No deer were harmed in the making of this article
So, when it comes to deer hunting, the common cliché is that outdoor writers, editors, hunting show hosts, and other outdoor industry "professionals" have it all figured out. My question — outdoor writers have it all figured out, eh? My response to my question — Bah. Gah. And naw.
Sure, most of us know a thing or three. We understand the biology of a cervid. The effects of weather, moon patterns and other factors on deer behavior. The digestion system of whitetails and their feeding patterns. The typical bedding behavior of mature bucks. The ballistics on different calibers. The bow-tuning process. And so on. Nonetheless, game we pursue still dupes, evades, outwits, outsmarts, shirks and humbles us. We still screw up hunts, blow out deer, and make enough mistakes to fill a book. Here are some of my most humbling, and perhaps embarrassing, blunders afield.
If you can't laugh at yourself ...
I was a kid. I knew little to nothing about deer other than they walked into the field and you shot them. And that's exactly what (I thought) happened on this particular hunt. The deer walked out into the cornfield. I pulled the trigger and the buck immediately dropped in its tracks like a good dead deer. Whoops. Hollers. The whole redneck scene ensued. And then, about 30 seconds later, the walking dead arose right before my eyes. The buck trotted off, tail raised, as if nothing happened. In my shock and amazement, my chin in the dirt, I watched the giant main-frame 8-pointer fade from my eyes like a ghost in the fog.
On the surface, this wasn't funny. At least, it didn't become comical until after I realized what happened. I looked for blood to no avail. I and three others searched for two days without any satisfaction. Weeks later, a very knowledgeable deer hunter said it was possible the bullet traveled right above the buck's back, or right past its head (I aimed for the shoulder), and the percussion from the bullet temporarily disoriented the deer.
As a die-hard bowhunter, this is one of those stories I hate to tell. But I'd be lying to myself and the world if I didn't admit it happened. Plus, I have the video clip of the incident to forever remind me of the perturbing blunder.
Deer were piling into the ag fields around me. It wasn't long before a nice 8-pointer came barreling up out of a ditch and walked by. I drew my bow, thought I locked on the buck's vitals, and touched the release trigger. The arrow sailed beautifully, akin to a perfectly kicked field goal, directly between the buck's uprights, and buried up in the embankment beyond. In my loopy state of shock, all I could do was raise my hands like an NFL referee and say, It's good. The buck didn't laugh.
I've heard stories of bullets and broadheads hitting — or nearly hitting — antlers because the shooter looked at the rack. To this day, I still don't remember my sight pin bobbing around that buck's noggin'. I simply blame it on a (terribly) pulled shot. Or, maybe the arrow hit a limb, had a crack, or lost a vane — anything that'd excuse the poor shot other than my own abysmal performance.
Should of Said "Meh"
Deer are cagey critters, especially during the rut. One back-handed buck I hunted several years ago escaped my wrath as he chased a flirtatious doe around the timber bottom below me.
They courted for quite some time. Almost ready to pop a bag of popcorn and enjoy the show, they finally bolted toward me. It got really western, really quickly as I haphazardly fumbled for my bow. I finally drew back as they blasted through not one, not two, but three different 20-yard shooting lanes. Just like that, they were gone. The sad part? I didn't even meh at that son-of-a-gun one time.
I haven't made that mistake twice. In fact, years later, the meh didn't work on a buck and things quickly escalated to a full-blown heeeyyy at the top of my lungs, just to get the deer to stop. Well, halt he did, and into the truckbed he went.
Getting the Boot
I've leased a few places throughout the years, but most of the places I hunt are by permission or on public land. One year, I was hunting a property I — and numerous others — had permission to be on. It was the opening day of gun season. I'd just settled into what I thought was a great spot for a ground hunt.
Thirty minutes later, the landowner strolled through and informed me he planned to hunt that spot. Slightly aggravated, but completely understanding (it was his land after all), I gathered my things and beat feet.
