By Mark Kenyon

I’m back from Ohio and a tag has finally been filled!

Since my last journal entry I wrapped up my hunting in Michigan, after many close encounters with Holyfield, with nothing to show for it. With several weeks of pounding it hard in my home state under my belt, it was time for a change of pace, and I headed to Ohio last week on election night. For the next four and a half days though, the tough times continued to pile up.

For the first four days of the trip I hunted all day, every day, and they were very, very long days. I didn’t see a single shooter over that entire time and hardly any deer at all either. Most days I’d see a total of three, maybe four deer over the course of the 12 hour sit, and it was usually a doe, a spike or a forky. To say it was frustrating would be an understatement. After every dead morning or evening primetime would pass, the negative thoughts would pile up more and more. And to be honest there were a lot of times when I just thought about packing it up and heading home early. I realize that I’m very fortunate to be able to hunt as much as I do, and I’m very thankful for that and know I shouldn’t be complaining, but hey, I’m a human being and after 10, 15, 20 days hunting in a row – it really does wear on you. Throwing in the towel certainly sounded nice at times, but I just kept telling myself over and over, it can all change in a second.

And thankfully, that self-talk was enough to keep me in the tree.

This past Sunday evening, after both of my hunting buddies had called it quits and headed home, I tromped back out to the stand, clinging to the tiniest bit of hope. And with me I brought my decoy, headed to a stand I hadn’t hunted yet this trip, ready to throw a hail mary. This stand is set-up specifically just as an observation stand, with the goal of seeing deer at a distance on our farm or the neighboring areas, and calling them into range. The decoy would hopefully be the final hook to bring any curious deer into shooting range. I’ve sat this spot with a decoy a number of times, hoping for that scenario to play out, and it never has. That is until this Sunday.

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I snuck in. Set up the decoy, with only one antler, the wind blowing from the decoy to me, and with its head quartering my direction. And then settled into my stand.

I wasn’t expecting a whole lot of action, as things were dead on our farm, and I had started to think it might be because a couple of new hunters were hunting the neighboring farm – which had been unhunted in the past. If this was the case, I assumed things would probably be slow in this corner too, but I had to at least give it a try once.

Well, much to my surprise, I started to see deer. A bunch of them, relative to what we’d seen to that point. Four, six, eight does – I was getting excited. And then, from over my left shoulder, I spotted a flash of white several hundred yards away. I pulled up my binos and instantly saw a wall of tall white tines. Shooter. I yanked out my grunt tube and let out a long hard grunt. He didn’t hear. So I tried a snort wheeze and then another big ole roar. That got his attention and he turned, spotted the decoy and started walking my way.

Without even a second thought, my mind instantly flipped into kill mode and I started going through the checklist.

Pull down facemask.

Slowly turn, grab bow, slowly turn back.

Turn on camera, point it towards the decoy.

Check if the buck is still coming, he is, holy crap, this is happening.

Wait. Wait. Breath. Wait.

He was coming on a rope and before I knew it he was at 40 yards, 35 yards, 30 yards – but all this time he was behind the one set of branches that extended in between the field and me. Just as he looked to be stepping out from them, I drew back, and he froze. I was stuck at full draw then for what seemed like a minute, turns out it was much shorter, but it was enough for me to feel it … I waited and waited, and then he took one step forward – my arrow was on its way.

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Unfortunately, I pulled the shot a little to the left and my arrow entered at a slight angle, entering somewhere around the liver and exiting the paunch. He mule kicked, ran 50 yards, hunched up and then slowly walked away. Obviously this wasn’t what I wanted, so I nervously snuck out 30 minutes later and planned to come back in the morning.

When I did get back the next morning, after just a hundred and fifty yards of tracking, I walked up on a beautiful eight point buck and a welcome dose of relief after a tough 2016 rut.

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Looking back on this hunt and this past month and a half of hunting in Michigan and Ohio, my biggest take-away is something that I’m reminded of almost every single year. You just can’t give up.

It’s so so easy to get frustrated and negative after a series of slow hunts. Hunting is amazing, but you’re full of it if you try to tell me that every single moment is fun and games. It’s not. Sometimes it’s pretty tough. Early morning wake-ups, freezing cold days, sore backends, hour upon deerless hour, you know what I’m talking about. And with that being the case, it can sometimes seem pretty tempting to just say screw it, and head in early for a hot meal, or to pick up camp and head home to get a few days of relaxation, etc, etc. It’s really easy to quit. It’s a lot harder to persevere. But year after year, I’m reminded that if you never give up and you never give in, it pays off. You might end up filling your tag, or you might not, but if you leave it all on the floor and give it everything you have, at least you will sleep soundly knowing you did your very best.

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And that’s what happened this year. I’ve been hunting my tail off trying to kill Holyfield in Michigan, but I haven’t been able to pull it off. And I might never. Today is opening day of firearm season in Michigan, and he might be dead now. But I can sleep easy, because at least I know I gave the hunt everything I possibly could. And in Ohio, I did the same. This buck and this thrill of a final hunt, that’s just some very special icing on top.