Hunter (Steve) called into the Deer Search hotline at 1:40 PM Wednesday of November 2. He had hit an 8 – 10pt Buck at around 8 AM that morning from a tree stand. He had a complete pass thru, but couldn’t find the arrow after it deflected off a rock on the other side of the deer. Steve described the hit as a broad side hit, low in the lung area - a few inches behind the front leg and 4 to 5 inches up from the bottom of the deer. With the distance and tree stand height, it would have been a pretty level hit on the deer. After hitting the deer, Steve backed out immediately . After a 3 hour wait he followed a decent trail of dark blood about 150 yds and then jumped the buck from its bed. After finding the bed, he went a little past it and noticed that the deer was continuing to drop a little blood. He then backed out again and called Deer Search.
After hearing Steve’s call into the Deer Search answering system, I called him back at about 5 PM on Wednesday. After he described the circumstances, I thought that this might be a deer we could recover. The fact that the buck had bedded pretty quickly and that the deer was still bleeding when he was jumped up 3 hours later, offered some hope. Steve not pushing this deer past the 1st bed also meant that the trail beyond would not be mucked up with the hunters' bloody boot prints. I was concerned however that this might have been a 1 lung hit, which in the past have proven almost impossible to find. I had semi planned to take a vacation day on Thursday to hunt and or track, so I told Steve that I could meet him at 8:15 Thursday morning after dropping my daughter off at school.
After meeting up with Steve Thursday morning at the Geneva Thruway exit, we drove a few miles to the farm near Phelps. It was a cool clear morning as we walked the half mile through cut soybean fields to the hit site just inside the hardwoods. Once at the hit site Gusto followed the dried blood trail about 40 yards to the edge of the woods and then about 75 yds across a cut soybean field. At this point we entered a thick wooded/ brushy area where the deer had first bedded. Gusto took us across the first bed and then past it till we came out to another cut soybean field. On the other side of this open field was a 10 acre brushy and swampy area surrounded by standing corn and more cut soybean fields – it looked like the perfect place for the Buck to bed again. Steve said that the area hunters treated this thick, swampy patch as a sanctuary. Once Gusto got about halfway across the 2nd open field he changed direction and headed to the far corner of the sanctuary where it met up with a huge standing corn field. Since we had left the 1st bed, 100 yards behind us, I hadn’t really noticed any more blood, but once we began tracking along between the standing corn and the sanctuary, we began to notice drops on the ground and smears about 2ft up on some of the corn stalks – Gusto was definitely still on the trail!
At one point he did a 50 yard loop into the cornfield, but then ended up back where he started at the edge of the corn. He continued along the edge of the sanctuary, which now became a grassy swamp. Gusto was sometimes paddling through water about a foot deep and other times back into the grass along the edge of the swamp. It seemed like the deer was just skirting the edge of the swamp and not going directly into it – lucky for us. Just before we got to a thicker brushy area along the edge of the swamp the blood trail started to pick up. The blood up off the ground was dry, but the stuff on the ground looked fresh in the wet grass. At this point Gus started heading straight into the middle of the swamp, but then stopped and backtracked about 10 yards. After a little searching in the area, he continued along the edge of the swamp heading to the thicker brushy area. We again found blood going in this direction so I knew Gus was back on the trail again.
A few moments after entering the thick brush Gusto started barking wildly and we heard crashing. I was behind a large bush, but Steve saw the flash of the Buck as it took off ahead of us. We were less than 10 yds away when he jumped up. Gus continued pulling and barking wildly as I crawled on my hands and knees to get to him in the heavy cover. Not far ahead, I found the 2nd bed with a little blood in it. It was about 9:30, 25 hours after the hit, and we were about 300 yards from the 1st bed. Gus followed the trail for another 40 yards or so until we came out on the far side of the sanctuary area into another large cut soybean field. We continued another few yards along the edge of the open field and could see the bucks tracks in the soft dirt, we didn’t see any more blood after the deer got up from this 2nd bed. Straight ahead of us now was nothing but cut soybean fields for 200+ yards. The brushy part of the sanctuary to our left ended about 50 yds ahead of us. It seemed that the buck either has made a left back into the sanctuary or it continued along the brush and then made a left around the end of the brushy area 50 yds ahead of us.
