By Cody Altizer
If you’re a sports fan, chances are you have watched an episode or two of ESPN’s flagship program, SportsCenter. Chances are, if you’ve seen SportsCenter, you’re familiar with their popular segment, “Top 10 Plays.” Further, if you’re aware of “Top 10 Plays,” surely you’ve caught a segment or two of its brother segment, “Not Top Ten.” (watch an example here) As much as I enjoy watching professional athletes defy logic and perform at the highest level during Top 10, I equally enjoy watching them falter and make fools of themselves on the Not Top 10.
That said, we as deer hunters are in no way immune to silly, laughable, embarrassing mistakes that make us question whether or not we really know what we’re doing as well. They may frustrate us at the time, and might even cost us a shot at a deer, but looking back, there’s nothing we can do but laugh. So, without further ado, I present to you my personal hunting “Not Top 10”, full of ignorance, mistakes, blown opportunities, and self-inflicted wounds. Enjoy!
10. It was early November 2011. The temperatures were a little warm as I got ready at camp, but I knew they’d cool off quickly once the sun set and my confidence remained high. I feverishly packed all my gear and prepared myself for the upcoming hunt. I was in the zone. I took off like a bat-out-of-hell for the treestand ready to arrow a rutting buck. Once I got to my stand, I realized I forgot something pretty significant and important, my safety harness. Now, don’t get me wrong, forgetting your safety harness is in no way comical, but if you saw how focused and determined I was getting ready and leaving camp, only to see me running through fields as quickly and quietly as I could back to camp to get said safety harness, well, you’d still be laughing.
9. It was mid-November 2011. My brother had offered to film me on an afternoon bow hunt over one of our food plots. The deer were really hitting our oats, so I was sure we’d see some deer. The minute we got to the base of our tree, we saw a doe and 2 fawns making their way down the opposite ridge. Quickly, we shimmied up the tree, got strapped in, and as soon as we were situated we had deer at 40 yards and closing. I immediately recognized the lead doe as an old deer with which I had tremendous history with. Her name was “Momma” and she would make an awesome trophy, as I guessed her age to be at least 8.5 years old at the time. In the blink of an eye, she was at 11 yards, I was at full draw, and I needed her to take just one step to clear her vitals before I would send my arrow on it’s way. She took that step, and I let out what I intended to be a soft, subtle grunt to stop her (which was unnecessary). Instead of a soft fawn like bleat, I let out a roar that would have likely sent the biggest buck into the woods running with his tail tucked. To this day, I don’t know what happened. Momma and her twin fawns retreated back deep into the timber without looking back once.
8. 2011 obviously was a difficult year for me. During an early November bow hunt I was making my way through some thick, thick undergrowth on the way to a stand I hadn’t hunted yet that year. It was a risky move, as I would be hunting right smack dab in the middle of a secondary bedding area, but I was sure I’d see some deer. Regardless, I wanted to sneak in and out as quickly and quietly as possible, and without the use of my headlight. Thankfully, I snuck into my set plenty early and without bumping any deer. I climbed my tree safely, was strapped in, had my arrow nocked and was ready to rock and roll. There was only one problem: I had no release. I always loop it (sometimes lazily) around the limbs on my bow, and it must have gotten hung on some of the briars and bushes I fought through on the way to my stand. To further complicate matters, since I didn’t use my headlight and pretty much went rogue getting to my stand, I wasn’t sure of my exact entrance path. So, off I went, headlight on high, zig zagging back and forth through the thickness that a mature buck would call home. Needless to say, I didn’t see any deer that morning.
7. It’s looking like I could just call my entire 2011 season a “Not Top 10,” but trust me, there are worse moments ahead from other years. However, for #7, I’m just going to briefly describe my entire month of October hunting over a specific food plot. It’s not a huge plot, just over an acre in size, but the deer were pounding it in 2011. I hunted there 6 or 7 afternoons from 4 different stand locations, because the deer would enter the plot from a different direction each afternoon. When I hunted Location A, they would enter from B, and vice versa. I never even drew back on a deer that October, despite seeing close to 20 deer every afternoon. At the time, it was incredibly humiliating, but now I find it absolutely hilarious.
6. This next mishap took place when I was 7 years old. I was a “seasoned” whitetail hunter by that age, with one rifle season and an old doe under my belt. I was ready for bigger and better things that hunting season, and I got my opportunity on the opening day of rifle season. A nice 4 pointer casually made his way toward my dad and I, and I just knew he would be my first buck. My dad whispered in my ear, “Just wait, he’ll come closer. This. Is. A. Challenge. Take your time when he co-” BOOM! I fired my rifle without any discretion or warning and shot 10 feet in front of the little buck, sending him running into the next county. I don’t remember exactly what happened, because I don’t remember pulling the trigger. I just got overexcited. The rest of that season I went back to the same stand staring in the direction from which that buck came, thinking he would come back and I would get a second chance. No such luck.
