Everyone has heard the phrase “If you’ve hunted long enough…” and usually it is used to describe an unfortunate event or occurence that has left us feeling disappointed, bewildered, or just plain down in the dumps.
Lord knows I have had my share of those feelings. When you work hard all year in preparations for the upcoming season with anticipation of getting an opportunity at a big buck only to blow it when the time comes, yeah, been there done that. You can’t let it get you down and keep you there. You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and climb back in the stand for another round. But it ain’t easy.
So the next time you spook, miss, or fail to recover a wounded animal and you feel like your season might as well be over, remember these steps and you will be back in the stand with renewed confidence and hunger for the chance of redemption.
- Why did he spook? Replay the event in your mind (not that you haven’t 100 times already) but with an objective, analytical approach. Did the deer spook because he spot you moving? Perhaps reaching for or drawing your bow? Was it sound such as a squeaky stand? Or did he catch your scent? Once you determine the cause, the solution often presents itself. Perhaps a simple change to the location where you hang your bow/equipment, stand maintenance, relocation to a tree with better cover, higher or lower position, better scent control practices, etc. is all you need to pick up the pieces and start your quest again.
- Why did I miss? Missing a deer is one of the most heartbreaking scenarios because you did everything right to fool one of nature’s most wily creatures into coming within range only to leave it up to the most common cause of failure, human error. Again, replay the events as if watching frame by frame in your mind. Was it a good draw? Was the deer alert? Did you know the distance? Was it a smooth release? Any distractions, like limbs or obstacles that could cause a loss of focus? Were your emotions under control? In my experience, the majority of misses with a bow or gun, stem from one or combination of three issues. A – Poor form. B – Wrong distance or C – Buck Fever. An alert deer “jumping the string” (reacting to the sound of your arrow release by dropping its body in preparation for an escape) can be difficult to anticipate. Some regions the deer seem to be more prone to it than others, but an alert deer will almost always drop a little bit which can alter the impact position of an arrow. So you may or may not have to adjust your aiming point. But poor shooting form breeds inconsistency which will reveal itself every time in the stand when it may be hidden on the range. Actual shots at game very rarely come at exactly 20 yards broadside in the wide open the way we practice in our backyard. Quartering angles, in between yardages, obstructions that may force you to lean out, squat down, or shoot sitting down, and the adrenaline pumping as that deer approaches are all variables that can cause you to lose your shooting form. Practicing as many of these scenarios as you can imagine will help better prepare you for that moment of truth.
- Why didn’t I find him? The most gut wrenching feeling you can get as a deer hunter is getting that big buck into range, squeezing off what feels like a good shot, finding blood, only to have the trail disappear on you with no deer and big silly grin at the end of it. Where did he go? Well, first off deer are remarkably resilient animals. On several occasions I have harvested deer that had pieces of arrow shafts or broadheads within them, broken legs, etc. that were healed completely. I once shot a buck and lost him only to have the neighbor kill him a week later. So the first thing to determine is was it a good shot angle for a quality kill shot? What kind of blood is being left? Tracking a wounded deer will be easier with an understanding of what kind of blood vital organs dispense. Lung blood is bright red with possible air bubbles while liver is a dark red sometimes almost purplish. A poor shot angle or placement can result in a flesh wound (no vitals hit) in which case the deer has a high probability of survival barring its susceptibility to possible infection. Hits to the abdomen can bleed substantially at first but then the entry/exit wounds can become blocked and choke off the blood trail. The best advice is “when in doubt, back out” as the deer will usually run to the nearest cover and bed down and expire. Pushing a wounded deer that has stopped bleeding externally rarely results in a find. So be sure to give plenty of time between the shot and any recovery attempt.
These evaluations all have lessons embedded within them that you can add to your experience and arsenal as a deer hunter for your next trip afield. But they do very little to mitigate the emotional blow. For that, each hunter has his/her own grieving time and process.
I personally like to climb back into the stand as soon as and as often as possible. Put it behind me and move on. Harvesting a doe can be a great confidence restorer in lieu of sitting day after day waiting for another buck opportunity and dwelling on the previous blown one. I immerse myself in deer; whether it be scrolling through thousands of trail cam photos to remind myself of what else is still walking around, watching previous seasons hunts on DVD (yes, a shameless plug), scout/glass new hunting areas, etc.
Just like a quarterback who threw an interception, a pitcher who gave up a homerun, or golfer who missed a 2 foot putt, allowing negative thoughts to linger just seems to create a snowball effect and so they dismiss them and focus on “gettin’ him next time.”
I eat, sleep, and dream whitetails and refuse to let failed opportunities prevent me from doing what I love. Failure is why it’s still called hunting not killing. Its our failures that allow us to appreciate our successes.