Dissecting a bowhunting buck miss: Lessons learned the hard way
With scarcely an hour remaining in my six-week endeavor called archery season, I finally encountered the mature buck I had been after. We had trail cam pics of the wide 8-point all over the family farm, and two daylight sightings added to our yearning desire for a shot. However, neither my brother nor I had yet to loose an arrow at him.
Now, hunting a new stand location for the first time all year (albeit the final day of the season), I finally figured him out. Here he was, hastily slinking from a low, brushy, creekside hideout, angling directly downwind from my stand.
When I saw where he was heading, I groaned. Had he turned toward the fields a little sooner, he'd be upwind, walking broadside through a clear opening at roughly 20 yards. But big bucks rarely cooperate like that.
Springing into action, I swung the camera arm into position, hit record, and grabbing my bow, scanned frantically for any opening along his advancing path. Finding just one small window 40 yards from my perch, I crouched where I felt I could slip an arrow beneath an overhanging branch if I stopped him just right.
As he approached, I drew and mouthed a bleat simultaneously. He skidded to an abrupt halt just shy of the opening behind a dense patch of autumn olive, offering absolutely no shot.
Still crouching at full draw, with a nervous buck scent-checking the air downwind, I fussed with the heavy fleece neck gaiter restricting my kisser button from appropriately settling into the corner of my mouth. I silently cursed my own unpreparedness.
Other deer approached, and the buck started toward them. He closed the distance and stopped in a small clearing at 30 yards. The problem was he was now facing straight on, and I still held full draw with no ethical shot. According to my camera, 1 minute and 42 seconds ticked by while we both endured the desperate standoff.
Then, as if by cruel design, a stiff wind materialized over my shoulder, he figured the gig was up and wheeled around to split town. I tried a quick shot as he spun broadside but caught a tiny limb, thankfully deflecting my arrow safely into the dirt instead of wounding the deer at a less-than-ideal location.
He bounded off unscathed and all I have left is videographic proof of just how big he was and how badly I screwed it up. But even depressing situations like this can glean new knowledge for those wise enough to learn from their mistakes.
First, I learned that my hunch was right about where this buck was taking shelter. While lesser bucks were cruising ridgelines and field edges, he stuck to the thickest sanctuary cover on the property and still found plenty of does to breed.
The stand was at a great spot, but I failed to adequately trim shooting lanes. Crowding vegetation forced me to awkwardly crouch, putting me off balance, and provided few margins for error with limited shot openings.
Even in cold weather, I could have more adequately prepared for a shot by first testing that my garments would not get in the way of a steady anchor point or the smooth release of an arrow. I should've known better.
Lastly, I should have demonstrated better self-control and not even tried that shot. Late-season desperation sometimes causes us to take risks we otherwise wouldn't try. Had I crippled that buck, I never would've forgiven myself. I am lucky to have missed cleanly after holding draw for so long.
Though I blew my chance at a magnificent buck, I learned some hard lessons in the process. By dissecting my missed opportunity, I now know what improvements must be made in the future. On the bright side, there's always rifle season!