A Lesson in Humility
This year, my husband busted (and I mean BUSTED) his butt to make extra money to gain us access to a deer hunting lease. There were months where he’d only have one or two days off the entire month. Our regular public land was over fifty miles one way, we had the new baby so that drive was even less convenient than last year, and now this particular public land was getting over hunted and everyone’s stuff constantly stolen. So we went in with three other friends on a piece of land that is prime Illinois hunting. All summer we would hold off for a month, then go out and check cameras and gather around our computers and gawk at the monsters we were catching on camera. I’m talking each of the 5 of us could fill both our buck tags with 140″+ class deer easily and we’d still have tons of bucks leftover for years to come. We were watching 160’s, and one in particular who was a 190″ atypical. We scouted and looked at topographical maps and found food sources and water sources and bedding areas and strategized on how we were going to get these deer. Opening day came and we were passing decent bucks, passing does left and right. I couldn’t bring myself to shoot a doe when I knew what bucks might be just beyond the ravine if I just let her walk and gave it another ten minutes. I kept confidently, or arrogantly, saying “which buck do you want? Nah I’d pass that one. I bet we tag out by the end of November ha ha….”
So 3 weeks ago, I made what I believed to be a lethal and decent shot on a buck I shot-it was 50% desperation for meat and 50% mercy since he was limping so bad. The shot was a little far back as far as I was concerned but I was certain it was lethal. Waited it out for an hour and a half, get down to look for blood so I know exactly what I hit… and it’s liver. Crap. I didn’t think I hit him so far back. I begged my buddies and neighbors to just back out for the night so we didn’t jump it, but everyone was insisting the yotes would get it if we didn’t. So everyone joins in to help with the search, and my neighbor (in his effort to help recover the deer) says to me “I jumped a deer on my gator, not sure if it was yours…” After hours of searching we conceded to the fact that the buck had gotten away from me. I bawled and pouted. In 9 years of bowhunting, I had only made one bad shot my entire hunting life, and now this was my second. The lesson I learned from this particular deer was to get my shaking under control sooner and to breathe. I had way too much time to watch him and over analyze everything. I also switched broadheads, although it wasn’t my equipments fault that I made a less than perfect shot, and I take full responsibly for that. I went home and practiced over and over until I was cutting one inch stickers at 35 yards. Again, I hit the woods feeling cocky and ready to lay the smack down on a big buck. (By the way, this buck LIVED and was happily chasing some spikes the other day on the neighboring property! My neighbor called me and let me know this!)
Weeks go by and we don’t see anything, and I mean anything. We had more sits where we saw nothing than ones where we saw anything. We weren’t catching anything on camera anymore. We were growing wary and frustrated and impatient. I definitely had sits where I forgot what the hunt was all about and I would get upset if I didn’t see anything. I had never been that way before–I always enjoyed my sits regardless of having a big buck walk in front of me or not. I lost that as I had my eyes on the prize so much that I wasn’t enjoying the journey like I used to.
So last night, I had had a crappy day. I love my babies but both were fussy all day and my two year old was being particularly destructive. I needed to hit the stand. My hubby watched the babies and I was out of there. Sitting up there I was feeling sad about some recent stuff that’s been going on, and I actually started crying. Stupid I know but my time in the stand can be emotional as i self reflect and analyze things in my life. So I’m sitting up there feeling bummed but ready to see the woods come alive. Sure enough a doe comes up at my 11:00. I say “God if it’s in your plan, if she walks right here on this edge, I will shoot. Please let my arrow fly true.” Sure enough, she walks there. 20 yards broadside, should be a darn chip shot. I let out a “mehh” and she stops. I start slowly squeezing the trigger on my release. As soon as I feel my finger squeeze, she takes a big step. Arrow flies, arrow hits, I feel sick. Yellow bile starts shooting out like a geyser. Crap everywhere as I watched it hit her gut. She jumps, then immediately beds down about 5 feet from the base of my stand, under a pine tree. I see her curl up and start licking the wound and trying to work the arrow out. Needless to say, I’m heartbroken. I should have made a better shot and she should be dead. Instead i inflicted pain on her and now I’m watching her try to tend to her wound. I don’t panic though, I know what has to be done. I go to nock another arrow and she starts thrashing around a bit. She thrashes under the pine tree so I no longer have a shot on her. I can’t get down or I’ll jump her and she could run for a mile and I’ll never retrieve her. Five seconds later I hear crunching as another doe walks up to her. She lets out a scream that kind of sounded like a goat scream. It startled my doe and she goes off about 20-40 yards into the woods. I see the area she goes to, then I stop hearing noise. She bedded down and I could occasionally hear her moving around. By this time it was dark and the sickening truth settled on me–I have to wait it out and give her the night. I can’t sneak up on her and get in a second shot because the dry leaves on the ground are so thick, I’ll definitely startle and jump her. So I slowly and quietly sneak out of the woods and head home, where I promptly wipe my tears and put on a smile so we can have family make your own pizza night without me being a mopey drag.
At 2:38 this morning I wrote this, and as with every mistake in life, I reflect on the lessons I could learn to be better. This isn’t how I pictured my deer season going. I used to be one of those people who would see someone’s crappy shot on Facebook and comment before unfriending them. I knew bad shots happened occasionally but in my mind, people making repeated bad shots were being irresponsible just flinging arrows around until something died. I think I got this lesson today to teach me humility. I never thought of myself as better in skill than anyone else, but perhaps better in my hunting ethics. I was convinced that if more people were better practiced and more patient that there would be less bad shots on deer, and I was wrong for the most part. There are so many factors that go into a shot with a bow and arrow, and i was arrogant to think that just because I’m well practiced somehow meant that I was immune to error. Regardless, there were a few lessons here upon reflection that I need to remember. Sure enough, this morning when we went to get her, she was right where I thought I last heard her. The Ramcat worked its way into her chest cavity and her heart was actually cut almost in half. I have no doubt that the broadheads are why my deer didn’t suffer longer. The absolute greatest thing about all of this was watching my two year old track this deer and then finding it. He started jumping up and down and actually put his hand on the deer and said “thank you deer!” Seeing his eyes lit up was worth a million deer to me, and seeing how happy he is in the woods reminds me why I do this. May the woods always be a place of peace in his life!
Lesson learned-no amount of practice can make you immune to mistakes. If you say you’ve never shot at a deer and missed or gotten a less than perfect shot, you haven’t been hunting long or you’re not being honest. Don’t get cocky, be humble. Be grateful. Remember why we hunt–and it’s not just the kill. Be grateful.
Author: Danielle Wilson of Ursa, Illinois