Posted on July 21, 2020




Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

                                                                                 Winston Churchill




I can, with vivid recall, remember the failure. It was a time in life when everything was viewed from a boyhood lens. I was eleven and it was my second deer hunting season. It was the day following Thanksgiving as I followed from a distance behind my dad. I wasn’t so much looking for deer as I was in watching him, to stop when he stopped, walk at the same pace and follow his lead.

At some point mid-morning, after what seemed to a kid a very lengthy stop, I decided to take a look behind me. And what did my gaze reveal? A big, beautiful buck walking right at me seemingly without a care in the world, at least until he spotted me turning completely around to face him. At this point, the eight-point stopped, ears cupped, gaze fixated completely on me. It is at times such as this that the brain goes into overdrive as to what next, how should I react?

For an eleven-year-old with little experience, I shouldered my rifle, and without ever looking through my peep site, I shot at the buck. The result is not what I had intended or expected, the buck did a 180, tail up, and motored out of there without ever looking back.

Now, I’d like to tell you I’ve never missed another buck, or a certain chip shot, but that would be a faulty statement. However, due to this failure at such an impressionable age, it was burned into my conscious to always look through whatever sights are mounted upon my weapon.



Gene Wensel, of Primal Dreams states, “Count every achievement in proportion to the effort involved to accomplish it.” Success breeds success and as we build on those successes, confidence begins to replace self-doubt and discouragement.

But, for good reason and to our benefit, failure is indeed part of the equation when hunting a very unpredictable creature, a white-tailed buck. No hunter is immune to this, and we all face it from time to time. For instance, if we were able to get every buck we go after (and believe me, no one ever will), there would not be much challenge or sport in it. Do not get me wrong, we expect results each time, but it just does not happen that way. If it did, we would only need to be in camp two or three days a season. Although some may make it seem easy, trust me when I say, it is not!



About 20 years ago I found myself hunting in a new area, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, ten inches of snow was on the ground as the season opened. This would certainly help us out by saving us a lot of legwork in locating bucks. As Pop and I drove down the first road the next morning, the imprints of a big wide-chested buck that had ambled down off the ridge, crossed the road, and headed into a cedar swamp were easily visible. Wow, this is the way to start your day and your season, I thought, as I got onto his track with Pop following a hundred yards behind.(It is amazing the role reversal that had transpired now from what it was when I was behind Pop as a young fledgling.) I felt quite confident about killing this buck as he was alone, and his tracks indicated he was in no hurry. He was just sort of meandering. He led us through several tangles, came to the edge of a big stream but fortunately did not cross it. We were moving with caution now fully expecting to see him at any moment. About noontime, his tracks led us along a substantial rise in the terrain. I had my eyes peeled up there desperately hoping he was not bedded watching his back track, as these big deer customarily do. Fortunately, he had not done that, but within a short distance I found his fresh bed that he’d exited not too long before. Knowing he had not been jumped by me was simple to confirm as he had only walked away just a few feet, stopped and rubbed a tree.



I waited for Pop to catch up and discuss the situation. We decided I would stay with the track while Pop circled ahead and to the left. This is the point where my brain temporarily stopped functioning. Generally, when a buck leaves his bed during the day and is not on the prowl for does, he will feed for a couple hundred yards or so and lay back down. This is exactly what he had done, and I never saw him exit his second bed. Which by the way, he left rather hastily as indicated by his running tracks. After calling myself everything possible, I hurried on his track that led back down into the heart of the swamp, and to the very place we had been earlier. As I stopped and peered down at his track that was now placed in ours, he blew at me. With my rifle coming up, safety off, I gazed at one of the biggest chested bucks I had ever seen. As he put the throttle into high gear crashing through this dense jungle, I got off one fleeting shot, which unfortunately missed its mark.

And then I ran right behind him as he led me through this maze, back across the road and up the steepest part of the ridge. I continued after him all the time climbing. At one point he had stopped and obviously watched me coming, this usually is a big mistake on their part. He had made at least fifty or more prints in one spot nervously pacing. Daylight was quickly fading when I left the chase, disappointed that I had an undisturbed buck within my grasp and was not able to seal the deal.



I make all efforts to always learn from my mistakes and do not count any day a loss. Sure, it is frustrating and extremely disappointing to get that close and not come away with the prize, but the knowledge gained through that experience would become priceless in the future. Little did I know how quickly I would realize this.

The next morning, Pop and I headed for the same ridge where I left the buck, only we would be entering it from the west side instead of the south. Pop would stay low while I went high hoping to pick up his fresh track. Our plan was to meet at noon in a big basin if nothing transpired. As I swung high, I found absolutely no tracks, so I descended and started a zig-zag type of pattern back and forth, and up and down the ridgeline. Circling down into some fir, I spotted a track. It was not his, and it really did not stand out as being very impressive other than the depth the deer was sinking in. Because of this I figured him to be a relatively heavy buck. With a fresh track in front of me, I opted to take it and abandon my search for the buck from the day before. Perhaps Pop would locate him. The track I was now following was very fresh. The deer had crossed the road we drove up that morning, right behind my parked vehicle. He led me down into a partial cut where I discovered his track going in both directions. Generally, I do not ever leave the track, but not wanting to spook him, I decided to circle way around to get a fix on what direction he was headed. I went through several doe tracks and deer beds but did not find his track. Easing back towards where I had left his trail two hours prior, put me back on to him with his tracks now leading in only one direction. As the buck’s trail led me across a small stream, I was on full alert. I expected at any moment to spot him. Climbing a slight incline, I slowly and methodically searched every piece of cover for him. Suddenly he exploded from his bed twenty yards in front of me. I managed two shots before he disappeared. Proceeding on his track, I found the red telltale sign of a hit. A short distance later, peeking over a small hummock I saw his big ten-point rack rocking back and forth as he lay in the snow. With a final shot, this 250-pound animal, with small hooves came to his final resting place and turned this day into one to savor.



As each day dawns on a deer season, we just don’t know what will transpire. The anticipation of what lies ahead should be enough to keep our spirits alive no matter what. In the words of my dear departed friend, Charlie Alsheimer, “When you look at this whole concept of deer hunting, you have to look at failure as a victory. What do you remember most? The failures…the failure is really what makes you a better hunter.”


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Posted in: Whitetail Deer