LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
With the 2013 bow season quickly becoming a distant memory it’s time to look back and reflect on how your season turned out. Did you get your buck? If so, enjoy the fruits of your labor and be thankful. If not, then it’s going to be a long year; I know because I’ve been there. Ending the bow season with a mouth full of “Tag Soup” isn’t much fun. However, take solace in knowing that it happens to the best of us. No one is immune to going home empty handed. The key is that when it does happen we do two things; identify why it happened and do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again (or at the very least reduce the number of times that it does happen). With those thoughts in mind I felt it would be a good time to look back over some of the pitfalls that have prevented me from “tagging out” over the years. In doing so, hopefully you might recognize a few of your own mistakes and begin formulating a better plan for 2014.
You Simply Missed
This just might be the most heartbreaking reason you’re eating tag soup. After all of the long hours preparing gear, the sleepless nights anticipating the shot, the summer days spent scouting, and time spent hanging stands….there he is. You reach full draw and….BOTCH THE SHOT!! It’s a hard pill to swallow but there are a few likely reasons why this happened.
Perhaps the most common reason for missing the shot of your life, or any shot for that matter, is rushing the process. This is simply a natural reaction of your body and mind to get out of a stressful situation; like holding it together as you watch that giant buck walk into range. When your nerves become a gyrating bowl of Jell-O and you can’t even remember your own name the easiest way out of that situation is to release the arrow. After the arrow is gone the pressure is over and all of those feelings quickly disappear; you can then return to a more comfortable state of mind. Or so it seems. Quickly though, the feeling of being kicked in the gut takes over as you realize the true cost of your actions.
An additional way to ensure I make good on opportunities is to practice correctly. Simply standing “upright” in the back yard does little to prepare me for a typical treestand shot. Instead, I like to engage myself in what I call “situational” practice.
To remedy this I now have a pre-shot routine that I try my best to follow before every shot. For me, it is simply the act of reciting a scripture while I am coming to full draw, picking my spot and squeezing the release trigger. The shot usually catches me by complete surprise which means I have little opportunity to screw it up. For you, it can be anything that takes your mind off of what is really happening; the words to a favorite song, a cool quote or phrase…anything. The objective is to keep your mind from completely shutting down when you need it most by taking the focus off of the massive rack standing down range and letting muscle memory take over. We all know how to reach full draw, pick a spot and release the perfect arrow, but when a big buck is thrown into the mix things change. Don’t let them.
You Tipped Your Hand
There are many ways that you can screw up a good thing in the deer woods. The most detrimental (and easiest) is letting the deer know they are being hunted. What I mean is you may have the perfect setup in the perfect spot but if your quarry knows your true intentions…..its game over. Do your best not to break this golden rule of bowhunting.
For me, in my early years, I hunted my best stands first. Today, I hunt my best stands last. I would find great locations (for the rut) but I would hunt them during the early season, throughout the pre-rut and right on through to actual breeding. By that time every doe in the county knew my comings and goings and knew exactly where to find me. Yet, I was naive enough to believe that they were still going to pull a buck past my stand.
When it comes to bowhunting, there is more to consider than simply reaching your treestand before dawn. In fact, bowhunters would be wise to contemplate how they will access a location before moving in and looking for sign or the perfect tree.
Entry and exit routes should also be high on your radar. In the terrain I hunt, the easiest route to the stand isn’t always the best route. Sometimes it is but most often the easiest route causes me to run into the very deer I am chasing on my way in and out of the stand. So, sometimes I have to walk the tough route if I want to fill my tag. It isn’t easy but the payoff is huge. Above all else, first consider how your comings and goings will impact the deer in your area before choosing your entry and exit routes. Become a ghost and you will eventually kill the buck you are after.
You Weren’t Flexible
A lot of bowhunters suffer from an overabundance of pride in my opinion. I used to be one myself. It wasn’t until after I realized that I don’t always hang my stand in the best spot, and I don’t always have a particular buck figured out that I began looking for better places to hunt or simply wasn’t too proud to move my stand. The PRIDE part comes into play when you start thinking that there is no need to move because you couldn’t possibly be wrong in your stand placement….it must be the deer’s fault. I suppose laziness could have some degree of influence on your decision not to move. After all, it is a lot of work to move stands and change travel routes. Obviously only the most aggressive bowhunters are going to do this. In my experience it usually came down to pride for me. Not anymore.
