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Crossbows, lighted nocks, baiting and wounding loss…. Oh my!

npaden

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 3, 2011
Messages
4,718
Location
Lubbock, Texas
I think this story is the trifecta +1 of things that seem to get people riled up on this and other hunting forums. It is what it is, and I’m going to share it warts and all. Not the western adventure hunt we generally see posted about here, but it was definitely on my own. I think it is worth sharing, but be warned this is going to be a long and winding road of a story that could probably be told in just a few short sentences.

Last year Texas Parks and Wildlife changed the mule deer season in our county to include the month of October for archery season. Previously it was a special 9 day season for any weapon. It seemed like every year I see mule deer in the summer and early fall and then they disappear from my property in mid-November for the season. My place is only 74 acres, so although I try to make it as wildlife friendly as possible, getting wild animals to be on a relatively open 74 acres during daylight is pretty challenging. With that said, I do run a corn feeder and do my best to attract them. Enter the baiting argument.

With the change in the season for mule deer I decided that it would be worth trying to sort out the archery thing to have a better opportunity at a mule deer when they were actually on my property. Texas has allowed crossbows during archery season for several years now so looking through my options I decided that would probably work the best for me and possibly my son as well. I decided on a Wicked Ridge Fury 410 crossbow with the de-cocking feature that seemed to be a pretty good bang for the buck. Enter the crossbows during archery season argument.

The lighted nocks actually don’t enter the story until just a few weeks ago, but for the sake of storytelling I’m going to introduce them now. It wasn’t until a few times sitting in a blind as darkness approached that I even thought about lighted nocks. I was trying to video my shot to help me determine the location of a possible hit and came to the conclusion that without a lighted nock there really wasn’t a point after it got to within about 10 minutes of shooting light ending. Now with a little more experience, I think even during broad daylight a lighted nock might help. Enter the lighted nocks argument.

On the story of wounding loss, I’ve always kind of taken the stance that using anything other than a modern firearm was in a way putting the sport of the hunt above doing everything in your power of killing the animal humanely. If the poop hit the fan are you going to grab a modern rifle or a bow or crossbow? Well, here I am needing to eat my own words on the subject (which has happened many times for me on many subjects) if I am going to pick up a crossbow just to have a better chance at getting a deer on my property. To me there really isn’t an argument that a bow or crossbow is as lethal as a modern rifle. If you limit your choices it can be just as lethal because dead is dead, but on a marginal shot, there is a higher chance of wounding with archery equipment at least in my opinion. Enter the wounding loss argument.

So here I am, a native Montanan who grew up thinking hunting over bait was absolutely not hunting at all, using a crossbow with lighted nocks hunting over bait and choosing to hunt with less lethal equipment just so I would have a better chance at getting a deer. I guess I could throw in the silver spoon type guys hunting private property too. I was not born with a silver spoon, but I have been very blessed financially to be able to own my own property to hunt on so that automatically makes it way easier than hunting public land too.

Not wanting to make this a suspense type thread and really not just trying to stir the pot, but I have been thinking about whether or not to post up this hunt report and all this has been rolling around in my head for a bit and I thought if I actually made this first post it would make me tell the story so here it goes. I’ve got a fairly busy day at work and it’s probably going to take a bit to get it all posted up, but I will try to keep it going.
 
One more backstory type post.

Although cheating with all the aforementioned lazy semi-ethical shortcuts should make things brutally easy, I got my crossbow last year and hunted the entire one month archery season both at my house and another 160 acre property that I own 100 miles south without ever shooting an arrow/bolt at an animal. I didn’t keep track of how many days/nights I sat in a blind but it was quite a few. More than 15. I tried using pop up blinds and they worked okay, but whitetails seem to notice new things so you have to leave them set up and it seemed that they either blew away or were ripped up or were chewed on by rodents or any number of things. I could have shot several deer and pigs, but I was being selective. Having never hunted that early in the year, the animal’s behavior patterns were for sure a little different than November and December when I’m usually hunting these properties. I learned that scent does make a big difference which I’ve never had to deal with quite as much rifle hunting. For sure when an animal is less than 30 yards away they can see, hear and smell you even in a blind. So although I’m going to be posting a success story now, it has been a little while in the making.

