Nov 10, 2017

The Brotherhood  

On September 30th, I was bowhunting an area we call North Oaks. We call it that because it's on the north side of our property and it has a lot of oaks.  You're probably thinking, "Those Blando boys sure are creative."   

Now, oaks produce acorns, but not every year.  This year they rained down their crop, and the deer favored those bitter morsels over everything else we planted in our numerous food plots.    

Earlier that day I decided that, if the opportunity presented, I would shoot a doe or any buck that was at least two years old.  To some, that's a pretty low bar.  To me, it's all I could hope for since my wife and I are in the process of moving to Washington, D.C., and I know that my time in the Wisconsin woods will be limited this year.  My hope was to harvest a doe early in the season and then hunt hard during the rut for a decent buck.   

Sunrise was around 6:50 that morning, and shortly thereafter, the woods were filled with a cacophony from owls, turkeys, geese, sandhill cranes, a zillion other bird species and the incessant chattering of two beautiful jet-black squirrels.  It was one of those gorgeous fall mornings that causes you to look to the heavens and say, "Thank you, God." 

Around 7:15 I saw a doe and fawn at approximately 50 yards, moving directly away from me.  Although they were fun to watch, I knew there was no chance of harvesting that particular doe.   


At 7:55 I heard a twig snap 50 yards to the southwest. I slowly turned to look and saw a deer feeding on the abundant acorns.  As I watched that deer, I caught a glimpse of a doe, 30 yards out and moving rapidly toward me from the same general direction.  When her distance closed to twenty yards, I drew my bow, and at eighteen I released the arrow.     

I'm sure some of you bowhunters are thinking, "Surely you grunted, bleated or made some other bodily noise to stop that deer before you shot -- right?"  Nope.  Somehow after 45 years of bowhunting I forgot that step. 

But it appeared that I made a good hit.  The arrow impacted with a loud "THWACK" and she kicked her back end up into the air.  Then she bolted and, up to that point, I thought I had double-lunged her.  But then, after 20 yards, she stopped and slowly walked away.  I saw her again about 80 yards away, still slowly walking with the same deer she initially came in with.   

Although I was trying to talk myself out of it, I intuitively knew, because I didn't stop her when she was walking, I hit her further back than my point of aim.  When I climbed down 30 minutes later to check my arrow, I confirmed my worst fear - a certain gut shot.     

I was sick.  I knew she would eventually perish but I also knew I had to do everything right to find this deer.  I would need plenty of help and some darn good trackers as gut shot deer bleed very little, if at all.  

My brother, Dan, was hunting public land a few miles away, and a good friend, Joe Oetlinger, who lives nearby, was also eager to help.  We waited four hours before beginning the search, but hindsight would prove we should have waited much longer.   

Although this sort of hit doesn't generally produce much blood, we were pleasantly surprised to find enough to keep us moving forward about 100 yards every 30 minutes.   

After two hours and 400 yards, we unfortunately jumped the wounded doe.  This made me ill, especially since, for reasons too complicated to explain in this column, I seriously considered backing out and waiting a few more hours mere minutes prior to jumping her.    

So at that point I had no choice but to back out.  I thanked my brother, Dan, and friend, Joe, and told them I would be back on the trail the next morning and would happily accept assistance from anyone who was willing.  I knew I would need all the help I could get.  

And I most certainly got it. The best tracking team I've ever worked with - my dad and brothers Bill, Joe and Dan - showed up the next morning and vowed to do everything in their power to recover that deer.  They knew I was really bothered by the shot and they also knew the only way I'd feel any better is if we made a successful recovery.  We have tracked deer together since we were kids, but it had been many years since we were all together on the same trail.  Dad instilled in us a deep respect for the game we hunted and an ethos of determination and dedication to the recovery.  I knew for sure that none of those guys would quit unless I personally ended the search.     

After gathering at our farm and developing a plan, we were back on the trail around 9.  We tracked for another two hours through woods, marshes, fields and some of the thickest tangles I have ever been in.  Everyone played a critical role at different junctures as we tracked for 400 more yards.  At times, we were totally perplexed at which way the deer had turned, and at other times we were able to gain ground rapidly.  Much of the time we spent on our hands and knees looking for the smallest speck of blood, a fresh track or a recently broken twig.     

And then we found her.  Dad had recently picked up the trail after it had gone cold, and shortly thereafter Bill said, "There she is."  It was a very special moment as a father and his four sons hugged and slapped each other on the back for a track job well done.    

When we returned to camp, Dad said with a quiver in his voice, "Guys, I just want to tell you how proud I am of the hunters and woodsmen the four of you have become. You guys never gave up but I knew you wouldn't until you found that deer."  We all responded in the same quivering voice, "Dad -- we learned it all from you."    

I've replayed the shot over and over again, and if I could take it again I would have bleated or grunted to stop her.  If I had done that I'm quite certain I would have made a quick clean kill and she wouldn't have suffered like she did.   

But I can't change that.  What I am thankful for is that this very unfortunate incident brought out the "brotherhood of hunters" and my family's dedication to the highest ethics of hunting. A few hours after we finally found the doe I so poorly arrowed, my brother Bill, AKA Bluegill Willy, sent me the following text:  

"What a good time and memory at the farm this morning. The whole original team was there.  That was great. Thanks, lead tracker and blood hound Bill Blando."   

The second part of Bill's text, "Thanks, lead tracker and blood hound Bill Blando" made me chuckle.  The rest of the text nailed what we all felt that morning.  We are a close family and we've hunted together most of our lives.  Sure, we all can vividly recall each deer we've harvested, but it's these "tough ones" that truly bring us back together.     

This is the Badger Sportsman gun issue, and I'd bet that some of you might think this is a story about bowhunting.  It is not.  It is a story about determination, dedication, family and brotherhood. It is a story about friends and family gathering together to accomplish a difficult task against the odds. It is a reminder that as hunters, we sometimes find ourselves in an untenable situation after the shot.  It is a reminder that things can and usually do turn out for the best - as long as we uphold the highest standards of respect for the animal and the ethics of our sport.     

If you are reading this issue, there's a good chance you are on the way to deer camp, at deer camp or at least thinking about going to deer camp.  At Badger Sportsman, we first want to wish you and your friends and family a safe and fruitful hunt.  We also hope everyone reading this is part of the fortunate forty percent (based on the past six seasons) who will harvest a fine whitetail.     

But our even greater hope is that this gun season you experience the brotherhood of the hunt and if put in an untenable position, you collectively display the utmost respect for the deer we hunt, and the highest level of ethics our sport demands and deserves.