Posted on December 25, 2012 by Jason Reid
The distress in Austin’s voice was something I was not used to hearing. My friend Austin Groff is by far one of the best and most skilled woodsman I have ever had the privilege of sharing the wilderness with. Hearing his distinct southern PA, Lancaster county voice distressed over the phone catapulted my weary body from bed. I had been recuperating from my own long deer-less day of muzzleloading when Austin had called informing me he had trailed sparse blood from a well arrowed doe nearly three quarters of a mile into a deep pitch black ravine. His flashlight was nearly dead.
It’s hard to find real friends in this world. Since my sophomore year of college, Austin Groff has been one of my closest and truest friends. He embodies the meaning of a true friend with every fiber in his body and I cannot thank him enough. Getting to know Austin has been nothing short of awesome. Both of us share the same deep passion for adventure and the raw, unforgiving realities of the wilderness not many have. Even while balancing studies and sports, the two of us know when one calls, the other will answer with no hesitation regardless of the circumstances. We think so alike it can be scary. Like animals communicating though seeming thoughts, so we also communicate through what is unspoken. However, stories of the intricate workings of our friendship and the hilarity which ensues are stories for another time.
Austin is one of the best archers I have ever met. He is unorthodox, but gets the job done over and over. I predominately use tree stands, rubber boots, scent blocking clothing and scent, drags, food plots etc. Austin wears his dad’s old cameo, leather hiking boots and sits on the ground, usually with no blind, just next to a tree. He has killed four deer off the ground in the last two years with his bow, I haven’t killed a deer with a bow since 2009 We often debate each other over tactics and techniques but the fact remains, he gets in front of deer with his seemingly unorthodox ways. So many times he busts my chops for lugging my climber and heavy rubber boots clanking around as he weaves his dinky 5’7 ,118 pound frame silently in an out of the brush often being able to sneak within bow range of whitetails. Earlier this season he had a trophy buck breathing on him from no more than three yards away. After watching him work over the last 2 years I am beginning to question some of the things we are told make us good deer hunters.
Reaching the trail head, I grabbed my elk pack, a few garbage bags, clicked my headlamp on high plunging into the darkness of the chilled mountain woodland. With the wind picking up, it began to drive sleet sideways into my face as I reached our pre-set meeting point. Seeking shelter from the oncoming storm, I stood in the midst of a grove of pines when my phone lit up.
Austin- “Dude, I’m lost, I don’t know where I am, I lost the deer, it’s so dark.”
Me- Well yea duh its dark, wait, what do you mean you lost the deer?”
Austin- I tried to walk out to meet you, but I am turned around, my flashlight is dying…….. dude, I can see the road…………”
Me- Holy smokes, the main road?…….. Dude, you went the absolute wrong direction, what the heck, you’re above my other stand.”
Austin- ok I found the trail, give me a few minutes.”
Me- Ok great, hold on what do you mean you lost the deer…..Austin……Austin!
In all honesty, not twenty minutes ago I had been wrapped up in my blankets ready to pass out, now I was alone in the dark huddled under a pine tree bracing myself against the ripping sleet. ” Just fantastic”, I thought to myself, this just seems too funny, he lost the deer I can’t believe it.”
This is where some of you may had either seen on my Facebook and Twitter pages, comments on this impromptu adventure.
After nearly 15 minutes Austin finally showed up, out of breath with a semi relieved look on his face to see me. I was relieved to see that he was ok but became confused when Austin did not have his bow, or any of his gear on him. I face palmed hard, laughing when he told me we really did have to find his gear in the dark then re-track the deer. Such is our friendship.
Now there is something I need to explain about Austin that makes me laugh. His flashlight is horrible and he knows it too. There are no justifications, the light beam is about the size of a quarter and shines all of four feet ahead of you. In one sweeping flick of my Black Diamond Icon, the woods lit up like a rock show illuminating even the smallest specks of blood. I love that headlamp and is one of my favorite pieces of equipment in my bag. Now without fail every time we track a deer in the dark, Austin nabs it from my head forcing me to use wither his weak little flashlight or to use my phone light burning the battery. I kid you not this has happened four separate times in the last two years and every time I get to tease him about his equipment, such is our friendship.
The majority of the bleeding was internal due to the nature of the shot. Yes a straight on shot with a bow is risky but I have to give Austin props, he drilled this deer. After re-trailing this doe through the dark and the sleet, we finally re-found her on the backside of a deep ravine about 8 pm.
I have been hunting since I was two years old and in the last 18 years I’ve seen many many deer. My eyes grew wide in disbelief,This was hands down was the largest doe I have ever seen. A true matriarch of the woods we estimated her to weigh between 160 and 170 pounds. With her thick neck, long nose and incredible body, I asked two question, where are the antlers, and are we sure this isn’t a baby elk? The celebration began with high fives and pictures. This was Austin’s 9th or 10th doe and his largest by far. The grim reaper expandable destroyed her vitals poking itself into her back ham. For the angle he had I was proud of the shot he made. Not advisable, but he got it done.
Austin wanted to drag this thing out but I put my foot down on that very quickly. Here’s the deal, we were far enough back to be considered the whitetail back country. To any western hunter we were not in the so called “backcountry” but for us, at least a mile from the trucks, in a ravine of pine trees and scrub brush, yes we were in the whitetail back country. Using the bit of rope and a pine brand as our hanger, we managed to lift only her hindquarters off the ground. As the night wore on, the air on the backside of that mountain had become as cold as the darkness which drowned us. The only thing saving our fingers was the temperature of the fresh meat.
About an hour later we successfully wrapped up two garbage bags of fresh steaming venison shoving them into our backpacks. The extra weight of the venison felt strangely good. Some call it a twisted sense enjoying the strain of a dead animal in my pack, but the small strain produced by the weight of the meat was like greeting an old friend. That small weight brought back to my mind visions of elk country. I turned to Austin and said,
“Ya know, this isn’t even half the weight of an elk ham. Someday…….someday that’s what we’ll be packing out.” My voice trailing out and a starry look in my eye.
“Ya buddy.” Austin said, grinning ear to ear as we fist pounded, flicked my headlamp on, and hiked exhilarated into the darkness out of the deep ravine.