This story originally appeared in our April Newsletter. Our newsletter is exclusive for those who are registered to our website. In order to register, go to the bottom of the webpage and click the link named register. By registering here you will be eligible for the release of the newsletter and any special contest we have associated with it. Hope you enjoy the story.
Trying to Ease the Pain
by Jim Eden
As avid outdoorsmen, we are all used to the emotional ups and downs throughout the seasons. It’s not only limited to deer hunting. I’m fully committed to everything I do and for me to fall short of my expectations just plain hurts. Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of times in the ﬁeld where I don’t see deer or don’t catch ﬁsh. That’s not what I’m talking about. I cherish every moment I get to spend doing what I love. That doesn’t always mean harvesting a nice buck or hooking into a big striper. (Although from time to time, those experiences do help keep the ﬁre burning!) Enjoying everything nature has to offer is what makes me happy. What I’m talking about here is when everything is going right and in the critical moment, I fall short. This could be anything from breaking off a big ﬁsh, to a knot pulling, to a missed shot, or even a missed opportunity from getting a little lazy. That’s what really pains me the most. The missed opportunities where I have only myself to blame.
This past November (2011) that’s exactly what happened. It had actually been a great year. I saw deer on almost every sit and was consistently seeing bucks, including a few good ones that helped keep me motivated. I hunt public land primarily in NJ so seeing deer every time out is an accomplishment in itself. I had been lucky enough to harvest a nice eight-point in the early September season and three doe between September and February. All with my new BowTech Invasion.
However, there was one buck in particular that I had been watching since August. I was able to get a lot of footage of him out of range and felt fortunate just to be able to see him the rut (if you can even call it that this year, but that’s a whole different story) there were three bucks that I knew of that wouldn’t get a pass. The one I had been watching since August was my main goal. My movements and adjustments were all geared toward getting in front of him every once in a while. Heading into the rut (if you can even call it that this year, but that’s a whole different story) there were three bucks that I knew of that wouldn’t get a pass. The one I had been watching since August was my main goal. My movements and adjustments were all geared toward getting in front of him.
After watching him at 70 yards yet again one early November evening, I decided to make a move. Rob and I hunted the morning and he helped me set a new stand location mid-morning. The deer this year changed their patterns a bit from the past and we felt that this new stand would definitely produce. I know I was pumped to get up there, and I think Rob was excited too. The next evening, I climbed into the new set. I could hardly wait for the sun to start slowly drifting behind the trees, convinced the new set would put me where I needed to be. Rob was sitting across the ﬁeld from me on the edge of the bedding area so we had the area on lock down. If they came out low, Rob would be on top of them; and if they came out high, they should end up right in my lap. As the does started feeding into the ﬁeld, I constantly glassed up and down the bedding edge.
Not long after the does, I see it. The unmistakable glimpse of a big rack slowly emerging into the ﬁeld. He steps out about 200 yards from me, but only about 70 from Rob. I quickly get the camera on him hoping that I can get a second angle if he heads into Rob. It’s him, and he is stuck between two Northeast Archers. Calm, cool, and ready to ﬁnally end our journey. He slowly works his way into the ﬁeld, undecided on which path to choose. Rob and I are both poised, waiting for him to make a decision. That’s when it all goes downhill.
I glance down along the short edge of the ﬁeld to my left and there’s another one of the bucks on my list. The low sun glaring off its long tines. It was a beautiful sight. He’s only at 30 yards, but I have no shot until he gets out into the ﬁeld a bit more. I quickly get the camera turned from my nemesis, still 200 yards away, and focus in on the long tined buck. By now, he is moving quickly out into the ﬁeld so I give a quick mouth bleat, which I must add, I am ﬁrmly against because it never works for me. He stops dead in his tracks and gives me a stare.
