Snake Bit: The Season That Never Was

By PJ ReillyJanuary 29, 20132 Comments

LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015

When it comes to bowhunting, I like a good butt-kicking every now and then. I don’t know if I’d enjoy the game as much if I tagged a big brute everywhere I went. You need a little failure now and then to really enjoy the good times, I say.

The 2011 season was about as good as I’ve had it in the three decades I’ve been carting the stick and string into the woods. I hunted Missouri, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Illinois, and I took fine bucks in each state – the biggest being a 145-inch, 10-point Cornhusker. And then along came 2012. With the grand success of 2011 still singing sweetly in my ears, I strode into the new season feeling 10 feet tall.

First up was the Missouri bow opener in mid September. Every morning and evening for five days, I climbed into a stand and sweated for a couple of hours without ever even reaching for my bow. Oh well, I thought. Sometimes the season starts slow. I regularly hunted my home state of Pennsylvania starting at the beginning of October. The woods were startlingly barren of deer. I couldn’t buy a sighting of even a doe. Still, I faithfully lugged my climbing stand out to my spots two or three times a week through the end of the month. One evening shortly before Halloween, I was perched in a tree for my first hunt on a farm that I’d never hunted before.


The author with his hard-fought trophy.

I ran through a calling sequence with my grunt tube and doe bleat about an hour before dark, and the world’s smallest 8-pointer came trotting to the base of my tree. Seriously – this buck should have been a spike, but he had brow tines, G-2s and G3s. That made him legal in my area of Pennsylvania, but there was no way I was going to shoot, even though this was the first live deer I’d seen on stand to this point in the season. As the little buck sniffed around the base of my tree, I heard a twig snap behind me. I turned and spotted a much nicer 8-pointer picking his way through the brush. Instantly, I grabbed my bow.


Past success doesn’t mean much when it comes to filling current tags. Sometimes it gives us a sense that things are easier than what they really are.

The buck quickly closed in and was soon standing directly beneath my platform. I studied that deer for a long time. It was a decent buck, no doubt. And it’s not like I’d had a lot to choose from so far this season. He hung around within bow range of my tree until dark. I never drew my bow. He just wasn’t old enough. Given my close encounters with two bucks, I thought that evening sounded the death knell for my unlucky streak. Not. Through the end of the Pennsylvania season, I saw just one more deer. It turned out to be a nice 8-pointer, and I managed to tag it, but the number of deerless hours I’d spent on stand in my best spots far outnumbered the reverse. Not to worry, I thought. For the third week of November, I was off to Illinois to bowhunt for six days. Surely, things had to be better in the Land of Lincoln.

Let me give you just a couple highlights from that hunt. The day I sat over a cornfield, through which big bucks were regularly cruising, the farmer showed up with, not one, but two combines to pick the field. Another day, I was posted near a remote property line from before sunrise until 2 p.m., when the neighbors showed up with three four-wheelers to plant new stands for the coming gun season. They buzzed back and forth in front of me for hours, killing any chance for me to see a deer. The coup de grace came when I moved to a ladder stand in a thin fencerow sticking into the middle of a wide, grass pasture. About 45 minutes before dark, the resident cows sniffed me out and came to the nearest fence corner 30 yards in front of me.

zsnake 4

When things get tough, and they will, remember that it only takes one moment, one arrow… turn everything around.
They stood there snorting and bellowing, finally forcing me from my perch in exasperation with maybe 20 minutes of shooting light left. As I trudged angrily across the field toward the spot where my buddy planned to meet me, something made me glance back to where I’d just been. I watched in disbelief as a doe led one of the biggest bucks I’ve ever seen right in front of my stand. Sometimes, you just have to laugh. Bring on 2013!

PJ Reilly
P.J. Reilly is an avid archer and bowhunter disguised as an outdoor writer. P.J. lives in a swamp in southeast Pennsylvania, where he watches deer and tries to avoid poison ivy.
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