So, I trekked to an adjacent property I had permission on, climbed into a stand, watched a big deer dog a doe all the way to 10 yards, and sawed a limb in half with my Marlin .30-30. The buck ran off. The dead limb dangled in the breeze. And shortly thereafter, insult to injury came in the form of a text from the landowner saying he'd killed a 150-inch buck right where I'd been booted from. 'Twas a rough day, but I was happy for the landowner who got the whitetail. Really. I was. Pinky swear.
Lesson learned? Carry a four-leaf clover, rub a rabbit's foot, burn incense, hang a horseshoe or wear rally caps. Also, save up enough money to buy and lease hunting land. Or, just grin and bear it when crap happens.
Safeties Save Lives
Days after the previous story, a symmetrical, 21-inch wide, 145-inch 8-pointer dashed across the cornfield in front of me. I cocked the hammer, give him a good meh to stop the deer, and pulled the trigger. Nada. Cocked the hammer again. Pulled the trigger once more. Nada again. I hadn't taken the safety off and felt like a veritable idget as the buck bounded away unscathed.
To make matters worse, it ran back across the cornfield 30 minutes later, but too far away for a shot. I had a first-row seat to the big show as it crossed the property line and got shot by a neighbor — who was hunting for the very first time. That, my friends, instilled dump-truck loads of confidence in myself as a hunter who's been doing this sort of thing — and writing about it — for quite some time.
I was in a bad wreck in college. Earned me a thrilling helicopter ride to the hospital. Fun stuff. Not fun — my muzzleloader sat in the truck seat as the truck did five full, end-over-end summersaults down the highway at 55 miles per hour. It took a hit, but I didn't realize that at first.
Sometime after my recovery, I decided to hunt with that gun. I fired one shot at the range. Bullseye. Primo. Ready to go. Then, I went hunting and missed one of the fattest does I've ever seen. And she was close. Like, 50-yards close.
Being the good hunter I thought I was, we went to the range to check my gun, and I burned through a box full of sabots. I never dialed back in the gun. A foot to the left. A foot to the right. In the dirt. It wasn't until I spent more money on powder and lead than General Lee in 1863 that I realized the scope rings were busted. Even though they were largely concealed from view, it was still one of the more embarrassing blunders I've made at the range.
Caught with My Pants Down
You know those guys (and maybe gals) who swear by peeing in a bottle when deer hunting? Yeah, I'm not one of them. As long as we're not hunting urban and suburban spots, I'm that guy who lets it rip right off the treestand. And I'm typically aiming for that scrape that I'm often hunting over. (Note: Human urine doesn't spook deer, no matter what your expert hunting buddy says.)
So, I was freshening up a community scrape when a big deer materialized on the trail before me. There I was, pants down, mid-stream, watering the daisies for the world to see, and one of the nicest whitetails on the farm had me pegged. All I could do was unload my bladder as the deer ran out of my life — likely scarred from what it'd just seen.
Of course, that's one version of the story. Another is the yellow water flew all over the place (and onto everything) as I dove for my bow in an attempt to make good on my most infamous screw-up.
Only I — and that deer — will ever know the true story. I think a neighbor killed the buck a year later, so, all willful witnesses are dead.
Hey, Bird Watcher
As a photographer/videographer, I spend a good bit of time behind a camera. (I'm not just a deer hunter with a pencil.) Nonetheless, I have wonderful footage of a deer — I should have shot — that got away because I simply forgot to ... pull the trigger. (Insert face-in-palm emoji here.) I honestly have no excuse for this one. All I can chalk it up to is being in the moment and enjoying the rapturous beauty of the divine scene that graced my awe-stricken eyes.
The final embarrassing deer story I plan to reveal is one that costs many a deer hunter their tag. It's the dreaded smart phone — an object that saves more deer than PETA ever could.
Well, it happened to me, too. A deer that I most certainly would have graced my truck bed with slipped by as I scrolled through photos of bucks other hunters killed. I guess that was my punishment for envying all those dead social media deer.
The irony? That whitetail fed off into a massive apple orchard. All while I was scrolling through my Apple iPhone.