I previously ranged some spots in this ﬁeld and estimated him at just over 30 yards. My pin is already settled in ﬁrmly behind his shoulder and I let it ﬂy. As the arrow ﬂoats toward him in slow motion, I’m thinking he’s smoked. It’s dead on its mark and I’m super conﬁdent. But in the end of its ﬂight, it begins to drop off. The alert buck begins to turn and my arrow ﬁnds a home low in the back of the shoulder. I can’t believe what just happened. I hate stopping a deer with a bleat. He turned just enough that my arrow penetrated about one inch and stopped dead. I watched in disbelief as the buck bounded back into the thicket, only hoping I may have gotten enough penetration to catch the heart. It turns out he was standing at about 36 yards, not 30. That miscalculation, along with him getting turned just that little bit, gave the long tined buck a second chance.
I’m completely distraught at this point. I’m mad. I’m upset. I can’t believe I didn’t make that shot. All the time spent ﬁne tuning my equipment, my form, practice, practice, practice. I make that shot 100 times in a row. I’m fully prepared and super conﬁdent in my abilities, and I blew it. All the hours spent in the ﬁeld waiting for that critical moment and I make a mistake. I let myself down. I hate stopping a deer with a bleat. Why did I do that? I still don’t know. Everything happened in an instant. I was on auto-pilot. There was no thinking or reasoning involved. Just natural reactions.
Now you probably think the story ends here. But there’s more. Kind of a sequel in the making. Still trying to comprehend my own actions, I hung my bow in disgust and replayed the shot in my head over and over again. I believed the deer would be ﬁne, but I resolved to come back the next morning and give it my all just to make sure. You never know, right? Maybe I had gotten lucky. Maybe he was laying in the thicket right behind me. I’m was trying to think positive but it wasn’t easy to do at that point. I shot Rob a text to let him know, and as I look up my sucker punching nemesis is feeding my way in the ﬁeld. I get the camera on him at about 150 yards and watch in disbelief. He comes in on a rope. From 200 yards out, he walks steadily, right through the middle of the ﬁeld and smells around where I just hit the long tined buck. I’m ﬁlming him now at 25 yards. He walks from my extreme left to my extreme right, giving me every shot angle possible in the process. In the moment though, I am unable to accept his invitation. I’m heartbroken, disgusted, and unsure about my last shot. At least if it was a clean miss, I could redeem myself. If it was a good hit, this would just be icing on the cake.
But I couldn’t let go of the self-recrimination. Today could have been one of the best days I’ve ever had in the ﬁeld and I blew it. I couldn’t believe what had happened. What are the chances? All the time I spend in the woods and he has to rub it in my face at my lowest point. Not one beautiful buck but two of them come in easy bow range within 20 minutes of each other, and I blew it. I watch for what seems like an hour as he disappears around the edge.
Alone now, I just sat there and stared blankly into the sunset not quite sure how to feel. After all, my plan had worked. I got in front of him and had him all but in my hands. Should I be happy that I ﬁnally outsmarted him? I guess so. And I am ﬁnally starting to feel that way. But I was physically, mentally and emotionally shook for some time after that. My wife was genuinely concerned about me, having never seen me that way (and I hope she never has to again). After searching for the long tined buck the following day, I’m convinced he is ﬁne. All the evidence I found says so. This helps to ease the pain but it still hurts.
These are disappointments that all sportsmen endure throughout the seasons. Some people say “everybody misses” or “it happens.” But that’s not acceptable to me. It may help some get through it, but not me. I even try to chalk it up to a learning experience, but that’s just another excuse in my book. For me, the hunt continues. It’s the hope of finding their sheds, or catching another glimpse of them that keeps me going. I will improve upon myself to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Continually shooting, all year long, thousands of arrows. That’s all I can do for now. Getting back to 100% confidence in myself and my abilities will prepare me for our next encounter. I look forward to staying on your trail for next year, preparing and honing my skills for when we meet again. Maybe next time we can finally put an end to our story together, and I’m looking forward to it.