Learning Things the Hard Way

Posted by: PJ Reilly on Jan 23, 2014

Many lessons are learned through trial and error. And it seems like the bigger the error, the more the lesson sticks with us. With that in mind, boy did I learn a doozy of a lesson in the fall of 2013. It’s no secret airline baggage handlers can be less than gentle with the luggage we leave in their care at the ticket counter. Sometimes, it seems as though they go out of their way to beat up a particular piece. I’ve had bags come back with broken locks and enough scratches and dents that I suspected the handlers might have played hockey with it on the tarmac. Travel enough by plane and you’ll have your own list of baggage horror stories. I’ve flown with firearms and experienced firsthand how reckless baggage handling can throw a scope out of whack. But even though I’ve had bow cases take a beating, I never had rough handling alter anything on my bow to the point that it was out of alignment after a flight. Still, I always shot my bow as soon as I arrived at a distant destination, or back home, just to be certain everything was OK. Always……that is, until Nov. 8, 2013.

Following a six-day hunt in Illinois, I flew home to Pennsylvania Nov. 7, arriving late in the afternoon. I got all my gear squared away in short order and, since I had the following day off from work, decided to hit the local woods for a morning hunt on Nov. 8. Historically, Nov. 7-10 had been productive days afield at my local hunting spots over the years. The night of Nov. 7, I removed my bow from its travel case, attached the sight, stabilizer and quiver and set the rig in my truck for the next day’s hunt. I didn’t look it over for damage, nor did I shoot it to make sure everything was still in alignment. (You can probably see where this tale is going.)

So the morning of Nov. 8 dawned with me perched in my climber in my favorite November spot. Nothing moved near me until early in the morning when I spotted a deer some 70 yards or so to my left. I grabbed my binoculars and pasted them to my face. Antlers! Big ones! The solid, 140-class 10 point was slowly working his way toward me on a trail that has delivered many cruising bucks to my feet over the years. As the buck raked a tree with his antlers and pawed at the ground to work a scrape, I suddenly remembered the fresh scrape right behind my tree that I spotted in the beam of my headlight just a couple hours earlier. “Guarantee that buck is coming to the scrape,” I told myself, as I stood and grabbed my bow. It probably only took the buck a minute or two to close the distance between us, but it felt like I had all the time in the world to get ready for a shot. He was working toward a tree that I had ranged at 27 yards. Once he reached it, I knew he was well within my kill zone.

A 10 point buck

This photo shows a 10-point buck passing the writer’s trail camera just a few minutes before their fateful encounter. 

The buck walked around that tree, stopped broadside and I drew back. My 30-yard pin rested nicely behind the shoulder, a hair under dead center of the middle of the buck’s body, and I calmly hit my trigger release. I’ve shot many deer with my bow over the past three decades. The distance was right and the shot felt good, so I fully expected to watch my neon yellow fletching disappear in brown hide. But they didn’t. Instead, they dipped below the buck’s belly and hit the dirt between his front and rear legs. The buck jumped in the air, bolted about 40 yards and then stopped to look where he’d just been. He only looked for a second or two before slinking off through the woods.I stood in total disbelief. How in the world could I have missed low? Even if I had aimed using my 20-yard pin – which I knew I hadn’t – I still would have killed that buck. This made no sense.

Totally disgusted, I immediately climbed down and went home. I texted about half a dozen buddies to tell them what had just transpired. All shared my disbelief. It wasn’t until I got home that I nocked an arrow and spotted the problem. My arrow rest was sitting way lower than it should, and was shoved far out to the left. Looking at it in my garage, it was obvious. But that morning, I had nocked my arrow in the dark and never looked at it closely, even when I went to shoot at the buck.

Bowhunter at full draw shooting from tree

The writer knew exactly how far the buck was when he shot, but his arrow missed its mark.

The buck that was missed-next day

This photo shows the buck alive and healthy on Nov. 9, 2013 – the day after he missed it.

I know everything was copacetic before I left Illinois, because I had shot it into a target there, and 12-ringed a nice eight-point buck on the last day of the hunt. Still, shoving my rest this far out of kilter would have taken some force. I opened my bow case and noticed the foam was torn and the plastic beneath it gouged right where my rest was sitting the previous day. Guess who will never take his bow into the woods after a trip again without first checking his center shot alignment?

Case with the protective foam

Here you can see the protective foam inside the writer’s bowcase that was created when his bow pressed down hard enough to push his arrow rest out of alignment.

 

PJ Reilly

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