Missing a shot might hurt. What really matters is how you bounce back. Here three tales of how a missed shot led to a wonderful trophy.
Some people say everything happens for a reason, and this elk makes me a believer. A painful miss the day before opened the opportunity for me to arrow my biggest Roosevelt bull to date.
"He's got to have a short memory." We've all heard that saying, right? Usually it's uttered in sports, as when a quarterback throws an interception. The best quarterbacks forget almost immediately about their errors and mentally get ready to come out on the next drive to toss a game-winning touchdown. The best don't dwell on failure.
The same principle holds true in bowhunting. I've had a number of instances over the years where I've blown a great opportunity, but because I was able to get past the blunder, I bounced back and put my next arrow on the mark.
This, of course, isn't by design. I never want to miss, and I prepare incessantly, chasing perfection. The problem is, loosing an arrow at a wild animal hell-bent on living is something no one will ever perfect. Thus, while I love those one-shot double-lungers, if I "air ball" a shot, you can be sure I am not going to crumple to the ground like a wet rag. With this in mind, let me share a few "Short Memory" anecdotes.
My Biggest Blacktail Ever
Even though it was over 10 years ago, I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was making my way through a 15-year-old reprod unit in western Oregon, heading toward a newer logging unit that was a magnet to deer. Tiptoeing over the bone-dry terrain, I finally reached a prominent bench.
Slowly climbing onto a large stump, I began glassing and almost immediately spotted antlers in the fireweed directly below me. I knew this buck well, as I had watched him many times. He was a big 4x4 with great eyeguards and very long tines. He would unequivocally be my best blacktail and I figured he'd be close to the Boone & Crockett minimum of 135-inches.
I quickly ranged a stump on the backside of the buck at 47 yards. He seemed to be five yards closer, so as he slowly fed broadside and cleared the brush, I put my 40-yard pin on his heart and touched one off.
READ: Bowhunting For Oregon's Blacktail Deer
In horror I watched as my arrow flew over his back. Out of habit, I nocked another arrow as the buck bounded off. My mind raced in a numbed state of denial and disbelief. I thought of how hard I had worked all summer for this opportunity -- a chance I simply should not have blown.
Squatting on the stump, I waited to watch the buck ascend the other side of the unit. I held some faint hope he was still around. I was right!
About five minutes had passed when I caught flashes of a deer moving up the hill toward me. It was the same buck, and he was attempting to get into the safe confines of the big timber behind me, apparently confused as to what had happened. So, like Tom Brady bouncing back from a pick, I prepared for my second chance at glory as he kept coming. When he passed behind some brush just over 30 yards away, I came to full draw, and when he cleared the brush and stopped, I picked a spot and released. This time I did not miss.
The buck grossed about 130 inches and officially netted over 125 Pope & Young-style inches. While I've arrowed quite a few blacktails since then, most of them one-shot kills, he is still my best ever.
Magnum High Country Mule Deer
Back in 1991, on my first-ever backcountry mule deer hunt, I was closing in on a monster muley bedded just below some tall rimrock. With friend Jeff Brooks guiding me and hunting partner Dwayne Leavitt in on the unsuspecting trophy, we snaked down through the rimrock until Jeff indicated we were directly above the buck.
READ: Alberta Mule Deer Bowhunting Adventure
Knowing we were close but unsure of the precise location of the deer, Dwayne and I split up. I eased up to the edge of a cliff and peeked over. My eyes fixed on a sight that made my heart skip a beat -- the buck was up and feeding. His body size and rack were simply amazing!
After missing a slam-dunk shot on this Oregon blacktail, I regrouped, and when the buck gave me a second chance at glory, I collected my highest-scoring blacktail ever with a double-lung shot at 30 yards.
In one fluid motion I rocked back and drew my bow. Then I leaned forward, bending at the waist, envisioning my broadhead slicing between his shoulder blades and into his chest.
Upon release, I was horrified when I felt a tremendous tug on my neck and watched my
arrow fly harmlessly over his back. This was before the days of the bino systems that hold your glasses tight to your chest. Apparently, as I had leaned forward to shoot, my binoculars had got caught in my bowstring, causing that nightmare.
For some unknown reason, the buck stopped after running only 50 yards. Blessed with a second chance, I quickly nocked another arrow, drew, and released. My arrow disappeared into his shoulder.
I had to ask myself, "Did that really happen?" I crept in the direction the buck had traveled, hoping to glass his escape route in the event he made it farther than I expected. Catching movement, I watched him take his final bed and quickly expire.
That big buck entered the Pope & Young record book with an official score of 1790„8. Remember, it's not failing; it's how you bounce back that counts.
Beast Of A Roosevelt
While I didn't miss this next "Short Memory" monarch, I would never have killed him if I had not missed. Let me explain.
I grew up hunting Roosevelt elk, and some 22 years ago a young spike bull was my very first bowhunting animal. So, hunting this magnificent animal in the big timber of the Oregon Coast Range means more to me than words could ever describe.
On this most recent home state elk hunt, I teamed up with fellow Oregon bowhunting buddies Kevin Akers and Jody Cyr to kill what we believe might be a top 20 P&Y Roosevelt bull. But the hunt almost had a totally different outcome.
The day before killing the giant 6x6 bull we green-scored at over 320 Pope & Young inches, I had missed a broken antlered six-point we named Half Rack. It had been a long hunt, and the bulls had been really quiet. When we stalked up on Half Rack, I decided that he was a mature animal and a trophy I'd be more than happy to take home.
Jody and I crawled in to about 100 yards in some thick coastal fog. Jody set up his video camera, and we gave Kevin the signal to begin his calling sequence. While this bull didn't want to leave his herd, he did come to within 80 yards of us, where he bugled and thrashed trees for almost an hour.
Eventually, Half Rack got worked up enough to come in a bit closer. The problem was it was so foggy my rangefinder wouldn't work. When I finally got a reading, Half Rack was quartering toward me. He moved up the hill and came back. I figured he was just a touch farther than where I'd got my reading, so I added a few yards. When he stopped broadside, I eased the bow back, hit the release -- and watched my arrow fly just underneath him. We kept him around for another half-hour, but I could never get another shot at him.
The next day we found the bull we'd been hoping for all week. I'll admit my confidence was a little shaken after missing Half Rack, but I've learned over the years to dust myself off and get back on the bowhunting horse rather than dwelling on misfortune. Ultimately, the stars aligned and Kevin called that big Roosevelt in close enough for me to get an arrow in him as Jody videotaped the hunt.
Sometimes having a short memory and not dwelling on a failure can pay off in a big way.