Great Mistakes – AKA, I’ve Blown It

Posted on April 13, 2021





“None of the good hunters I have ever known blamed another man’s success for his own failures. Each admitted his own shortcomings and worked to improve them.”

 Roger Rothhaar/Whitetail Magic




Making mistakes is how we learn. Lord knows I’ve made more than my fair share over the years. Without these faux pa’s none of us would relish the successes. Show me someone that boasts of never blowing it in their deer hunting quests and I will show you a failure. No one sets out to fail, and seldom will you ever hear of those miss ques, especially from someone that has been very successful but they happen, it is all part of the learning process. The following are some of, not nearly all (oh the volumes that could be written) of my many ‘finer moments’ in the mistake files of deer hunting.


There I stood, a mere 25-yards from a bedded buck that I could not see, a buck that I’d been tracking for 7-1/2 hours over countless miles of wilderness terrain. I’d located his track at first light on the far end of a twelve-mile long ridgeline. Over the course of the day his travel pattern continued in a relatively straight line staying parallel with the ridge top. Other than stopping to freshen a couple of scrapes and rub an occasional tree, this buck was primarily interested in scent checking doe tracks leading down from the top.

By mid afternoon I had closed the gap considerably. Judging how fresh his track now appeared in the 6-inch wet snow gave me a renewed confidence in getting this buck in my sights. Based on the route this buck had taken throughout the day, I was confident that his path would continue on a straight course.



But, as is usually the case when dealing with mature bucks, what you think will happen seldom does. Rather than heading down, his track veered left following the contours of the ridgeline. I was now on full alert expecting to catch a glimpse of him at any moment. With each meticulously placed step I scoured the brush. It was deathly quiet other than the faint squeak of my boot compressing the soft snow.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere the silence was shattered by the wings of five partridges that began flushing from the limbs above me. I put the brakes on instantly and watched with disgust as the last of the quintet disappeared over the treetops. Ordinarily, the birds would never have moved being 30-feet above the forest floor, but this was something I had no control over.

I remained motionless for five agonizing minutes before proceeding. Intuitively, I knew the buck was close and was quite certain that abrupt departure of the birds had alerted him that something was amiss. I cautiously proceeded another 20-yards before stopping next to a 10-foot balsam. It was at this juncture where his track turned sharply 90-degrees to my left.



Instead of having my rifle shouldered in preparation as I peered around the fir tree, I took one step with my left leg only to watch a very wide-racked buck leap from his bed going directly away from me with tail held high. By the time I got my sights onto the buck he had already put several additional yards between us, and with my shot, he shifted into high gear catapulting out of sight.

Printed words cannot fully express the emotions that I was feeling at this point. Rather than dragging a wide set of antlers attached to a very heavy buck out of the woods that night, it was disappointment, dejection and anger that accompanied me. I had taxed myself both mentally and physically, and at this point, all I knew was that I had screwed up – big time.




Often it is pride that prevents any of us from acknowledging our blunders; this especially true the more seasoned a veteran one becomes. We just hate to admit our failures; but if we are going to learn from these goof-ups, we had better be honest enough with ourselves to face them. To do so keeps our conceit in check and hopefully prevents us from repeating the same mishap. The deer hunter who is humbled by his own past mistakes is the one who becomes increasingly more successful in his hunting forays.



Most of the lessons that have had the greatest impact during my 50 plus-years of chasing whitetails ultimately resulted into some of my biggest blunders. The bucks that I remember most are not the ones hanging from my wall; it is those animals that slipped through my fingers at a time when I could have been a hero and made sporting history. The following are but a few of the great mishaps I’ve experienced and the lessons that they taught me.


Two for the price of one


I had been tracking a buck on eight inches of fresh snow for two hours when I eased up to within 35 yards of where he was standing. After getting a shot into him he bolted. Instinctively, I took off after him staying parallel with his track. Within a short distance I caught up with him standing broadside 20-yards away with nothing between us but air. Quickly, I centered on his rib cage and pulled the trigger, and much to my surprise, nothing happened. There was no noise, no recoil, just the buck blowing and motoring off. What happened? Well, when I ejected my spent cartridge and pumped another round into the chamber, the forearm was not completely pushed forward, thus the bullet did not seat. After duly admonishing myself with a repertoire of self-deprecating adjectives, I spent countless, avoidable miles following the blood trail from my first bullet before recovering the buck.



