Coming Back From a Blown Bow Shot

Can one bowhunter recover from blowing the shot of a lifetime, regroup and come back to find success?

Coming Back From a Blown Bow Shot

I’d checked out. It was only 8 a.m. and I’d all but gathered my things. I’d even put my arrow back in its quiver. I was having a “poor me” moment. I’d been in Nebraska for five days. I’d stayed the course — hunting dawn to dark each day — passing up a number of young scrappers. I’d laid eyes on my target buck on the hunt’s first afternoon. He skirted me at 70 yards and then vanished into a maze of timber. I hadn’t seen him since, and my trail cameras hadn’t picked him up.

My mind shifted focus to the Sunflower State. I had a coveted Kansas deer tag, and figured the sooner I could get out of Nebraska, the better. If I left early, I could even squeeze in an afternoon bowhunt. Talking myself into an early departure wasn’t at all hard. In fact, the idea excited me. That’s when I looked up and saw him.

I knew it was him. There was no need to look through the bino. His belly hung low, his neck was thick, and his heavy 4x4 rack was easily recognizable. Panic set in. I retrieved an arrow from my quiver and got it loaded just about the time he stepped into bow range. The process created too much movement. He had me. He galloped a few yards and I grunted him to a stop. My 40-yard pin hit hair and I hammered the release. The on-alert buck dropped low and the arrow sailed harmlessly over his back. Idiot!

The joy that had started to creep back in my veins while daydreaming about a big-buck encounter in Kansas dissipated, and the walk back to my truck was a painful one.

My drive to Kansas was a somber one, and I kept telling myself over and over again, “Jace, you know better. You’ve killed a pile of big game animals on the last minute of multiple bowhunts. Your attitude is for crap. All you needed to do was stay focused.”

Of course, when it rains it pours. Kansas was a bust. Did I hunt hard? You bet. I don’t know any other way. In total, I’d passed nine bucks with racks scoring between 120 and 135 inches. The outfitter had a 140-inch minimum, and I intended to honor it. That was it. That was my 2017 whitetail rut. I’d struck out on public dirt in Colorado, private land in Nebraska and with an outfitter in Kansas. 

Would 2018 be any different?

The Change

I did a lot of thinking during the spring and summer months — a lot of growing — a lot of decision making about the bowhunter I really wanted to be. In addition to the thinking, I also busted my butt. I trained harder, completing my second 100-mile marathon. No, you don’t need to be in great shape to bowhunt whitetails, but you do need to be mentally tough. Months of training and 100 miles of trail running will harden the mental mind, I promise you. In addition to my mental and physical training, I forced myself to master a hinge (back-tension) release. It took time, and it wasn’t easy, but the switch forced me to truly focus on each shot and trust the process of pushing and pulling. I quickly learned that it was better to go out and make 12 perfect shots rather than sending 200 arrows a day downrange just to, well, send 200 arrows a day downrange.

I also did a lot of thinking about my standards. For years, I had none. Any branch-antlered buck was in trouble. The 2017 season was the first year I held out. Though I do get annoyed with the, “I have history with that buck,” and “We’ve had multiple encounters with him over the last three years,” whitetail lingo, I vowed that if my Nebraska buck survived, it would be him or nothing.

He’s Alive!

My Cornhusker State buddy and absolute whitetail Yoda, Terron Bauer, lives near the property I hunt. In fact, his uncle owns the dirt. Terron is all about seeing others achieve success, and I wasn’t surprised in mid-July when he sent me a text that read, “Dude, the cameras are out. Lots of deer sign in the area already. Don’t worry, he’s gonna show.”

The late-summer and early-fall months passed by quickly enough. Archery pronghorn and elk kept me occupied. My phone’s screensaver, however, was a picture of my buck, and I took time each day to remind myself about this year’s main mission.

Terron doesn’t call unless it’s important. He’s a text guy. When he calls I get worried and excited all at the same time. His voice was frantic. “I’m pretty sure it’s him. I won’t know until I get back to the house and drop the images on my computer, but I’m pretty sure it’s him. He’s alive dude.”

Looking back, remembering that conversation, I have to laugh. I didn’t even get a word in. When my phone dinged, I looked at the picture. It wasn’t a good picture, but I could tell it was a big 4x4. My heart started to beat faster. I uploaded the picture to my computer. I zoomed in, turned it left and right — frantically trying to get a better look. Then my phone dinged again. It was a daylight image. It was him. His right brow tine had a new split, but it was him. The text from Terron simply read, “He’s Alive!”

