Let’s be honest, social media is great about showing the highlights of our lives… our faces when we are made up, our drama free, close-knit friends and family, and of course all the beautiful catches and harvests we make as outdoors men and women. When I posted the picture of my 2017 Montana whitetail buck to social media nearly a month ago, you saw the end result – the highlight reel of my hunt. You probably assumed that the deer was spotted, that I set up, that I made a clean shot, that the deer went down, that I walked up to it and took pretty pictures with it, and that I then field dressed it, drug it to the truck, and finally got it processed.
The above assumption was how I pictured the hunt happening in my head, and honestly, how I am familiar with successful hunts working out, but it is far from the reality of what actually happened.
I am 22 years old and have been has been tagging along for hunts with my dad since I was two or three years old. I shot my first buck right after I turned 11 years old, and all of my hunting experiences since then have been basically one-shot-kill scenarios.
From a young age, my father instilled the importance of fair game and precise and accurate shooting. Until I could prove to him I could shoot my rifle or bow in tight groups at several ranges, I was not allowed to go out hunting. I still value the importance of shooting practice and feeling my weapons as an extension of my body. Which is why I never expected my 2017 deer hunt to go the way it did.
From the time the big game Montana archery season started on September 2 to the day I shot my buck on October 17, I had been on 25 hunts for either deer or elk. I hiked more miles than I can count in different parts of the state (I think next year I will keep track of hours and miles I put in, LOL). I sat in ground blinds and watched shooter bucks walk by just out of my effective range during archery season several times. I watched as a decent buck stood behind a tree and rubbed his antlers without a shot opportunity. I spot-and-stalked a bachelor herd of 10+ mule deer, got within 10 yards of them, and accidentally kicked them up without being able to take a shot. I sat and waited for deer to appear in places where fresh tracks and sign where very apparent, but nothing ever showed up.
I put in my work during rifle season too. I put my crosshairs on several average young bucks, whitetails and mule deer (I do not discriminate, HAHA). Day after day, I could not understand how I could get so unlucky. I had spent time out and about, I learned the areas I was hunting, and I felt my “deserve it” factor was much higher than many of my friends and followers who had already harvested nice bucks and bulls earlier in the season.
Being a Montanan, public land hunts are in my blood. I take pride in the DIY public land style hunts as they add another dimension to make hunting more challenging. But when my opportunities were running out, and I had the opportunity to hunt a chunk of private land bordering the river, I hopped on it in an opportunity for hunting experience and meat in the freezer.
It was not long after arriving at the place that we spotted the buck I wanted to shoot. Derek, the land owner (wearing the Sitka gear in my featured image) told me I could shoot him. It would be my largest whitetail to date, and he was just gorgeous.
I finally set up for my shot, calmed my nerves, and had a rock solid rest. Where we were sitting, there was no wind. A 300 yard shot with my Ruger .7mm was cake compared to experiences I had been through in the past. I dialed in and put my crosshairs right on the fur line behind the front shoulder and was perfectly centered up and down. I flipped off my safety, took a deep breath, and steadily squeezed my trigger until the rifle fired. I saw the buck move like he was hit and heard the thud of the bullet hitting something solid. The buck and the other deer then ran off into the thick trees behind the field they were standing in. We waited a few minutes, looked at film footage to confirm a hit, and walked over to the tree line to look for blood.
We walked the whole tree line, check what seemed to be every inch, and all we found was the tiniest tuft of deer hair… no blood. We checked the footage again to try and determine where the buck ran into the trees at, and we carefully searched that spot in an effort to find some blood. Still nothing.
It was about an hour before dark, and Derek and Kyle suggested waiting until the morning to begin the search for him. I felt sick and I was not excited about leaving the deer overnight, but I also understood that if we pushed the deer and he was still moving, he could end up on another property or in the river where we would not be able to retrieve him.
The plan was to plug the camera into a large TV screen and slow down the video so we could try to determine if the deer was in fact shot, and if the shot was fatal. The video footage showed the vapor trail of the bullet, and we watched as a wind pushed the bullet to the right and hit the deer six inches to the right from where I had aimed. The bullet hit could have hit liver or diaphragm, and we assumed it probably hit the guts. I did not sleep that night, and I decided whether or not we found the deer the next morning, my tag was notched and I was done deer hunting for the season.
The next morning, we wandered around the property through thick trees, deadfall, cat tails, and brush. There was no blood at all until I stumbled on the tiniest speck. I turned to Derek and Kyle to show them the drop of blood and we turned to find the first bed the buck had laid in the night before. That was the only blood we found on the entire property, but the blood was dark, red, and fresh, so we knew he had to be nearby. At this point, I began to gain some hope, but I was still nervous we would not find him.
We continued walking through the thick brush, under trees, along fence lines, and even checked out the river. We had pretty much narrowed down the entire property other than the SW corner, and as the three of us covered every inch, Kyle spotted a white belly and a set of antlers. He was still breathing, but he could not lift his head up. Given another hour or two he would have died.
I was overcome with emotion. I put one more shot in him to put him out of his misery and watched him take his last breath. I walked over to him, tucked away in his little bed between thick deadfall, and I petted his fur. It was so soft. I grabbed his antlers and realized he was more of a buck than I expected.
I this moment, after searching hard for hours, I realized how blessed and lucky I was to have found this deer, and that even when you expect a one-shot-kill and an easy track and retrieval, it does not happen every time. When I had made my first shot, I did not realize there was a wind from where I was sitting and I did not account for it. My .7mm hollow point bullet did not expand at all (I could not even put my pinky finger through the entrance or exit hole), and even though I ended up hitting the deer in the diaphragm and liver, the bullet barely did any damage… hence the lack of blood. To make matters worse, the thick woods where the deer ran into made it nearly impossible to find the deer, especially without blood.
This is a story of me not sitting behind a highlight reel. This is a story of me being real. Hunts do not always work out the way we plan. We sometimes lose the animals we shoot, but I am so grateful to have had a couple of good friends by my side through this hunt who were able to encourage me to not give up the hunt until we found him. I encourage you to find some friends like these as well.
I know that this hunt only served to make me a more ethical, humble, and well-rounded hunter, and through this experience I have made the decision to continue to practice and prepare for my next hunt even harder than I have prepared in the past.
Finally I have to say, although this was a private land harvest, the hunt presented a challenge that I most likely would have not experienced this year otherwise, and I am thankful for the learning and experience the memory has given me.
I DID NOT DESERVE THIS BUCK.
I MERELY GOT LUCKY.
Leave a comment and tell me about your similar experiences with losing animals or having a rough go at tracking them down! I am excited to connect with you!
Until Next Time,
HUGE thank you to Crown Point Outdoors, LLC for getting a whole season of deer and elk hunting footage on film for me and capturing the entirety of my 2017 whitetail hunt, from the set up, to the shot, to the kill, to the tracking, to the field dressing, and to the drag back to the truck.
Check out their Facebook page and Instagram @crownpointoutdoors for amazing wildlife and hunting footage, or contact to have your next hunt filmed.