By Mark Kenyon

The explosion echoed through the wooded draw behind me like a 4th of July firework, and as the smoke cleared I couldn’t believe what I saw. The giant 8 point buck was still standing there, dumbfounded by the apparent cannon fire coming his way, but seemingly untouched by the muzzleloader propelled bullet I had sent his way.

I had missed…

It wasn’t possible … No. It couldn’t be.

Yet, there he was…

How We Got Here

When I last filled you in on my season it was November 26th, and I had just come off a three day trip down to Ohio. That was my fourth trip down to the southern part of that great state to hunt this fall, and unfortunately it ended with a few close calls but nothing to show for it. 

Since then, I’d taken a handful of days away from the woods to spend time with my wife, and other friends and family. But that break didn’t last long, and soon enough it was back into the truck for the 5 hour drive South to chase Ohio bucks.

My fifth trip to Ohio was to coincide with the opener of their firearm season, as I hoped to turn the many close calls I’d had this season into a kill, now that I’d be able to reach out a little further with my muzzleloader. The first day of this trip ended up being pretty exciting, as I saw three bucks cruising between 10:30 and 11:15 AM, and finally at last light I saw Jawbreaker. Exiting from the same finger of timber I’d seen him enter just about a week earlier, Jawbreaker headed out across a cut bean field about 400 yards away at last light. With this sighting packed away as new intel, I headed in the next day to hunt near this finger, but no luck was had. So with 60 degree temperatures on the way, I decided to cut my trip short and head home. My plan was to come home, put in some time at the office, and then head back to Ohio on Friday when a huge cold front was to hit.

The Ohio Cold Front

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Fast forward a few days, and I had packed up my bags for one final trip to Ohio. With a 35 degree temperature drop and snow in the forecast, I had high hopes for the evening hunt. Five hours later, I found myself hiking across a cut bean field in what felt like a snow globe that had been shaken far too much. Ice, sleet, and snow was blown across my face at an alarming rate, and I pushed on through the gale towards my stand for the evening. But when I finally arrived, I was faced with a situation I hadn’t anticipated. The steps on my Lone Wolf climbing sticks were covered in at least a half inch of ice, and no matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t keep my feet on the steps. I wasn’t going to be able to hunt this stand!

With that realization, I backtracked, and headed towards the next closest stand which was back on a ridge behind me. I arrived and found the tree steps here to be in a similar icy condition. Again, there was no way I was getting into that tree.

So now at this point I realized I was going to need to get creative and hunt on the ground. With that in mind, I decided I would sneak over next to a bedding area that I’d been wanting to get close to for awhile. Not being limited by current stand locations ended up being quite liberating, and with the pounding wind and snow I was able to sneak into position without worry of spooking anything. A few minutes later I was set up down in a small ditch, about five feet off the edge of this small finger of beans. My tree umbrella above me protected my camera and I from the blizzard, and I pulled on my face mask, snuggled into my hood, and hunkered down for a frigid and blustery evening.

Finally, An Opportunity

Not an hour or so later, my eye caught a dark shape materializing out of the snow across the field from me and I quickly pulled up my binoculars. Instantly I saw a large framed buck, and without a second thought I knew he was a “shooter”. From here events went into overdrive.

I needed to remove the rain jacket which was draped over my video camera, then I had to power it on and find the buck in the view finder. Next, I rushed to get my gun into position, and pull the make shift scope covers off (AKA duct tape). At this point the buck and his doe companion had made significant progress across the field, and I worried they might be heading into the wooded draw across from me that they were angling towards. At this point my conscious mind fell by the way side , and I slipped into auto pilot.

I’d like to say that I remember pulling the gun up, settling in behind the scope, and then taking a few deep breaths to calm my nerves. I’d like to tell you that I remember placing the crosshairs behind the buck’s shoulder, taking a slow, deep breath, and then smoothly squeezing the trigger. I’d like to tell you that at the crack of the bullet’s report, I watched that buck mule kick, run 50 yards, and then topple over. I’d like to tell you all of that. But none of it happened. None of it.

