Monday, December 5, 2016

It's Hit or Miss

By Jenny Burden,
Huntress View Team Member

The Story

I’d been sitting in my tree stand for 10 hours. 17 feet above the ground, I spent from dawn until pre-dusk waiting, listening to the acorns fall, the squirrels squabble, and every few hours, the leaves rustle under the hooves of deer moving just out of my reach where I sat with my bow. 

The day before, I’d seen him. A gorgeous 8-point whitetail buck who ran right under my stand, munched some acorns, and ran off before I could put down the book I’d been reading and grab my bow. It was 3:00 in the afternoon- I was definitely surprised! I resolved to come the next day and wait, all day, to see if I got another chance. 

After many false squirrel alarms, I finally heard the crunching of the leaves and rustling of the mesquite branches. His rack popped in to my view, and I grabbed my bow, arrow already nocked, and stood. It was later in the afternoon, about 4:30, and although the sun hid behind the limbs of my giant oak tree when I sat, it glared viscously in my eyes when I took my shooting stance. The buck was only 15 yards away, but I couldn’t see him through the sunny haze. I sat back down, which relieved the trouble mostly, but not perfectly. My heart pounding, I drew my PSE Surge, took aim, steadied my breath, and as he stepped forward to grab another acorn, released…

The Shot

At least he stuck around for a photo shoot!

The shock of what happened caught me so off-guard that I literally said, out loud, “Did I really just miss??” (Full disclosure: There were a couple of swear words before that sentence.)

And I had. My arrow had sailed a good foot in front of his chest, thumping into the earth, doing no more damage than a falling acorn.

There in the grass shone my lighted nock, still quivering from the force of the impact in the dirt. The buck had scampered about 10 feet away at the noise, but remained calm, simply confused as to what made that noise. Had I had a second arrow on me, I could have taken another shot, but my 2nd broad head had broken on the walk in when one of the fixed blades had fallen out. Instead of a redemption shot, I had to sit for 10 painful minutes as he finished his snack and meandered off in to the brush. I was then able to recover my arrow, climb back in to my stand, and see if maybe, just maybe, he’d come back. He didn’t, and at dusk, I went home with nothing but 12 fewer hours left in my life and a numb butt. 

The Aftermath

After my initial self-loathing, sadness, and anger on my mile-long march back to my car, I decided I had to take conscious steps to recover from my disappointment. That buck, which I now considered MY buck, was the one I wanted now for so many reasons, but I knew if I let myself get swept up in criticizing my mistakes, I’d be bitter the rest of the season, and it was only October! 

Missing a great deer is disappointing. It’s heartbreaking. It’s tough. But, it is not the end of the world, and doesn’t necessarily say much about us as hunters, other than we were just, frankly, off. To help myself. I decided to:

1.    Take a break and recover! I had been in the stand all day for two days, consumed by the hunt. I loved my time in the woods, and still had an awesome time, despite not tagging my deer, but I knew that if I tried again immediately and failed again, I wouldn’t retain that positive attitude. Hunting is a passion, and obsession, and a privilege. But, more than those things, it is fun, and we always have to keep that in mind so that this sport is nothing but a healthy, beneficial activity to us. So, I didn’t hunt the next day. I went surfing instead.

2.    Practice, check your equipment, and asses what failed! Before my surfing excursion, I did take my bow out at my house and check it over. Everything was tight and aligned. I went to my target and practiced a bit, wearing a hat (which I’d need next time!), and shooting both standing and sitting, all the way out to 40 yards. My groups were not perfect, but they were far from way off. Something else was up. 

40 yards, seated, with a hat on

3.    Do a little reading and research. Since my shooting was well, I thought to check other possibilities and did some reading on shooting the fixed broad heads I now only had one left of. I had no idea that fixed options had to be tuned, and if they were too loose, not balanced exactly right, etc. they can be thrown off. I had my bow paper tuned with these broad heads last season, but had since removed them, changed arrows, re-fletched the arrows, and generally made lots of changed. I had never re-tuned them. The shot I had taken was my second miss. Both I had simply figured were because of poor form, the sun, or some other excuse, but it is highly likely more was going on (although always keeping your form on point is the most important!)

4.    Fix what you can. I was going hunting the next day, and knew I needed a few things: a fresh attitude, a hat to block the sun, and more than one broad head. Since I didn’t have time to shop online, I went to Academy and stared at the options. I knew that my shooting style, time limitations, and other factors meant that selecting a highly reviewed mechanical was the way to go. I had always been hesitant because mechanical options have their own failure risks, but settled on the Rage SlipCam 2” tips, very much enticed by the free practice head that came with them. I took them home, shot the practice head, and it landed right with the field points. I was ready to go.


It’s Hit or Miss

One week later, on the opening day of Texas’s rifle season, I was back in my tree stand. I had attempted to take him 4 times since that day, but either I did not see him, or he did not come close enough. I passed on several good does and spikes because I didn’t want to risk taking them early in the hunt and missing a chance for him to come.

Then, after having sat in the rain that morning, I was back in the afternoon. I had been in the stand for three hours when my husband, who hunts with his rifle, texted me from his stand to say he’d seen my buck and a smaller one following a doe in my direction on the other side of the fence (my stand is along a property line.) About five minutes later, I looked over my shoulder and saw the doe, obviously agitated and trying to stay ahead of a pursuer. She had crossed to my side of the fence and was underneath me quickly. Glancing up, I saw him, nose down, following her about 30 yards back.

I stood immediately, thankful for the cloudy day. As he came closer, I drew and held. I checked my shoulder to make sure it was lowered, my eyes to ensure I was peeping through the correct one, my grip, my cant on my bow, everything. I worked down my checklist of my form mentally and ensured that I was ready. Then, as he took a step forward, broadside to me at 25 yards, I released.

I heard the thunk of the impact and saw him jump. My lighted nock danced in the air as he spun a circle, jumped the fence (yes, because of course he did!) and tore off through the woods. My arrow came out, but I followed him with my eyes as far as I could, then my ears, until I heard him crash.

Scrambling down from my stand, the pressure, anxiety and relief washed away with every rung of the ladder. I was so elated, but knew I needed to find him first. After reading horror stories of hunters losing their bucks, bad blood trails, failed broadheads, I knew there was room for error. I hopped the fence (we have permission from the landowner to retrieve game we shoot that might make it over there) and found the first splatters right where he’d landed across the fence. The trail was light, but regular, and my arrow lay another 20 yards in. I dutifully tracked every drop for about 30 minutes, until I came up cold.

My husband joined me and asked me to point in the direction I’d last seen him. I gestured up the hillside and not a minute later he says, “Oh, isn’t that him, right there?” Sure enough, I apparently married a bloodhound, as he walked right to him. He was there, he was down, and he was oh so mine! 

It was a perfect lung shot, and he ran no more than 100 yards from where I shot. After taking many photos, we loaded him up and headed home right at dark, ready to self-process my harvest and package him up for many dinners to come.

Second, third, or seventh chances don’t always come, so I’m thankful mine did. Whether it was “my” buck, another buck, or just my next deer with my bow, I know that keeping a positive mindset, returning to fundamentals, and double-checking my gear led to my success the next time. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone misses, and this probably won’t be the last time. The lesson, however, is that so long as we keep in mind the joy of hunting, the power in ourselves to make chance, and the fun of the sport, we can learn those lessons, move on, and continue to enjoy the pursuit long after the sting of a miss fades away. It’s hit or miss, but here’s to a lot more hits than misses!


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