Over the summer I ended up buying a couple permanent blinds. One was more of a sentimental thing, I saw one of these blinds a long time ago and thought they looked amazing so when I saw one on Facebook marketplace for a reasonable price I couldn’t pass it up. Having owned it for a bit and sat in it a few times the amazing looks is really the only thing it has going for it. The windows are small and it really isn’t big enough for more than 1 person. But it does look amazing. Of course the animals really don’t care what it looks like once it sits there for a while but it does look cool and it isn’t the best but it is better than the pop up blinds.

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The other thing that I had time to think about was scent. The wind predominately blows from the south and southwest with an occasional north wind and almost never an east wind. So I wanted to put the blind to the east of my corn feeder. On my property to the south that was right in the middle of a big inpenetrable thicket that has grown back too thick after a big fire I had on the property 12 years ago. To get a blind there I ended up hiring someone to do some forestry mulching and clearing out some paths through the brush/trees.

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Once that was done I built a platform and put a blind on it pretty much 30 yards to the east of the feeder. The elevated blind was needed mainly because to keep the pigs from eating all the corn and chasing the deer I built a hog panel fence around the feeder. The pigs are pretty thick down there and it is supposed to help the deer feel more comfortable coming to the feeder. I’m not sure how well that works but it does keep the pigs from eating all the corn.

Anyway, I was pretty proud of building the platform and getting the blind put up on it by myself. It did help quite a bit having a tractor to do the heavy lifting!

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Okay, this is turning into a birth narrative so I’m about to get it somewhat on track. The main thing I’m trying to show is that this isn’t a simple, buy a crossbow, sit at a feeder and slam a buck type process. It actually does take work.

I’m also running trail cameras on both properties and am pretty excited about the quality of the deer showing up on camera. Some really nice ones on the property down south and a couple good ones at the house. Down south is 100% whitetails and for some reason once I finally broke down and got the crossbow to hunt archery season for mule deer the mule deer haven’t been showing up that much at my house lately. I did get some pictures of a decent mule deer buck but nothing like I’ve gotten in the past. The mule deer have been really sporadic lately and as I’m typing this I haven’t seen a mule deer on my property or gotten a picture of one in over a month.

Here are some of the deer I’m getting pictures of down south.
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And here are some of the ones at the house.

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We volunteered to pick apples at the apple orchard for the food bank a couple years ago and they told us we could take any apples on the ground that we wanted so the last couple years we have gone and gotten several 5 gallon buckets worth a few times in the late summer early fall and the deer love them but not sure it helps anything. They almost seem to come in the dark more when we put the apples out than when the corn feeder is running. I do run the corn feeders year round, it gets a little expensive but I don’t feed that much. I might go through 1,000 pounds of corn in a year between both properties.

(Sorry for the poor image quality on the trail camera pictures. They looked decent on my phone but they are pretty pixelated on the computer. I think you can get a vague idea of the size of the bucks though).
 
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Congrats on a beautiful looking piece of property. It's hard to describe the satisfaction that comes with owning your own piece of dirt. Sculpting a property and managing it for wildlife can become a passion that few appreciate or understand. Good luck this season and I hope we get to see some grip and grins of those bucks.
 
It is a different type of blood sweat and tears, but it is work to make it happen, nonetheless.

As I've said before, it is amazing to see the vegetation come back to the south place...

(@npaden a plea for HuntTalkers not on 10 years ago to see the photos after the fire, and a link for the story on the wood chipper conversation that had the cool video of the brush hogs doing work)
 
Money isn’t free and land isn’t cheap. Lots of a different kind of work involved.

Following.

@npaden how about a little more backstory. Based on the posts here it seems like it’s taken you a little while to fully descend down the land ownership rabbit hole. What took so long?
 
