Jan 10, 2014

The One That Got Away

By: Tony Blando

If you're a regular reader of my column, you know that it rarely ends with, "And then I found the huge buck and we all rejoiced and lived happily ever after." This one doesn't end that way, either, and I figured I should tell you that up front.

It does end that way for a dear friend, though, so hang in there. 

In mid-October I was bow hunting with my father. It was a gorgeous 50-degree afternoon with little wind. I had been on stand for only 15 minutes before I saw the first deer and, from that point on, I always had deer within my field of vision overlooking a stand of oaks that were dropping their mast.

I was watching a young buck when I heard a snort from the marsh to the north. As soon as I saw the deer, I knew he was a shooter and probably the maker of the large scrape 10 yards from my stand. He was 60 yards upwind and heading my way. When he was at the edge of the marsh, he stopped to thrash a small bush 20 yards away.

Now, I'm not one of those guys who could tell you a whole lot about the buck and the headgear he was sporting. Once my brain says, "Yep ... you ought to shoot this one," I stop focusing on the rack and begin rehearsing the various ways the encounter could play out. 

In this case, I was sure he was heading for the scrape behind me and would stay upwind until he passed the tree I was in at just 6 yards. 

This buck did exactly as he was supposed to do. He headed east for 10 yards and for a moment ducked behind a thick bush. I drew my bow and waited as he turned south and headed directly toward me. At 12 yards, I briefly thought about releasing the arrow but felt he was quartering to me a little too much. I also knew that in 6 more yards he would be directly broadside and still upwind. I kept the pin on him and continued to follow as he slowly ambled to me. At about 9 yards my bow stopped — and he kept moving. I realized that my lower limb was hitting something that prevented me from moving my bow, so now my pin was on his belly. At 6 yards I leaned back in the stand and was able to free the bow up and get the pin back on the buck's vital area. I then got cocky and smiled. I was already thinking of the short track job my dad and I would have, and I already pictured the buck hanging in my den. 

I released the arrow and, to my disbelief, the buck took two hurried steps and then slowly wandered off to join the small buck eating acorns. Although I was able to nock another arrow, he never again offered a clear shot. 

I was instantly sick to my stomach. I had a really nice buck darn near in the stand with me and I flat-out missed!

And then I saw the small white pine limb that prevented me from following the deer. I also saw the neat little groove in the branch where the lower cam of my Matthews Reezen hit during the shot.

Only I could miss a beautiful buck 6 yards away by 10 feet. Next time I'll wait until I'm elbow-deep in entrails before I offer my cocky little smirk. 

I was in a funk and couldn't think straight or sleep well for three or four days — so I called my buddy, Art, who always has a way of finding the positive side of negative events. 

Art said, "Look at it this way. If you would have hit him, your season would have been over and you probably would have spent four or five hundred dollars on the mount." He reminded me of opening day a few years ago, when he killed a nice buck and had to spend the rest of the fall hunting ducks, geese and grouse. Poor guy.

Art's logic helped to a degree but I still couldn't get that buck out of mind, especially since he kept showing up on my trail camera.

Fast forward three weeks when I joined my Army buddies, Tony Loop, Dave Sales and Tom Mims for a five-day bow hunt in southeast Kansas. This was a hunt we had been planning for several months, and we were all really excited to chase those Sunflower State bruisers. 

As we got closer and closer to the trip, it was becoming more and more unlikely that Tom would be able to join us. Unfortunately, his daughter was dealing with breast cancer, and Tom felt he needed to be with her to lend support as she underwent surgery and treatment.

Tom's daughter ended up having surgery a few days before our hunt, and the day before, Tom got the awesome news that she had made it through the surgery and that the pathology report indicated that the cancer hadn't spread. 

When we met up in Kansas, it was evident that Tom had just been through an emotional hell-ride and he was ready to get in a stand to clear his mind.

Our first night on stand proved to be uneventful as we saw very few deer. Uneventful for everyone - except Tom. Just before dark he had a few does come in, and they were trailed by a beautiful 3-year-old 10-pointer.

As Tom tells it, he thought he had little chance of getting a clear shot at this deer, since the area was full of post oak trees that had yet to lose any leaves.   Tom said that there was only one small opening he could shoot through — if the buck actually stepped into the opening. By the grace of God the buck did step into that opening and Tom double-lunged him. 

The picture with the four of us speaks a thousand words. We were thrilled for Tom —because not only was it his first buck with a bow but a buck we felt was sent by God to inject a little bit of joy into his life. 

I couldn't help but think of my own season in 2007, when I was going through radiation treatments for prostate cancer. It was a rough fall but I did harvest four deer that year, including a nice 10-pointer during late bow season. I remember thinking back then that God was going out of his way to inject joy into my life.

I think "my" deer is being saved for someone else going through a rough time. Maybe a young kid dealing with troubles at school, or a wounded vet, or someone else struggling with major financial, physical or emotional problems. Someone who needs to kill that deer more than I do.

Perhaps God has an annual quota for really cool things that happen to each of us at just the right time. Tom Mims needed to harvest his first buck with a bow to help take his mind off of his daughter's cancer. I needed to harvest the buck I missed so I could brag to my dad and brothers.

If God does have a quota, I'm happy he gave that allocation to Tom. It not only eased his pain ... it eased mine too. 

I hope you too find peace the next time you miss a big buck. Maybe it's really not because you’re a lousy shot. Perhaps it just isn't your turn.