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How To Miss With Dignity

"Show me a bow-hunter who has never missed a shot and I'll show you a hunter who only hunts in his dreams."

Illustration by Lefty Wilson

Five sets of eyes glared intently in my direction. The closest, a mere 15 yards away, belonged to a massive nontypical mule deer. Behind his heavy 4x5 frame stood four other bucks, ranging in size from average to eye-popping. My bow was raised, my arm was back in the anchor position, and my top pin was locked on a tiny spot at the back of his shoulder.

Normally, this would be a good situation to be in. At the moment, though, I was faced with a small dilemma. The problem basically came down to the fact that there was no arrow on my string. There had been, but a split-second earlier it had passed just over the back of the big nontypical and gone rattling into the branches beyond. Accordingly disarmed, I stood there holding my now useless weapon, suddenly feeling very exposed behind a willow bush that seemed to be dwindling in size with each passing nanosecond. The ensuing standoff lasted approximately two seconds, after which the small clearing exploded into a flurry of rapidly departing mule deer.


It was a classic miss.

I could, of course, write of those times when my arrow has found its mark. A couple of weeks earlier, I had followed the sound of a predawn bugle to the edge of a steep ravine where I waited for the sun to rise. I then sweet-talked a very res-pectable 6x6 bull elk into exposing himself in a clearing just below me. He barely made it 60 yards after my 125-grain Thunderhead interrupted his final bugle.

But, I digress. Who wants to hear stuff like that? Everyone writes of those types of stories. The pages of this magazine are filled with examples of dedication, persistence, and fine marksmanship. I, too, if so inclined, could write of such adventures.

The thing is, though, not everyone can relate to stories like that. Not every bowhunter has the opportunity to feel his heart pounding through his chest as a bull elk rakes the branches of a tree only a few feet away, or to stare down a brown bear at 10 yards, or to stalk game on the African plains. But every bowhunter knows what it's like to watch the animal he has carefully stalked or patiently waited for on stand run off unscathed after his arrow has flown off mark. Show me a bowhunter who has never missed a shot and I'll show you a hunter who only hunts in his dreams.

That mule deer is the most recent, and due to the circumstances of the hunt and the size of his headgear, one of my more painful misses to date. It was a gimme shot at a great animal, and I have no idea what happened. But it's certainly not the only shot I've ever missed. To my list of classic misses I can also add a couple of elk, a black bear, several more deer, and a jackrabbit that I swear jumped the string.

If you have concluded by now, based on the aforementioned confessions, that I am a poor shot, you are mistaken. I pride myself on being a very good shot. I keep myself and my equipment tuned up by shooting year round. Through the late spring and summer I shoot at least a dozen arrows every day at my very own indoor archery range.

My indoor range has sometimes been mistaken for the hallway in front of my office, and for most of the day that is its function. But then, at noon, my secretary hangs a sign at the end of the hall warning that those who enter do so at the risk of being impaled by a 300 fps carbon shaft. She then once again retreats to the safety and comfort of her own office while, for the next 10 minutes, I hone my archery skills.

Of the thousands of shots that have zipped down my hallway -- I mean range -- only one has missed the target. I'm not sure what happened, but the hole in the wall would seem to indicate that I pulled high and right. My assistant, whose office wall now bears the scar, was not im-pressed. Neither was I -- it ruined a perfectly good arrow.

Shots taken in the comfort and calm of my private range rarely fly more than an inch or two off the bull's-eye. In the field, however, although the vast majority of arrows still hit their mark, the miss rate is a good deal higher. Every bowhunter knows that misjudged distances, misread winds, miscalculated angles, the occasional dropped arrow (admit it, you've done it too), and a vast assortment of other reasons that can be lumped under the general term of "choking," all lead to those times when the animal we were sizing up for our game room runs off un-touched and in perfectly good health.

When this happens, we often stomp our feet, pout, rant and rave, and generally carry on in a dishonorable and inappropriate manner. I must admit that I have done my share of each of these, and have even uttered a few indignities to boot. But over the years, owing in large part to the mounting number of missed shots, blown stalks, and chokes, I have come to accept these inevitable occurrences with composure, calm, and even a certain air of dignity.

I have found that when I miss a shot, it is best to immediately remember a few of the benefits of having an arrow fly off mark. The most obvious of these benefits is that I can continue hunting. The surest way to ruin a good hunt is to shoot something.

Case in point: Two years ago I went out on the opening morning of elk season filled with anticipation for the coming hunt. Ten minutes after sunrise, a young bull walked through my shooting lane. I drew back and released in one fluid motion. The bull stumbled, ran a short distance, and fell over. It ruined my hunt! What was I going to do for the next two weeks? A good clean miss that morning would have salvaged a good elk hunt.

Missing also affords the hunter the opportunity to highlight the full potential of the animal he had in his sights as he later relates the events to his colleagues. Have you noticed that no one ever shoots over the back of a spike buck or has an arrow deflect into parts unknown when lining up on a small bull? Of course, that would never happen! As the hunter later retells his story, that spike buck will become a "nice buck," and that small bull will become a "good bull." There is nothing wrong with this. You can never have too much good bull in a hunting camp.

A missed shot is an occasion for much revelry and rejoicing within the hunting fraternity. It means that out there somewhere is an animal of legendary proportions. If the arrow flies true and the triumphant hunter returns to camp with his trophy in tow, the evidence is there for all to see. But if he is fortunate enough to miss a shot, he can return to camp with a story that, unlike the buck that just jumped his string, will likely grow to epic proportions. Years later, that same little buck could very well be remembered as "that massive 10-pointer that might have contended for a new state record."

In the retelling of the story, the circumstances of the hunt will also be fine-tuned as the years go by, and the exact reason for the miss will be clarified. The stalk will eventually be recalled as an amazing display of masterful skill and cunning that no average hunter would have dared to attempt. Wind shifts, unseen twigs, and supernatural reflexes of deer will be to blame for not bringing home the trophy of a lifetime.

Without a missed shot, none of that happens. Sure, the hunter might receive a few congratulatory slaps on the back and have some envious glances thrown in his direction, but who needs that? A miss will result in far greater notoriety, and, if handled in a proper, dignified manner, possibly even something akin to a sort of celebrity status.

Now, back to that mule deer I missed. As I was saying, he was a massive 6x7 that I stalked for three hours through some of the worst cover imaginable. I don't know of another hunter who could have pulled it off. I seem to recall now that just as I was touching the release, a glint from his longest droptine got in my eye and threw off my concentration for just a split second. That's probably why I didn't see that small twig in the flight path of my arrow.

He was huge! I mean, you should have seen him...

When the author isn't embellishing his hunting tales, he can be found living and working in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

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