This a guest post from Andy May, a new contributor for Wired To Hunt and an experienced and very successful whitetail hunter from Michigan. To learn more about Andy and how he has success on highly pressured deer, check out our 2013 feature on how he gets the job done. – MK

By Andy May

Well, it happened to me again. I hit my target buck on the opening night of Michigan’s bow season and did not recover him.

As I write this over 8 days later I still can’t get it out of my head. The stars were aligned for a very high value sit. Unbelievably the perfect cold front was hitting on the first day of our archery season. Hefty winds joined in to cover my access to this very sensitive stand location. Everything was playing out just as you’d hope. Then “the one” shows himself. His wide rack swayed as he’s walking toward me through the marsh grass closing the distance to 7 yards completely unaware that I hovered above him at 23 feet. As he walked by the base of the tree I stood, turned and drew my bow back. I settled the pin and let it float on the spot. I slowly pulled through the shot, making a perfect release, and what I thought was a perfect hit. I was feeling great, 100% sure he would be down within 150 yards.

That’s where it all went downhill.

I waited two hours to start the track alongside one of my hunting partners. It started off slow, no blood for the first 50 yards. Then we find the arrow…only 12” of penetration. This is plenty, but now I’m starting to worry a little bit.  At about 80 yards from the shot the blood starts coming out pretty heavy. The blood looks bright red but I do see some tiny bubbles in it. Now the blood trail is easy to follow, and I’m feeling he should be just up ahead laying dead. We keep following the trail, further and further but it just doesn’t stop. Ironically the blood trail goes right in front of one of my trail cameras. I pull the card and back out to assess.

I check the card and the buck walked by the camera 25 minutes after the shot, and looks relatively healthy. Right about now the pit in my stomach is setting in. I’m grumpy and irritable. The entire hunt plays back in my mind all night long and I just cannot fathom how this deer could be alive with the shot I made.

Morning arrives and I’m at the property at first light. I have a tracking dog coming at 10 and a few friends to help out. I pick up blood and follow it another 80 yards to a big cattail marsh. As he enters the marsh we lose blood. There is calf deep water in the marsh and not a speck of blood to be seen. We back out again and will wait for the tracking dog to arrive and do his thing.

The dog arrives and goes to work. Morale is high again but that quickly dissipates as the dog comes to a halt exactly where last blood was. As hard as the dog tried he just couldn’t not pick up a scent to follow.   We called it quits after a few hours with the dog but I stayed until dark. The next day I searched again for 6 hours with no luck. Completely devastated, shocked, confused I went home with my head hung low.   Confidence is at an all time minimum at this point and I have no motivation to sit in a tree.

So what do I do now?

Well I’ve had this feeling before unfortunately, so I need to sit down and assess what really happened.

Did I rush the shot?

No, I took my time and made a great release.

Did I get buck fever?

No, I was surprisingly relaxed and felt 100% that my arrow would find it’s mark.

Did I take a shot that was out of my capabilities?

No, it was seven yards quartering away. I waited for what I thought was a good angle.

I ran through a million questions trying to figure out why? Honestly, I can’t think of one thing I did wrong. Yes, the angle was somewhat difficult because he was so close and I was so high but still a very makeable shot. My only explanation is that I may have had something odd happen when the arrow entered the deer possibly resulting in a one lung hit. In this case the deer may live or he may be out there somewhere never to be found. Not knowing it a terrible feeling.

I remembered one hunt I watched on TV that also seemed unexplainable.

So here is my take.

Bad things sometimes happen in bow hunting. In the end it still is a stick and a string and there is nothing easy about it. Every experienced hunter will lose an animal at some point, sometimes more than one. The best we can do is assess what we did wrong and try to improve on our mistakes. In my case I think I will pass on such a steep angled shot next time and just let the deer get out a bit further to reduce the margin of error. Whether it was my shot angle, arrow deflection or just bad luck I will never know.

I went home and shot my bow for a few days to bring my confidence up. I took a few days off to clear my head and spend time with the family. Next I plan to jump right back in the saddle and continue. I’ve learned in the past 17 years of bow hunting that the ups and downs come and go. This probably won’t be the last time this happens and although I never will forget it, all I can do is attempt to continue to improve and move on.

– Andy May