The Big 8 had a love affair with the perfectly placed TreeCoy.
The Big 8 had a love affair with the perfectly placed TreeCoy.

The Return

I let out a deep sigh when I pulled into Terron’s drive. It wasn’t from the past few sleepless nights or the 6-hour drive. It was one of those deep-focus sighs — the kind you let out when the prep work is over and it’s game time.

My Big 8 stand was already hung, but we spent the day putting up a few new sets, and when the wind was right, slipped in quietly and pulled the card at the stand my target buck frequented. Terron had put up a TreeCoy, and my gosh did that thing work. A pair of car-hood sized scrapes had been developed, and the surrounding timber lining the small meadow was littered with scrapes and rubs as well. The smell of deer urine was so strong it burned the nostrils. We pulled the card and quickly make our way back to the truck.

Computer analysis back at Terron’s confirmed the big 8-point owned the scrapes. Yes, multiple bucks were using them, including a solid 10 point, as well as a number of up-and-comers, but it was clear he was the alpha in the area. One image showed him bumping the big 10 in the rump. Another showed him locked in combat with another sizeable 4x4.

Borderline Wind

I tried talking myself into going to one of my other sets — one more suited for the next morning’s wind — but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the perfect wind to hunt the Big 8, but it wasn’t terrible. Temps were to be in the mid-30s, and the pressure was rising. The moon phase was perfect.

“You gotta do it man,” Terron told me as I poured over the latest weather forecast. “You know me, I’m all about playing it safe, but it’s going to be a good morning. Wind speeds should be 5 to 7 miles per hour. Turn that Ozonics downwind and hunt him. You came here to hunt him, right? If so, it’s showtime my man.”

The area the big 4x4 was utilizing was littered with rubs and scrapes.
The area the big 4x4 was utilizing was littered with rubs and scrapes.

First Morning

The ink-colored blackness of night started to melt away, and there in the clearing stood a whitetail. It was a big-bodied deer, obviously a buck. A quick glance through my bino confirmed it. It was him. As if on cue, the buck started walking toward the 20-yards-from-my-tree, TreeCoy.

Was I glad to see him? Of course. Did I want him 20 yards from my tree with legal shooting light 30 minutes away? Not at all. He shredded the scrapes — both of them — for 15 minutes. It was awesome and painful all at the same time. He smeared scent on the licking branches and beat the earth with his hooves. Then, he walked away.

It was hard. In fact, my mental state started to spin out of control. I fought it off and simply let the morning unfold. An hour passed and a pair of does meandered out of the same corner I’d spied the buck. Three more appeared at the meadow’s adjacent corner. Then, a grunt. The big 4x4 popped out 61 yards from my treestand. The does were filtering toward me, but he opted to simply stick his nose in the air, test the estrous and wander on. Finally, he came a little closer. When my rangefinder read 40 yards — the exact distance I’d missed the same buck the year before — I readied myself for the shot.

The Hit

He was quartered-away hard, but the arrow entered into the flank area and drove forward. When he turned to run, I could see blood, but the arrow looked like a telephone pole sticking out.

It didn’t make sense. The next time I saw him, he had exited the timber and was walking slowly across an open pasture.

I waited an hour, climbed down and walked back to my truck quietly. Terron and I made the decision to give the buck five hours and then take up the trail. The wait was terrible.

Sweet Redemption

The blood trail was sparse. Then it disappeared. Terron and I, along with Terron’s young son, Liam, walked the entire property but didn’t turn up the buck. Regrouping in the pasture I’d last seen the buck, we pulled up our onX Maps and did a little study session. Across the fence on the neighbors, I noticed a thick shelterbelt. It extended out into a picked cornfield. The last place I’d seen the buck was only a few hundred yards from the fence, and it just made sense.

Terron made the call and permission to search was granted. The shelterbelt was littered with big rubs. I found multiple beds as well. Then, as the timber got sparse, I looked up and saw a pond, with a massive cottonwood on its bank. Checking it out on foot, I found my buck under that cottonwood. He was dead. I fell to my knees. I couldn’t help it.

The landowner and his son met us at the property and allowed me to drive my truck right up to the pond. They even helped us drag out the brute and load him. It was an unforgettable evening, and one I hope, Lord willing, I can replicate many times over the years.

The author poses with his redemption buck — a 200-plus pound Cornhusker brute, sporting a heavy 4x4 rack.
The author poses with his redemption buck — a 200-plus pound Cornhusker brute, sporting a heavy 4x4 rack.
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