By the time Jake Dahlke was driving home from his hunting lease in Prescott, Wisconsin, last Friday, it had already been a long night. He’d shot at a nice buck with his crossbow close to sunset that evening, but after finding only a small amount of blood, he was unable to recover the buck. A few hours later, as Dahlke drove down the road toward home, he saw a car pulled over on one side of the road. Then he noticed something laying in the ditch on the far side.
“I look on the other side of the road and there’s this buck laying in the ditch,” Dahlke says. “And I’m like no freakin’ way.”
Dahlke pulled off the road and walked over to the Jeep, which had a smashed-up front end. The teenage girl behind the wheel was crying her eyes out, and after making sure she was okay, Dahlke walked across the road to check out the dead buck. At first he couldn’t see an entry or an exit wound, but when he bent over to take a closer look, he saw a deep slice that went straight across the back of the buck’s neck. Standing on the shoulder of the road that runs alongside the property he was hunting, he started to wonder if what he was thinking was even possible.
“It looked like a broadhead had sliced the top of his neck, and at this point I was about a half-mile away from where I shot at him,” Dahlke says. “And that’s when I was like, huh, this could be the deer I shot.”
Letting the Arrow Fly
Dahlke tells Outdoor Life that when he settled in for his first sit of the season around 4 p.m. on Sept. 23, he didn’t expect to see much. He had captured a couple photos on his trail cameras of a 10-point that looked like a shooter, but that was weeks ago. Sitting in a ground blind among the hardwoods on the edge of a bean field, he was planning to just treat the evening as an observation sit.
Right around 6:30, a doe walked into view. He ranged her around 40 yards and made a mental mark where she stood.
“Well then about 15-20 minutes from legal shooting light, I see a bigger bodied deer walking through the beans,” Dahlke says. “It was dark enough that I couldn’t make out exactly what he was, but then he finally got away from the wood line and I got him skylined. I didn’t get a super good look, but good enough to know it was a deer I wanted to shoot.”
Thinking the buck was standing close to where he marked the doe earlier, he waited patiently for it to work a little closer. It never did, but as the light faded over the bean field, the buck offered Dahlke a broadside shot. It was now or never, he figured, so he pinned his 30-yard reticle high on the buck’s shoulder, and squeezed the crossbow trigger.
“I shot, and instantly it was like oof, I don’t know. It didn’t give that pumpkin thwack kind of noise, and when he took off into the woods he was running just fine,” Dahlke says. “About 30 minutes later I tried to find the arrow but couldn’t, so I walked back out to the wood line and I found blood—but it was a small amount and it was dark red, which didn’t make me feel very good either.”
At that point, he figured his best move was to back out and return in the morning with a tracking dog. He logged onto Facebook and found one of the local tracking groups, where he threw out a request asking for the nearest tracker to give him a call so they could return to the property the next morning. On his way back to his truck he called his brother, who told him he might as well ask the neighbor for permission to track the deer on his property in case it ran over there.
Heeding his brother’s advice, Dahlke made the 10-minute drive over to the neighboring property owner’s house and knocked on the door around 9 o’clock. The landowner was friendly enough and told Dahlke he was more than welcome to track the deer on his property. The man said if he did find the buck, his neighbor was also a butcher and would be happy to process the deer. Assuming this was a little too optimistic given the circumstances, Dahlke thanked the man and hopped in his truck. Exhausted, he drove down the long driveway to the main road, where he turned for home and eventually stumbled upon the roadkill scene.
Putting Two and Two Together
By the time one of the local trackers called Dahlke back, he was standing on the side of the road, looking at the dead buck and scratching his head. He started to explain what happened but had to hang up the phone when a state trooper finally pulled up.
First, he asked the trooper if he could drag the buck away from the road and into the woods, explaining there was a decent chance that a tracking dog would lead them back to the same deer the next morning. The trooper told him he couldn’t allow that, and that Dahlke basically had two options. He could have the DNR come retrieve the deer, but that meant he wouldn’t be able to get the deer back if it did turn out to be his. The other option was for the trooper to give him a roadkill tag, which would allow Dahlke to keep the deer without burning one of his tags for the season.
Dahlke debated these options for a minute. He knew there was a chance the roadkill buck wasn’t his, and he didn’t really want two bucks on his hands. Then he remembered the neighbor’s butcher friend down the way, who answered his phone around 10:30 p.m. and told Dahlke he’d be happy to take the deer.
“So, I brought the deer to that guy that night, and the trooper actually helped me load it in the back of my truck.”
The next morning, Dahlke met the tracker and his dog at the lease in Prescott. They went straight to the woodline where he’d seen blood, and the dog started working. It picked up a track and headed straight across the property toward the road. Eventually they came upon some deer that were bedded down not far from the road, and since the live deer were distracting the dog, they ended the track right there.
Dahlke might not ever be able to say for sure whether the roadkill buck was the same one he shot, but all the variables seem to add up. Between the gash on the deer’s neck, the dog pointing them toward the roadway, and the fact that the roadkill buck looked exactly like the one he had gotten on camera weeks before, he figures the mystery is pretty well solved.
“What’s bizarre is the timing of all this,” he says. “Had my brother not told me to knock on the neighbor’s door, and had he not driven up to extend the conversation, it would have been a matter of minutes. They had just hit that deer within five minutes of when I showed up. And had I not gone that way, I would have gone in with the tracking dog the next morning and we wouldn’t have found the buck, and that would have been that.”
Dahlke says the butcher he connected with has already donated all the meat. Plus, Dahlke is getting a euro mount made of the rack. It’s certainly not the way he wanted to recover his deer, but at least he has closure to his hunt—mostly.