A solid, quiet, lightweight climbing treestand is one of the easiest ways to remain flexible and cover a lot of ground quickly and effectively. I dare say it is one of my most important pieces of gear.
Having multiple treestand locations before the season opens can help but still, unless you’re hunting directly over a food plot, wild animals have a mind of their own and can pretty much do what they want. Even food plot hunting isn’t guaranteed, so have a plan B in place. If you aren’t seeing deer from your current location, and this is happening regularly, then there is a reason why. Don’t assume, like I use to, that the action will suddenly “pick up”…..it won’t. In fact, every time you hunt a stand your odds of success go down. In contrast, today my favorite stand site typically produces by the second day I hunt it; only twice in the last 6 years have I hunted more than 3 days to fill my buck tag from this tree.
Your Deer Died From Causes Other Than You
I only bring this circumstance up because I’ve seen first-hand this year, like many of you, just how deadly EHD can be not only on a deer herd but on a bowhunters hopes and chances of tagging a trophy buck (or any buck for that matter). Our very own Todd Graf and Tyler Rector have lost target bucks that they both had high hopes of putting a tag on. Mother Nature doesn’t care about your wants or mine. She simply does her thing and we all stand back and watch (or cringe).
Several years ago my friend killed this buck (which I had just missed) within a rocks throw of me. It took a long time for me to get over that. Not so much that I had ill feelings toward him, but that I failed when the opportunity was placed in my hands. I’ve since learned from my mistakes.
Sometimes it isn’t disease that gets your buck. Sometimes they end up on the wrong end of a vehicle. It has certainly happened to me. But what else can you do but roll with the punches. Arguably the toughest pill to swallow is when….gulp….someone else shoots YOUR buck. Take my advice—the quickest way to heartache in the deer woods is the moment when you assume a particular buck somehow belongs to you or deserves to be on your wall. It doesn’t. Like life, bowhunting isn’t always unfair. Feelings like that only suck the pure enjoyment out of the sport and leave a bitter taste in your mouth. If I want those emotions I will go swing a golf club or find something else to do.
You Never Had A Shot
Bowhunting is a game of yards, sometimes inches. You may do everything right and still end up eating a big, fat bowl of tag soup. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. Big, mature whitetails seem to have a sixth sense. They can be seemingly within striking distance one minute and the next they might as well be on planet Mars. That’s one of the challenges that go hand in hand with bowhunting.
Of course, like me, you love a good challenge. Otherwise you would be packing around a rifle in the deer woods. But you don’t. And with that decision comes the cold hard fact that the buck of your dreams could be inside of 20 yds. and escape unscathed. Hold your head high if that was the case for you this year. Simply being that close to a mature buck is a victory in my book; regardless of the fact that the sport has veered more toward that of success than the overall experience. But that’s just my opinion.
A few yards here or there can mean the difference between horns on the wall and soup when you get home. As a bowhunter, would you really want it any other way? I don’t.
For some folks with a limited amount of time or little to no access to hunting ground pursuit of a trophy animal can be a difficult, if not a nearly impossible, task. For these reasons, along with many others, some bowhunters opt to hunt with an outfitter that can help provide the opportunities they may otherwise never be able to experience. While some frown upon outfitted or guided hunts, make no mistake that they are no walk in the park. Failure to execute your shot at the moment of truth, getting busted by a wary old buck before he’s close enough for a shot or a multitude of other mistakes can still happen during these hunts, and are often amplified by the additional pressure we put on ourselves during a once in a lifetime hunt. If you’re looking for the best opportunity to harvest a great buck and have an enjoyable hunt we recommend Heartland Lodge in Pike County, Illinois. They run a top notch facility and provide a great opportunity for the hunt of a lifetime.
Did you get the buck you were chasing in 2013? Did someone else kill him or is he still out there? What are you going to do different in 2014? These are some of the questions that you should be thinking about during these cold, boring, winter months. However, if you’re anything like me the season never really ends. It may slow down a little but it never completely stops. Anyway, my hope is that somewhere in the cluster of words above you will find the key to help you answer some of the questions that 2013 threw on you. If so, let me know. I love to hear about fellow bowhunters successes…..even failures. That may sound odd, but quite often failure teaches us more than success; if we will just look. Are you looking?