Daylight was fading fast on the last evening of early archery season.
I had left a hunting trip in Oklahoma a day early so I could squeeze in one more sit before the orange army rolled on the firearms opener. Having seen not a single deer in three hours of sitting 20 feet up in a pin oak, I was frustrated with my decision, and things were about to get worse.
Trying to stay positive, I focused on the fact that prime time was upon me. If a big buck was going to move during daylight hours, now was the time he’d be on his feet. But then, with just 15 minutes left to hunt, I heard a truck door slam and loud voices start talking in a picked cornfield on the neighboring property not 200 yards away.
I clinched my fist in anger, let out a long deep sigh and stood up to start packing my gear. Then I caught the faint sound of what sounded like a deer running toward me.
I grabbed my bow off the hanger I’d just placed it on and slowly spun around. I could make out the body of a deer quickly slipping along the side of a ridge. There was no doubt it was a buck by the sheer body size, but I couldn’t tell how big his antlers were. I clipped my release on the string and made ready for a shot.
When the buck closed to within 50 yards, I could see it was a true giant. His massive and tall rack was way wider than his ears. I was about to have a shot at the largest buck I’d ever had in bow range. All he had to do was stay on the trail he was on and the shot would be less than 10 yards broadside. I came to full draw.
Bucks don’t grow old by accident. Somehow, someway, this monster realized something was wrong. I was statue still. The wind was in my face. Nothing should have given my presence away, but for whatever reason, he stopped dead in his tracks behind the only oak tree large enough to shield him. If he had taken just two more steps to the right of the tree, it would have been game over. Instead, he stuck his head out from the left side of the tree, keeping his body blocked by the massive old oak.
The buck of a lifetime was 17 yards away and I didn’t have a good shot. He was scanning the forest before him looking for whatever it was his sixth sense told him to be weary of.
Then he saw me. I watched his eyes grow big and his body tense as he locked in on the big blob in the top of a tree. He didn’t panic and bolt, but I knew it was only seconds before he was gone. I had to decide what to do in an instant and settled on trying to slip a shot in at the base of his neck. It didn’t work.
With the steep downhill trajectory and a tense buck ducking at just the right time, the arrow zipped just over him. The buck wheeled and bounded off out of range. Then he calmly flicked his tail and strolled out of sight. I sat down, pulled off my hat and grabbed a fistful of hair. My gut felt like a mule had just kicked me.
Two days later, on the second day of firearms season, a neighboring hunter killed the buck. He scored just a smidge under 180-inches. This confirmed it was truly the biggest deer I’d ever had a shot at in 25 years of deer hunting.
There are no guarantees in hunting. We must take our failures in stride with our successes, but this one hurt. It still hurts. I’d driven through the night for one more hunt after having spent countless hours on stand during the previous two months. I had invested more money in equipment than I care to admit and had practiced intensely throughout the year. But when the moment of truth was upon me, I whiffed.
I’m shooting arrows as often as time allows and wearing out my 3-D Glendel Buck target. All I can do is practice, so hopefully the next time I have an opportunity at the buck of a lifetime, he won’t be another one that got away.
See you down the trail.