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. Naw. Is you mad? Bro . . . absolutely not. I’m a professional outdoor communicator — not deer hunter.
Sure, most of us know a thing or two. We know the biology of a whitetail. The effects of weather, moon patterns and other factors on whitetail behavior. The digestion system of a whitetail and their feeding patterns. The typical bedding behavior of a mature buck. The ballistics on all the different calibers. The process of which is used to tune a bow. And so on.
So, you might say that we have applicable knowledge. You might say we’ve stacked up enough critters to fill a barn. But the 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 10 of my most humbling, and perhaps embarrassing, moments afield.
If you can’t laugh at yourself . . .
Zombie Deer Got Back Up
I was a kid. I knew little to nothing about deer other than they walked out 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 shot him. At least, I believed I did. I pulled the trigger and the deer immediately dropped in its tracks and started kicking like that of a freshly killed deer. Whoops. Hollers. The whole redneck scene ensued. And then, about 30 seconds later, the walking dead rose up right before my eyes as 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 funny until after I’d realized what happened. I looked for blood to no avail. I (and three others) searched for the deer for two days without any satisfaction. It was days later that a very knowledgeable deer hunter — whom I’d shared my story with — informed me that it was possible that the bullet traveled right above the buck’s back, or right past its head (I was aiming for the shoulder), and the percussion from the bullet traveling past temporarily disoriented the deer and made it seem as if I’d hit it. I’ll admit, it still wasn’t funny to me, but looking back on my reaction to the situation and sheer amazement of this zombie deer (since that’s a popular term these days), it was a little comical.
Mistake Made: I gawked at the deer instead of racking in another round and pulling the trigger.
Lesson Learned: Never stop shooting bullets until the deer is dead, out of range or out of sight.
As a die-hard bowhunter, this is one of those stories that I hate to tell. But I’d be lying to myself and the world if I didn’t admit that it happened. Plus, I have the video clip of the incident to forever remind me of my perturbing blunder.
I was about 10 feet up in a tree in a big drainage system. 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 started walking passed me. I drew my bow, thought I had it on the buck’s vitals, and touched the release trigger. The arrow sailed beautifully, akin to a perfect football spiral, directly between the buck’s uprights, and buried up in the ground behind him. The buck immediately took off. And in my loopy shock, all I could do was raise my hands like an NFL referee and say, “It’s good.” The buck didn’t like that all too much and kicked it into an even higher gear as it made its way to Mexico. It jumped the boarder wall with ease.
Now, I’ve heard stories of bullets and broadheads hitting — or nearly hitting — antlers. I’ve heard it be said that happens because the shooter was looking at the rack. To this day, I still don’t remember my sight pin bobbing around that buck’s head. I simply blame it all on a (terribly) pulled shot. Or maybe my arrow hit a limb. Or maybe my bow was faulty. Maybe the arrow had a crack. Or a bend. Or anything that would excuse the poor shot other than my own abysmal shot execution.
Mistake Made: I wasn’t focused when I took the shot.
Lesson Learned: Don’t look at the rack once the decision to shoot is made.
That One Time I Didn't "Meh"
Deer are some cagey critters — especially during the rut. One back-handed buck I was hunting several years ago escaped my wrathful broadhead as he chased a flirtatious doe around the timber bottom below me.
They’d been courting for quite some time. I was almost ready to pull out my bologna sandwich and bag of popcorn and enjoy the show when they finally decided to bolt my way. All I can say is that it got real western, real quick as I haphazardly fumbled around for my bow. I finally got my release clipped on and the string drawn back when they came blasting through not one, not two, but three different 20-yard shooting lanes. And just like that, they were gone.
And I didn’t even “meh” at that son-of-a-gun one time. I learned that lesson the hard way. But you better believe I “meh-ed” at (most) every buck I've shot since then. (If they were moving.)
Heck, years later, there was even one buck that the “meh” didn’t work on and things quickly escalated to a full-blown “heeeyyyyyy” at the top of my lungs, just to get the deer to stop. Well, stop he did. And into the back of the truck he went.
Almost every private property I’ve ever hunted was by permission. I have 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 would be a great spot for a ground hunt.
