By Alex Comstock
There are always going to be the bucks that get away. The ones that keep you up at night, wondering what you could have done differently. I find myself thinking about these encounters, and occurrences often. Even at the young age of 22, I've had more mishaps, and bucks that have gotten away, than ones I've been successful harvesting. But today, I wanted to share a story with you of the first buck that truly "got away". The first buck that left me stunned, and down in the dumps. It's a buck and a moment I'll never forget, as that deer taught me how to handle failure, and grow from these disappointments. On to the story...
Fall of 2012: Heading into the archery season of 2012, I was a 17 year old with hardly any expectations as far as bucks were concerned. To this point, I still hadn't shot my first buck with a bow, and all I wanted was to shoot something that made me happy. In my mind, I knew I wanted to harvest any 8 pointer or bigger, but I'm convinced that if I was presented with a shot opportunity at a smaller buck, I still would have taken the shot. The first couple months of season went by without much luck, but everything was about to change in the blink of an eye.
Tipped Off: Where I did all of my bowhunting back in my high school days was behind the neighborhood that I lived in. My math teacher also lived in this neighborhood, and one day when I arrived to his class in November, he told me about a giant buck he had seen in his yard the night before. He thought it to be a ten pointer, and I thought it was probably the same buck that another neighbor had told me about a couple of days prior. Knowing there was a big buck roaming the neighborhood, my goal was now to figure out a way to get a crack at this buck.
Putting the Puzzle Together: To this day, I am still impressed at how efficiently I came to figure out where I needed to be in order to have a chance at this buck. I plotted on a map where I knew the buck had been sighted, and then used that information when trying to figure out where I thought I would have the best likelihood of running into him while he would be cruising for doe if he wasn't locked down. I ended up deciding on a spot a lot further back in the timber than I had ever hunted. There was an area that bottled down into a perfect pinch point to catch cruising bucks, and I went in to hang a stand - this is where I already started to hurt myself. When I went in to hang the stand, I didn't bring enough tree steps. Being inexperienced, instead of bringing more than enough, I hiked all the way back to this area, found a great tree, but could only get about ten feet off of the ground. Instead of being smart, and leaving the stand at the base of the tree with all of the screw in steps in, and then bringing more when I came in to hunt, I simply put the stand up, even though I was barely off the ground, and had zero cover.
The Hunt: I remember this hunt so vividly in my mind. It was November 17th, and I had set out that morning to a stand that hadn't been productive to that point in the season, but I was handicapped with the wind direction that morning. I sat in the stand until about 8:30am, and then when the wind switched from NE to NW, I made the decision to switch stands, to the new stand I had just hung for the mysterious ten pointer. It was a risky move, as I had to walk about a half mile to the other stand, but it paid off (almost).
I arrived to my pre-set stand around 9am, and as I climbed up the tree, I instantly regretted being lazy and not putting the stand higher up. With zero cover and only about ten feet up, I stuck out like a sore thumb. In the back of my mind, I was hoping I would catch the big buck on the tail of a doe, and less wary than normal. After only fifteen minutes of wondering what I might see the rest of the morning, that question was answered.
A very nice eight pointer emerged from the thick brush about fifty yards to my right. I slowly stood up in my stand, grabbed my bow, and turned in the stand so I could position myself for a shot. The buck turned to walk away from me, and I gave him a soft grunt. He turned on a dime, and started to head right for me. At this point, I had heard something to my left, which based on the way I was facing would have been straight out from the stand. I didn't pay any attention to the noise, thinking it was a squirrel or something, and I stayed fixated on the approaching eight pointer. Not more than a couple seconds later, I heard another sound of a branch breaking, and I thought I probably should look to see what it was, but I was too afraid to turn my head, and have the eight pointer catch me moving. About a minute went by, and as the eight pointer ever so slowly made his way towards me, he stopped in his tracks and locked on to me, or so I thought. I realized he actually wasn't looking at me, but past me. At this moment, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, and when I turned to see what it was, I was amazed. It was the biggest buck I had ever seen while hunting in my life. No doubt, it was the mysterious ten pointer that had been roaming the neighborhood. I quickly shifted gears towards focusing on getting a shot at this buck, as he was already within twenty yards of me. I yelled at myself internally for not looking when I first heard the crunch of leaves while this buck was approaching me. I now had barely any time, as the buck was about to walk through my last shooting lane, and any opportunity at the buck would be gone. Thinking that I had no time, I quickly drew my bow back, and the instant I did that, the buck barely even looked up at me, and was gone in the blink of an eye. The second he bounded off, I looked back to the eight pointer, only to see a white tail seemingly telling me that I was made. I let my bow down, sat in my stand, and honestly almost lost my cool. I wanted to get that ten pointer so bad, almost to prove to myself that I could do it, and I had failed. I let him get away, and it was because of my error. This was a great teaching moment, and even though it was hard to see at the moment, I can look back now, and identify how it made me a better hunter.
Reflection: While reflecting on this hunt, I can identify a couple major things that I did wrong. When I initially went in to hang the stand, once I realized I didn't bring enough tree steps to get to the needed height, I should have left the stand at the base of the tree, went back for more steps, and should have waited to hang the stand until I was high enough up in the tree. Being young and inexperienced, I thought I could get away with it, but it was a core reason that led to me getting busted. The second critical mistake was not trusting my gut, and looking when I first heard the sound of the approaching buck. I was so concerned with the eight pointer busting me, I never looked when I first heard what ended up being the big ten pointer approaching me. If I would have just slowly turned my head, I would have seen the deer much earlier, and had time to figure out when I would draw my bow. Instead of this happening, I first saw the buck when he was within twenty yards, and tried drawing my bow while there was nothing in between us. Given this fact, and the fact that yet again, I was exposed in the tree, the buck saw me move the second I started to draw, and busted me. I never saw this buck again.
This hunt has stuck with me ever since that day. Though it was hard at the time, and I felt like a failure, I think it was a key piece in making me the hunter I am today. (If you want to read more about how failure can help you succeed, click here.) Ever since then, I have been much smarter when hanging treestands. I put my stands where there's cover, and if there isn't cover, I'll hang my stands on the backsides of trees. Another important teaching moment was when to draw your bow. At that point in my life I had shot a couple does with my bow, but never had a close encounter with a mature buck, like I did that morning. Mature bucks are big and old for a reason, they're incredibly smart. You need to figure out ways to get that bow drawn back without getting busted, and be able to identify the right time to do so.
I was once told that you'll remember the ones that got away more than the bucks on your wall. I don't know if that's true yet, but one thing is for certain, and that's I'll never forget the bucks that get away. For the ones that beat you, they are the bucks that truly teach you how to become a better hunter. For me, this was the start of bucks beating me. I learned a lot from the hunt, and I'm certain I've harvested bucks since that day because of the mysterious ten pointer that outsmarted me. So for that, I'm thankful for that moment, and that buck.