Sooner or later it was going to happen; so used to seeing the drop on the spot or finding within 50 yrds. Something of a mystery and aside from the primary concern being the welfare of the animal I'd like to have found the thing to know exactly what the shot was and why it ran as it did.
I could accept that the shot was at fault, but I'm sure it was in the right place. Trail of blood confined contact but just couldn't locate it. Scenario:
1. Broadleaf woodland.
2. Called the buck in at around 7am. 3 squeaks and he came in like an express train.
3. Clocked me at about 10 yards and veered off to my right. He was on his toes.
4. Knowing he would stop to look I was ready and sure enough he stopped 20 yards away and I didn't hesitate. On the centerline just behind his right shoulder I thought.
5. Reacted to shot by bolting (immediately, no delay) - headed off into thick coppice, same direction as he was travelling; I watched him until I saw him slow down just behind an oak about 40 yards away. Didn't hear any more sound after that. Expected to find him there.
6. Waited 10 mins. Marked out the direction I'd last observed him and made my way to it from the location of the shot.
7. Found blood trail starting about 30 yards from where he's been shot. Blood looked like it was dripping, bright red and consistent for about 20 yards in a straight line. Blood was on the nearside from the animal i.e. where the exit wound would have been on its LHS. When he'd jumped a felled tree more blood, a little more where he stopped (patch of drops @1-2cm2 every M or so). Then nothing.
I looked for over hour. Methodically waled the area (boundary ditches make this easy). The woodland is reasonably open. Not a lot of ground cover or scrub, you would see something unless it was really well hidden.
Aside from the initial blood trail, nothing. We then got a lab in, not a deer dog (used for game) but usually finds anything. He was all over the initial trail of blood but couldn't pick it up after that. Spend another 3 hours and covered everything with 200 yards forward of where I last saw him.
I Left with a heavy heart but I don't think we could have done any more.
Question is what happened and where was the shot. Theories:
A. The animal was near and my rifle is zero'd @ 200 yards. Consequently it shoots about 2" low at that distance. I thought I was on the centerline, maybe I wasn't and the shot went low. You would expect the damage to the lung etc to have brought it down though. I don't think it went back or forward and in any case, the .260, if it hits something on the way in usually leaves a big hole out the other side. If it went very low or high I would have expected it to make contact with something hard. It wasn't too far back that I'm sure too - the blood was very clean and red so not liver either.
B. Shot was good, but missed something hard on the way in and out. Hole through the middle and the animal pumped up on adrenaline was able to make it to cover outside of where we looked. Maybe I'm clutching at straws! I have occasionally had projectiles exit in 1 piece with just a small hole. Often there is no blood at point of impact either. You would have thought that the contents would have been liquid though.. animal shouldn't have got very far.
The question remains why the blood train just suddenly stopped. Had we not had the dogs out I'd have accepted that it was maybe our failure to spot it, but with 2 of us plus the dog I am really sure there was no further trails. Perhaps something plugged the hole just enough to stop the loss.
C. Or.. I nicked it. Maybe I pulled the shot. The front or bottom perhaps. Seemed like too much blood for that.
So a crappy day. I can rationalise this because I am in general super careful about the shots that I take. Like most of us, I want nothing other than to see the lights go out and for the animal to know nothing about it. I don't think there is anything I'd do differently. Even having a dedicated dog may not have helped. An incident like this gives you pause for thought though and this will weigh on my conscience for a few days yet.
Be interested to know if anyone else has any experience and could offer some insight.