There was a brief moment where I thought, "this isn't going to happen." About that time, I saw the sun glinting off his chest and antlers. He was trucking to an opening 15 yards away. Of course, I needed to be ready faster, and taking my bow off the hook was delayed. I made it to full draw only after he went on high alert. His eyes roamed the bottom of my tree stand while I searched for a shooting hole. He stopped short, and his white flag went up before I could make the shot. I was busted.
I plopped back down in my seat in disgust. How close did I need to be to get a shot? My goal is shooting a pope and young deer, and 5 minutes prior, there was one in easy bow range. I almost sat there sulking but instead wondered what went wrong.
Looking towards the base of my tree where the buck eyes were glued, I instantly knew the problem. My frame pack was lying on the ground where I'd decided to leave it before climbing the tree. Normally not a problem, but it was a new frame, and on it was a long white tag that I hadn't removed. That warning flag was flapping wildly in the breeze.
Mistakes happen all the time in the whitetail woods. Some have an instant fix, while others may take time to mull over to really figure out what went wrong. In the example mishap, after climbing down the tree, I did nothing else before I cut the tag off that pack. But there will be a time after the season when you should sit down and dig through all situations you could have improved.
Did you learn during a live sit that deer use a different pattern than you thought? How about the wind and thermals? Were they right for your hunt? Was your profile broken up, or did you stick out like a sore thumb?
Use these 3 Steps to make your next bow season the best one you've ever had.
Before you can fix a problem, you have to know what that problem is. Take note of haywire moments during a hunt. If you're good at mental notes, remember the moment, but you should take notes on paper or on your phone to prevent twisting the story in your mind. If you want to pinpoint problems, refrain from downplaying the story to make yourself feel better.
After the bad juju of a mishap has faded, make time to sit down, review your hunt, and pick it apart. Honesty is the best policy. Some hunts will have an ending that you wouldn't expect. I know it can be hard to admit when I am the reason a hunt didn't work in my favor, but nine and a half times out of ten, it was an error on my part.
The good news about a self-sabotaged hunt is this; if you're the one that caused the problem, you can be the one to fix it! There are plenty of mishaps that are out of human control. Remember them because there may be a remedy, but when something happens, like the wind swirls while you're at full draw waiting for the last step, there isn't much you can do about that.
When things are in your control, pick those things out during your review. Were you careless with something like picking the right spot for the wind? If you thought feeling the wind blow past your face was enough, throw out milkweed next time. You'll be surprised that the wind probably isn't blowing as you thought. Or what about failing to prepare? One thing that comes to mind is saddle practice. Can you move to an offside position while that booner sprints toward you? A little practice with your gear will go a long way! Knowing when to draw and shoot is ultra important. Even something as small as packing, unpacking, and repacking your gear is important. You'll learn the ins and outs of what system works to meet your needs.
Yes, you messed up. The cliche, "if you bow hunt long enough, it's bound to happen," is the real truth. You'll likely see more tails running in the opposite direction than not; some of the very best hunters still do. But if you don't learn how to pull yourself out of a funk, you will have very little fun in the woods. And trust me, figuring a few things out, even when they are small, is so much fun.
After identifying the problem in your hunt, you might get a little ticked off, especially if the mishap is fresh. This is when it becomes tempting to twist your story or look for blame outside the improvements you should make. If your struggle is too fresh, give yourself time to move on.
You'll probably daydream about that 140-inch 9-point that busted you when your stand squeaked for quite a while, just like I have. Yeah, he could be a buck hanging on my wall right now. I did everything right to get him in front of my bow. What I did wrong was hiking too low on a ridge and not moving back up when I realized my mistake. When my tree stand squeaked, that buck stared straight into my face.
To recoup, you need to stop "should-ing on yourself." You won't get far if you're frantically trying to find the answer. Slow down, think about the parts you did right, identify the part that went wrong, and then settle on the fact that you've learned how to change to overcome the mistake that cost you a deer.
Now that you've taken time to enlighten yourself, it's time to brush off the dirt and get back to the drawing board. If the fix is something you can work on now, like your bow skills, saddle practice, arrow/broadhead flight, or stealth, then get working. Things like knowing when to draw your bow or how to read a deer's body language may have to wait, but for things that need to wait, think about them often. Imagine yourself in the scene. That way, when it unfolds in real life, you'll know how to handle what's thrown at you.
The 140-inch buck taught me that you need to go back sometimes. I've backtracked twice since then, and it's paid off on two public land bow bucks. Adjusting might take some trial and error until you get the right formula. But once you get the train rolling, it's tough to stop.
When It's All Said and Done
There is never a better time of year to analyze your hunts than the post-season. The memories are not so old that you've forgotten the details, yet not so new that they cause extra frustration. Start by asking yourself the easy questions first and sort them out. Everything you learn gets you one step close to being a consistent whitetail killer.
Author: Aaron Hepler, Team Afflictor