Lighted Nocks: Lessons Learned From a Bad Shot
After killing the biggest buck I've ever hunted in my home state of Michigan, I had a lot of conflicting emotions.
For starters, I was excited to have finally completed a mission that had consumed me for three years. But I was also sort of disappointed that the chase had come to an end. Where I hunt, there are darned few bucks that ever live past their second set of antlers. To hunt the same buck for three seasons in a row is virtually unheard of. It's highly unlikely that I will ever have this experience again.
I made a poor shot on the deer. There's no other way to say it. The above video illustrates that perfectly well.
This buck has taught me a ton of lessons over the past three years. Killing it means that educational period has come to an end. But this deer continued to teach me things right up until the end and they are lessons I will carry with me always. Including the value of a lighted nock.
I killed this buck, which was named "Kicker," at 49 yards. That's a shot I'm plenty comfortable making because it's a shot I practice often.
Like big deer so often do, Kicker came in from a direction that I simply wasn't expecting. Fortunately, I had a solid shooting lane but it was a narrow window. I had a camera man with me on the hunt and his treestand was angled in a way that required me to shoot between the base of the stand and the trunk of a nearby tree. When drawing my bow, I hit the bottom of his stand with my upper limb. Whether or not this affected my shot, I can't say for sure. But I highly suspect that I was subconcsiously accounting for the stand location by canting my bow. And when you cant your bow, your point of impact is altered.
I hit this buck much farther back than I'd ever like to. I knew exactly where the arrow hit because of the lighted nock that I was using. There was no question the shot was bad. And yet the deer's reaction would indicate an impact of a much different variety.
Until shooting Kicker, I had never personally witnessed a whitetail performing the "mule kick" unless it was hit squarely in the lungs.
But this buck kicked as high and hard as any I've ever seen. And that arrow was nowhere near the lungs.
As you might imagine, I was pretty tore up about the whole thing. I knew I'd made a poor shot based on where I had seen the lighted nock pass through the deer. But I was really confused by the deer's reaction. With four hours of daylight left, I made the decision to simply stay put until dark. I'd seen the deer bed down and watched that area religiously until dark. Then I slipped down and left as quietly as possible, making a half-mile loop around the buck's last known location, crossing a knee-deep creek twice along the way and covering my fleece jacket in burrs in the process.
That evening I scoured the Internet for stories about how deer react to different shot placements and, honestly, one of the best stories I found about how to proceed after hitting a deer was right here on Realtree.com. I talked with plenty of veteran hunters and buddies to get their advice.
I realize there will be those reading this who will scoff at the notion that I hit a deer poorly and that I relied on the advice of friends and online stories to determine what to do about it.
But the simple fact is this: I'm a deer hunter. And a regular guy. Yes, I'm the whitetail editor of Realtree.com. But that doesn't mean I have all the answers all of the time and it certainly doesn't mean that I don't have the same emotions and second-guessing moments as every other hunter. I wasn't asking buddies and reading online stories because I didn't know what to do. I knew what needed to be done and, in fact, had already done it. I was simply looking for some reassurance, something I think most of us all need from time to time.
The deer's reaction to the shot really threw me for a loop. I have never seen a gut-shot deer react in that manner.
The lighted nock saved me from making a big mistake. Based on the deer's reaction to the shot -- and my desire to find out what had happened -- I likely would have climbed out of that tree after an hour or so and started to look for the buck. It's quite probable that I'd have jumped that deer up and had a much harder time recovering it as a result.
Kicker is an awesome deer and that buck has taught me more about deer hunting than any other buck I've ever killed. Including this: I will always have a lighted nock on my hunting arrows going forward. And I will always base my response to a shot from where the arrow actually impacts instead of the deer's reaction.