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So this year the archery season opened up on September 30th and I have been in a blind on one of the properties 13 days. The only days I’ve missed were when I had to go to Arizona for work last week. Most of those days I’ve been in the blind morning and evening, a couple of them I was only able to hunt the morning or the evening and a few of them I was in the blind all day.

Right toward the end of September we got some big rains and things have greened up almost like in the spring. This seemed to really slow the animals down on coming to the corn feeders. Also, I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but I’ve never had any luck at any time of the year with the feeders going off and deer coming in like they just heard a dinner bell. I’ve tried feeding more and feeding less, timing the feeders to go off right at dawn and dusk and several other things but I think I’m just in a lower deer density area and they just don’t come running like you hear people talk of. So I’ve spent a lot of unproductive time in the blind. I have seen some smaller bucks and does and some pigs coming in but nothing that I wanted to put my tag on. I’ve really thought about shooting a pig just to actually see what it’s like to shoot an animal but I’ve always been thinking a deer might be coming any minute.

There isn’t anything physically challenging. I sit in a chair and try to be quite. Some days it is pretty warm and I’ve been trying to keep the windows closed to control scent. It’s been pretty educational as the smaller bucks and does have eyes, ears and noses too and I have been able to get a feel for what I can and can’t get away with. Of course after planning and setting everything up to the east because we never get an east wind, one of my target bucks down south shows up and winds me when we have a wind from the northeast. I probably shouldn’t have even gone down there when I saw the forecast.

I’m behind at work and have just been day trip hunting on Saturday or maybe spending Friday night in the back of the pickup when I go down south where there are several really nice bucks that I’m still hoping to get a chance at. I’ve been hunting at the house most mornings and in the evenings whenever I can. Last Sunday I ended up back at the house and hunted that morning before church and then again that evening. Looking at the trail camera of course the better bucks at the house had both been there on Saturday morning when I was down south. Sunday morning was a bust and then I went back to sit that evening. It was my 30th or something like that time to sit in the blind. Wind was decent so I opened up the front window of the blind and got the crossbow cocked and ready. The camera was showing nearly all nocturnal activity so I wasn’t really expecting anything to happen but my biggest strength in my hunting has always been my persistence so I was going to be out there just in case. It started to get dark and I checked to see when shooting light was over and was about to start getting things ready to head back to the house when one of my target bucks shows up at the feeder.

It was less than 5 minutes before the end of shooting light and this was going to be a close thing. Seeing him in person I was a little disappointed and spend a little bit of time trying to decide if I should pass on him. One of the other reasons that I had decided to do archery besides the new mule deer season was that my neighbor has consistently been shooting the best deer during archery season since I was waiting for rifle season. The guy owns 2 acres but has relatives who own most of the land around me so basically he gets them going and coming to my property. Last year his brother also hunted and shot a 2.5 year old buck. I’ve got history with this particular buck and passed on him several times last year but I’m sure if the neighbor or his brother saw him he would be done for. I thought this buck was 3.5 last year but now seeing him again in person I’m second guessing myself. Then I think that I ended up passing on everything last year and me or my son didn’t end up shooting anything and it sucked to not have any venison so I probably shouldn’t be so picky. So that all flashes through my head and then I decided to go for it.

I’ve been practicing shooting the crossbow and it is very accurate. I’ve watched several videos that talk about deer “jumping the string” which actually means ducking down and that you should aim lower than you think. I’ve visualized shooting a deer from about every angle thinking about where the arrow enters up as well as where it ends up. Somewhere in there with all the other thoughts in my head I guess I forgot about that. I line up right where I would shoot a deer with a rifle and pull the trigger on the crossbow.

I’d been worried about being able to see where I hit the deer so I bought the lighted nocks as well as a small tripod I could attach to the blind and hold my iphone to video a shot. I was able to get that setup and have it rolling when I took the shot.

