The Best and Worst Hunt of His Life

Okayest Hunter Moments: Submitted by Jason Carnahan

This one is going to haunt me for a long, long time. It's a long story and almost sounds unbelievable. I still can't believe it happened, but now it is my nightmare. Please bear with me. 

A little back story:

15 years ago my dad bought me my compound bow. I'd carried it here and there; I would hunt with it a couple of times a season, but I was always more of a gun hunter. Late last season, I was out trying my luck with the bow, and I missed a spike horn because of misjudged yardage. That was only the second shot I had ever fired at a deer with a bow, both misses. It was in the moments after that miss that I realized that I wasn't a bowhunter, I was just a guy in the woods with a bow, pretty much just hoping to shoot a deer. 

On the long walk back to the truck, I decided that by the time the 2021 season opened, I would be a better archer and become an actual bowhunter. 

Little did I know how deep and expensive a rabbit hole I had just committed to going down was. I spent hundreds of hours reading, watching, or listening to everything bowhunting in the months that followed. I consumed as much information as I could on every single topic on the subject. I probably spent a hundred more hours e-scouting on top of that. I walked dozens of miles and gave up gallons of blood to mosquitoes while scouting. And then there's the gear! I went deep. Real deep. My wife hasn't asked, but I hope it never comes up. 

I upgraded from a climber to a full saddle setup. Then I immediately customized everything on that. It took two tries to find a pack I liked for getting all the saddle gear into the locations, but I kept them both anyway. I bought a fletching jig and learned how to fletch. I learned about and got new arrows, which needed new broadheads, so I got some mechanicals and big fixed blades. Bow silencing, scent control, clothing, storage, you name it, I spent whatever money I could spare like a drunken sailor on leave. 

If listening to podcasts and being kitted out translated to success, I wouldn't be the brunt of many jokes around the camp. When the 2020 season came to a close until the '21 season opened, I felt like a dragster waiting for that green light. I am ready and determined to take my first deer with a bow. I have never been so excited for a hunting season in my life. 

On to my story

Two mornings ago, I headed out to a spot that I'd had in mind for a while. There's a great two trunk tree 25ish yards in the cover, off the edge of an ag field. Although the tree I want to set up in is in the cover, it's in a small clearing in the cover where I will have good shooting lanes, and I will be able to see a long way out into the field too. (I am often guilty of setting up to see deer not necessarily shoot deer). 

There's good sign in the area and it just feels like a great spot. On the way into the spot that morning it's overcast and damp. It had been snowing the night before but too warm for anything to accumulate so all of the leaves are wet and there's no wind yet. I'm a little later than I'd like to be, about 30 minutes until legal light, but the conditions are perfect for sneaking in undetected, and I haven't hardly made a sound when all of a sudden, "PSSSSSSHHHHH". 

A deer blows, and I shit my pants as my heart simultaneously bounces off the rev limiter. It's dark enough that I don't see the deer, but it's getting light out, so I don't stand still for too long, and I carry on to my stand. At this point, I'm not discouraged or worried that I've blown it yet. 

I arrive at my tree about five minutes before legal shooting light, and I immediately get to work on my ascent. Just as I step up onto the top of my second mini stick, I look out into the field, and six deer are running across and two does standing 40ish yards away on the field edge. I froze for a second as they were looking right in my direction, and when I could, I slowly climbed back down and tried to hide behind the trunk. After a minute or two, they saunter off unbothered or unaware, so I get back about my business of getting up to hunting height. 

I get hung up after dicking around with the rope mod on my third stick. The rope is too long on this stick, and it's getting hung up, and I can't get it tight. I get through it, but the ordeal has cost me a couple of minutes, and now it is easily into legal shooting light. I finally get up, set my platform, and hook into my tether. As I'm disconnecting my lineman's belt, I see movement out of the corner of my eye, and sure enough, there he is. 

Coming onto the scene, walking from my right to my left is a nice 8 pointer. He's not huge, but he would easily be the biggest trophy on my wall. He's walking along the edge of the field, within 35 yds of me. Everything is going perfectly…except my bow is still on the fucking ground

At that moment, my mind is racing as fast as my heart. He is so close. Should I leave my bow on the ground to not spook him, and maybe he comes back? Do I pull my bow up and risk scaring him off, and I don't get a shot off anyway? 

Fuck it!! I'm going for it!

Now he is pretty much at my 12 o'clock position, still on the field edge. I start pulling my bow up and the buck turns and starts walking straight towards me. 

