The Rocket Buck

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Sponsored by: Black Eagle Arrows

By: Freddie Rowland
By: Freddie Rowland

The day had started off really rough at the Rowland Ranch.  We had to bury a loyal and faithful dog that had been part of our family for 14 long years.  Our beloved Rocket Dog, a tough as nails Southern Black Mouth Cur, had now crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.   We had scheduled to have our house pressure washed and that was going on at the same time so things were chaotic to say the least.   Friends were more than comforting after hearing the news of our loss and we seriously needed that.   Burying a family pet is never a good thing!

Paula, my wife, and I went out for a late lunch after the guys finished the pressure washing job.  We tried to relax with a glass of wine but I was antsy and feeling low.  The woods seemed an appropriate place to go and grieve, so I pack up and headed to the swamp after lunch.   Once I was settled in, I relaxed, closed my eyes and just reminisced and rested in my tree stand 22 feet off the forest floor.  To say I was drained would have been an understatement.

Rocket Dog in happier times.
Rocket Dog in happier times.

As the sun begin to sink, I started scanning the swamp, not really hard scanning but just watching and listening to the changing of day to night.  I spotted movement of what I first thought was a squirrel about 80 yards away on the other side of the swamp.  I looked at the water in front of the movement and saw the reflection of a deer.  I glassed the reflection and could tell it was a doe but she was a long way off.  I just laid back in my climber stand and waited.

Light was fading but there was plenty of time left and finally she began to cross but not exactly in my direction.  I thought of calling but elected to just let it play out naturally.  When I had first gotten up in my tree, I had lifted up a prayer saying that it had been an exceptionally rough day for me and that if God so chose to bring me a deer, it may help ease the ache in my heart.   If the doe was to come in, so be it…if not….that was OK too.   She was the first deer I had seen this early bow season and would be a welcomed start adding fresh venison to the freezer.  When she was about half way across the swamp, she turned in my direction.  I waited until she was behind some trees and eased to my feet and readied my bow, arrow nocked.  She was still about 60 yards out but had begun to quarter in my direction.

I had turned sideways in my stand to face her with my back to the South as she approached from the North.  I had been standing for maybe 10 or 15 minutes when I heard the tell-tale sounds of light foot steps behind me from the same direction that I had walked in.  Before I had entered the thick part of the woods, I had stopped and sprayed some Doe in Estrous on both of my boot soles.   Without looking I tried to convince myself that it was just a raccoon approaching and to stay focused on the doe and not mess up the opportunity.  But the sounds were that of a deer walking and I knew the difference.  When the doe out front disappeared behind a tree for a moment, I took the opportunity sneak a look over my shoulder.  That’s when I saw that the deer coming from behind me was a buck and he was following my boots tracks…step by step.   The old buck had also spotted the doe coming from across the swamp but there was nothing I could do to reposition as I was dead in between the two of them and with both looking hard in my direction, I could not chance moving and getting busted.   The buck continued walking and I could hear him turn toward my tree.  I looked down through my stand bottom and watched him walk under me.  I tried to calm my heart as he sniffed the base of my tree as my focus shifted from the doe to the buck.  He walked into some brush  in front of me and stopped with his butt facing directly at me.  No shot and no angle to sneak my arrow through, plus I had some small brush blocking his vitals.  I briefly thought about taking a hard angle quartering shot when he was at 18 yards but just as quickly dismissed that idea.

I was wondering how I was going to draw without getting busted by the doe who was facing me at 45 yards.  All I could do was watch as the buck edged a few yards further away.  Finally he turned his head and neck out of the brush to try and get a better look at the doe standing still in the swamp staring at him.  I tightened the tension on my release and got ready to draw.  A second later he turned slightly to the right and now I could barely see his shoulder crease through the brush.  It was now or never because if he stepped back straight, there would be no shot.  I came to full draw without even looking to see what the doe was doing and found the magic triangle behind the shoulder through the scraggly brush we call river cane.  I would have to shoot through some light leaves to make this shot but none of it looked hard enough to deflect my arrow.  When my pin settled low on the “V” I touched off the release and heard a satisfying Thwack!   I was using a lighted nock on my afternoon hunts, mounted on my Black Eagle Carnivores but this was the first time attempting to take a deer with my lighter draw weight.  I had to back my draw weight down this season due to a shoulder injury and didn’t know exactly what to expect as far as penetration with the lighter draw.  I was comfortable with my accuracy in the fading light out to about 40 yards.

