A Major Learning Opportunity | WhitetailDNA Journal

By Alex Comstock 

Last night I arrived home from Nebraska a little smarter than I was when I left. At least, that's how I'm going to view the situation that took place over the weekend, opposed to dwelling over a mistake. Here's what went down and what I learned. 

First of all, the trip was very productive. I met up with my buddy from high school down there Thursday afternoon, and we hit the stand as soon as we got there. We were hunting the back end of a cold front, and being that I've never hunted down there outside of the time frame surrounding the rut, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Deer movement was plentiful, we saw quite a bit of a deer, and in the few days I hunted, I think I saw nine different bucks. That confirmed to us, the deer numbers are there. All we need now to make the area more huntable is for the corn to get picked. That property is surrounded by corn, and once picked, I believe all the deer will be bedding in the giant piece of timber on the property, and heading down to the picked corn to feed. 

This stand is in a small piece of timber, overlooking a giant corn field. Once picked, this will be a money observation stand. 

This stand is in a small piece of timber, overlooking a giant corn field. Once picked, this will be a money observation stand. 

September 30th: Friday morning, on the 30th of September, was far and away our best hunt of the trip. Ben was situated in the stand pictured above and saw 17 deer filter through the natural clearing on the other side of the cornfield in the timber. He got eyes on six different bucks, including a 160 class 10 pointer that we don't have on trail camera. 

That morning I was sitting about 500 yards from Ben and had activity right at first light. Two bucks popped out of the standing cornfield less than twenty yards away from me and worked their way within ten yards. With how dark it still was, I could hardly tell who the bucks were and if I knew them. I got my binos on the bigger buck, and it looked to me as though he might be a shooter. I was so excited and made the rushed judgement call that I wanted to put an arrow through him, not knowing what deer he was. I tried getting the camera on him, grabbed my bow and drew back while he was standing broadside and instantly he turned and started walking away. He got out to about 20 yards, and started to make a scrape. I thought I had a small gap to shoot through, and let the arrow fly. 

From what I remember happening, it looked like I hit a small branch, the arrow deflected and I missed clean. I watched the buck run off, then walk off into the corn after watching him out of range for 5-10 minutes. It seemed pretty cut and dry to me. I made a dumb mistake and should have never of shot, and I missed. Lesson learned right? Not quite. 

Things Get Worse: Once climbing out of the stand after my morning sit, I went and grabbed my arrow. My broadhead was broken off, and my arrow was clean. That was a bit odd I thought, but figured I probably hit a rock or something and broke the end off. Then I followed the trail that the buck walked after I shot, and noticed a small drop of blood. 

After following blood like this for close to 500 yards, I deemed the shot not fatal. 

After following blood like this for close to 500 yards, I deemed the shot not fatal. 

I was thrown for quite the loop. After being so positive I missed, I had no idea where I even hit the buck. That is never a good thing. I knew there was no way the shot was fatal with at the most, an inch of penetration, but the feeling inside my stomach was not a good one. I didn't get the shot on film, but I was able to capture the buck after the shot, and I replayed it over and over, and couldn't see a mark on him. Confusion was at an all time high. The questions going through my head were constant. Why would I shoot at such low light conditions? What made me do what I did?

Me and Ben tracked the minimal blood for close to 500 yards, and the buck never bedded down. That combined knowing I had close to zero penetration, I knew the buck would survive. But, knowing the buck would survive didn't make me feel any better. I was sick to my stomach and really questioned myself as a hunter. How in the world do I shoot at a buck, not knowing what buck it is, and not knowing where I hit the animal? It was irresponsible, and 100% user error. 

What I learned: The biggest takeaway from this situation, was to not let buck fever get the best of me. I've had a track record in the past of getting overly excited when shooting a deer, whether that be a doe, or a giant buck. It is important to realize if you are someone who is more affected than others. There are those people out there that are stone cold killers, and the excitement doesn't hit them until after the shot. That is definitely not the case with me, and coming up with some type of internal dialogue will help me I think. Going forward, I have to be able to calm myself down in a more efficient way, and think through my options before letting an arrow fly. 

Conclusion: This could have been avoided, but learning from mistakes will only make you a better hunter going forward. I have to learn from this, and be able to apply the lessons learned to future situations. 

-After reviewing the footage about a hundred times, I could see a small mark on the bucks back left leg where he was bleeding. I came to the conclusion that I hit the branch just as I had thought, and clipped the bucks leg. He will survive, and hopefully show back up on the trail cameras.