Photo courtesy of Brian Lytton.
It was 7:15 a.m. on Oct. 1, the opening day of Virginia’s bowhunting season, and I had already sent two arrows at the largest whitetail buck of my 25-year hunting career. My morning started as most of the past opening days of bow season had, waking at 4:15 a.m., meeting my brother-in-law, Chris Carden, at my dad’s house at 4:45 and driving to our hunting site in Pulaski County.
My dad, Cecil Lytton, did not join us that day because he is a retiree of the Radford Army Ammunition Plant, and has the privilege of getting to hunt inside the plant.
Chris planned on hunting the far west side of our hunting property and my cousin, Dale Wade, had planned on hunting near the eastern side.
At 5:45 a.m., Chris and I began our walk due north to the fence that separates the pastureland and open timber from the thick mountain land.
After we split up, I bowed my head and said, “Lord, I pray that you would give us a good day today and keep us safe. I also ask that you would lead me to the stand that I may see some deer. I don’t have to kill one or see any big ones, but I would like to at least see some, Amen.” I arrived at the first tree stand and decided that would be where I would start the opening day. I had taken a nice 8-pointer with my muzzleloader and seen many other deer from this stand in years past. However, as I prepared to climb to the stand, a small voice, said, “No, I want you to go to the next one.” Without hesitation, I proceeded on toward the next stand that my dad and I had just hung two weeks before. By 6:15, I was in the new stand, safely belted in.
By 6:45 a.m., it began to break daylight and the sounds of the woods were coming to life. The stand I was in, like most of our stands, faces toward the mountain for evening hunting. The land we lease is mostly farmland with grass fields and large corn fields that butt up against the mountain. Like most deer, they travel to the fields in the evening to feed and return to the mountains in the morning to bed down. The hard part is trying to be in the “right place at the right time” to intercept them.
At 7:05 a.m., I was still seated facing the mountain, when I heard a twig snap to my far right and I slowly turned to see a small 6-pointer standing in an opening about 50 yards away. I looked at him through my binoculars and discovered a much larger deer in the bottom of my field of view. This deer was closer than the 6-pointer and was carrying some very good headgear. I slowly grabbed my bow and I stood up. Both deer were feeding straight toward me.
Even though I had on my new Scentlock clothing and boots, I slowly turned my head and checked my “wind-icator.” My dad and I carry a small spool of white sewing thread in our backpack along with all of the other necessities for hunting. We tear off a 12- to 14-inch piece and tie it to a small branch or limb next to us in the tree stand. It is always visible and takes only a slight turn of your head to check the wind direction. The slight breeze that morning was in my favor, coming out of the southeast from the deer to me.
When the big buck reached 25 yards, I drew and waited for a shot. The deer turned broadside but was behind a group of trees feeding on acorns. I noticed that the 6-pointer was alert and staring my way, so I was not about to risk being seen by letting my draw down. I remained at full draw for what seemed like an eternity. Two different times the bow came out of the cam’s valley and I had to strain to keep it at full draw. Finally, the large buck took three more steps and stood perfectly broadside with his head down at 20 yards. I placed my 20-yard pin tight behind his left shoulder blade and touched the trigger on my release. I remember seeing a blur of white vanes and nock zip right under the deer’s brisket. For a few seconds I was shocked as the deer took one bound and stopped instead of tearing off into the next state. Earlier in the week, while practicing with my broadheads, I was able to place my arrows in a 3-inch circle at 50 yards. Could I have just missed the biggest deer I had ever seen or was he mortally wounded?
Both deer just stood there dumbfounded, not knowing exactly what had happened. I didn’t fully know either, but I concluded that I had missed him and had better reload before he was gone forever. Just as I came to full draw again, the 6-pointer began to trot off and take the big boy with him. I gave two quick mouth grunts and the deer stopped, quartering away, at 35 yards right behind the only tree branch in the way. I picked the best hole I could and released, and both deer bolted off. I could not tell if my arrow had hit the deer or the tree branch. I watched in disbelief and utter dejection as the biggest deer I had ever seen took off with no visible signs of being hit. The deer disappeared out of view at 50 yards. I heard a crash but did not know if he had gone down or simply ran through a brushpile on the adjacent ridge. My watch showed 7:15 and I felt sick knowing that I may have just let the biggest deer of my life get away. Since I could not tell if I had hit the deer, I decided to wait an hour before pursuing him. But by 7:30, I just couldn’t take it any longer. I climbed down from my tree stand and decided that if I had missed, I would just go back to the truck and run over my bow several times to teach it a lesson.
I found my first arrow buried in the ground with a slight amount of blood on just one vane. I realized I had indeed shot low and only nicked the deer. I walked the way the deer had went and found several good 3-inch diameter spots of blood. I again began to wonder if I had made a good hit or not. I followed the blood to the spot of the second shot and found a large area of blood where the deer had stopped when I grunted at him.
I slowly followed the blood trail and began to realize by the heavy blood trail that this deer was hit good. I eased through the tall stickweeds and could see the rear half of the deer’s body behind a tree 30 yards away. I could tell that the deer had expired in less than 80 yards. I quickly gave the good Lord thanks and went to the deer. It wasn’t until I lifted his head and counted 17 points that I realized what a great deer the Lord had allowed me to harvest.
I discovered that the first arrow had sliced through the deer’s front leg just above the knee joint. I can only assume that I dropped my bow arm after holding the bow at full draw for so long. The second arrow entered the deer’s ribcage two ribs from the diaphragm on his right side. It angled through his lungs, back out his ribs on the left side and exited through his shoulder. I found my second arrow about 50 yards from my stand. The blades were slightly
damaged and the ears of the nock were bent over, but it had served flawlessly.
I talked to Chris at 8 a.m. on the walkie-talkie and told him about the deer. I told Chris I was going to field dress the deer, drag it down to the road in the field and then meet him back at the truck. When I arrived at the truck, I had a message on my cell phone from Dale stating that he had shot a 4-pointer with his recurve.
Dale and I are more like brothers than cousins; there is only a two-week difference in our age and we have hunted together for about 15 years. We have harvested squirrels, turkey, deer and even a pair of rattlesnakes together, but on Oct. 1, 2005, we ended our opening-day jinx. We both harvested a deer with our bows, on opening day, and I killed the biggest deer in 25 years of hunting.
The last person to see my deer that day was the one who taught me how to hunt at an early age and has continually encouraged and directed me my entire life. He has been, and will always be, my favorite hunting partner — my dad. I told him that although I was grateful and blessed to have taken the deer, it still bothered me that I had made such a terrible first shot. He said, as in many times and successful hunts in the past, “The Lord just seen fit to take him.”
I would like to say a special thanks to my wife, Tracy, and my children, Breanna and Jacob, for their love and understanding of my passion for whitetail deer hunting.