If I've learned anything about bowhunting, it's this: Don't take anything for granted. Most situations play out predictably after you've released an arrow, but quite a few do not. Here are some of my most extraordinary bowhunting outcomes.
The pronghorn staggered over a hill with an arrow deep through his body. The buck had crouched and whirled at the dull thud of my bow—a common liability when you stalk these fast-footed animals. I suspected my shaft went through the buck's liver and the far edge of one lung, but he disappeared too fast to give me a good look.
I wasn't worried about the outcome, though. My NAP Thunderhead was razor sharp, and liver hits are lethal every time. Besides, pronghorns tend to quickly lie down after any solid hit—even through the paunch. I figured I'd ease to the crest of the hill, locate the buck and then wait for him to expire.
When my head cleared the hilltop, I saw two things: First, my mortally hit trophy was flashing through scattered juniper trees like a track star; second, less than 10 feet behind the buck was the biggest coyote I'd ever seen!
Even at 150 yards, I could see the burly predator's tongue lolling in anticipation of an easy meal. I could also see my bright red arrow fletching wagging along the pronghorn's side. Through my 10X binoculars, I could tell the hit was exactly where I'd thought—center liver with a bit of lung on the side—normally an easy recovery, but not now.
The two animals vanished into the trees. Unlike most pronghorn habitat, this country was heavily wooded in places with scattered openings of sagebrush and yellow grass. I now began to fret about the outcome.
I immediately trotted to the last place I'd seen the buck—no blood, no clear tracks, nothing. The ground was as hard as a rock, the buck was moving fast and the wound was only bleeding internally. Nuts.
A half-mile to the south was a lone peak, so I ran to its base and climbed 300 feet as fast as my legs would carry me. Winded and worried, I started to glass. As any veteran hunter will attest, hunting skill is nice, but good luck can be even better. And luck was on my side that day when I spotted my pronghorn bedded 400 yards below me in the only opening around. The coyote was circling the buck like a hound, wary because his head was still up.
Minutes later, I chased away the coyote and finished off the dying buck. A routine follow-up had almost ended in failure, but the outcome was very gratifying. Not only had I worked hard for the buck, but his horns green scored 79 6¼8 Pope and Young Club points, making him my largest pronghorn ever!
The tsesebe is a homely African antelope with short, corncob-like horns. Nonetheless, I was excited when a giant of the species appeared at a Zimbabwe waterhole a few years ago. I drew my 75-pound-pull compound bow, settled my 20-yard sight pin on the critter's chest and watched the arrow impact exactly where I'd aimed. My professional hunter (that's what they call guides in Africa) was slapping me on the back and babbling in my ear before the animal had disappeared in a frantic death run through dense scrub.
At least we thought it was a death run, because 6 hours and 3 miles of tracking later, I finally drilled the animal again after it jumped from its bed in front of me. During field dressing I discovered my broadhead had blown through the top of both lungs.
I was astonished. I'd seen edge hits in the lungs take a while to work, but nothing like this. The tsesebe is a mud-wallower, and I figured the extreme grit in the animal's hair had dulled the broadhead upon entry. Add to this the reputation of African animals for being super-tough, and I suffered through my most difficult chest-hit recovery.
In my experience, the wild boar is one of North America's hardest animals to bring down. This feral import is abundant where I grew up in northern California—so much so that Golden State sportsmen bag more pigs than deer each year. As a bowhunter in my teens and 20s, I shot more than 200 of these tenacious, long-tusked critters.
I believe a game animal's survival with a broadhead through its lung isn't common, provided the head is sharp with three or four blades. But I can testify firsthand that a wild hog can take such a hit and keep on going.
I shot a boar as I was still-hunting one summer evening. The 120-pounder fed in a barley patch near dusk. He fiddled around, angled toward me and then turned exactly broadside to chew on the tasty grain. I put a four-bladed Bear Razorhead tight behind the boar's shoulder from less than 20 yards.
The porker squealed and fled with body held low to the ground—a classic lung-hit reaction. I found the arrow in the dirt, and it was covered with frothy pink blood, the kind every bowhunter likes to find. But after a standard 30-minute wait and 200 yards of blood-trailing, the red stuff petered out. A 12-hour body search of the area the next day also turned up nothing.
Exactly one week later, I was hunting along the same grain field when a fat pig appeared. I drilled it behind the shoulder from 25 yards and then watched it pile up 50 yards away. Imagine my astonishment when I rolled it over for field dressing and found this was the same hog I'd hit a week ago, complete with healing four-edge broadhead wounds on both sides of the body well below the spine. My killing shot was only 2 inches below the first, and my first arrow skewered both lungs well inside the upper edge. Bruising was extensive, but both lungs appeared to be on the mend with no sign of infection—unbelievable!
I shot my largest-ever California hog a few years later. The four-bladed Zwickey Black Diamond Delta broadhead penetrated deeply, but the chest-hit animal continued to run long after it should have dropped. Three hours and 600 yards later, I finished the down-but-not-out bruiser with another shot through the chest. He was a massive and ancient pig with tusks nearly 4 inches long.
My first arrow had sliced the back of both lungs, barely inside the edge. The boar's body was coated with dry mud, and I figured the sharp broadhead had lost its edge as it entered. This can be an unavoidable problem when you shoot grubby animals.
On the flip side, a seemingly poorly placed arrow can be quickly lethal. I love to bowhunt Sitka black-tailed deer in Alaska, and I've had the good fortune to bag nearly 30 of these animals during the past 2 decades. In my experience, they're the hardiest of any deer variety, with a tenacity to live that boggles my mind.
One of my best Alaskan bucks jumped the bowstring and ran uphill after my arrow arrived. At first I thought I'd missed the massive 4x4 completely, but suddenly he pitched on his nose and rolled tail over tea-kettle down the slope.
Upon inspection, my broadhead had nicked one rear leg just above the hock, barely passing inside the skin. Miraculously, the broadhead had severed the bottom tip of the femoral artery. The deer lost large amounts of blood in seconds—one of the flukiest bow kills I've ever seen.
My best advice to you on any bowhunt is to shoot as straight as you can, then be persistent in searching for an animal after your arrow finds its mark. An after-the-shot surprise might be in store for you, but persistence usually wins in the end.