So I pull the trigger and I see the lighted nock fly and I get the twack as the arrow/bolt hits that deer and then it kind of just falls on the ground and he takes off running. I pull my phone and look at the video and start going over it frame by frame and it looks like he ducks a little but it looks mostly like I just hit him high. I start thinking through my process of aiming and don’t remember intentionally aiming low like I planned on. The shot looks high. This was actually 3 minutes before the end of shooting light. The camera just has a very hard time and it looks very dark. The buck is there but all you can see is a grainy shadow.



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I go out and look at the arrow and not much blood on it. Actually some muscle and hair and that’s about it.

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I call a friend who I talk with frequently about hunting that hunts with a long bow and send him the video and picture of the arrow and he thinks it is a good hit. I decide to play it safe and wait a full hour and go out in the dark to start looking.
 
The hour slowly goes by and I get my best flashlight and headlamp and go out. I go to where I picked up the arrow and can’t find a single drop of blood. I can see his tracks taking off and follow them a little but from the video he ends up going through some tall grass so I lose his tracks but still can’t find any blood in the grass. Our trip to Africa last summer really helped my tracking and blood finding skills but I was still pretty much coming up empty.

Another drawback to only having 74 acres is that it doesn’t take long for a wounded animal to get off your property. I followed some of the normal game trails and still couldn’t find any blood. I looked around in a grid search about 100 yards by 300 yards and didn’t see any sign of him. I had loaded the crossbow back up in case I needed a finishing shot but I wasn’t really sure how I was going to accomplish that in the dark but after about 30 minutes of looking I decided to trade the crossbow out for one of my dogs. He has been trained as a shed hunting dog and has a real good nose and roams about the perfect range for finding something without getting too far off so I thought he would be helpful.

We go back out and start looking. I go back to where I shot him and still can’t find any blood. I’ve got a pretty good flashlight but not like a light up the night to day type flashlight. I start to grid search again and go over the likely places he would have gone based on seeing where they normally go. From the place I shot him it is only about 125 yards to the edge of a canyon and that is generally my property line. I own the actual rim and anywhere from 10 feet to 100 yards off the rim depending on the exact spot. Much of the rim has 30+ foot cliffs so I don’t really think he would have gone over there but I’m still using the flashlight to look at the bottom. I spend lots of time on the few places where animals can come up or down the canyon and in some thicker cover areas. Still not finding any blood and Huck isn’t acting very interested.

This goes on for another 30 or 40 minutes and we are about to the end of the property and I see a deer’s eyes in the flashlight beam. I shine the light and look through my binoculars and it is a nice buck but that’s about all I can tell. It’s pretty dark and my flashlight isn’t bright enough. I range him at 109 yards away. He moves off about 10 yards and then stops. I continue to look at him through the binoculars but can’t really tell if it is the buck I shot or not. Even if it was I’m not sure what I could do about it. It’s been over 2 hours since I shot and he is still on his feet. It does seem odd that he isn’t running off but I’ve seen deer do weird things in the dark so I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that about the only thing I can do staying out there with the dog is push him the last 100 yards off my property and so I leave to go back to the house. I glass him up a few times as I’m heading back and see eyes until I get too far away. This is for sure not what I was hoping for the first time I loose a bolt at a live animal.

I go to bed feeling terrible but knowing I’ve done everything I could and plan on being out there first thing looking for him. My friend mentioned that sometimes LED flashlights don’t do a good job picking up blood so looking in daylight I’m hoping we can find at least a little. I get my son to go out with me and we go to where I hit him and start looking around and still can’t find blood. I’ve gone over the video probably 100 times by now and start looking where he ran off and still can’t find blood but do find his tracks after he came out of the tall grass. Obvious running buck tracks. I follow them for maybe 20 yards and then they peter out in a rocky area and I can’t pick them back up.

I go over to where I saw the buck last night and start looking for any blood or tracks. Lots of deer tracks but nothing conclusive. Zero blood. I spooked up 6 does when I came over and they all headed off down into the canyon along the same path the buck had been on the night before. I watched them with my binoculars leaving off down in the canyon and it was just the 6 does. They didn’t pick up a buck along the way. I follow the path to the end of my property and can’t find any blood. We grid search some more and follow along the canyon rim and go through all the brushy areas and come up empty. I have to catch a flight that morning at 10:00 so about 8:10 I decided to call it and get showered and head to the airport. Having not found a single drop of blood and only seeing muscle on the bolt I am starting to think that he is alive somewhere. The high shoulder shot might work for a rifle but it didn’t seem to be good for a crossbow.