Instead, as soon as I went into auto pilot mode, I essentially blacked out. In reality I hadn’t blacked out, but my memory of that moment is. I don’t remember seeing the buck in the crosshairs, I don’t remember thinking through any kind of shot process, I don’t remember steadying my breathing or slowly squeezing the trigger. All I remember is what I saw after the smoke cleared.

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The giant 8 point buck still standing there.

Not believing what had happened, but equally surprised that the buck was still standing there, I quickly rushed to get another load in my gun. A few moments later my gun was up again, and this time I slowed down. I found the buck in my scope, zeroed in and settled my crosshair just behind his shoulder. With my gun rested against the tree I stood next to, I felt steady and confident. This time I slowly eased my finger against the trigger until I felt the burst of power erupt from the end of my weapon.

Unbelievably though, there he stood. Untouched … And then he was gone.

After waiting a short while, I headed out into the field to check for blood before the fast falling snow covered any evidence. I wasn’t confident, but I knew I had to check none the less. No blood was found, and after following the buck’s tracks 500 yards across the field, none was ever seen. I had missed clean, twice.

The disgust. The disappointment. The confusion. The shame.

The feelings that coursed through me at that moment are difficult to put into words.

So much had led up to this moment. So much work, so much time, so much sacrifice. If you count mornings and evenings separate, I have put in 61 hunts this season. My average hunt is about 6 hours (other than during the rut). With that said, 61 hunts at six hours each puts me at 366 hours in the treestand this season.

366 hours of leaves blowing, squirrels barking, the sun rising, the sun setting, over and over and over. All of those 3:30 AM wake up calls, all of those freezing cold days. Those frozen toes, those stinging eyes. The hours and hours in the truck. The hundreds of dollars spent on gas, food, hotels, gear, the list goes on and on.

My wife’s understanding. Her patience. Her support. All so that I could, “get the job done”.

So much had gone into this. So much.

And now, the opportunity it was all for. Was gone. Slipped through my fingers. Fallen by the wayside. Lost.

In those moments, all of this realization came crashing down upon me like a ton of bricks.

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And in the days since, it has lingered. It has stewed. It has haunted. I’ve carried this missed opportunity heavily on my shoulders. An aching weight, always present, pushing me a little further down with each step. A burden and a reality that I must now live with.

So Where Do I Go From Here?

But … this burden will not own me. This weight will not crush me. This missed opportunity does not need to define me.

For me to deal with this, I’ve had to let it hurt for awhile. I needed to really feel this. Taste this defeat and know it intimately. I needed to let it burn, if only so that I will never cease to work in an effort to not experience it again.

Missed opportunities and mistakes are a reality of hunting. I realize that. And so we must learn to live with them. But we must also not be content with them. Rather, in my opinion, we must recognize they have happened and then learn from them.

All of that said, I’ve now had a few days to reflect upon the events of Friday, December 6th and I believe I’ve begun this process of recognition and learning.

First off, why did I miss? It’s something I’ve thought about over and over and over again. How could I possibly miss a buck with my muzzleloader? Twice!? I’m no trained sniper, but I’m certainly a capable shot and have alway been confident with a firearm. So how could this happen?The answer to that is a bit long, and factors both internal and external are in my belief possibly responsible. For that reason I’ve decided to create a separate article and video to explain why/how I believe I missed, and how I plan to learn from it. Look for that in the next day or two.

That said, with that out of the way, I know I have to move on. A missed buck isn’t the end of the world, I know this, but sometimes in the tunnel vision of a tough deer season, it can seem that way. It seems poetically ironic that the day I posted the article titled “Keep On Grinding” on Wired To Hunt, I encountered my own lowest of lows moment that I would need to grind through myself.

And so it is from that article, of my own creation, that I now draw encouragement.

 “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Failure is a reality, and fail I did on the 6th. But my greatest glory is still ahead. I must live with what happened and learn from it. And ultimately, I must rise up.

I can. I must. And I will.