Critical Moments – The Hunter’s Two-Minute Drill

Posted on August 27, 2019

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“In hunting, the critical moment is not when you first see game,
but when game gives you the best chance.” – Archibald Rutledge

 

 

There comes a critical time during each deer season when, based on what you do or don’t do, your entire season will hinge upon how well you discern the difference during that short window of opportunity.

I had been tracking a buck for about two hours in eight inches of soft, fresh snow. It was not, however, the buck I had set out to locate that morning. The beast I was after was one that I had blown an opportunity on the day before. That buck was short-legged and carried a heavy set of antlers. Because I failed to accurately read what he was doing when he rose from his bed, I was not prepared when he blew at me, broadside, from a mere 50-yards distance. The result was an errant shot taken at a quickly disappearing buck.

Still smarting from yesterday’s disappointment, I resolved to go back and pick up his track from where I left it. That’s when I found the buck I currently was following. By all indications, this guy was every bit as big, had a much longer stride, and best of all, had not been shot at.

 

 

The buck’s spoor led me across the road I had driven in on, down through a tangle of debris – left in the woodcutter’s wake – and into a dense growth of cedar. It was in this jungle that the buck intercepted several dainty imprints left by the doe that had taken up residence there. Rarely will I ever leave the track, but in this instance, I decided to circle the barnyard of tracks and make an attempt to locate him coming out.

An hour later after having made a wide berth, I located his track as it was paralleling a meandering brook. The buck was alone once again. His track led me across the water and did a sharp 90-degree turn back in the direction from which he had come. Instantly, my rifle came to my shoulder with the safe off as the buck catapulted out of his bed. From 30-yards distance the buck ran from right-to-left as my first volley pierced the silence of the forest. The buck showed no reaction to the noise other than shifting into a higher gear. Subconsciously, I ejected the spent cartridge, jacked in another round and really bore down. My next shot caused the fleeting beast to swing his back end sideways prior to disappearing.

 

 

Did I connect or was that slight discrepancy the result of the buck slipping as he motored off? With a bit of apprehension, I reloaded and marched up to where I had last seen the buck. Much to my absolute delight, the virgin white landscape revealed crimson traces of blood. Slowly, ever so slowly, I stalked this red trail of happiness for approximately 40-yards, peered over the crest of a knoll to find the buck bedded, facing away from me with his wide ten-point rack rocking up and down. He looked huge lying there, but this was no time to be admiring the specimen, the job needed to be finished. Taking steady aim, I placed the bead on the back of his neck, just above the backbone and fired. I don’t remember loping the 60-yard distance to the now lifeless animal, but I certainly can recall sitting for a long time admiring this 250-pound prize.

 

 

Practice

It’s 1st-and-10 from the Patriots 20-yard line with but two-minutes left in the football game that has New England’s opponent on top by four points. Cool as a cucumber, Tom Brady, seemingly indifferent to the stress of time constraints and score of the game marches his team down the field. A short up-and-out pass to Matthew Slater, a quick dash around the left side by Rex Burkhead, and a button hook catch by Julian Edelman has brought the Patriots to within striking distance. With a no huddle-offense, every part of this well-oiled machine was clicking on all cylinders. As the clocked continued to tick, with a stadium filled with fans sitting on the edge of their seats, along with a TV audience watching with breathless anxiety, Brady effortlessly, from the shotgun position commands his troops with precision. As the ball is snapped Brady looks left, scrambles staying just out of reach of the defensive end, pumps once and then finds his favorite receiver, Rob Gronkowski, open in the end zone, all with just 5 ticks left on the game clock.

Does that just happen because of destiny? Are the Patriots just lucky? Or, are they just so athletic that they have the ability to defy the odds and do the unthinkable? The answer to those inquiries is a resounding no, at least partially. For the very same reason I was able to capitalize on the buck, so to were the Patriots able to march down the field in less than two minutes to secure a victory.

 

 

It’s called practice – with lots of it. Yes, it may be mundane (and I’ve yet to meet anyone that enjoys repetitive activity) but if success is part of your game plan you had better indulge in the preparation necessary to get you there.

Psyche

If you believe you are going to fail, you probably will. Practice does more than just train you physically; it prepares you mentally so that at that moment of truth your muscle memory subconsciously takes over. When that buck leapt from his bed, with no time to think about the situation, my subconscious took over. And despite the setback from the day before, I was more determined than ever to succeed with my next opportunity.

Like Brady driving his team under pressure, a deer hunter must stay psychologically calm. Remember, we are the ones carrying the weapon; no deer is shooting back at us. Composure is your best ally. As soon as you begin to get the least bit rattled everything starts to unwind. Your decisions become irrational and with each panicked movement you begin to yield to doubt and confusion. Hey, I understand the pounding heart in your throat, the tensing of the muscles. You’ve worked hard to get to this critical moment; we all get those palpitations; you wouldn’t be human or a deer hunter if you didn’t. It is how we deal with those emotions that make the difference.

 

 

The best medicine to cure one of becoming like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz is to spend time around whitetails. Observe them. Watch their reaction under a variety of situations and stimuli. The closer you can get to them without the animal being aware of your presence will aid you markedly when you have a weapon in your hand and it’s crunch time.

Preparation

Make no mistake, deer hunting is indeed a challenging endeavor requiring a variety of skills to be successful. Seldom do you have the luxury of more than a few seconds when that moment of truth is at hand. Don’t let something that you had control of ruin the moment. Ensure that your equipment is working properly; take nothing for granted. Check and recheck. I routinely hear sad sagas each year of how some piece of a hunter’s gear faltered, as if that was a good excuse to use for an empty bag, when upon closer examination it was usually the result of inattention to details on the hunter’s part.

Diligence is not a hard taskmaster; it is preventative care that gives one the confidence of knowing that if that buck does indeed slip through your fingers it will be the result of his good fortune. I’m not a lucky hunter and I have yet to meet one that is. Luck is essentially when the prepared meet opportunity. What you do with that opportunity will all depend on how well you have practiced and prepared for this moment of truth and if you can remain cool under pressure.

 

 

Rutledge reminds us all, “Much of the success of hunting comes from one’s ability to calculate the critical moment and from the stern self-discipline of waiting for it. Most game is missed because it is shot at too soon or too late. An old song tells us that the greatest tragedy in life is that of great lovers who part too soon or meet too late. The same tragedies happen in hunting.”

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer