Failure is our best teacher when it comes to deer hunting
By Gary Maerz | PUBLISHED September 26th, 2022
This season will be my fourth in the whitetail woods. When folks ask my most common venison preparation method, I answer one of two ways: “I like to bread and fry/bake my walleye filet or tenders,” or “I eat a lot of tag soup.” My first ever hunt is full of foil, folly, and failure. Subsequent attempts to earn a harvest were comical at best. Yet they were nonetheless fruitful; tag soup is surprisingly hearty with the right perspective. My freezer has remained empty (aside from walleye, pickerel, and some gifted backstraps), but I am filled by a rich collection of experiences that have satisfied my soul and sustained my spirit.
After the first hunt debacle of setting my blind just inside the boundary of public land, next to a scout camp where all the scouts sing and cheer in unison at the breakfast muster, I was determined to find a new location. On the scout out, I nocked an arrow on a shooter doe, but she was quickly out of range. I knew this was the place to be the next time my boots hit the ground. There was a plethora of mast crop, a decent sized water source, a fair number of blowdowns, good topography, etc. Frankly, the list goes but the fact that my buddy, an experienced hunter, scouted the same location… Well that was a positive sign.
My second trip into the woods as a bow-walker was significantly quieter and faster than the first. A gentle rain muffles any sound I may have made and as light breaks the darkness, I arrive. I set-up with the water on my 6. I have an excellent view of the hills in front of me and it is unlikely some swamp donkey will come trudging through the muck behind me. Confidence is high and an overwhelming sense of pride envelops the spirit; stealth and sound judgment have kept me away from scout jamborees and put me where I need to be.
Despite the rain, the temperature and cross breeze made for a lovely climate in the ground blind. The only issue was an increasingly saturated substrate. My butt was wet and it wasn’t my fault. At first, the rain pants worked well, but constant adjustments on the ground were required to maintain a level of comfort and avoid wet, clingy attire. After all, I did not wear base layers of merino wool to dry the woods.
I eventually cave and reach for the collapsible chair purchased for such occasions. It was lightweight, compact, and held up to 300lbs. Unfortunately, at the time I weighed 326lbs and the chair was unwilling to forgive my lie. It screams uncle, the legs buckle, and I drop to the ground. Due to the fair bit of momentum one my size generates, I roll down the hill (toward the swamp) and knock the blind back. Apparently, the thin metal spikes securing the blind into the ground were not up to the task either.
With the grace of a wounded cat, I jump to my feet and roll the blind forward. My outline is again concealed safely within the blind, now standing still as a scarecrow in a cornfield. I remember thinking if I don’t move and stay low (yes, in the blind) maybe, just maybe, the deer will not notice the clanging of metal, thud of a medium sized bi-pedal bear smacking the ground, and subsequent scratching of a nylon hut. The positive note inspired by all this ruckus was the distinct sound of stamping and snorts through the woods. I had chosen the right place. And I let my prey know it.
The disturbance was not forgotten by the wary audience, and the intensity of precipitation only increased with time. It is also very possible that a not so gentle jostling negatively impacted the water resistant integrity of the blind. I pack my gear, confident I made the right choice, and sure I need to work on the execution. I head uphill, toward the area I believe the deer had been, and see three doe down in the saddle. They mock me with unimpressed glances and walk away with little concern.
The ability to laugh at my own mistakes and find the success in failure has served me well as a Fashionably Late Hunter. I have improved with each outing and enjoy regaling my family and friends with my hunting misadventures. And while I have not put venison in the freezer, I truly view my journey as a successful one. Experience now resides under a once uninitiated belt, and I’ve learned quite a bit about myself (and deer). I have seen a lot of furry, white… “milk shakes.” In fact, I get flipped off a lot, but perspective is everything; when you realize a tail flip is a success in its own way, a humbling and exciting experience becomes so much more.
Get in the woods. Be the Okayest Hunter you can be. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And find success wherever you can.