By Mark Kenyon

Holyfield finally slipped up.

After months of planning, too many hours of hunting to count, and 25 in-person sightings of this buck, this past Friday I finally could have (hypothetically) shot and killed Holyfield.

But I didn’t.

***

For all of this year, hunting and killing Holyfield has been my number one goal. But surprisingly, once he made it through the rut and the Michigan firearm season, I started getting the idea of seeing him again in 2017 in my head. (You might have already read or heard about this.)

Part of me, I realized, didn’t want this hunt to end. Heck, part of me wasn’t sure I even deserved to end it at this point. But another voice in my head desperately screamed about how much time and effort I had already put in to trying to kill him. Why would I change that goal now?

This internal debate continued through last week Monday, even while I spent the afternoon sitting in my Hay Bale Blind watching over a late season food plot perfectly set-up for a shot at the very buck I wasn’t sure I wanted to shoot. Deer after deer piled into the Winter Greens, and my mind repeatedly bounced back and forth on the “The Decision” until shooting hours finally slipped away. And as darkness settled in, I felt only one thing. Relief.

Relief? For weeks and weeks I’d been hunting this deer, and every time another hunt ended without killing him, I shook my head in disappointment, kicked at the tree stand, and muttered some variation of “sunuvabitch!” But now, all I felt was relief?

I was relieved, I realized, because I wouldn’t have to shoot Holyfield that night. And that’s when I knew that my mind had been made up after all.

As I sit here trying to explain this, I’m reminded of a passage I read once from Bill Heavey; “Taking the life of a deer is many things, but if you think trivial is among them, it’s time to put down your bow and take up badminton. Come to your feet. Honor the animal whose life you seek.”

To take an animal’s life is a damn serious thing, and for me, it’s always required a clear sense of purpose and an unclouded conviction as to the “why” behind the pull of that trigger. To kill this deer without that clarity; it just seemed wrong.

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And so that that takes us to this past Friday. I wasn’t going to shoot Holyfield, but a part of me still wanted to see if I could even get that chance if I’d wanted it, at least getting him in range for a hypothetical shot with bow or muzzleloader. So with great late season conditions again, I snuck out to another Winter Greens plot and settled into the Redneck Blind. Three hours later, just before last light, he stepped into the plot and finally gave me the the “shot opportunity” I’d been dreaming of for the past 10 weeks. If I had been trying to kill him, I could have shot him at 65 yards that night with a muzzleloader. And that was satisfaction enough for me.

***

When I wrote my first article exploring the possibility of passing on Holyfield, someone left a comment that stuck with me. They simply said this; “Do what you won’t regret.”

I thought about that one a lot in the days since. What outcome would I not regret?

I imagined shooting Holyfield now and sitting behind him, admiring the deer up close that I’d watched so many times from afar. And then I imagined seeing and passing him, only to watch him walk out of my view to live another day, and with the final outcome still a mystery for the future. Much to my surprise, the tinge of regret only appeared when I thought of him dead on the ground from my own shot now. Ultimately, the risk of ending the story too soon seemed greater than not knowing the ending at all.

And so this past Friday night, for the 26th time, I simply watched Holyfield. And as luck would have it, I just watched him again tonight.

I have no regrets.