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Whitetail Lessons: The maple tree buck

Over the years I have made plenty of errors. They used to leave me frustrated and disillusioned, but now I treat them as blessings in disguise. That’s because each blunder has highlighted a glaring weakness in my approach to bowhunting deer, and over time my efforts to overcome these inadequacies have not only made me a better woodsman, but a better deer hunter as well.

Several years ago a co-worker asked me to take him bowhunting. He had all the equipment and could shoot decently; he just didn’t have a place to bowhunt. I showed him several ambush sites on one of “my” farms, and after much discussion he elected to hide near a blowdown just off a heavily traveled trail. The deer were feeding in a nearby field, and come first light we expected to waylay a buck or two as they worked their way toward the thick stuff to bed down several hundred yards away. Since “Frank” was not woods-wise, I thought it best I still-hunt on a nearby ridge in case he ran into trouble.

Well, the plan almost worked. Soon after first light, I heard a commotion over in Frank’s direction. He had apparently missed a shot at a buck, and now the spooked animal was hightailing it in my direction. As luck would have it, the buck practically walked right into my lap, offering me an easy broadside shot.

The second the buck stepped into an opening, I came to full draw and released. My arrow seemed true and struck with a resounding WHACK. I thought I had scored a good hit, for the buck immediately kicked his heels up and sprang back down the hill past Frank, who was now screaming, “You hit him! You hit him!”

I rushed down to where Frank was standing and listened to him as he related his version of the course of events. Then we went looking for my deer. He showed me where the buck passed, but to our astonishment there was no blood. In fact, after several hours we could not find any evidence of a hit.

I then went back up on the ridge, but it took me over an hour to pinpoint the exact scene of the shooting. And when I did I found my arrow lodged in a 4-inch maple tree halfway between the spot I was kneeling and the buck’s splayed tracks. I had missed the buck clean!

I do things differently today. I still assume I hit every deer I shoot at until I find evidence to the contrary. However, I now mark the exact shooting location with orange flagging tape before I begin my search for blood and hair. And no matter what I find, I always proceed forward methodically from the shooting scene without cutting corners or rushing up ahead. It doesn’t pay to take shortcuts when it comes to bloodtrailing.

I’ve made quite a few blunders in my day, blunders that have cost me some nice deer. I have also learned some valuable lessons from my mistakes in the field, lessons that have helped me tag plenty of other nice deer.

What about you? Tell your tale in the comments section below.


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