At this point I told Steve that we should just stop here and give the Buck more time to die in its next bed. I told him I would come back at 4:00 that afternoon to continue on the trail. We hung some flagging tape on a bush at the edge of the field then proceeded to take an escape route that led us around the area we thought the buck went to. When we got far enough into the open field to see around the end of the sanctuary, Steve spotted a brown patch in the middle of the open soybean field - it was our buck laying on the ground in the open field about 150 yds from us. The edge of the hardwoods was about 50 yds ahead of him, but it seems he couldn’t make it to the woods. He had traveled about 150 yds from the 2nd bed that we just kicked him out of. I told Steve that we’d stick with our plan to come back at 4:00. With any luck he’d be dead in this 3rd bed. To keep from spooking him up, we headed further out on a path that would keep us out of sight as we exited. About 5 minutes later, when we were about 250 yds from the Buck, we peeked back at him again just in time to see him get up and walk slowly into the hardwoods ahead. With any luck, we’d find him dead at 4:00 just inside the hardwoods.
To kill time until our return at 4:00, we took another call in Avon. It was a not too promising shoulder / one lung type hit. I just hoped that it wasn’t too brutal of a call that it wiped out Gusto for the day – he needed to be on his game when we came back at 4:00. As it turned out, this call could not have been worse! As soon as we got on the trail, Gus stopped and started plowing his face into the ground – what the hell was he doing ? When I checked him out, I found that his face was covered with burdocks! He had one clump that totally covered his eye. I tried pulling them out, but it was hopeless. It seemed he couldn’t go 5 eeft without picking up more. For most of the next hour on the trail he was either plowing his face into the ground or biting at his legs trying to get them out. Tracking this deer was the last thing on his mind. We made a big sweep around the area that the deer should have bedded in the hopes that Gus would have winded the dead deer if it was there. With no sign of the deer and little hope that it was a fatal hit, we finally got out of there after the worst hour and a half of our tracking career. Now I was just hoping I could get Gusto somewhat back to normal so that he would be on his game at 4:00. I stopped at Walmart on the way back to Phelps to get a pair of scissors and then tried to cut out as many burdocks as I could. By the time we were ready to track again at 4:00, the burdocks that were still buried in his fir didn’t seem to bother him.
After I had met up with Steve again, we made a plan to have him post at the back side of the woods that we saw the deer enter earlier in the day. Meanwhile I would circle around and get back on the trail as it headed toward the bed in the middle of the open field. If Gus and I pushed the deer out of the woods Steve could at least see which way it was headed – hopefully the deer wouldn’t be going anywhere. As soon as we began our hike back towards the last bed, we were passing the far end of the woods that the deer had last entered. At one point Gus stopped and stuck his nose up into the steady wind several times. The wind was coming directly from the area that the deer had entered the woods about 150 yards down wind. I was pretty sure that he was air scenting the deer. After I pulled him along a bit, we continued back towards the last bed with no more air scenting.
My plan was to try to pick up the trail in the cut soybean field at the corner of the sanctuary, where the deer had turned to head to the bed in the field and then continued onto the woods. The corner was about 100 yds from the bed and I hoped that Gus could find the trail again and follow it to the bed and then into the woods. When we got near the corner of the sanctuary, Gus again started air scenting wildly. I quickly figured out that the 2nd bed, that we had kicked the deer out of earlier, was about 75 yds up wind of us – Gus was again air scenting our deer. I led him along the path I figured the Buck had taken and he quickly picked up a line that headed toward the bed. Along the way we began seeing deer tracks heading toward the bed, but no blood. I was hoping we would be able to find where the deer had bedded, but was totally surprised when we came upon a patch of blood the size of my boot. Gusto spent a few seconds licking the bloody dirt and then continued onto the woods, 50yds away. Amazingly, after the deer got up this 3rd time, he again began laying down a blood trail. We were soon at the edge of the field heading up a trail into the woods. Just 5yds into the woods there was a 4th bloody bed, but no deer. Before I had a chance to consider what might lie ahead, Gusto headed to the left and there 10 ft ahead of him was the dead 9pt, just 10 yds from the 4th bed. I yelled up to Steve and he quickly made his way down thru the woods to check out his prize.
The wound on the Buck was just about where Steve had thought - about 6 inches behind the front leg and about 5 inches up from the bottom. The entrance and exit wounds were just about directly opposite each other. When we checked out the internal organs, we found that 1 blade had put a 1 inch long 1/8 inch deep slice on the heart near the small end. There was also a cut through the edge of 1 lung. Neither the liver or stomach was touched.
Steve Hurlburt & Gusto - Thursday 11/3/2011