Goals met for this year’s archery deer season

Submitted photo
Zach Knepp, right, says it was more fun to watch daughter Bella take this doe than the buck that will soon adorn his cabin wall.

This year I headed into archery season with two goals.

My primary goal was to help my daughter Bella harvest her first deer with the use of a crossbow. The second was to shoot what I would consider a very nice buck.

I was elated when Bella was able to harvest a doe during the second week of the season. I shared that story here a month ago. Once the third grader filled the doe tag I signed over to her, I considered my season a success regardless of what happened the final month of bow season when I would be hunting solo.

Throughout the rest of October I hunted sparingly when my kids’ soccer schedule permitted, while waiting to spend a lot of time on the mountain during the final two weeks of the season.

I had a buck on camera that I would have been happy to bag, so I stayed in that area hoping to get a glimpse of him. But during my trips in there, he and I never crossed paths.

During the first Saturday of November I had to find a different place to hunt so I could sneak out of the woods quickly and quietly and avoid ruining others’ hunts. My brother was home for a rare Pennsylvania hunt and planned to sit until lunch. That plan did not comply with my needs of heading home rather early to make Bella’s club soccer game, which would decide the champion of her league.

While I had no photos at the spot I picked for that morning, I knew during the rut it was usually a good place to try. The ladder was placed at that specific location so I could hunt mornings when I had to get into the office in a timely manner.

By 9 a.m. I had not seen a deer and I started to count down until it was time to climb down the ladder and head to my cabin.

Twenty minutes later my morning took a turn for the better. I caught movement to my left and soon saw a nice buck heading my way. If I was taking bets at that moment, I would have put down quite a few chips that he would continue the same direction and give me a perfect 15-yard shot through a shooting lane I had cut out in the summer.

Instead, he stayed above the closest path and only offered me a limited shot at a longer distance. At that point it was a waiting game until he luckily stopped in the one spot where I was confident I could get an arrow to him.

After the shot, he did not react like a typical hit buck. He headed up the mountain, and did not exactly break any speed records doing so. The actions of the deer had me thinking I had missed despite being excited only a second earlier when I thought I had ended my season.

I gave it 20 minutes and got down to try and find my arrow. After getting my bearings, I found only the nock peeking out of the ground. I pulled it out from under a log and it appeared to be clean, which had my morale continuing to sink. But when I looked at my glove, it was covered in blood.

Next I looked for blood on the ground, which took a while. But eventually I was on a good trail and some positivity started to creep back into my system. That was until he continued straight up the mountain without stopping once.

When I looked at my phone after making it up two benches, I realized I needed to get out of the woods if I was going to make it to Bella’s game. I marked the spot with my sweatshirt and made a call to the cabin for someone to pick me up back at the bottom of the mountain.

It is a pretty awful feeling when you hit a deer you cannot immediately recover, but if you hunt long enough it will happen no matter how much you practice. I’ve been bow hunting for 27 years and I’ve only hit two that I did not get and both bother me to this day. And yes, I’ve missed my fair share, especially in my younger years before the high tech bows we use now. But any hunter will tell you they would rather miss one than hit one that is not recovered.

As I sat on the sidelines cheering on Bella’s North Union United team on to an eventual 2-0 win over a previously undefeated team to clinch the championship, I still had that much on my mind and was rather upset that I possibly would not find it.

The rule of thumb is that if you hit a deer anywhere but the vitals and do not recover it right away, you should back off and give it time to lie down where many times they will remain until they die. Going after them early can result in you jumping deer that have developed blood clots that keep you from further staying on the trail.

The weather was also chilly that day, so the meat would not spoil if we let it go until later in the day.

That night I waited for my dad and brother to finish their evening hunt and join me on the search for my buck. I gasped as rain started to hammer the steel roof of my cabin and likely ruin our trail. But as dad arrived at camp, he said it was not raining on the top of the mountain and he was ready to get after my buck.

I have spent a lot of time with many deer hunters over the years, but I have never seen one who is as good a tracker as my father. He has found many deer that stopped bleeding a long way before they were recovered. The time he spends on the mountain and his knowledge of deer movement make him our go to guy.

He already decided we would start looking the following morning if we didn’t find it. That was a given since we always do what we can to recover every downed animal.

As we got to where I marked the trail, it started to sprinkle. We quickly got on the blood and continued up the mountain. My chances were looking bleaker by the minute until the deer almost reached the top of the mountain and we lost the blood.

Eventually I picked it up to the west as he veered off his original course and took a turn back down the mountain. At that point, I knew my chance just increased on finding him.

A steady rain was now falling which turned the drops of blood into reddish liquid drops on the leaves. It took some extensive studying with our flashlights, but we continued our search.

As I typically do, I took my flashlight and checked out the areas around us as we moved ahead with the blood. The last time I did that I left out a cheer as I spotted the buck’s white belly above us.

After a quick inspection it was clear he had died that morning. My guess is he never knew he was hit and just walked until he fell over. Big bucks are tougher than your average whitetail, which would have stopped and bedded down with that shot.

Looking back, the trail was not as long as it appeared. But traveling straight up the mountain over some thick rocks and then having to go very slow with flashlights on our second outing definitely made it seem like it was a long trip.

I was also happy to see the buck did not suffer from ground shrinkage. I gave a modest report of a 16-inch spread originally. When dad got a look at him he laughed and said “I thought you said it wasn’t this big?”

While I knew he was a nice buck, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally got to check him out. He had thick bases with nice points and a big spread.

Soon the loving argument with my father about mounting the deer occurred. He insisted I do it and put it in the cabin.

I said I didn’t want to since I mounted the last buck I shot with my bow and had the fisher I trapped ready to be picked up to display at the cabin – which was his wish as well. Needless to say, Hartman’s Taxidermy now has my buck.

That night I called Bella to inform her that she was definitely the best shot in the family since her deer only went a short distance and mine climbed the mountain. Despite me shooting a nice buck, being with her when she shot that doe was a bigger thrill for me.

It was a great way to end a superb archery season. Both my goals were met and I once again got to share my love of the outdoors with the older and younger Knepp generations. At the end of the day, those memories are worth more to me than any deer mount.