(Editor’s note: Oldtown resident Ron McFarland’s Maryland bow buck season was over after an evening hunt on opening day in September. He tells his story here.)
(The buck) was taken in the late evening of day-one bow season in “God Blessed” Allegany County.
I had to talk myself into going, at all, due to the extreme heat. I opted back and forth, leaning toward not going at all.
"Maybe I’ll just go squirrel hunting coupled with a little scouting for deer," was just about to win the debate.
Then a little voice from down inside whispered, “If you don’t take your bow, you’re going to be real sorry if one offers himself up to you.”
I read somewhere recently that some Native American hunters felt that the deer offered himself up to you regardless of your hunting prowess.
The crossbow, some 60 years of hunting memories/magic, and I were sitting in my homemade portable ground blind (no top) on state ground no earlier than 4:30 p.m. listening to two squirrels arguing about something and wishing for a cold snap to give reprieve from the tiny winged creatures intent on finding a way through my head net.
Who cares? I was content and in the woods, one of the few places I’ve ever felt I truly belonged.
If all I saw for the rest of the evening were the young doe with fawn, two abrasive red-headed woodpeckers and a host of smaller birds, I could chalk this one up to yet another rewarding day of sharing precious quality time with my Mother Nature.
Much to my surprise, he came in low to my right making more noise than he would have later in the season. I spotted the nice rack as he leisurely loped not only out of bow range, but out of sight.
Don’t ask me why, he came right back. Maybe he was making that greatest of all offerings to me. I didn’t have time to philosophize.
The offer came via a small opening through the limbs of a pine tree that I was sure I could send my best bolt through to acknowledge his gracious offer.
The tell-tale “thawop” of the bolt and his corresponding leap signaled that we would not starve this winter. Intently, I watched him swirl and bound away as if he wasn’t hit for the mini-seconds it took him to clear the small knoll and vanish from all sight. I listened for a crash but none came.
Normally, I give them a half hour to lay down and stay down. I gathered up my blind and all the fixin’s a hunter takes to the woods as quietly as possible, all the while shaking from the adrenaline rush and listening for a crash.
I shortened my wait time to about 20 minutes. I had no choice. It was almost 7 o’clock and dark would soon be shoving the sun out of Dodge.
As the small knoll would obscure him from seeing me, I went in search for a bloody bolt, could find none, no hair, no blood, no nothing.
Still confident that the “thawop” meant meat, I peeked cautiously over the top of the knoll. I was surprised not to see him laid out there or anywhere I scanned.
As any hunter will agree, at this point you know you are on the verge of a potential nightmare of dread, self-doubt and second guessing while your heart seems to plummet into the lower reaches of your belly.
It’s way too late to take the shot back now. You don’t want him to suffer and you don’t want to forfeit his gift of venison. Any experienced hunter with a love of the hunt and for the hunted will no doubt be faced with this same scenario some day.
If you already have, we have just emotionally bonded in our shared anguish and frustration.
The torn up leaves beyond the knoll designated every terror filled step he slung forward oblivious that he had disturbed the solitude that each leaf had earned this annum in his futile desire to put distance between himself and whatever just happened.
He knew it wasn’t good. Flight and bewilderment became his only companions as the dark crept silently in.
Back to the van. Looking closely for any disturbance that he’d crossed the lane. Nada!
Stripped down of all but essentials and back up to square-one where bolt met deer.
I lost his trail again. It was as if he had taken flight from that point.
Now, succumbing to the dark and desperation, the agony of a zigzagging, meandering course became my crap shoot to finding him. Up and down the steep hill that now started to feel like a mountain after the fifth or sixth zig-zag to the top and then back down to the narrow gravel lane where the van sat biding its time, each step inspiring hope that our paths would cross one last time, but they never did.
The plan has been that if I don’t call Bonnie by dark, she is to call my friend, Bobby, who in turn will lead the search party for my remains.
My current plan now was to await Bobby and his son’s arrival, give the searching as much more time as they were willing to invest and hope for the best.
Bobby didn’t show.
Bonnie thought that I had not gone hunting due to the heat. Did I tell you that my cell phone won’t connect, due to the contours of my mountain retreat?
Finding myself at the bottom of the slope again for the umpteenth time and sure that Bobby and Cody would be along any minute, I laid a downed limb along the edge of the road to mark the farthest point of my quest, swearing he could in no way have made it this far since his encounter with a Muzzy.
Considering collapsing along the side of the lane and resting as the van was too far up the road for a casual walk-about, I elected to remain standing there in the dark for fear of not being able to get back up. Bobby and Co. would spot my headlamp and flashlight way before they got to me anyway.
With further options exhausted, I resorted once again to prayer I had been repeating off and on through gasps up and down that hill, “Please, God, help me to find him or please give me a sign that my bolt somehow missed him completely.”
I would have gladly welcomed a miss over having him wounded and suffering.
I felt no push or pull, but five staggering steps beyond my downed limb marker, there he was sprawled out up on that steep bank with his front legs cradled by the small tree that held him from sliding down to the lane.
I said a prayer for him and thanked him for his offering. I also thanked God for joining and guiding me and this magnificent creature in this hunt, which has always been my chosen custom.
It was now the day after amid memories of the Piper boys and friend, Tim, skinning that buck for me while I looked on pretty much spent. Out of nowhere, a second wind afforded me the strength, after they had departed, to quarter and bag him up and stuff him into the fridge. It was still too hot at 2 a.m. to chance losing him after all we’d been through.
That morning, knowing he was safe in the fridge, I felt rested enough to clean my ancient Horton Legend crossbow. It was at this time, I discovered the source for all of the drama of the preceding evening.
I had figured the string had another good year or two of service left in it, as I took considerably good care of it over it’s few good seasons of hunting with me. I was wrong.
The string had come undone with that, its final, shot, causing the Muzzy-tipped bolt to hit far back of my intended flight pattern.
My bad! Very my bad!
The bow string will adorn his antler mount as my way of honoring him, thanking him and apologizing.