Jim Zumbo - Everything Outdoors

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Persistence Pays Off

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There are still some hunters today who believe that does should never be targeted, no matter the circumstances. That attitude is centered on the notion that the more does, the more breeding animals, and therefore more bucks later on. That was the prevailing attitude when I was a teenager. It was considered a cardinal sin to shoot a doe. Biologists held town meetings to explain new wildlife management practices.

Today we have a more enlightened attitude. Deer are managed according to the environment in which they live, which includes many factors. As we move from rural to urban areas, where deer herds are increasing so rapidly, many people, non-hunters included, see the need to reduce deer populations.

JZdoeIn this picture, I'm posing with a doe I took a few days ago in an area that has a large whitetail herd. Deer are causing severe damage to ranches and farmlands. In this case, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department set aside some 2,000 whitetail doe-only tags in the unit. The tags are unlimited. You could buy all the tags you want until the quota was sold out. I took this doe with a Mossberg MVP model in .308 caliber topped with a Swarovski scope. It was my fourth animal with this rifle-- two black bears and another doe.

I'd like to relate an incident on this hunt that addresses my blog title here on persistence. The incident is so common in the hunting woods, that I think it needs to be aired as an example of what might have happened had my hunting pal and I not taken the action we had. I was hunting with Bob Krumm, an old friend I hadn't seen in 20 years. Bob is an outdoor writer for the Billings Gazette, Montana's largest newspaper, and lives in northern Wyoming next to the Montana border. He invited me over to hunt the unlimited whitetail doe unit. I was eager to collect a couple deer, and become reacquainted with Bob and his wife.

During the hunt, Bob shot at a doe. We were in an area with high, wet grass, no snow, with small brush-filled creek bottoms running throughout. I was about 300 yards away, heard his shot, and heard the distinctive thump of the bullet striking the deer, a sound that all experienced hunters know. Bob had rested his rifle on a big tractor tire lying flat on the ground. He was shooting prone, and the echo from the shot bounced around inside the tire and he didn't hear the bullet strike. But, the deer's reaction was typically that of a wounded whitetail. She immediately dropped her tail at the shot and kept it down as she quickly bounded out of sight. A deer that isn't hit will almost always run off waving its tail in typical whitetail fashion. This wasn't rocket science. As far as we were concerned, the deer was hit, pure and simple.

I walked over to where Bob was looking for physical signs of a hit. Nothing. We got down on our hands and knees at the point of impact and crawled around, looking for the tiniest speck of blood, cut hair from the bullet, anything. Despite a long, thorough search, we found nothing. After Bob shot, the doe had bounded into a thick creek bottom, and he lost sight of it. It could be anywhere.

At that point we realized that our only hope was to literally stumble into the dead deer. The grass was high enough that the doe could be lying a couple yards away unseen. We began the search, slowly slipping through the vegetation. Frankly, I had little confidence in finding the deer. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. But we persisted. For more than an hour we covered the landscape, looking for the downed deer or even a trace of blood.

We were moving at a snails pace when I heard Bob whistle. I looked up and saw him 80 yards away, giving me the thumbs up sign. He'd found his deer, blindly blundering into it. Dark was coming on, so together we quickly dressed it so we could get the deer out in the daylight. No time for pictures of his doe.

My point is this. If you're an experienced deer hunter, you've been in this situation. Blood or other signs of a hit do not have to be present. I can't tell you how many times I've hit an animal in a vital area, watched it drop 50 or 100 yards away, and found not one drop of blood between the point of impact and the fallen animal when I investigated. I can also recall many scenarios where the exact predicament that Bob and I experienced had presented itself, where the stricken deer or elk or whatever ran into brush, and completely disappeared.

Had we not persisted in the search as long as we did, the turn of events could have been far different. The winners would have been coyotes, ravens, and magpies. And Bob and I would have left the area, despondent with the knowledge that somewhere out there, a deer was badly wounded or dead.

But the story had a happy ending. Bob and I each took two does, helping to reduce crop damage to the ranch, and adding quality meat to our freezers. I smiled all the way home.

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