The long off-season is quickly winding down and we are officially inside of a month until the popular Nebraska archery deer season kicks off. For many of you the season may start even sooner as you prepare and eventually head out on pronghorn hunts. Or if you are like me you will be missing the deer opener to chase bugling bull elk in the rugged and humbling Rocky Mountains. Whatever you are after I'm willing to bet you have optimism in your heart and dreams of filled tags in your head. In fact I'd argue bowhunters are the most optimistic and wishful of all folks with a hobby. The success rate for bowhunters nationally, across all species, is ridiculously low, yet here we are, with a new season upon us, and I personally couldn't be more excited. In this post I want to share with you a season of "failures" and how despite those trials and tribulations I turn to a new season with the same, if not more, passion to bowhunt.
I have an unlimited amount of bowhunting dreams, but an extremely limited budget. Still, that doesn't stop me from game planning, and dreaming of the hunts I want to go on. Each year I try to make at least one of those dreams come true. This year I was lucky enough to draw a couple of tags that allowed some of those dream trips to come true. Along with that I was fortunate enough to spend 5 days at turkey camp with Mike Marstellar and his sister Jody of The Whitetail Fix TV show. Yet, I left every single one of those tags unfilled. A bad shot, poor weather, complete lack of luck, and countless other factors played into an endless amount of frustrating hunts. Let me rewind.
The 2016 deer season came with the same anticipation as all others. I'd once again be sharing a deer camp with friends CJ Novak and Jay Canada. I had a few good shooters on camera, the food plots were growing great, and the rut was fast approaching. As usual I made a late phone call to the landowner to set up final plans for vacation. That's when the bomb was dropped. I was asked not to hunt a particular farm as he wanted a friend that was recently injured in a farming accident to have easy access to stands I had previously hung. A different farm was offered up and I gladly accepted the offer, however I had spend not just the past few months prepping stands for the season but 5+ years learning this farm and I had 3 deer over 140" on camera I wanted to hunt. But rules are rules, and we begrudingly tried to make the best of it. We blindly went to the new farm and quickly hung a few sets. Finally on November 8th I had my chance. The 70 degree weather had slowed the rut to a crawl but on this day a lone 11 point that I guessed to be in the 150-155" range was headed my way. I expected him to step on a trail at 28 yards and set my slider sight accordingly. He didn't cooperate and stepped off the trail at 34 yards. I told myself I had to take this shot or he might get away. I also told myself to aim high since he was at 34 but my pin was at 28. I squeezed off the shot, but forgot to aim high. My arrow zipped right under him. Appalled at my idiotic mistake I barely had time to wallow in self pity because the deer just spun around and looked at the glowing nock buried in the dirt. As he stared I quickly nocked another arrow and reset my sight. The buck turned and took a few steps putting him at 40 yards and stopped to look back again. I set my pin to 40 but only had a steep quartering away shot. I hesitated to take the shot but was confident I could make it. I squeezed off another arrow and this time watched my arrow sail perfectly into his cavity just where I had aimed. The buck hunched up and slowly walked away. I could see the arrow had buried half way into his body and the high/low angle was dead middle of his body, but the arrow looked like it was in the middle of his stomach on the left to right angle. I contacted CJ and Jay and we decided to let him go overnight. We talked at length about the shot. I contacted several trusted archers who all felt the same, this deer was likely liver shot, and 1 lung and should expire given time. The next morning we went after him. The blood trail was faint, and disappeared within 100 yards. The buck crossed through a cedar thicket and CRP field making tracking even harder. We searched for 6 hours and never found him. I went back the next day and looked 4 more hours. I went back in December and looked again just for a cavity and never found him. This would've been the biggest whitetail I had ever taken, but he wasn't to be found. I don't know why. I spend a lot of hours on the range, and feel I am a solid shot, but given the chance at a broadside 34 yard shot I messed up. To make it worse I made a marginal (at best) shot on my follow up attempt. I spent a lot of the off-season torturing myself about that shot, decision, and event. That has been a tough pill to swallow. In those moments of self doubt and reflection I realize I can do one of two things, either quit this sport altogether or KEEP GRINDING and get better. I choose to KEEP GRINDING.
