Chili…or blood trail?

by Kevin Grabian
(Crivitz, Wisconsin)

It was cold, windy, and snowing. Not easy weather to sit still in. I had been in my stand all morning without seeing any deer whatsoever. All of nature’s animals seemed to be taking shelter from the snow storm that had whipped up so unexpectedly that morning.

I anxiously waited for lunch time, when I had planned to head back down to the farm house to warm up and eat. As the time grew near, thoughts of hot chili drifted into my head. “Nothing better to warm up with on a day like this” I thought. I got up and stretched my legs and started the walk back home.
The snow that fell through the day blanketed the trail that lead back to the farm house. At least six inches of fresh snow lay atop the foot of old snow we had received in the preceding weeks. This much snow made for a difficult walk, but I was determined to get a steaming bowl of chili so I didn’t let it slow me down.

As I was rounding the gradual bend in the path near the cedar swamp, I noticed something out of place on the trail ahead. Through the wind and snow I could see that the snow was discolored with dark blotches. It was a blood trail, and the tracks seemed to be leading into the swamp.

Chili… or blood trail? It seemed as if the noises from my stomach were arguing to go to the farm house and eat, but I knew that the trail might be covered with the heavily falling snow by the time I returned. The chili would have to wait.

The blood trail was fairly clear under the cover of the cedar trees in the swamp. I followed along, occasionally breaking through the ice pockets and getting a bit wet, just as it seemed the deer had done as it worked its way through the swamp before me. As the tangled vegetation grew thicker, I found myself on all fours, crawling through the low brush. I came through one of these brush thickets, and before I could stand up, I saw the deer. Straight ahead of me, only twenty yards away, was the buck. I couldn’t see how big the deer’s antlers were in the shadows cast by the cedar trees, but I could tell that he was good size. As he snapped his head around to see what had fumbled upon him, I quickly got into a kneeling position, brought my gun to my shoulder, and fired. The deer exploded from its bed and bounded into the brushy cover. I waited for a while and then continued the pursuit.

A short distance from where the deer was bedded, the trail led me to a creek. I could see that the buck had crossed the creek, probably with a single bound, not even getting wet. I, on the other hand, waded across the knee deep icy water. The terrain on the other side of the creek began to change into more of a hardwood forest, hilly with large oaks and maples, dotted with a few pines. Coming over the crest of a small hill, I stopped to catch my breath. Under the cover of one of the few pine trees up ahead of me, I saw a figure. I could see clearly in my rifle scope that it was the buck. I shot for the second time and once again, the deer scrambled to its feet and bounded through the forest. This time, I could see that it was stumbling as it ran away. I waited, hoping that the buck would bed down.

Back on the blood trail again, I walked along, down into a ravine. The snow had not let up yet but the wind had started to subside. After crawling over a fallen log, I saw the buck, lying in the snow ahead. He had bedded down again as I had hoped, but this time, he wasn’t getting back up again. The two shots that I had taken both found their way to the vitals. The first shot, taken by some unknown hunter, that created the initial blood trail, was also in the vitals. The perfectly matched eight point rack was well polished. The massive swollen neck gave the buck a look of arrogance. His thick coat gray in color. I was so excited about finally getting the buck, I didn’t want to think about how I was going to drag it back to the house. I was now wet and cold. I had to start for home. I got the deer, now it was time for the chili…

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