I can remember the look in his eyes. He was anxious, paranoid and scared. The tip of his ballpoint pen looked like a seismograph needle. He would move it over one stand on the aerial image, hover over it, then jerk the pen back and move it toward another. Sweat pooled on his brow and his breaths turned to long, annoyed sighs. The joy was gone. That look in his eye when he turned and hugged me after splashing an arrow through a 120-inch buck – his first bow kill six years ago – was a forgotten memory. Three weeks later, after going five consecutive seasons without unleashing an arrow at flesh, my buddy called me and asked me if I wanted to buy his bow.
Whitetail burnout happens. While there are many causes, one of the leading, at least in my humble opinion, is the pressure of trophy hunting. Now don’t tar and feather me just yet. I like to shoot big animals, and, yes, I’m into conservation and management. But what I’m not into is watching bowhunters – both those new to the sport and those with established longevity – hang up their bows for good.
Land management, herd management and holding out for those bucks 4 ½ years-old and older is the rave these days. Great. I’m all for shooting mature animals if the property you chase your whitetail dreams on allows it. Personally, I don’t own acreage. I don’t have a big lease. I don’t own farm equipment or have the necessary tools to create anything greater than a 1/8-acre food plot on my small, private 40-acre whitetail tract in my home state of Colorado. Most of my bowhunts, both in the Centennial State and beyond, take place on public ground. On occasion, I get the opportunity to hunt a killer farm or knock on a door others were scared to approach and gain access to whitetail heaven. When the stars align and the aforementioned happens, I take full advantage. I hunt for a mature animal, period. But when my passion for chasing whitetail takes me to public ground, or I simply start becoming consumed with killing a monster and the pure joy of walking toward my treestand with my bow in hand starts to feel like work, I bloody an arrow.
If you’ve lost the joy – if you’ve toyed with the idea of hanging up your bow rather than forging through another anxiety-filled season – take a trip to a neighboring state or stay in your home state and hunt deer on public land. Why? There’s no pressure. You can get back to the joy that stems from exploring a new property and figuring out how to hunt it. Adrenaline will once again course through your veins the moment you see a doe from your public perch. A small-racked buck will cause you to reach for your bow and shake with excitement rather than shake your head in disgust because he wasn’t a monster. Taking a trip like this, a trip where you just hope to kill a deer, any deer, is good for the bowhunting soul. It will rejuvenate you. It will relax you. And most importantly, at least in my experience, it will send you back to the big buck grind with a fresh outlook – an outlook that typically leads to success.
Still doubting me? Still thinking anything less than a P&Y buck won’t provide an ear-to-ear grin? Still thinking a week away from your trail camera hit list is a bad idea? Well then, let me persuade you further. This past year I spent most of August and September on the couch after a battle with a life-threatening illness. I spent some time in October in a treestand, but not much. Never in my life had I wanted to release an arrow at a whitetail more than I did once the calendar flipped to November. I had a handful of public-land bowhunts scheduled, as well as plans to post up on my 40-acre private parcel in Colorado. My decision was an easy one: I was going to shoot what would make me happy. I wasn’t going to worry about size. I wasn’t going to worry about what everyone thought when I posted my pictures to Facebook. I was just going to enjoy bowhunting for white-tailed deer.
A perfectly placed arrow on a fat December doe in Colorado concluded my 2014 deer season. I had let the air out of two other does as well as two bucks. The combined score of my two bucks’ antlers: 132 inches. Nope, not one monster hit the ground, and this will be forever etched in my mind as one of my most enjoyable whitetail seasons ever. I lived up to no one’s expectations but my own. I made great shots on five deer, filled my freezer and learned a ton about a couple of new public-land spots. This season I have plans to hold out for a big buck or two, but I promise you at least one of my whitetail adventures will take me to a new public-land destination and my trophy hunting mind will be on sabbatical for at least a week.
Remember, bowhunting whitetail is a blessing, not a curse. The moment the anxiety starts to rise – when watching a morning sun rise does nothing more for your psyche than make you tap your foot on your stand because a buck may approach – it’s time to get your joy back.
Keep me posted on how your 2015 season goes by dropping me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.