5. Every year you read stories about the first time hunter who aimlessly walks into the woods, kicks out some leaves in front of a giant white oak, and shoots a Boone and Crockett buck his first time out. Well, I didn’t enjoy such luck on my first hunt, and endured even worse luck on one of my first bow hunts. I was set up downwind of a food plot located in a small forest opening right beside a big bedding area. It would have been a great spot to arrow my first whitetail, and I almost did. Early in the afternoon, 2 does and a fawn slowly made their way to the plot, browsing on natural vegetation along the way. They were moving so slowly, in fact, that I drew my bow 6 times and was at full draw for close to a minute and a half before the deer entered the plot. I just never had a clear window. I would wait until the lead doe walked behind a tree before I drew, except she never continued on her original path. She would turn back around, walk directly away from me, or just stand behind the tree browsing on acorns. By the time she entered the food plot at 20 yards I was so fatigued (mentally and physically) that I jerked the release and missed a chip shot. However, the missed shot didn’t alarm the deer too badly. In fact, within 5 minutes she was back in the food plot at 30 yards. Just as I was about to draw back and settle the pin, a big dead pine tree broke in half 50 yards from my stand sending all the deer back into the comfort of their bedding area. You can’t make this stuff up, I swear.
4. I’ll keep this one short and sweet. I’m a strong believer that less is more in the deer woods, even during the rut. So, on a mid-November afternoon this past year, I elected to sit out the afternoon’s hunt, read a book and watch the Florida Gators take on South Carolina. I had been hunting pretty hard, and my dad and brother were going to be hitting the woods, so I thought it’d be best to take my mind off hunting and give the woods a break. I thought I had made the right decision. After all, the Gators had whipped some Gamecock tail, and I had enjoyed reading my book; however, when I checked my trail camera a couple days later I found that a 3 year old buck named Maverick, the number 1 buck on my hit list, had been working a scrape that afternoon at 3:30 within bow range of one of my stands. You win some you lose some.
3. Chalk this one up to bad luck, if you will. The year was 2010, and I was living in Illinois working alongside my good friends, Todd Graf and Justin Zarr. It was mid-October and I was going to be hunting in the famed golden triangle, specifically Pike County, Illinois. I had filmed for 2 days straight, and got the opportunity to do a little hunting myself on the last day. I was psyched. We had been seeing a lot of great deer on their feet during daylight the first two days, and it was my time to shine, so I thought. After getting settled in and watching a beautiful west-central Illinois sunrise, I drew my bow back to loosen my muscles and examine shooting lanes. Then, the unthinkable happened, my sight fell off. Literally. My sight literally fell off my bow. I had to sit in a tree stand completely helpless (I didn’t want to get down early as to not ruin the other hunter’s hunts) and, for the first time in my life, pray that I DIDN’T see a mature buck. Thankfully, only a small 2-year buck made an appearance that morning, and he was out of range, anyway. Maybe it wasn’t bad luck, after all?
2. Chalk this one up to pure ignorance, if you will. It was the day after I harvested my first mature buck ever. I was 18 years old and the afternoon prior I had shot a nice, heavy racked 3-year-old buck, my first dandy buck in 12 years of hunting. I was thrilled to have shot him, and my dad could hear my excitement yells all the way through the woods. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite hunts. However, it must have created a bit of a hangover, because the next morning, I saw an even bigger buck – what was likely an even better 3 year old 8 pointer. Casually, I glassed him out in my binoculars and thought to myself, “Wow, he’s a good buck! Much better than the one I killed yesterday.” So, what did I do? I grabbed my video camera and recorded some footage. Eventually, he caught the trail of a doe, chased her off our property, on to the neighbor’s where I heard a shot fired. Then it dawned on me, “Hey, I should have shot that buck.” I guess since it took me 12 years to kill my first good buck, my subconscious thought it had to be another 12 before I could kill my next.
1. Number 1 is an easy, clear-cut (pun intended, you’ll see) winner. It was late muzzleloader season a few years back, and I went out for an afternoon hunt ready to harvest a doe. At about 4:45, like clock work, a doe and her fawn made their way from the ridge behind me on their way to a food plot for an afternoon snack. It’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel, I thought, as the two deer got ready to walk into an opening at 60 yards. I confidently shouldered my muzzleloader, clicked off the safety, waited for the doe to stop, and pulled the trigger. BOOM! “That was easy,” I thought. The deer took off in a hurry and I waited for her to die. She kept running, and running, and running, at break-neck speed. I missed. Then, I felt a cool, trickling sensation making it’s way down my forehead right between my eyes. Yes, the recoil of the gun was too much for this overconfident hunter and the scope left a pretty hearty gash right between my eyes. Blood went everywhere, and I had to explain to my dad and brother that not only did I miss an easy chip shot, but I also physically injured myself while damaging my pride. Worst. Hunt. Ever.
“Blessed is he who has learned to laugh at himself, for he shall never ceased to be entertained” What about you guys? Can you swallow your pride and share with us one of your most embarrassing hunting mishaps? The comment section’s your soapbox. Step up on it!
– Cody Altizer, CodyAltizerPhotography.com