The Best Miss Ever
It was the third day of the annual Park Rapids UFFDA hunt and I was sitting in a new ground blind. My best friend Ken and I had been in a good spot the previous two-days seeing deer on both occasions. The first spot was set up more for a crossbow than my hand-made birch re-curve, and I needed to find a spot where the deer would pass closer.
We had found a nice spot behind some big oak trees where we had seen two nice bucks chasing each other the first day of the hunt. The wind was right and I had ample cover. I also had a camouflage net around me and was perched right by the intersection of three forest roads.
Ken and I usually bowhunt separately, but the Camp Wilderness hunt is a vacation for us, so we usually hang out in an enclosed ground blind, chat a bit, and don’t take things too seriously. Tonight however, Ken decided not to hunt with me going back to the truck to sleep. He thought we made too much noise in the blind together, which is true.
I was in the blind for about an hour when I heard a twig snap to my left. I looked over and saw a large Fisher moving through the woods. It was the first live Fisher I had ever seen and seemed out of place to me. I watched it for five minutes, amazed at the way it swam through the undergrowth like a shark through water, following its nose and sniffing out its prey. It was gone as suddenly as it appeared and my watch continued.
A short while later I heard another cracking twig from the same direction. This time it was a nice sized buck with a decent rack. It was about thirty-five yards away through thick brush. I couldn’t tell how many points the brute had, but it was a shooter. Its body was massive, impressing me as it moved silently through the thick woods. It stayed around long enough to give me hope, but in the end, it walked off in the other direction. I must be mellowing as I age because I was very pleased to see two beautiful animals, even though I didn’t get a shot.
Evening was fast approaching, as I sat waiting for darkness and my ride to arrive. I’d decided that the Fisher and Buck were the only animals I was going to see that evening.
I thought I heard another twig snap! The wind was blowing and the sound came right after a powerful gust making me think it was just dead brush falling to the ground. When the wind went down, I heard another snap in the same direction. This got me interested! I began scanning the area as the twig snapping continued and came closer. Spotting motion through a thick stand of poplar trees, I eventually saw brown fur so I knew it was a deer. It was 30-yards away when I noticed it was large 25 when I saw antlers, 2 little forks, six inches tall. The young buck was creeping slowly taking forever to walk a few yards.
Normally most “moral” sportsmen would let a little guy like this pass by to grow up a bit, but I had decided that if it got within shooting distance, I was going to ruin its day in the worst way. Let me explain.
Three years ago, I bought a meat grinder and sausage stuffer before the archery deer season. I couldn’t wait to enjoy the tasty creations I was going to make when I took my next animal. I even went as far as to buy the sausage casings, which had a life expectancy, bad idea.
Since my wonderful purchase I had failed to bring down a deer proving once again that you don’t count your chickens before they hatch; you don’t put the wagon before the horse; and you definitely don’t buy a meat grinder and sausage stuffer before you get a deer. Now you understand why I had bad intentions for the little guy.
At 20-yards, it busted me, picked up its head and stared directly into my eyes. I thought the gig was up, but it wasn’t. After staring into my soul and stopping my heart for an almost fatal length of time, it kept coming. I couldn’t believe it.
The buck approached slowly closing the distance between as I studied this beautiful young animal. His fur was smooth and its black nose was moist and shiny from constant licking. The fork-horn was lean with a hint of ribcage on its side. Wiry muscles were tense, occasionally quivering in anticipation of danger. The young buck was beautiful in every sense of the word and it was coming closer.
Deer aren’t stupid and this one knew something wasn’t right. It was young, curious, and obviously trying to figure things out. Lacking in experience the buck drew closer when it should have bolted. I was ready!
At 15-yardsour eyes locked and the buck stopped, its muscles tensing as its body lowered a little as it prepared to spring to safety. Then it relaxed and took a few more steps in the direction of my shooting lane. With each step, the young buck became more wary and nervous. It was smart, but much too curious for his own good.
Ten yards in front of me there were two small oak trees that created a natural point for me to raise my bow and get into the final shooting position. I had a problem though.
I hadn’t mentioned this earlier, but UFFDA is short for United Foundation For Disabled Archers. Nine years ago, I was in an auto accident and became paralyzed from the chest down. Each year UFFDA hosts two hunts for people with disabilities, one in WI and I was hunting in the one in MN.
My problem was that from my wheelchair I couldn’t get a shot when it by the trees. I wear a harness to keep me upright in my chair while hunting. However, I am only able to shoot comfortably to my left and this deer was going to be out in front. I’ve practiced shooting at this particular angle before, and have had success, but I can’t breathe while leaning forward against my harness. Therefore, I have a very limited shooting time before I become unstable, my aim goes away, and I am unable to shoot.
The buck kept walking and when its eyes disappeared behind the two small oak trees I took a deep breath, brought my bow up, drew and prepared to fire. I was ready to release as soon as its sweet spot emerged, but the only thing that emerged was its head, which turned and looked at me. There I was at full draw, holding my breath, only able to see the buck’s head with the clock ticking as I ran out of time. While holding my breath I quickly assessed the situation. He was between the trees and a small, low pile of brush, and I knew that if he found me he only had one place to go. He wouldn’t come closer if he knew I was there, and I have never seen a deer back up the same trail they came in on. So that left only one option, he would have to jump over the brush pile.
What was actually only a few seconds seemed like hours as I held my breath, waiting to take the fatal shot. My arms were strained holding my long bow at full draw and I am sure I was starting to turn a little blue as I quickly ran out of air.
The time came when I had to let my air out if I wanted to stay conscious. I slowly, quietly, emptied my lungs. At that exact same moment, the young deer took another step, was just about past the trees, and emerge into the open where I could get a shot.
We were very close, ten yards or less! It took only a second for the wind to carry my exhaled breath into its nose. This time I truly was busted! Guessing the buck’s escape route, I aimed above the pile of brush and let my arrow fly. The arrow seemed to hesitate and as soon as it was gone, I knew I was way behind schedule. By the time my arrow arrived at the pile, the buck was over it and executing the first step in his high-speed escape. I watched it bound off waving goodbye to me the way deer do.
Surprisingly I wasn’t angry or even upset that I missed. Deep down inside I was happy it got away. It has been nine years since I landed in my loud, shiny, bulky and smelly wheelchair. I hadn’t been able to get this close to a deer since my accident and I was wondering if my bowhunting days weren’t over. This little deer showed me they weren’t.
That little buck and I exchanged lessons that day. It taught me that I can still do whatever I want even though I am disabled! All I have to do it put some effort into it and never give up. As long as I keep trying, I’ll persevere. I taught the buck to trust its eyes as well as its nose! Not everything is always as it seems.
In the end, I learned a lot about myself from this curious little deer. I am still a man and above all a hunter that can provide fresh game for my growing family, if I only keep trying. That, to me, is a gift beyond what words can describe, and that is why this was the best miss ever.