumped into the brush.

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