Without learning from failure, success isn’t nearly as rewarding.
Last Year: 2016
Rewind to September 2016. First year bow hunter, confident, plenty of arrows down range; I was “ready”. In BC we have the privilege of an all September archery season for mule deer. I have spent a decent amount of time collecting permission over the years for private land hunting rights, and 2016 I had been tracking a bachelor group of mule deer bucks, with a nice deep fork 3×3 in my sights. Long story short, I didn’t calculate, no less, know about string jump and that buck dipped right under my arrow at 27 yards.
Push forward another week, different property. After losing sight of the buck I was making a stalk on, another smaller 3×3 appeared out of nowhere. The wind was blowing right at him and all I could do was get ready for when he winded me, wait until he froze, and take the shot. I had him dead to rights, set my pin and watched the fletching go right over his back; I used the wrong pin.
That season was a humbling experience to say the least. A hunter can practice all they want, but until you’re in that moment, nothing can compare you for the amount of composure and discipline you need to execute the shot. My daughter and I were able to tag a really nice 150″+ muley during rifle season, which was still a great experience to share with my daughter and was her first time deer hunting with me.
This year I was determined to become a better archer. Steadier and more composed while shooting, increase accuracy consistency, and increase shooting frequency in general. For target archery I shoot an Elite EN35 using Easton Flatline arrows. This is a different bow than my hunting rig, which is a Hoyt CRX 32.
This year I competed in 7 tournaments and managed to podium 3 times. I had set a goal of a minimum of 60 arrows per day, which I was able to achieve probably 90% over the summer.
Throughout the summer, I made it a priority to learn how to perfect my technique. Don’t get me wrong, it still needs more work, but with much appreciated mentorship from a few members at our club, I was able to create more solid anchor points and improve my consistency. Along with plenty of 3D course experience and practice, my confidence was much higher going into this year’s archery mule deer season. Still, remembering that technique would only get me so far when actually sending an arrow on a deer. I just wanted my form to be as second nature as possible.
I needed to remember why I enjoyed archery so much. I love archery because of the community, the family nature of the sport, and the challenge. I couldn’t get frustrated on my mistakes, I had to focus on my task ahead; to punch a tag with my bow. And I knew that only practice and more practice would get me there.
Most of my hunting season scouting starts end of July/ beginning of August. My scouting consists of a few Stealth Cam trail cameras and good old fashioned boots on the ground. Over the years I have been patterning mule deer on a few particular plots of land with spots of interest that the deer seem to visiting frequently. I have found two natural licks which seem to be promising pre and post rut and some natural field coves that are good staging areas for deer in the evenings. Combine that with popular bedding areas and I have been able to quite accurately pattern travel routes, feeding plots, and bedding areas. These will usually change during rut, but for pre-rut archery season, it’s perfect.
This year, a bachelor group of 6 bucks have been frequently visiting a few bedding and feeding areas and have had a consistent pattern. Since they are used to vehicles, some of my scouting is done from the truck to reduce suspicion on their part. In this group, 4 bucks were 3×3 or better with a monster 3×4 with a drop tine, and a 4×4 typical monster, who I judged at 150″ or better. In our area in BC, 150″ mule deer is a big deer.
September 1, 2017:
Opening day. Bow is dialed in. Broadheads are tuned. Scouting has been rigorously calculated. It’s go time!
Driving to my parking spot at first light, all the bucks were literally feeding in the ditch, beside the road, 200 yards from my parking spot. Not a great start. But I knew one thing; they are used to traffic. So I didn’t stop and continued to my parking spot. At least I had he wind on my side. I watched the group of bucks feed into a little cove on the field where I knew they’ve bedded before. Once they were out of sight for a moment, it was my turn to move into position. The wind was perfect and masked the tiny bit of noise on my approach. I was now within 30 yards of the buck of my dreams, but I also had 12 other eyes around him keeping watch.
I hear a noise, look to my left, and a cow moose with her calf are feeding right towards me. “Busted” I thought. But as luck would have it, she fed right between me (10 yards away) and the bucks, never caught my wind and moved along out of sight; thanks in large part to my Kryptek Highlander camo pattern. I’ve found over the last couple of years, this pattern in my area really helps break up my silhouette.
Back to the bucks. Still bedded down, and the “King” (as I named him) was about 3 yards to the right of my shooting lane. The waiting game was on until he decided to get up and feed. Thirty minutes passed by and finally he stands up. I draw my bow as he’s feeding into my shooting lane. He’s slightly quartering away as he enters the lane. I release my arrow, he jumps and runs thirty yards and stops. But then bounds away. My heart literally sunk. I searched high and low for blood; nothing. A clean miss on the buck of my dreams. I later realized, that due to my target focus on the buck, I didn’t see and small over hanging branch in my shooting lane, which deflected my arrow.
September 2, 2017
Back out to the same spot I had seen the bucks the previous day. Not a trace. I continued along the field to spot them in the same pea field but a whole kilometer away feeding in a low spot of the field with no possible good approach for a stalk. I opted to sit with my Vortex Diamondback 8x42s and watch them to see where they would bed down. They never really did, and I decided to leave them and come back in he afternoon. They looked comfortable and not in a rush, odds were they would be there later on.
Forward to 4 o’clock in the afternoon, driving down the lease road and I see a dark body about 700 yards in the exact spot where the herd was that morning; it was a nice 4×4 from the herd that morning all by himself. I buried my truck off the road into a large willow patch and unloaded my gear. I had a decent cross wind and I used it to get directly closer, moved north around into that low spot they were feeding around in the morning and hid in the cat tail; hoping that he would eventually get up and feed into that low spot. I knew the low spot was a safe area for them because of how open and in the middle of the field it was. If I could get there undetected then I could have a shot, maybe. The buck bedded in the peas which allowed me to sneak into the cat tail undetected.
The wait was on. I sat in that spot for 2 hours before the buck decided to get up and begin feeding. My hunch was right, he started wandering towards the low spot without knowing that anything (me) was lurking in the shadows. I had about another hour of light left and he was at 60 yards and moving closer; but he was moving directly at me. He finally stopped at about 30 yards and continued feeding. He was so close I could hear him ripping the grass from the ground by the roots. He finally turned broadside and buried his head into the tall grass. I knew this was my chance to draw. Now at full draw, he lifted his head, relaxed, had a look around and dropped his head again. I stood up out of the cat tail, set my pin and sent it. WHACK! My Easton Flatline with the Slick Trick 4 blade broadhead hit him high lung and dropped him. I managed to draw a second arrow in the midst of it all and hit him again. That was the end. He traveled a total of 7 yards after the shot and I had a monster on the ground.
The feeling of all the heart breaking misses, all the practice, all the preparation, all the scouting, and all the right things coming together at the right time is simply indescribable. This buck is a reminder of all of those things. I immediately called my wife to give her the good news and starting taking pictures and sending them to my hunting buddies that the monkey was officially off my back! My first bow kill, ever, on a tank of a mule deer! What a feeling!
After all was said and done, what topped off the day was that my wife had never been there for the “post kill” work. It was her words to me on our way back to the farm that meant so much. She told me that her experience that night had given her a new appreciation of all the hard work me and my hunting partner do to put meat in the freezer. What a way to wrap up the day!
Without learning from failure, success isn’t nearly as rewarding.