Author: Matt Kormann
Bowhunting season opened in Georgia in early September, and I’m proud to say I’ve been in the woods more than just a handful of times. What began as 90-degree sweats that went into the late evening have since transitioned to cool, gray, late-afternoon sessions that put me in the holiday spirit.
I’ve been fortunate this year to have great mentors and coaches to support my hunting efforts. Brian Murphy from QDMA has offered tremendous advice throughout fall. He’s been advising me, as I chase my first whitetail harvest, to make a solid shot at the first deer that presents itself. I’ve been leaning heavily on his advice. I’m not trying to take a monster buck. I’m simply trying to take my first deer. Frankly, as much as I enjoy cooking, I’m eager to get a doe. But I’m not willing to pass on any deer within my range.
I wish I had great whitetail success to report. After all, with Georgia hunting licenses allowing bowhunters to harvest as many as 12 deer, you might think I’d have filled my freezer by now. That’s not been the case. I finally had a great prospect just 20 yards from the stand last week. This was my first opportunity to hunt during the rut, and it was everything I’ve heard it would be.
Patiently waiting for a shot opportunity. Photo Credit: ATA
Just before sunset, a young buck chased a doe right behind my stand. The two whitetails headed off into the woods to my right.
A few minutes later, he was back. He trotted in, nose to the ground, a few yards behind me. Picking up the doe’s scent again, he was off – back into the woods continuing his pursuit. He never slowed.
Soon enough, he was back in the dry creek bed 50 yards behind me. I took a chance and made one quick grunt. That got his attention immediately. He trotted toward my stand. Making a small circle about 15 yards out, but with a lot of tree cover between quarry and bowhunter, he emerged broadside a few yards farther away.
I’d practiced for this. I ran through my mental process, visualizing just where I’d place my pin for a solid sight picture. I raised the bow, came to full draw … and the young buck turned at that moment to stare right at me.
I carefully let down. If he saw me, he gave no indication.
Kormann waited for the opportune shot as the deer moved. Photo Credit: John Hafner
Slowly now, he turned and placed himself near a tree I’d ranged when I got into the stand. He was 22 yards immediately behind my tree. He stopped, listening and smelling the air.
Again, I raised my bow and came to full draw. I had a perfect sight picture. I know he’s at 22 yards, and I’m shooting him for 20. I mentally corrected errors from last season when I was shooting too high. I saw my pin holding steady – exactly where I’ve been practicing on my backyard target. Finger on the release, the next thing I remember is the now-unmistakable sound of my arrow passing through that buck. Only then did I lower my bow arm.
I watched as the deer bolted, making a wide arc away from me, eventually running up a short rise about 100 yards through the woods from my stand.
I secured my bow and went for my phone.
“Shot a small four. Sounded like a hit but going to find the arrow,” I texted John Eastman. John has mentored many new bowhunters through QDMA’s Field to Fork program and, along with Hank Forester, agreed to help that evening if I was fortunate to shoot my first deer.
The group attempted to track the blood trail to find the deer. Photo Credit: John Hafner
Sure enough, I easily found the arrow. There was good, clean trace on it. As I waited for John and Hank, I saw blood on the ground as well. Soon, though, reality set in. After an hour or so searching the woods after sunset, we found no trace of the deer. The next morning, Brian, his daughter Lauren – an accomplished outdoorswoman, and Hank joined me to search more thoroughly. While I started out optimistic, after 90 minutes, none of us found a trace of that deer.
Still, I learned a lot. Everyone who helped track that little buck reassured me they’d been in my shoes. In fact, every hunter with whom I’ve spoken since that day has said the same. Those words really helped. I expect to be back in the woods this week – perhaps multiple days – because I’m confident my time will come. But I also learned a lot about whitetail habitat and deer behavior during those hours of searching. It’s incredible to me the cover whitetails seek. It’s more incredible what the woods’ interior looks like when it’s prepared specifically for deer. It’s often difficult to traverse, but that’s why deer love it.
I also spoke with a good friend who had a family member go through the same thing years ago. She had shot a doe through “no-man’s-land,” just as I had. She hasn’t hunted since. If I could encourage newer hunters like me, I’d advise them to remember just how resilient whitetails are. It’s also important to consider how critical conservation is to the species’ survival and growth. Over the past 70-plus years we’ve seen what great conservation practices can do to support a species, and bowhunters are a critical piece of that puzzle.
As best we can figure, I put that arrow in the one place that probably did little harm, and he’s lived to grow and fight another day. As for me, I’m as eager as ever to return to the woods and the hunt. I’ve replayed that episode in my head at least a hundred times. Slightly improving my shot placement next time will bring success, and I’m practicing to ensure that happens. Until then, I’m enjoying my time in the woods, and I’m eager to hear your stories. Share them with me on Facebook or Twitter, or tell me in person at #ATA2019. By then, I hope to have a whitetail harvest story of my own to share!