A mid-November day set the stage for what would seem like a perfect day to catch a mature buck on his feet.
My favorite time to hunt is on the back side of a big low pressure front; as the rain or snow pulls out, skies clear, wind picks up, and the barometric pressure begins to rise fast and steadily.
Well, that is exactly the scenario that unfolded on Friday, Nov. 11, until about mid-day Saturday, Nov. 12. Heavy rain came down Friday and most of Saturday morning as the low pressure front moved through our area.
Saturday afternoon would be OK, but Sunday was lining up to be THE day.
I had hung a saddle set in the pouring rain of Friday afternoon with the intentions of hunting it as an all-day sit for Sunday; and that is exactly what I did.
Around 5:30 a.m. I began to make my way in, dressing light and taking my time to be careful not to become sweaty on the walk to the tree. I was fully set, comfy cozy, and ready to go somewhere in the neighborhood of 6:15 a.m.
A smaller 7-point had passed through right at first light. I expected it to be a great morning with a lot of action, but indeed, it was not.
Hours ticked by with no other deer sightings. It was windy, a chill in the air, not crazy cold, but plenty comfortable enough to hang the entire day perched 20 feet up with no issue whatsoever.
Almost six hours in now. 11:53 a.m. I hear a muffled noise in the still damp leaves behind me that catches my attention, glancing over my left shoulder there he is. A buck I have dubbed, “TNT” is already well within range.
“Oh my God,” I say to myself under my breath in one single mangled word.
Everything changes in a split second. It is game on. His 13-inch tines glisten under the mid-day sun. Not 35 yards away is a 6 1⁄2-year-old giant that I am intimately familiar with, yet have longed years to catch a glimpse of in real life. He is a massive, towering, perfect 10-pointer, pushing the 160-inch mark.
I grab my bow from the hanger. At this very moment, I know this is the real deal, as I almost never grab for my bow upon seeing a buck. My heart is racing, breathing is heavy, and the shakes are beginning to set in. I take a few deep breaths to calm myself down.
My timeline is at 177 hours on the side of a tree this season, passing on dozens of other bucks, just waiting for this very moment. It has come. He is heading in the direction he needs to go. He seems to be on edge though.
The wind is heavy in the treetops above, swirling a bit within the gut where I have planned my ambush. Could he possibly have caught a slight whiff of me? Every step he takes is exceedingly cautious. Stopping frequently, his head is on a swivel; he knows something is wrong but can not pinpoint what.
He makes his way downhill cloaked behind a facade of low-lying beech with leaves that have not yet fallen. A few steps from a perfect shooting lane, I draw and anchor in. Two more steps and he is wide open. He takes them. He is 28 yards. I bury my pin midbody behind his shoulder as he stops on the edge of a small creek. Arrow away.
In all my years of bowhunting, I have never seen an animal move so quickly down at the sound of a shot. It was honestly amazing and left me in complete awe and disbelief. The arrow sails clear over his back and buries in the ground behind him. He bolts another 30 yards and stops. Looking around like, “What the heck was that?”
As I fumble to grab another arrow from my quiver, he casually walks directly away and out of sight.
Utter despondency and despair immediately set in. This is the kind of feeling where you just rub your face overly hard with an open hand, take a large deep breath in, exhale slowly, and loudly, and just nod.
Taking it all in, I am literally sick to my stomach. The feeling of nausea is real. The reality of an opportunity gone awry sets in. I begin to question many things. Should I have aimed lower anticipating a drop given his body language prior to the shot? So many questions that have no real true answers. You mentally beat yourself up and down.
What was the highest of highs has gone to the lowest of lows in mere seconds. It really is a feeling unlike any other I have experienced.
This is only the second deer I have missed in 26 years of bowhunting, and the other miss I ended up getting a second shot on and harvesting.
So, for all intents and purposes, this is my first real miss of my bowhunting career and an exceptionally hard one to swallow given the caliber of deer he is.
Coming to terms with a miss is a tough commodity. Not just with any buck, but your number one target buck that you have waited years for the moment to happen – only to blow it.
After the incident, I had an in-depth conversation with a couple of friends who are rather hard-core bowhunters themselves, which made me feel a little better about myself. Not a whole heck of a lot, but a little.
A friend said to me, “The goal for you is the pinnacle. It is no longer about getting that quick harvest or hunting to ‘get something.’ Something just isn’t good enough or difficult enough.”
He went on by saying, “Failure. It is 99% of the time, the expected outcome, and you have become Ok with that fact. To get on that caliber of deer with any regularity is just not realistic.”
He was right, I have conditioned myself over the years to fail and be A-Ok with that fact, but the love and passion to pursue mature bucks keeps me grinding on, and cherishing every second of “The Chase.”
As cheesy as this may sound, I just love being in the woods and trying to figure out the inner-workings of a mature buck’s mind. Putting myself in a position, from a stand, to even have an opportunity at a 6 1⁄2-year-old buck is a success in itself. We played the game of chess for years and years, I finally figured him out and won the game, but fell just short on sealing the deal.
On a positive note, this also continues the saga and adds another chapter to our book, which ultimately makes the storyline of TNT that much better. Would I love to be holding his rack in my hands? Absolutely. Do I love the fact that we can continue to play the game? Same answer.
It really never is about the kill. It is always about the chase and what leads up to the moment when you say, “Oh my God.”