"Instead, directly in front of me I saw one of the most impressive animals I had ever observed in the wild."
At times, no matter how much we practice, plan and prepare, we simply cannot get things right the first time. Take my 2009 bowhunting season, for example. Despite all of my backyard practice sessions during the year, my preseason scouting, treestand hanging, and other prehunt preparations, I would have ended up with nothing more than a dull broadhead in my quiver were it not for second chances.
Prior to opening weekend, the first tree I selected for my stand seemed like an excellent choice. It was a tall cottonwood near the Powder River in southeastern Montana. I had hunted successfully from that tree before, but this year it just did not work out as it had in the past.
While a number of does with young fawns passed by my treestand in the first half of September, the majority of bucks seemed to be avoiding it for some unknown reason. Whether the bucks had moved to a new feeding area or had wised up to my tactics, I wasn't sure. Whatever the case, this first tree was simply not producing any opportunities at mature bucks.
After one brief encounter with a young buck in early September, I tried my first stand position a couple more times, but did not see any more bucks in that spot. I did learn, however, that the older, bigger bucks in the area were passing from the river to nearby irrigated alfalfa fields via a trail 150 yards to the north.
With this new information in mind, I decided to place a stand on this trail, and on September 21, my wife, Sharon, helped me set up a treestand in this promising new place. The good news was that this second tree stood just 20 yards from the trail the bucks were traveling. The bad news was that the tree leaned significantly, which would make for an uncomfortable sit. Despite this serious defect, we placed the stand in the crooked cottonwood and decided Sharon would try it out that evening. From experience, I know that a new stand location is often most effective on the first day it's hunted. I had honestly expected Sharon would encounter a shooter buck, but no mature bucks came by the stand that first day.
Still, I had confidence in that stand, so on the afternoon of September 22, I climbed in with greater-than-average expectations. Not long after my arrival, a doe and fawn crossed in front of the stand, and then a small buck came within bow range before heading to the alfalfa field.
A few minutes later, a 2½-year-old buck walked out of the brush to my right. Initially, he was unaware of my presence, but with a slight breeze blowing his way, he became more alert and tense. Frankly, if he had eased to my left a few more paces and relaxed a bit, I might have drawn my Dan Toelke longbow on him. But right then I could hear another deer moving in the brush toward me, so I waited to see what was coming down the trail next.
Turning to look that way, I expected to see another average-sized buck. Instead, directly in front of me I saw one of the most impressive animals I had ever observed in the wild. Just the chance I had been waiting years for!
The big buck appeared tense and uneasy. Working hard to subdue my nerves, I waited for the buck to relax and improve my odds of connecting with him. But when the buck did finally seem to calm down, he turned to the south, giving me only a view of his hind end. Thinking my rare opportunity was about to come to a sudden end, I silently prayed he would turn broadside again. As if the buck had read my mind, he suddenly turned to his right and offered me a clear shot at his vitals at less than 25 paces.
Quickly I drew the bowstring to my face and picked an aiming point. But as if Mother Nature had equipped him with some kind of arrow-sensing radar, the buck cleanly ducked my carbon shaft and zoomed into the nearby cover unharmed.
"I did it again," I said to myself.
Just as dark, gloomy clouds sometimes unexpectedly part to let the sun's bright rays shine down, the big buck reappeared from the brush. Looking like a detective trying to solve a mystery, he gazed right at me, unsure as to what had caused him to flee only seconds before.
I did not have a second arrow in my hand, let alone one on the string. So I clumsily grabbed another shaft from my quiver, snapped it onto the bowstring, and focused intently on the deer. Convinced he would not stand there long, I quickly raised and drew my bow and took my best aim at his vitals.
When I released that second arrow, I heard a distinct thump. In the past, I've been able to follow my arrows with my eyes as they connected with their intended targets. But this time, I was unable to see the arrow's impact, and that concerned me. Despite my focus on his left side at the time of my shot, I could not say for certain whether my arrow had found its mark.
Beginning to feel I'd likely fouled up this fabulous second chance, I was relieved when I heard branches breaking in the neighboring brush. Not the sort of sounds an escaping, unscathed deer makes, but the sounds a fatally hit animal creates as it stumbles wildly, out of control, through thick cover. "Maybe I did get him," I declared out loud. After a few more seconds of thrashing, the woods fell silent.
Still shaking, I glanced at my watch, noted it was about five minutes after 7 p.m., and then started down the cottonwood tree. I cautiously sneaked out of the riverbottom and headed back to where our vehicle was parked to tell my wife the news.
"Did you shoot something?" Sharon inquired as she met me at the truck.
"I shot a super nice buck," I replied in a hushed voice. "But we need to give him some time, to be sure."
When we found my buck, I was elated to see him up close for the first time. My initial observations about his antler size were correct. This was the best deer I had ever had a chance (make that a second chance) to take with a bow. As we field-dressed him and dragged him out to a clearing, Sharon said more than once I must be the luckiest bowhunter in the world to get not one but two chances at such a fantastic animal. Why I was able to get a second shot at such a fine buck, I will never know. But every time I admire Mr. Second Chance on my wall, I whisper to myself, "Thank goodness for second chances!"
The author and his wife live in Broadus, Montana. He served as Director of Montana Bowhunters Association from 2006 to 2010.
Author's Notes: With an official score of 1424„8,
this is my first P&Y whitetail. He is also my fourth whitetail buck taken in as many years hunting with traditional equipment. I killed him with my 57-lb. Montana-made Dan Toelke "Whip" longbow, Easton Axis 400 arrow, and 125-grain Eclipse broadhead. I use 100-grain brass inserts with these arrows, bringing their total weight to 550 grains.