By Alec Smith
From the first time I picked up a bow four years ago, I had a dream of taking a whitetail. Any deer would do. A doe, a spike, or a 180-inch buck, it didn’t matter. Hours of practice, scouting, and setting up stands gave me a naïve hope that I could achieve this goal. A goal that so many before me have achieved and made seem easy. Little did I know that it isn’t.
The first year, I hunted every day and time possible. From early mornings until I could barely see the light poking through trees from the far off ridge, yet I never saw a deer. No matter what stand or location I was at, each following year was like the last, yielding nothing but disappointment. As if I was a doctor, I tried to diagnose the reasons I could not find success in the woods. Was it my stand location, my scent, or perhaps my inexperience? Or maybe I just needed to step back and take a look at things from a different perspective. I finally broke down, started from scratch, and tore every stand I had off the property.
I continued to scout for areas I thought deer would move through. Finally, as I was walking through the property on a late summer evening, I found a heavily used deer path; one that I had overlooked simply because it was adjacent to the entrance to the property. As I looked further, I noticed a bedding area beyond this path. Since I had never learned what to look for when setting up stands or searching for locations to set up stands, I used what I considered to be common sense, and picked a tree that provided ample cover that was about twenty-five yards from the trail. At the time I did not have a trail camera, so I set up the stand and waited for season to open. I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve, lying in bed waiting for the morning to come so I could tear into my presents.
Finally, the end of September came and I was fully prepared and eager to start my hunts despite the eighty-degree weather. I simply couldn’t wait any longer. The first morning of the season, I sat for three hours watching squirrels and chipmunks chase each other around. Every time I heard them behind me, the hair on my neck stood straight up with the hopes that it was a deer. I eventually gave up hope and sat thinking about what I should eat when I climbed down and headed back to the house. Without noticing, the terribly loud rustling of the leaves behind me stopped and started to make quieter more subtle sounds. Then out of nowhere a brown body was moving beneath my feet. My heart was pounding and sweat was in my eyes. I didn’t dare move and give them the chance of spotting me. I sat, watched, and counted as those deer moved through the path I had overlooked for four years. I never had the opportunity at a shot at those does. Perhaps it was the shock of actually seeing something after so long, but nonetheless I was almost as happy as if I had arrowed one.
The confidence and excitement of seeing a deer for the first time while in my stand gave me a tremendous amount of hope for the season. I went ahead and purchased a trail camera so I could see exactly when those deer were moving through. I set up the camera and waited a week before I pulled the card out to view the pictures. After scrolling through, I found that group of deer traveling the trail in the mornings and evenings every day. The same four does wandered on this path. Whether they were moving to or from the bedding area, I didn’t care; I was just happy to see deer. I kept scrolling and eventually came across the picture that made me stop and stare for what seemed like hours. An old 10-point buck had shown up on camera. Judging by the sagging of his middle section and the gray in his face, an educated guess would provide reason to believe he was about a five or six year old deer. The month went on but I never encountered him, although I knew he was still in the area from the continued pictures of him on the camera. However, this did not stop me from wanting to reach my goal of taking a deer with my bow. I knew that whatever deer stepped out in front of me, I would take the shot if presented. From an old 10-point to a little spike, it didn’t matter. I just wanted a deer.
It was a Tuesday morning that I decided not to hunt. I caught up on schoolwork and a little sleep, as I had been hunting early almost every day. The weather was warm with a low of seventy that day but I didn’t have class.
I decided, despite the warm weather, to hunt that evening. I climbed into my stand about two o‘clock and sat for three and a half hours without seeing any sign of life aside from a few squirrels burying acorns beneath me. By this time of the season, I had experienced sightings of many deer without ever having the opportunity at a shot at any of them. Six o’clock rolled around and I decided that I would pack up and call it a day, but before I started gathering my things, a group of turkey started to make their way over the ridge. I decided to stay and watch them before the remainder of light faded over the treetops. As I sat and watched the turkey, I started hearing leaves crunch behind the stand. I slowly turned my head and watched with my peripheral vision to try to see any movement and what I saw was a pair of antlers poking up over the side of the hill where the trail turned and ran back into the woods. I slowly reached for my bow and sat as still as possible. I realized that this was the buck I had on camera; the five or six-year-old mature buck that had me shaking just looking at the pictures, and here he was coming into bow range. I watched and waited as he slowly crept along the trail. He made his way twenty-five yards from the stand and stood perfectly broadside. I waited until he turned his head away from me to draw my bow, and cautiously moved my top pin to the middle of his chest right behind his right leg. Without hearing anything except the pounding of my heart, I slowly squeezed the trigger of my release and watched as if in slow motion as the arrow flew through the air. The arrow hit high in his side and he dropped to the ground. I quickly pulled another arrow out of my quiver to make another shot at his vitals and double lunged him. There were no words to be said. I had done it. I had arrowed a deer, but not just any deer, the biggest deer I had on camera.
I often think about those previous seasons and almost wish I had done things differently. I constantly remind myself that without the failure and experiences of those seasons, I would not have had the opportunity to learn as much as I did. I like to think of my previous seasons as more of trial and error than failures, because the only way I truly would have failed is if I had given up. The journey for my first deer with a bow was full of disappointment, and sitting in a stand with nothing passing me but time. Although that deer took four years, I wouldn’t change how any of it played out. This might be the end of a story I’ll never forget but it is just the beginning of many stories yet to come.