My trip to Arizona went fine, I had my son look again Tuesday afternoon for any sign of scavengers but he didn’t see anything. Pretty bummed out over the whole deal but I pretty much had convinced myself that I had hit him in the infamous “void” that is just a non lethal shot.
 
I get back from Arizona late Wednesday night and I’m back in the blind Thursday morning at the house. The blind is 175 yards west of the house. Nothing going on Thursday morning. Thursday evening is hectic at work and I don’t make it home in time to hunt, I do get out again Friday morning but nothing is happening. I had planned to go down south Friday evening but end up not getting things done so sit again at the house Friday evening. A small buck comes in right at the end of shooting light so I get to wait him out before I can leave. I still ended up bumping him as I left.

I made a whirlwind trip down to south on Saturday. Watched the eclipse from the blind with a welding helmet. Took a few photos that I’m almost embarrassed of based on the amazing ones I have seen others post. Absolutely nothing happening that morning. It is actually starting to get a little crisp in the mornings in the mid 40’s so I was thinking things should be moving but that wasn’t the case. The wind ended up calming down to almost nothing toward evening and just a medium sized buck came in to the feeder. Again, I’m learning nearly every time I see animals at what I can and can’t get away with. I ended up spooking him off just sliding my butt forward in the chair in the blind. When the wind isn’t blowing they can hear amazingly well. Pigs seem to smell better but deer can hear and see better. That was pretty much it for my Saturday. Another unproductive day in the blind all day dark to dark.

I just about decided to not get up Sunday morning but as I mentioned one of my best hunting qualities is persistence. I got setup in the blind, loaded up the crossbow, got everything set and waited for it to get light. This feeder is going off at 7:05 right now and shooting light is at 7:20 this morning. The feeder makes me jump when it goes off but nothing comes running. It starts got get light and still nothing.

I’ve about decided this is going to be my normal unproductive sits. I planted about 6 acres of wheat and with all the rain it is doing really well. It is on the very far west side of my property and the deer go out there and eat during the night. It’s doing so well that it seems to have more deer in it than come to my feeder. I decide to glass over there and see if there are any deer in it and I see 2 bucks leaving the wheat and headed my way! I’m stoked!
 
I keep glassing and both seem to be pretty good bucks. I look harder and one of them is the buck I shot last Sunday evening! 100% for sure! I’m about to jump out of my chair and do a cartwheel or something I’m so pumped. I keep my glasses on him and he is still coming. VERY cautiously but for sure headed my way. I can see a very slight limp but if I didn’t know to be looking for it I wouldn’t have even noticed the limp. I’m so focused on him that I don’t even really notice the other buck and am not sure what exactly happened with the other buck but he ends up deciding not to come to the feeder and instead heads off toward the canyon. It’s pretty calm but the slight breeze is coming my way so I think I’m good on scent.

It seems like it took a good 10 minutes for the buck to cover about 200 yards from the wheat field to the feeder but he finally makes it. Now I’ve got the wheels spinning. Again he doesn’t look super impressive in person but I decide that this is meant to be that he is coming back to the same place he got shot just a week ago. Plus I’m curious to find exactly where I hit him last time. I’ve been thinking this through and decide if I can I would like to wait until he is facing south because he would have to run over 300 yards to get off my property in that direction vs only about 125 yards if he goes north toward the canyon. Of course he is lined up perfectly broadside facing north.

