Opening weekend of my archery season has now passed and it certainly was an eventful couple days. I felt everything from the ultimate thrill of a buck down, to the sickest feeling in my stomach over a bad shot. Overall it was a great weekend, but to be honest I lost a little sleep over it too. I felt today I had to vent a little bit, so bear with me on this somewhat long post, I think there is a lesson for us all to learn….. That being said, the weekend did get off to a great start as my dad and one of my best buddies, Josh, came to join me at my home for deer camp! As most of you know, there are few things as exciting as the crew getting together for a great weekend of hunting, camaraderie and a few cold beers.

First thing Saturday morning we were in the stan and things started slow, as Josh and I saw nothing in our double set up. Josh is a buddy that I have been trying to get into hunting for a long time, finally this year it all came together and we were able to prepare for the 2010 season as a team. I was almost more excited about getting Josh a deer than I was about getting one for myself. So on the first morning, I was really hoping to film him shooting his first deer, but no such luck. Getting back out early, our hopes were high for the afternoon sit, as I was putting Josh into a stand that was seeing consistent action from bucks and we were getting them on camera. Around 1:30 we hiked to the far east end of my property and I immediately pulled my trailcam card. I was pretty excited that it had caught 3 or 4 different bucks frequenting the area. None were huge by any means, but all would be respectable for Josh’s first deer. With a little bit of a hassle, I was able to get the climbing sticks and stand up in the tree and Josh was set to go. I then scooted out and headed down to another property about 40 minutes away where big buck sightings were to be expected.

My evening’s sit got off to a good start with a small buck walking to within ten yards of my stand after only about 30 minutes, but things got even more exciting at about 5:30. Between the wind blowing my stand and my own excitement I nearly fell out of the tree when I read a text from Josh saying that he just shot a 9 point buck! And it was actually a buck that we had got on trailcam the week before! Not a giant by any means, but a great first deer! I immediately called him from my stand, gave him some instructions and then headed for the truck.

I was absolutely thrilled and I was shaking almost as much as when I shot my first deer, but the whole way home I drove through torrential rain and I began to get worried. Unfortunately my worry proved to be warranted. To make a very very long story short, we searched and searched for his buck, but never found it. Due to a consistent downpour and what we believe was a shoulder shot, we found only two specks of blood and no deer. We grid-searched all night Saturday and all morning/afternoon on Sunday but found nothing. Our hope is that he has nothing but a sore shoulder and we’ll be seeing him again soon. This was the first deer that I’ve really been involved with shooting or tracking personally and not been able to find. I’m sure many of you can relate, but I was obviously really busted up about this and I just felt horrible for Josh. This was a serious low.

But after spending many long hours tracking, we decided that we needed to get back in the saddle for Sunday evening. So I headed along the far north fencerow and took a stand over the inside corner of a corn field, hoping to see a nice fat doe cruising through. And just before dark, I saw just that.

Now here is where I hit another low, mixed with a high. But mostly a low. Three doe came cruising out from my left and were working towards the corn. I wanted to be able to see all the deer, to make sure there were no fawns before I shot the front doe. Once I could see them all, I knew the front doe looked like the oldest and I made the call to shoot her just before she got to the corn. This is where I went wrong. Because she was just a step from being in the corn, I got rushed, quickly drew, bleated with my mouth, set the pin and fired. But I didn’t take the neccessary time to calm down, aim small and focus on my form.

My shot was high, I spined her and she went right to the ground. Honestly at this point I panicked, I felt horrible and as quickly as possible I followed up with another arrow to put her down for the count. I know this happens, but it was the first time for me and I just felt awful about it. It was difficult to see that deer flailing around on the ground and it stuck with me last night when I tried to sleep. What sticks with me the most is that right before I put the killing shot in her, she was staring right at me. Although I am a hunter and I kill deer, I 100% respect the life I am taking and always want to do it as humanely and quickly as possible. The whole process probably didn’t last more than a minute or so, but never-the-less I could have done better and I need to do better.

That being said, in the end I have a doe down and fresh venison for the table. It was truly a weekend of highs and lows, filled with a number of good lessons. First being that things almost never go as planned when hunting and you just need to be ready for that. You can practice all year for a circumstance and stil make mistakes. That being said, in my instance, I realize I need to continue to discipline myself to slow down and really really focus before shooting. Same for Josh, he had  an incredible experience and did a lot of things right when his buck came in, but in the end it was a few inches that kept him from harvesting his buck.

Hunting is a game of inches, miniscule margins for error and a little bit of luck. So if you take anything from my weekend’s tale, it’s that the work can never end and the devil is in the details. Work hard to eliminate even the smallest errors in your hunting set-up, preparation or practice and in the end those small improvements can be the difference between an intense high and a sinking low.