After the shot, I could see my nock shining bright red in the ground but I had no idea where the arrow had hit…or missed.  Did I get a nano quick pass thru or did I shoot too low?  My Black Eagle arrow was tipped with a Steel Force 100 grain, cut on impact broad head for this hunt…..one of my all time favorites.   I had lost sight of the buck within seconds after the shot and with both doe and buck now running in the same direction….I had to depend only on my hearing to tell me the story.   They ran across the swamp back in the direction from which the doe had come.   Two creeks and plenty of water lay in their path which always seems to be my luck, so I knew tracking would not be on blood alone.   I heard one of the deer hit the second creek and the splashing continued longer than it would have taken it to cross that little creek so I figured he might have crashed right there.  I stayed focused on the sounds as things went quiet.   A couple of minutes later I picked up my cell phone to call my son, Chris, to help me track when the splashing started up again.  My heart sank as I thought; “Dang…he’s back up and running again.”  I wasn’t sure if it was him or the doe crossing the creek but the sounds of splashing water stopped and all was finally quiet.

I sent a text message to Chris and Steph who were hunting less than a mile from me and got a message back from Chris asking “Good Shot?” and as always, hoping for an answer like… “Heck Yeah!”   But I had ZERO idea where I had hit him because of the combination of shooting through some light leaves and the fact that with my old eyes, I can’t see details much past 20 yards while looking through a peep.  I can see my pins and I know where I need to shoot but I cannot see my arrow hit, even with a lighted nock unless it is in the brightest light of day.  This shot was about 26 yards out.   I told him to hurry because the light was fading fast and he text back…. “Small buck or a good one?”  I said a pretty good buck but he went across the swamp and I know he made it at least to the second creek.  I’m pretty sure he went down there at least temporarily, so there will probably be no blood trail to follow.  He said, “Relax dad….you don’t want to push him if he’s a big deer.  Just sit tight and I’ll get some gear and head your way…don’t worry about the light or the water….it’s not that bad this year and we don’t need blood to track.”

I sat there and thought that these were the same words I use to say to him when he was a young kid after he would arrow a deer and anxiously wanted to start tracking immediately.  It was almost comical with the exception that I was nervous about not knowing how good my shot had been.  Chris had killed his first buck with a bow when he was just 10 years old so some 15 years later, he had plenty of experience and a wealth of tracking knowledge.  It was like listening to myself talking to someone else!

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Finally , about 30 very long minutes later he arrived.   The light was almost gone and I had gotten down and checked my arrow which looked good and showed a low, upfront shot with good blood and traces of white chest hairs.  The Carnivore had passed through so quickly that I wasn’t totally sure I had made the shot but the crimson tip to stern told the true tale.  There was NO other blood other than what was on the arrow or on the brush through where he had run.  We spread out about 10 feet apart and started looking for blood with our flashlights hoping to get on track before we got to the water.  We found none as we spread further apart in our V shaped pattern which is a normal search pattern for us looking for a starting point.  Finally I found a running track in the mud but because it was so wet and deep, I could not determine if it was the doe or the buck.  A few feet further, I found a splash of blood and called Chris over to begin the track on blood.  We were already in the water and the first blood we found was 40 yards from the initial hit.  We tracked on running tracks in the soft wet mud and crossed the first small creek as the tracks picked up on the other side.  We found a few more small splashes of blood so we were encouraged.  We stepped into the second creek and Chris turned his light to the North on something in the middle of the creek and said… “Is that your deer, Dad”? with a big grin on his face.  I shined my light to what looked like a dead fall tree and sure enough, there he was in the middle of the creek, upside down and covered with so much black mud it was hard to recognize him as a deer.

The Rocket Buck only went about 70 yards before going down for the last time.
The Rocket Buck only went about 70 yards before going down for the last time.

We did the celebration hugs and fist bump and went to him to drag him to a cypress root island spot out of the water.  He was a big bodied buck with 7 points and a kicker.   He was an older buck maybe 5.5 years old and a fat boy for sure.  We took a pic or two but the mosquitoes, Florida’s State Bird, were getting bad we quickly secured him to the frame pack Chris was wearing and started to move out.

In the dark, we could see my nock light burning from where we were so he had only gone about 70 yards through the thick swamp.  The pack out was short but Chris’s legs were Jello when he got to the UTV at the edge of the swamp after walking through the sucking black muck.  I grabbed my arrow, Badlands pack and my Elite bow on the way out and we celebrated with a couple of Gatorades that Chris had brought us.

This hunt had God written all over it and it was a great way to end the day.  I decided to name the buck, “The Rocket Buck”, in honor of our old faithful dog!

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One Response to "The Rocket Buck"

  1. Jeff Koors   2016/07/07 at 8:08 am

    What a well told story. What most may not understand is that hunting in Florida is a much different experience than Canada, the northeast, Midwest, Rockies or Texas. No easy feat hunting in rainforest-jungle like atmosphere.