Who likes to fess up to mistakes? I don’t. My dog doesn’t. Few of my friends do. The president rarely even admits to making a mistake. Have you ever thought what a perfect world it would be if we all just confessed to mistakes and tried never to make them again? The divorce rate would surely drop, courtrooms would be less packed, and I’m betting your bowhunting success would increase. It has been my goal during bow season to never repeat a mistake, but each season I still can add at least one major mistake to the “never repeat” list.
One of my biggest blunders to date happened not too long ago. I found a short window between work trips, so I headed to my favorite whitetail haunt. Pre-rut magic hung in the air, and the excitement of being in the whitetail woods, plus my impatient personality, prodded me into rattling immediately after settling into my stand. As I hung the rattle bag back up, I froze in astonishment when a buck stood up in a tall patch of grass less than 40 yards away and stared in wide-eyed terror at my treestand-perched form.
You already know the rest of the story. Yes, the buck exploded, and I literally slapped myself while watching the buck race away through the thick cedars. Here are a few other mistakes I hope to never make again…I mean it…really!
Throughout the early season I had no issues pulling the bow back, but then came November. Instead of warm temperatures and a mobile hunting strategy, my whitetail hunting switched to a sit-and-wait approach in frigid conditions. One crisp morning, a rutting whitetail buck came my way, and as he passed behind a tree trunk I stood, tried to draw my bow, but couldn’t. I tried to reach full draw several more times, before finally giving up as the buck walked out of sight.
Between the higher poundage and my body responding to the cold by slowing the amount of blood pumping to my limbs, I didn’t have enough strength to come to full draw. Today I avoid that mistake by setting my bow closer to 60 pounds and never struggle, early or late.
Like me, he took the path of least resistance, and came to a screeching halt with a surfboard-stiff posture as he nosed the grass where I had just passed. With a snort and tail-wagging retreat, he was gone.
My mistake was not clearing my access trail of vegetation. Nowadays I make it a point to live scent-free. I also carry a machete and a pruner during pre-season setup to clip a brush-free path to my stand. Plus, I always stay off the path of least resistance, which is usually a game trail.
As I wagered, a mature buck poked his head from the cover and started coming my way. The trail would take him to within 15 yards of my stand, but he had to cross a small draw 40 yards away. At the top of the draw his reaction turned from complacent to concerned, and I knew why. The breeze was carrying my scent right to him. An instant later he was “Gone with the Wind.”
My mistake was hunting a stand when the conditions were not absolutely perfect for it. This is especially true in the early season, when you may only get one shot at a mature buck visiting a food source. Blow it once and you might have to wait until the rut to see your dream buck again, if at all. Hold off until the overall conditions provide the highest window of success for a movie-like ending.
Regardless if you discover an early season or rut hotspot, if a pattern emerges, take advantage of it. Sticking it out in your traditional spot may eventually pay off, but deer change routines at the spur of the moment. Harvest, acorns, an estrous doe and a number of other factors create bursts of whitetail activity and pattern-altering changes. Whether it’s something that may last weeks or only a few hours, move to the action.
To avoid that mistake today, I range every possible shooting scenario and memorize the distances. If your memory is lacking, mark distances with surveyor flags or wood slats, and use a Sharpie to write the distances in big, bold numerals. Place these during a preseason trip while trimming shooting lanes so deer will become accustomed to them.
Occasionally I’ll have to put a grunt into play, but I’d rather not repeat that mistake. Instead, I prefer making a buck stop naturally in a preferred shooting lane. You can employ several strategies such as making a mock scrape, misting estrus scent across a game trail and even using a natural deer attractant, if it's legal in your state. Deer pause out of curiosity, and you get a clean shot at a relaxed deer.
Since then I’ve tried to move only when a buck turns his head, puts it down to feed or ducks it behind a tree. The location of a deer’s bulging eyes on the side of its head provides approximately 310 degrees of surveillance. That doesn’t give you much room to move. Occasionally you can get away with movement on a preoccupied buck, particularly with rutting activities, but don’t bet on it. Bet on moving only when you can’t see eyeballs.
My mistake was overconfidence. Sure, I had made that shot in the summer under ideal conditions, but add in the natural environment, buck fever and the unstable nature of a wild animal, and you have a recipe for failure. I had pushed my personal comfort zone, and today I rate every shot opportunity. If it doesn’t garner a near-success rating, I don’t shoot.
He didn’t. Instead he swapped ends and disappeared back into the whiteness. My mistake was to not take the first good shot. My rule today is to take the first clear shooting opportunity because you may not get another chance.
Unfortunately the buck saw me and kicked it into overdrive, disappearing over a hill and toward a wetland wonderland. Blood was nonexistent, and I quickly gave up trailing to leave and get help. Four hours later and a mile or more of zigzagging finally resulted in stumbling across the dead buck.
My mistake was following up too soon. Today, I let a buck sit at least an hour if I feel the shot was good, and more depending on shot placement. I never follow up immediately, unless I literally watch the buck tip over before me.
Honestly, you and I know that I’m going to make one or more of these mistakes again in my hunting career. I’m not perfect. I just hope when I do make them, they aren’t as memorable as the mistakes above.