Isn’t it ironic the way things happen in pairs? By the time I finished this buck, the sun was gone from the sky and I was a long way from where I started. Upon searching all of my pockets I discovered that my flashlight was missing. Regrettably, it was sitting on the nightstand back at camp. Due to this faux- pa, I had to leave the buck and hike out in the inky black night. It seems the only smart move on my part was to flag the trail that led from my buck to the road just in case my tracks became obliterated in a snowstorm.




It is said that patience is a virtue, and when it comes to hunting whitetails, you really need to exercise this desirable quality. Because of the way that I am wired, it has taken many painful lessons for me to learn the value of being patient. The following is but one example.

I had followed a lone buck to the edge of a bedding area. He’d been quite deliberate in his course of travel skirting around any obstacle that was in his way. As his track swung around a large blow down to my left, I spotted him standing amidst several does. Before I could get my gun shouldered, he disappeared from sight. With the does continuing to mill about and oblivious to my presence, I stood my ground waiting for him to reappear.

It wasn’t long before he came back down the same trail he’d disappeared on stopping broadside in front of an old beech. I said under my breath, “Color him gone” as I fired. Based on his reaction at the shot I was convinced he was mine. I chambered another round and immediately – (mistake) – started towards where he had been standing to verify the hit. As I walked, another buck or so I thought, came racing right toward me. I instinctively swung my sights on to him but hesitated to shoot thinking, “where did this other buck come from?” Once he saw me move, the buck now in my sights abruptly turned tail and headed straight down the ridge. When I got to the beech tree I found dark hair and pieces of fat splattered against the trunk, but no dead buck. And much to my dismay, as I followed the buck’s departing tracks, I quickly realized that there was no second buck. The buck I had just let go, one that would have walked right past me had I not moved, was the same buck whose back had been creased moments ago due to my bullet being deflected.



While I could bemoan the fact that had the shot been a ¼- inch lower resulting in a broken back, the buck would have been mine. However, the real lesson for me to learn was that had I stayed put following the shot, the buck who was ambivalent to my whereabouts would have run right past me offering a 15-yard shot. Tough lesson, but well learned.


Out to lunch


On this particular morning I had been poking around a piece of real estate that several does called home. In my investigation I discovered the fresh track of a buck that was also checking on the ladies. After what appeared to be a fool’s errand on the buck’s part, his lone tracks led up and into a stand of spruce trees. As I followed, trying to figure out what his next move would be, his trail looped and started back down the slope. While stopped and visually following his track, I was caught by surprise with movement to my left. Through an opening slightly uphill I saw the rear portion of a deer walk through. Based on the size of its rear quarter, this had to be a buck, I thought. And although at this point it was just an assumption, I believed it to be the same one I was tracking.

Lowering myself to one knee I searched meticulously to pick out any further movement. Being completely focused on where the buck had disappeared to, with rifle butt resting on the ground, I was more than a little dumb-founded as I watched the exact deer walk back through the same opening once again. By the time I collected my wits he had vanished.



At this point, having already messed up what should have been an easy shot, I should have drawn on my knowledge of deer behavior, noted the time of day and recognized that the buck was checking on the security of his bedding area prior to laying down. Nope, instead I continued to play the part of a fool. I cautiously started to move up the incline to get a better vantage point. Once again this proved to be the wrong move. I hadn’t gotten very far when the buck blew and jumped from his bed leaving me holding a gun that is of little use when not trained on the target.

Perhaps out of determination born from frustration, but probably more so from my feeling of stupidity, I pursued this buck relentlessly for the rest of the day but never got him.





A seasoned old veteran of the deer woods once wrote, “If there is any true spirit as a hunter in you, defeat will only inspire you. You will learn more from your failures than many do from success.” We are all keenly aware of some of the dim-witted mistakes that have cost us a buck. Understand, even as hunters, we are not infallible – that’s the very element that continues to make us better.


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Posted in: Whitetail Deer