Fly fishing fruitlessly in mangroves

Fly fishing fruitlessly in mangroves

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Ghost

6:00 a.m. on October 17th I’m approaching my stand. I access the ridge through some of the thickest growth the hill had to offer, finally hitting the rocks instead. I emerge from a hollow on the south side of the mountain; I follow a diagonal path left unmarked. A few unique trees I have memorized let me know where I’m at in the darkness. I over walk the stand and cross the ridge back tracking to it. It’s calculated but always a gamble, you never know from where the deer might come. The wind is also a fickle beast as changing degrees ever so slightly it can go from steady to a spinning whirlwind. Having hunted this ridge for several seasons now I knew it wasn’t a matter of if, just a matter of when…”why not today” I thought? Enough deer encounters in that area made me a believer, enough to have not one but two stands up there. In the complete darkness and with temps trying to get out of the 30’s I spot the faded camo ratchet strap around the trunk, home sweet home.

Finding the stand and making an inconspicuous approach is a must up there. Deer follow the thermals up, bucks starting to chase would be cruising the place for doe, they’re on the move, they’re sniffing, and they will bust you. The first thing I noticed was how much fresh green growth was illuminated by my headlamp. Being as tall as I was this brush concerned me, upon further inspection I realized my 100% knock em’ dead shooting lanes were reduced from about 6 to a paltry 2. Didn’t seem that bad on a September walk through, but with decent rain and no killer frost yet, this stuff was problematic. Dropping my bow and gear at the base of the ladder I created two mock scrapes with attractant in locations that would hopefully get a deer stepping into a line of fire.

Nestled in my seat at 6:45 a.m., I was downing a sandwich before dawn’s first light. A few moments later the first rays of sun would top the opposite ridge and start to shed light on my little piece of paradise. I call it that because truly it is not only one of my favorite places to hunt, but one of my favorite places to BE. Downed trees, rocks and the turning fall foliage makes this spot among the prettiest I have ever been, seeing deer pass through on occasion just makes it even more special.

It had rained the day before; the damp leaves were like a carpet, even in my huge boots I didn’t make much noise in my approach. It was going to be one of those mornings, “be still” I thought to myself “because you don’t stand a chance at hearing them approach.”

No surprise then that the first movement I detected was not accompanied by a single sound, the buck came in like a ghost.

I first sensed movement to my left. I saw the rear end of a whitetail stepping into the thicket, when the head moved beyond the growth I immediately felt a surge of adrenaline, like an atomic bomb went off in my gut and the heat just surged through my whole body. What happened next happened quickly. The buck walked behind several trees as he approached, every time his vision was obscured, I made a move.

He’s behind a tree, so I stand up, behind another tree, I grab my bow off the hook, behind another tree, and I draw back. I felt the wind in my face…he was beat. He stepped to 20 yards directly in front of me. Bobbing his head he quartered slightly to his left and the arrow was let loose. The last thing I saw was the fletching blur with the color of my pin at a spot where I imagined his lungs would be. 

He kicked and jumped and walked off. He headed in the opposite direction from where I came in. He moved slow but steady over the next shelf and disappeared. This was 7:30 am.

I decided a solid 30 minutes would pass before I even budged. It’s amazing what you do to pass the time. I saw the shot with my own eyes, so there was no need to replay it in my mind.

I resolved to think of my family for a while, my wife and two children, the love and support I get from them and how I hoped to honor them by harvesting this animal. 

I soaked in the beauty of the moment and the place. I reflected upon what had happened. The nervousness, the fever as they call it….in that split second you’re deciding you are going to take a life. But as an ethical hunter you’re taking responsibility for that life and your food. You tap into something primal, something instinctive. We practice to make a clean kill, we scout, we shoot, and we come to grips with it all… raging against trepidation. You won’t find these feelings on your iPad, there isn’t an app for that.

At 8:03 I climbed down and quietly inspected the area the buck stood. Blood and flesh splattered on brush, hair on the ground, but the arrow was nowhere to be found. After a few more minutes of toiling I decided I was confident enough in my shot to proceed with tracking, so on the blood trail I went. The 10 point didn’t make it easy on me; the blood trail was merely a fleck here and there, amidst an army of yellow leaves turning red on the ground! At one point I had even lost it and found myself looking for upturned leaves left disturbed by limping hooves.

A very grateful hunter and his quarry. 
After quite some time and effort I of course began to worry, the idea that I hadn’t found the arrow because the shot hadn’t passed through entered my mind. What if the arrow was still in the deer and clogged the exit wound? My heart began to sink, the deer was going to die and I may not find it, a hunter’s worst nightmare. A beautiful animal, a source of nourishment for family and friends, left to waste. 

In a moment of ultimate frustration I looked to the forest and too the sky and pleaded to see SOMETHING, anything. I was rewarded in that moment, for the next thing I saw was blood, more of it than I had previously seen, it lead to more upturned leaves and eventually a glimpse of white fur in a gully not far in the distance…finally I found him, he was down.

I approached cautiously but knew right away he had expired. I knelt down beside him, took off my glove and felt his slightly still warm neck. All I remember from that moment was repeatedly saying 'I didn’t give up on him,' and that 'I would have drug him out of hell if that’s where I had to track him to,' I also of course thanked him.

You can buy moments like that, but you pay in determination and hard work, the deer of course pays in blood, it’s certainly nothing to be taken lightly.

The arrow is still missing, let it be gone. A friend came and grabbed my gear after I field dressed the deer. I started to drag the buck the long way down the mountain. Me and the ghost moving over rocks, logs and ferns, crossing creeks, his 150 plus pounds reminding me I had to earn him every step of the way…a lesson I will be glad to learn as often as one can.

I'm not one for "Trophy Pic's," but I did want to show the uniqueness of this 6 x 4 rack. Of those in our little hunting troop, no one ever spotted this buck before or got trail camera pictures of him.