Thirty minutes later, the landowner came strolling 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 for, climbed into a stand, watched a big deer dog a doe all the way to 10 yards, and proceeded to saw 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 to be a deer hunter. At least, for me. But was happy for the landowner who got the buck. Really. I was. Promise. Pinky swear.
Mistake Made: I didn’t carry a four-leaf clover, rub a rabbit’s foot, burn incense, hang a horseshoe above my stand or wear my rally cap that day.
Lesson Learned: Save up enough money to buy some hunting land. Or just grin and bear it and move on.
Didn't Take the Safety Off
Shortly after the previously mentioned story. Same .30-30 in-hand. Same bad luck. I had a perfectly symmetrical, 21-inch wide, 145-inch 8-pointer dash across the cornfield in front of me. I give him a good “meh” to stop the deer at 75 yards. I cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger. Nada. Cocked the hammer again. Pulled the trigger. Click. Nada again. The buck took off running. I hadn’t taken the safety off. I felt like a veritable idget as the buck bounded away.
To make matters worse, the buck came crashing back across the cornfield 30 minutes later, but too far away for a shot. I had a first-row seat to watch the big show as the deer crossed over the property line and proceeded to get himself shot by the neighbor — who was hunting for the very first time. And that, my friends, instilled dump-truck loads of confidence in myself as a hunter who’d been doing this sort of thing — and writing about it — for quite some time.
I was in a pretty bad truck wreck back in college. Earned me a thrilling helicopter evac ride to a Louisville, Kentucky, hospital. Fun stuff. Not fun — the fact that my muzzleloader was in the truck seat when my truck did five full, end-over-end summersaults down the highway at 55 miles per hour. My gun was about as banged up as I was. But I didn’t know it until it was too late.
Sometime after my recovery, I decided to hunt with my muzzleloader. I shot 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.
So, being the good hunter I thought I was, I went to the range to check my gun. I proceeded to shoot a box full of sabots. And I never could get the gun dialed back in. One shot would be a foot to the left. Then a foot to the right. Then in the dirt. It wasn’t until I’d burned a bona fide war pension worth of black powder that I noticed two small cracks in the scope mount rings. And even though they were largely concealed from my view, it was still one of the more embarrassing blunders I’ve made at the range.
Mistake Made: I didn’t thoroughly inspect my equipment.
Lesson Learned: Always inspect equipment prior to use.
Got 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 talking urban and suburban bowhunting, I’m that guy who lets it rip right off the front of the treestand. And I’m typically aiming for that scrape that I’m often hunting over. (Note: Human urine doesn’t spook deer. But that’s a discussion for another day.)
So, I was following protocol and freshening up a community scrape, making my urine contribution, when a big deer happened to materialize on the trail before me. There I was, pants down, mid-stream, watering the daisies for all the natural world to see. And one of the nicest whitetails on the farm had me pegged in the act. It wasn’t impressed, of course. And all I could do was finish freshening its scrape as said deer ran out of my life — likely permanently scarred from what it’d just witnessed.
At least, that's one version. Another version is that the yellow water was flying all over the place (and onto everything) as I dove for my bow, fumbled for my release and clumsily (and half-nakedly) nocked an arrow in a feeble attempt to make good on my most infamous screw-up.
Only I — and that deer — will ever know the true story.
Mistake Made: I sipped too much Pepsi.
Lesson Learned: Always look around for critters before you relieve yourself while on-stand.
As a photographer/videographer, I spend a good bid of time behind a camera as well. That’s right, I’m not just a deer hunter with a pencil. Nonetheless, I have the wonderful memory to reflect on of that one 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 hath just transpired before my awe-stricken eyes.
Mistake Made: Didn’t wake the heck up and shoot that deer.
Lesson Learned: Wake the heck up and shoot that deer.
Was on My Phone When the Deer Trotted Through
The 10th and final (at least for this list) embarrassing deer story I have to tell you is one that has cost many a deer hunter their tag. It’s that of the dreaded smart phone — an object that saves deer lives world-wide every fall.
Well, it happened to me, too. A deer that I most certainly would have graced my truck bed with slipped by me because I was too busy scrolling through Instagram photos of bucks other hunters had 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.
Mistake Made: Was on my phone instead of watching for deer.
Lesson Learned: Apples — not Apple phones — are good for deer hunting.