I wait for a couple minutes and he finally seems to be turning to the south. I’m like an idiot savant repeating to myself in my head to aim low, aim low. I’m really amazed how amped up I am. I’ve shot lots of deer, elk, pronghorn, pigs, African game, mountain goat, bison, etc. but the heart is really pumping on this one. I get somewhat calmed down and he is standing there looking at me nearly straight on and I decide that is going to be a good shot. I’ve seen several frontal shots on video and they seem to work really well. Plus if he kept the way he was going he was going to have the feeder as a backstop and I really didn’t want to stick a bolt into the feeder.

I try to slow my slamming heart and feel like I am steady and actually think about my shot placement and the trigger releases before I can change my mind.


Just like last time I hear it hit and he takes off! Really from a real time perspective I don’t know how anyone can tell where they hit. I was able to get the little tripod and my phone setup again and I immediately grabbed it to look at where I hit him. I’m unbelievably amped up. I look at the video and it looks good. I even think I might have heard him crash just of the ridge.

Since it is daylight I decide that I’m not going to sit here and wait, I grab my binoculars and exit the blind and move around behind my pond to see if I can see him running off. I spot him down in my pit and he is just standing there. He starts to walk toward the canyon and I can’t believe it. This deer must be made of titanium! Then I look closer and it is the other buck! He is just casually walking off, I stay behind a tree and try not to spook him. He leaves over the edge of the canyon and I glass everything I can and don’t see anything. Where did he go?

I move back around to check out the bolt and see what kind of blood is on it. There is no bolt. I guess with the nearly frontal shot it must have stayed inside him. I look on the ground and this time it is a completely different story than last time. There’s blood, buckets of it. You can see where each time he landed blood must have been gushing out of him. Splashes maybe a 2’ in diameter. Consistent. LOTS of blood. I follow it a little ways and see where it went along the edge of a small cliff about 10’ high. I decided that he has to be down but I still don’t see him. I walk up to the edge of the cliff and there he is!!
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I was so stoked! I decided to go back to the house and see if my son would help me track him. I obviously didn’t need help tracking him but I thought it would be neat to show him the blood trail. He was able to follow it! He took pictures for me and I drove up to him and quartered him up and put him in the cooler.

You can see in the picture where I had hit him the week before. When I was cutting it up it entered just under the back strap and exited right though the middle of the back strap on the other side. Must not have hit anything good. It didn't look like he had even bled much. Obviously not enough for me to find any blood when it happened. The blood on his side is the exit from the bolt this morning. I didn't know it at the time but it was a pass through.

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One way or another, I’ve been in all these spots before. Hang in there. The first time it happened was my brother’s buck - never found it. Got prepared for next time by finding a tracking dog - glad I did.
 
So I butcher him up and since I hadn't seen the bolt along the blood trail I assumed it was still in him. The hole in his side should have told me otherwise but I thought maybe it had just poked out but was still in there. After quartering him up and getting everything in the cooler I opened up his diaphragm and carefully felt around for an arrow. Things were quite the mess in there but there was not an arrow.

I went back and looked based on the angle of the shot and couldn't find it. It was full daylight now so the lighted nock didn't do anything to help find it.

I got home, showered and changed and then stopped to fill the cooler with ice and drove to church. I missed bible class but still made it in time for worship service so that is always a nice thing about hunting at your house.

I had to go to work for a bit after church but when I got home I went back out and looked for the bolt again and couldn't find it. I had done a frame by frame of the video and was able to see that it exited at the shot but I still couldn't find it.

Decided to wait until dusk and then try. That was the ticket! Just 4 or 5 minutes later I found it. I don't think there is any way I would have found it without the lighted nock.

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Using bait is never the slam dunk walk in the park that most people think. It might would be in a place where it’s done illegally and there is only one person doing it, but whenever it’s the norm and everyone is doing it I’ve seen too often it becomes totally counterproductive. Highly pressured deer get a sense real quick that a corn pile or feeder mean people, and people mean problems. They’ll take full advantage of it none the less, but very often only at night. Also, sitting in a blind day after day is its own challenge, not physically hard, but it will definitely mess with your head!
That’s some great deer you’re getting on cam and there’s nothing to be ashamed of here, it’s just how it’s done in our region. Congrats on a great buck!
 

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