The rut was coming in hot in Missouri. I had a doe tag, buck tag, and gobbler tag to fill with 4 days of hunting from daylight to dark.
Day One. The first morning was showing good potential. The weather was very mild but windy and when daylight broke the doe were on the move. I had a young yearling walk under my stand, a good-sized doe that I decided to pass on since it was just the first hour into the first morning hunt, and my heart was set on a buck. The morning passed quickly and the afternoon was coming to a close on day one and the deer were moving just as quickly. I had several encounters but nothing within bow range.
Day Two. It was a little colder and a rainy morning sit in the tree so I opted to go in mid-morning with the afternoon weather breaking, a front coming in and sure enough, a buck walked in behind my tree. I had not been in my stand for 30 minutes. He looked promising. I didn’t have a lot of time to assess him before he was standing in the shooting lane never stopping, so I stopped him, he was slightly quartering away. At 18 yards I released my arrow and it struck him. He ran around a cedar tree and Osage orange bush and into the timbers with my arrow still in him.
I turned to get my phone out of my backpack to call my guide but it wasn’t there. I realized I left it at the lodge. What was an exciting moment turned into oh no, I’ve got to sit until dark before I can go track him. Lodge rules are to stay in your tree. I waited and waited. The good news was he wouldn’t be pressured with an early tracking operation. The bad news was all the what-ifs playing in my mind. My guide pulled up and I let him know what happened as we went back to the lodge for dinner. After dinner, I had to get permission from the neighbor property owner to go on his land to look for the deer. He agreed and wished us luck. We found blood and tracked the deer until the blood trail ended.
Sadly, we didn’t recover the deer.
Day Four. I could hunt but I could only shoot a doe or gobbler. As the sun rose Thursday morning I had mentally prepared myself for no bucks. I sat all day with not a single deer sighting. At 4:00 pm on my last evening hunt, a beautiful 10-point came from behind me, standing at 9 yards and giving me a perfect broadside shot. I was in disbelief for a second, I knew it was a possibility that I would see a buck but this buck would be my first out-of-state archery buck, not to mention my personal best. But I had drawn blood and the rules state you’re done. I filmed him for almost three minutes. With two gobblers in the background behind him, my focus went to try to move them to an opening since I had a turkey tag. He turned to walk off and I grunted to get him back but he was gone along with my chance at a turkey.
Choosing to Do the Right Thing
If I’m being honest, at that very moment I was sick. I just had this awesome trophy at 9 yards and I chose not to take him. After the hunt, I was asked why. They told me, “You’re crazy. I would’ve shot him anyway!” “You don’t let bucks like that walk.” “You paid for a tag, you should have shot first and asked for forgiveness later.”
My heart wouldn’t let me do it. I’m an ethical hunter. I follow the law and rules. I had already prepared myself and was told not to pursue another buck.
I had my chance but my deer wasn’t recovered. Is it a hard pill to swallow? Yes! Would I have loved to have that dandy of a buck on my wall? Yes! But I also know that had I shot the deer, I would have not been invited back to the lodge, or worse, been assigned penalties, fines, ect. That beautiful buck lived to reproduce and hopefully, spread those genes.
I’m ok with my decision because at the end of the day not too many people get the opportunity to hunt deer like I was hunting, nor get the opportunity to encounter one like that at just 9 yards. I will always choose ethics over desire every time. I am not desperate for meat, I am not desperate for another taxidermy bill. “You gotta find the humor in it.” I want my heart and my name to be respected and trusted that when you tell me not to shoot an animal I’m not going to shoot an animal; and hopefully, I’ll get an invitation back to hunt him again next archery season.
Have you ever let one get away?
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