It was a balmy September evening, and I was perched 18 feet up in a tree. The sun was brightly peeking through red leaves as it made its way toward the West. The chickadees and squirrels greeted me with robust enthusiasm as I waited for a shooter deer to come my way.
I was outfitted head to toe in camo. My bow was ready. My release was in place. I hunt with a Mathews Mission Craze, a lightweight bow that suits my petite frame very well. The conditions were great and fellow hunting buddies had either harvested or seen plenty of deer within the past twenty-four hours. Everything was as it should be.
It was approaching 6 pm and I knew it was about prime time. I gazed around my surroundings, scanning the area for signs of movement. The next thing I knew I was lost in my own thoughts, and a sudden shuffling of dry leaves brought me quickly back to the present moment.
To my rear left, and well within range, was a small buck approaching the opening in front of me. He stopped behind the only tree in my range of view. I took the opportunity to stand, draw my bow, and ready myself for when he would step out from behind the tree. It seemed like it was taking too long, so I shifted my weight to one side to get a peek around the tree. He was now in my view, quartered away slightly but still within range. I centered my pin, squeezed my release, and let the arrow fly. Somehow, he must’ve sensed it or heard it because at that exact moment, he crouched down and my arrow hit centered, but way too high.
I watched him closely to see what his reaction was. To my surprise, he seemed unfazed by his new jewelry. He looked at it and took a few steps, then went back to eating. He then walked, not ran, off into the timber. I didn’t have a good, clear opportunity for a follow-up shot.
I waited a while, and then I got down to look around. There was very minimal blood, but I followed the faint trail about 200 yards until the blood completely disappeared. I called in reinforcements to help me search. We traced his steps and then looked in every conceivable direction he could have taken. We searched and searched with no success. The next morning, I came back and spent the day grid-searching the nearby ridge with a friend. No sign of him anywhere.
I was ashamed. I was disgusted. I was filled with regret. I was defeated.
Old-timers will tell you that if you haven’t wounded deer, you haven’t hunted very long. That is probably true, but it doesn’t soothe the sting. I debated whether hunting the rest of the season was the right thing to do. I was elated when he showed back up on trail camera photos sporting a new battle scar.
Hunting is hard. It can be emotionally devastating, and it can be elating. There is risk involved. No one is perfect. And in this age of digital highlight reels, it can be easy to think you’re the only one who makes mistakes. Don’t be discouraged. We are all out here making mistakes, learning, and growing. Once you know better, do better.
Share the wisdom. Hunt on and be safe!
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