On the last day of the Archery X zone season my son and I set up on the edge of some alfalfa fields at dark thirty. Hoping to see some bucks leaving the fields before first light but only Antelope grazing. I was just about to head for the truck when we spotted a spike buck on the edge of some standing juniper. My son wanted to look through the scope but kicked it. He relocated the buck but swore it was a legal forked horn. "I've been watching it for 15 minutes, it's a spike son". But he insisted and sure enough he found his buddy moving into the open area. We watched them bed and then hiked around the mesa to sneak in on them from the top. My son had a tag as well so he was in the lead but we bumped them. They trotted up and around us, headed for the top of the mesa so we went straight up and found another hunter. He had just seem them jog in front of him at 80 yds and sure enough we spotted them moving up the top of the bench. He was courteous to point us in that direction and wish us luck. We followed their tracks and then peeked over the ledge. The spike was staring at us from the side of the hill at 100 yds. I told my son to stay on top of the edge of the shelf and move with me as I dropped down and sidehilled. I was hoping I would bump them to him and he would get a shot as he has a tag too.
As I moved along the hills and around some deadfall there was the fork staring at me from 50 yds. He wasn't sure if I'd seen him so I looked away, confirmed he was the fork through my binoculars and ranged the tree he stood next to at 50 yds. I confirmed the correct pin, looked up the hill away from the buck and took a step to clear the deadfall. I had him in my sight picture and aimed for the chest and pulled through. The area seemed to take forever as I held my follow through, willing the arrow to hit it's mark. Just as I was about to chalk up a miss I heard the Whack! He bucked up, breaking off dead branches and shot downhill. I could see him limping on his back leg and thought I saw blood. I watched him until he took a right and disappeared.
I got my son to share the experience of blood trailing. He was disappointed he didn't get the shot but eager to find what left the blood I showed him. Halfway down the hill we found the area with bright red from tip to nock.
I figured he wouldn't go far as my Montecs' are deadly-little did I know this would be the start of the longest blood trail of my life. In hindsight, had I looked down the hill, we would've seen the fork limping along the valley floor through waist high sage to the other hill where we had started the morning and our truck was parked.
I never looked up from the blood trail however and followed him around the mesa and down to the valley floor. At this point I was stressed. The mid day temperature was rising and I wrongly assumed he was laying somewhere out in the open, baking, so I got impatient. Time after time I would leave the sure signs and just bird dog ahead. Every one of those foolish efforts though would result in having to go back to the last sign and resuming the tedious work of following his track. By now I knew it well. His spiked buddy was with him as well and kept doubling back, leading me on fool's errands but the wounded buck's trail was distinct. One good imprint, one tip toe, one ankle dragging and the last imprint heavy and always with some blood. Several times I was ready to give up, I even had my son go back to the truck and drive it out into the flats so we could raid the cooler for all of the water and gatorade, have a quick refueling snack and then get back after the track. Twice my son found the next sign for us and finally we concluded that he had crossed the 300+ yard flat and headed up the hill on the other side, probably 100 yds from where I had left the truck. At this point it was 4 pm and we had been following the track for 5+ hours! We decided to bird dog again and split up and work the hill in a grid search. Exhausted and frustrated, we sat on some lava rocks and plotted our next move. Just then I looked down and saw the tell-tale knuckle drag and told my son, if I find blood, we're going to find this buck soon! Sure enough I found a small drop on a pebble and the game was on again. This time he followed a distinct side hill trail and sure enough we found him pulled up, thankfully in the shade of a juniper!
This was a true public land spot and stalk that tested both of our skills to the fullest. We got back to camp by eight and eventually made it home with a skinless, cooled down carcass by 2 am! What a day! I know both of us will never forget this bowhunt. Even though my son didn't get to pull the trigger, he got to learn valuable tracking experience you can only get in the field.