You spot a shooter, you line up…. BANG! – it’s a good hit! You smile big, high five your hunting buddy and breathe a sigh of success.
You find the first blood sign and follow it through the woods, elation and doubt roller coaster as you search.
And then…. The blood trail stops, nothing. No amount of searching, back tracking or sweeping the area reveals another speck. Which way could he have gone?
Your heart drops with the setting sun. Exhausting all your options and most of your flash light battery, you call it a night.
The next morning reveals even less, dew is everywhere, you realize how impossible it is to look for a downed animal in waist high brush. Hours later you reluctantly leave the woods, although not ready to admit defeat.
Your mind won’t stop pushing you to return. What if you went left where you went right? What if it’s behind the next bush or just over the next hill.
Those are the animals you remember the most, the ones you couldn’t recover. You will always look for them, when you roam the same woods. They will haunt you long after they are gone.
It happens to us all, though those words offer no consolation to a restless mind. I don’t believe there exists any words that can sooth a hunter’s heartbreak.
The sinking feeling will go away, the what-ifs will stop, and you’ll get through the grieving process eventually; but not until you scan the sky for buzzards and a rock or log convinces you to hop out of your truck to investigate when you “happen to be in the neighborhood”.
When a fraction of an inch extends an animals life long enough to afford it a perfect hiding spot all we can do is hope that it won’t suffer and will pass quickly.
Luckily, nature wastes no opportunities and there is a sliver of consolation in the fact that it’s not a complete waste.