She came into the swamp under my stand, about 35 yards out, right after dawn. Another 75 degree, breezy November day meant that the bigger bucks and does would stay put in their beds, maybe all day. Rut be damned. A small deer, probably one and a half years old, she was munching on acorns, and then on clover. She refused to move.
In past years, I would have never taken the shot. I wouldn't have had the confidence. But this year, I practiced this shot, or close to it. A 30 yard elevated shot. I waited 30 minutes for her to either go away or move closer. She did neither. I considered shooing her off entirely, but then reconsidered that my lease on the property is contingent upon deer removal. The landowner wants the deer herd reduced - that is his property management goal. A small, skinny doe fits the bill.
I aimed and I breathed. I aimed to put the arrow 35 yards down range, and 10 feet downhill from the bottom of my 20 foot tall tree stand. I aimed to put it in the top of the right lung, to exit the lower left lung. She was a skinny animal, but I was confident. I released the arrow and it flew beautifully downrange. But in the breeze, it veered left by about six inches and struck the left lung, exited the left front armpit area, and sticking in the ground. The doe disappeared into the swamp as I anxiously waited to track her, wondering how much work lay ahead of me.
An hour later, I came down from the stand, walking through the swamp and the adjacent highway right of way, expecting a dead doe. I didn't find one. I came back the next day to look again. No dice. Now horrified that the animal was limping around, mortally wounded, I didn't know what to do. Three days later, I returned, hoping to put down a mauled animal in pain, but instead found a dead doe in the swamp. She had fallen in the water just a few steps from where she was shot, in heavy briars (and a six foot deep hole of water) and likely died within two minutes, if not 30 seconds.
As frustrated as I was about losing the deer (and the meat), I was slightly relieved that the animal only suffered briefly, and that I was doing good work for the landowner's management goals. I also feel slightly relieved about my shooting. Had it been a larger deer, the shot would have been even more deadly, and a 220lb deer crashing into the water likely makes more sound than a 90lb doe falling into the water.
I'm still growing as a bowhunter, and I suppose this is one of the rites of passage. I'm glad it ended as it did, instead of with a wounded animal walking around with an arrow hanging out of it. But this does mark the second missed shot in two seasons.