My bow is mostly hidden from his view by the tree trunk so I keep going and he keeps coming. I get my bow up to the platform level and start to feel like I might get a shot off, but my stabilizer has spun underneath the platform and I need to swing it around so as not to get hung up or ting it off metal. 

Then it happens…" PSSSSSHHHH". 

He snorts, turns and bounds away across the field and outta sight. Now I'm feeling pretty defeated. I bumped deer on the way in. The two does had the drop on me and now I got caught with my pants down and blew an opportunity to finally get a deer with a bow and take my personal best buck. To say I'm rattled would be the understatement of the century. Not to mention the proceeding adrenaline dump.

I'm sure that whole tree was vibrating from the shakes that came on. The negative self-talk starts. This hunt is blown. This location is blown, and I'm never gonna see that buck again. I should just head home at this point but I don't. As penance for this debacle, I decided that I didn't deserve to get off that easy, and I will stay in this tree and think about what just happened. 

About half an hour after my closest encounter with deer hunting glory, a nice doe steps out into the field. She is over a hundred yards away but she's fun to see through the binos and almost takes my mind off the buck. She's staring up the field. Staring, staring, never putting her head down. I've hunted enough to know that she could very well be looking at another deer that I can't see. She eventually hops back off the field, I pan the binos in the direction of her stare and completely forget about the first buck. 

There, crossing the top of a rollway out in the field, is an even bigger 8 point buck heading right for that doe. He is a long way off but I grab for my grunt tube. I'm holding my binos to my eyes with one hand and my grunt tube to my lips with the other and I give it a blow. He doesn't react. I grunt and grunt, slightly louder each time, trying not to blow so hard that it makes that shitty sound that sounds more like a duck call, and finally, he stops and looks in my direction. Then he starts to walk my direction. 

I think to myself, "holy shit! This is working!"

It's unfolding almost as though it's scripted. He is a beautiful buck. Big body. Big rack. Something to behold as he purposefully walks across this field to beat the shit outta whatever buck is grunting at him. He's angling to me on my left side, my strong side shot. On the path he's walking, he's gonna step into the cover on my strong side, inside 25yds, and everything I've learned, practiced, and bought is gonna pay off big time! I feel like I'm living an episode of a hunting show. 

At this point, I am relatively calm. You know that calm that comes over you when you have time to get set, envision the shot and it's almost a foregone conclusion that you are gonna get your deer? I get my bow up. He's 40yds out. 30yds. He's at the edge of the cover. But, instead of stepping through the window and giving me a shot, he turns and stays on the field edge, moving left to right with no shot. 

He's now on the right side of the tree but with enough cover between us that I can pull off that spin move that Ernie from Tethrd does where he puts his release hand under his tether and ends up with the rope over his shoulder and all kinds of range of motion for weak side shots. The buck is getting away. I give him another grunt and he instantly wheels around and starts walking the edge, from right to left. I draw back my bow and aim at an opening I hope he comes through but he keeps on walking. Now I think he's going too far left and I can't shoot that angle from my position so I let off my bow and get ready to go back around the tree to my strong side. But this buck got to the track the first buck walked and this buck turns, comes into my clearing and stops, less than 20yds away, broadside/slightly quartering away and stares right at me. He is on edge. He is in a very tense posture with his right rear leg off the ground. He is poised to bolt. 

Now the adrenaline starts coursing. Here is a monster 8 point, my best buck ever, right there staring at me. I'm shaking and my breath is chattering outta me. It's almost embarrassing the physiological response I'm having to this experience. I don't dare move enough to draw my bow. He starts walking. 

This is it. Now or never

I draw my bow. He doesn't seem to notice and doesn't bolt. I get my anchor and slowly put the pin onto his chest, but he's still walking. His pace is very slow, I'd say he's pussy footing. It's probably a makeable shot but you see it on film all the time and I've used it twice successfully with a rifle, to give a moving, close-range deer a little "uurrp" to get him to stop for that second you need to get off the shot. I exhale and give him a little grunt with the last bit of my breath and…

He turns and runs away back into the field. As if for one last little tease, he stops in the open, well out of range but in plain view, and looks back at me. 

I can still see his rack even as far away as he is. That's how nice it was. I can't believe what has just happened. This hunt was the best and worst hunt of my life, all in one. I learned a few things and had an unbelievable experience, but this one will haunt me for a long, long time.


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