Spring Turkey season 2017 was set up for an incredible year. I had Mike and Jody Marstellar in camp and permission to several farms that historically held 100+ turkeys combined. About 7-10 days before season the weather looked great. But as is the usual case Mother Nature got a bad attitude. She changed her mind as the opener and following 4 of 5 days were as bad as a turkey hunter could ever ask for. It was cold, rainy, and windy, the most horrific trifecta a turkey hunter could ask for. For 5 days we KEPT GRINDING despite a complete lack of birds on any of the farms. My contact couldn't believe the turkeys that picked his fields clean all winter long were gone. Birds wouldn't gobble even off the roost and when we did find turkeys they were non-responsive and call shy. But we KEPT GRINDING. Then on day 3 the sun came out and the winds died. About 4 pm as I watched intently north of me I kept thinking to myself I didn't really love my set up. To my west was a big alfalfa field. While there was no way the birds would come from this direction I was concerned that the sun was brightly shining on that side of the blind. To keep myself concealed I had the west window completely closed, but that's where my decoys were set. I thought I could hear drumming to my southwest and my fears were confirmed when I peeked out the window. The flock of 15-18 hens and 1 lone strutter had snuck up on me silently from behind. The hens were hammering my new Flextone hen decoy and the tom strutted back and forth inside of 15 yards for over a minute. I had no way to pull the window down without spooking at least 1 of those hens, many of which were within 5 yards of me. I flipped on the camera Mike had let me use for my first filming effort. The camera was 3 feet to my north and in perfect position to film the birds, but I couldn't shoot as I was behind the closed window. I got in position and waited for the birds to get bored and walk north of me. It was taking forever so I decided to help them out by carelessly kicking over my quiver that was leaning up behind me, what an idiot. The hens got nervous and started to wander off in a hurry. This prompted the still strutting Merriam tom to quick step through my lone shooting lane. Despite being drawn and ready I was going for head shots and the angle at which he passed me at a mere 16 yards offered no head shot. The flock and opportunity was gone. Neither the weather nor the turkeys cooperated again on any of my next few outings. I had several more trips and either public land had been overrun, the birds wouldn't cooperate, or bad luck just prevented me from closing in on another bird that season for me or my two kids. Another species, another season, 3 more empty tags. This would've been a good time to give up. But I choose to KEEP GRINDING.
In March I was notified that I had drawn a Nebraska archery Paddlefish tag. I'd never shot a paddlefish and desperately wanted to shoot one. So my defacto guide Lane Anderson of Martinsburg offered to help me fill that tag. We headed up to Yankton, SD as rookies to give it a try. I learned very quickly this was going to be a real challenge. First off the weather forecasters and Mother Nature had a miscommunication. The weathermen said there'd be no wind, but as soon as we were on the water by 6 a.m. guess what, there was wind. I learned quickly the paddlefish weren't going to sit still for long. They surface and roll and are gone in a split second. There isn't nearly enough time to find one, draw, aim, and shoot. Watching other bowfishermen I realized my best chance was to be at full draw and hope one pops up close for a quick shot. 4 hours later my shoulders were shot. Even my Greek God like physique (not even close to true) was unable to stay at full draw consistently for 4 hours. That was quite possibly the most humbling bowhunt I'd ever been on. This would've been an ideal time to quit bowhunting. But I choose to KEEP GRINDING.
Why do we do it? Why do we as bowhunters who have a combined nation wide success rate below 25% continue to do things the hard way? Why do we dream so passionately that this year is going to be different? Why do we stand up after each failure, shake it off, and get right back after it? I believe it's because that's what bowhunters do. We KEEP GRINDING.
I mentioned earlier I'd be chasing elk in the Rocky Mountains come September. I was lucky enough, after 5 years of applying, to draw a New Mexico elk tag. This is a bucket list hunt for me. Why? Elk are one of the hardest animals to kill with a bow, and statistically one of the least successful adventures a bowhunter can attempt. Why put myself through that? The only way I can answer is because I'm a bowhunter and a GRINDER and this is what we do. We spend the off-season working out, shooting, planting food plots when it's 100 degrees, running cameras, calling friends to talk about the upcoming season, we make plans, and we chase our dreams. And I love every second of it. I choose to try to learn from my mistakes, I choose to try to get better, I choose to keep dreaming. I choose to KEEP GRINDING because I'm a bowhunter.
The Budget Bowhunter