I sat there 20’ high, shaking uncontrollably after releasing my arrow, and thought to myself, “what if I did it again?”
Five years ago that question would be in a celebratory manner, as in, what if I’m still on my hot streak and just had another successful hunt. My first few seasons as a bowhunter were incredible; literally nothing could pass me! Not this year though. 2018 has been rough. The hesitation and shakiness from within was stemming from uncertainty after so much heartbreak during early season, from missing to wounding multiple animals.
I truly believe that when we endure so much heartache, we grow that much more, but it’ll never sit well with me if it involves the suffering of an animal. I don’t shoot my bow year round just to fall short in the moments it counts the most. We don’t study the property, hang/check cameras, set up the perfect tree stands and blinds, create shooting lanes, fill feeders and plant food plots just to sling some arrows and hope that luck is on our side. That being said, sometimes it’s still not enough, and the idea of “not being enough” is gut wrenching for a perfectionist to hear and accept.
I continued to put the hours in, hunting every day and shooting my bow between hunts to keep my mental game strong. I played the wind and sat long hours (even in the pouring rain) to hopefully turn my luck around. I figured at some point my shooter buck would have to come by the way he had in the middle of the night so many times. Then, on the morning of October 26th, I released an arrow. I immediately called Braxton, even though he was an hour away at work and my dad was sitting at the house less than a mile away. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell my pops or anybody else until I put my hands on him. Braxton raced home to help me, and ended up bringing my pops along to help after all.
I replayed the shot a thousand times and I knew it was high because the angle was so sharp from my tree stand; he was practically underneath me. When he ran off, I vividly remember seeing the arrow sticking out further than I’d imagined it’d be, but he passed through some thick brush that I knew would work the arrow toward his vitals. Shortly after I heard deer blowing in the direction he ran. I never heard a crash though, so I waited. I waited over an hour before telling my pops I shot the biggest cull buck we had on camera, and I waited even longer to go look for him. I knew in that moment that I was mentally in a rough place - to not even have the confidence to tell the man that introduced me to the outdoors that I shot one.
When the guys showed up, I raced down the tree and we found blood instantly. It was a great blood trail even without a passthrough, and my spirits spiked a little. “Don’t get too excited though, it’s too early,” I told myself, and I continued to follow the red trail. We wove through a few cedar trees and small meadows until it opened up and I hear the guys start whispering (as if I couldn’t hear them) so I stopped to look up. There he was, exactly where I guessed he would be, based on the behavior of the other deer. He went down in the wide open, which explains the lack of crashing. I trembled as i walked up to him, and I thought my heart was going to explode. I finally did it. I broke the spell. Having those two men with me and holding me as I ugly cried (yes that’s a thing) was so special. I don’t have a video of the recovery, but honestly It’s nice to have those moments in my heart and mind, rather than on film for a change.
I’m not sure I’ve ever touched an animal and cried that hard. Prior to that moment, I had thought very seriously about putting my bow down, but I’m so glad I didn’t. It made the moment that much sweeter. I smiled all the way to the house and throughout the rest of the day. I seriously could’ve strapped that buck to my Diamondback cover and rode around to every gas station to tell the story a thousand times, because that’s what we do in small towns - we celebrate our successes in the field and congratulate a stranger when we see one in the bed of a pickup truck. I wouldn’t want it any other way. This hunt reminded me to always keep putting one foot in front of the other, to always give it your best and learn from the mistakes. I am humbled by the lessons that I continue to learn in the outdoors. I’m so proud to be a hunter, and I’m so proud that it all came together.