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Beginner's Bowhunting Luck or Poetic Justice?

A novice arrows a monster whitetail and leaves two veterans holding the short end of the stick.

Beginner's Bowhunting Luck or Poetic Justice?

I captured this image of Mike Short’s giant whitetail as we were hanging treestands a few months prior to bowhunting season.

Just about every bowhunting community has a guy who drives everyone crazy by consistently bagging trophy animals while seemingly never making mistakes. In my community, that guy is Bill Pellegrino.

Bill is an outstanding bowhunter for several reasons. First of all, he has seven world archery titles to his name, so the guy can really shoot. Second, he knows his equipment. He owns and operates Bill Pellegrino’s Archery Hut in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and his store is arguably the finest pro shop in the entire region. And finally, Bill is a killer. It’s an instinct that some have, and some don’t. Being a phenomenal shot does not mean you have it. Bill does, and he’s deadly on all big game — especially whitetails.

About the only thing I can think of that is more dangerous to a mature whitetail buck than Bill Pellegrino is blue tongue. The walls of his archery shop are covered in proof of that statement. He has downed a pile of mature whitetail bucks, but what impresses me most about his success is the fact that he hasn’t taken them on guided hunts. He does every bit of it on his own, and I respect that.

When it comes to whitetails, I’m no Bill Pellegrino, but I’m no slouch either. I fancy myself an experienced whitetail hunter, and if you were to turn me loose in a big buck’s backyard, with ample time and resources to pursue him, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I feel pretty good about my chances. But team me up in such a situation with Bill, and whatever buck we’re chasing is going down!

That’s exactly how I felt going into the season several years ago in Eastern Colorado. The year prior, Bill and I had discovered a gigantic whitetail buck living along a cottonwood creekbed, and fortunately for us, Bill knew the landowner!

We got permission to hunt that property the following fall, and then a few weeks later, we scored big when the landowner found the buck’s right-side shed antler. Bill and I rushed down to see it, and when we put a tape to the shed antler, our excitement level went into overdrive.

We knew this buck was big, but we hadn’t quite realized just how big. His main beam measured 28 inches! His G-2 was 13 inches, and he had three awesome kickers to help rack (no pun intended) the score up even more. His G-4 was broken at the base, but after applying a conservative estimation of its length, the shed antler measured a whopping 91 inches!

As spring gave way to summer, Bill and I started burning a little boot leather on the property as we investigated deer trails and began hanging treestands. We kept track of the big buck, and as his new antlers grew, we realized that he was going to be even more impressive than he was the previous year. His new rack had a similar shape, but it included two huge kicker points that stuck straight out to the sides. He was awesome, and we were confident that one of us was going to kill the buck of a lifetime.

Then, less than two weeks prior to the bow opener, Bill called me with some concerning news: The landowner told Bill that we would not be the only ones bowhunting his property that fall because he had given another guy permission to hunt!

Not only was this 190-class Colorado buck Mike Short’s first whitetail, it was also the first big-game animal he had ever taken with a bow!

I couldn’t believe it, but I quickly calmed down when Bill explained that the guy who would be in there with us was actually a friend of his. His name was Mike Short, and he was new to bowhunting. He was a rookie and had never even shot a deer with his bow. After hearing that, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that Mike would shoot the first legal deer that walked by, and that was only if the rookie didn’t manage to screw that up.

Bill gave Mike a call and discussed how we would all go about bowhunting the property at the same time. Unlike us, Mike wasn’t sure when he would be able to start hunting.

When the season finally arrived, Bill and I hit the woods hard, and I was relieved by the fact that Mike didn’t. We had the place to ourselves, and I was absolutely convinced that one of us would get a shot at that monster buck.


Well, as big whitetail bucks often do, this one seemed to simply disappear. And just as Bill and I were reaching the point when we needed to get back to work for a few days, Mike finally showed up. Even after realizing that he would be there while we were not, his rookie status kept me from getting overly concerned. Then, the unthinkable happened…

The next day, Bill called and said that Mike needed help tracking a buck. My hands immediately began to sweat as I asked, “How big of a buck?”

“He said it looked like a big one,” Bill replied, but when you’re talking about a rookie, I figured that could mean anything!

We arrived and began helping Mike with his very first bowhunting blood trail. As we rounded a corner, I was the first to look up and see the downed deer about a hundred yards away. I couldn’t believe it. It was our giant — the buck I just knew Bill or I were destined to kill.

Mike stood tall over his trophy and handed two veteran bowhunters the short end of the stick that day. I was thrilled for him, but it was a bitter pill to swallow, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was just beginner’s luck or poetic justice? Realizing that I’d completely underestimated Mike’s skills leads me to believe it may have been the latter.

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