Salvaging a Substandard Season
By Arliss McNalley
Dec 18, 2005 – 12:56:00 AM
Salvaging a Substandard Season
By: Arliss McNalley
of Alaris Concepts, maker of the BowKaddy
The first leaf that hits the
ground each autumn is, indeed, a happy moment for any hunter. While everyone else is complaining about the
sinking mercury, the cool breezes and baring trees, they are nothing short of
inspiring to the serious bow or rifle hunter.
And so begins another quest for glory.
The weapon is sighted in, the wind is right and you can already envision
that trophy animal gracing the décor of your den or basement. As if success was as much a guarantee as the
end of season itself.
So what happens when the only
thing you hang on the wall at the end of season is your camo outfit? The mild despair is usually drowned out by a
sense of humble satisfaction as you commit to memory days or weeks of good
times with old buddies in the great outdoors.
We don?t expect wall-hangers every year but wild meat in some form of
tenderness is usually a done deal by the close of rifle season. But what if, besides an empty freezer, the
season closes with less than cooperative weather, a shortage of opportunities,
wasted ammunition and total non-confidence in yourself or your gear? Or worse yet ? unrecovered animals or damaged
I have been hunting big game
since my early teens, almost two decades ago.
I consider myself an experienced hunter and a reasonable shot, yet I?d
be lying if I said every hunting season ended the way I expected it to. In fact, fresh venison is only a reality this
year because of the marksmanship of my brother (thanks, little bro!) Except for the story surrounding his 4×5
whitetail, 2005 was a year I?d just as soon forget.
The spring black bear hunt ended
with a series of unfortunate events, culminating in a beautiful cinnamon
rushing from the bait after my broadhead found hair and dirt instead of heart
and lung. To add insult, I got it all on
home video. They say bad judgment leads
to good learning, especially if you?ve got some visual aids. Lesson learned, but not before some
sleeplessness reminded me that at least it was a clean miss and maybe next year
my bow would shoot as straight as my camera.
Early September marked the
beginning of our two-month archery deer season leading up to the November rifle
hunt. With four tags, three months to
hunt and an excess of optimism, I was actually wondering how to convince my
wife that the taxidermy bill might be a little higher than usual this
year. It was painful to reach into my
pocket on December 4th and find all of my tags unused. Karen found it rather amusing.
The area I hunt close to home gets
more pressure every year and this fall was no exception. There are a lot of serious hunters in the
area, which is perfectly okay, until they stop competing with the deer and
start competing with each other. For
example, one local hunter made no bones about parking his pickup a stone?s
throw away from our mule deer blinds every night that we sat. He was not a bowhunter, but seemingly wanted
to make sure we didn?t take out any big ones before rifle season. You can just imagine my frustration, but I?ll
reserve comments on this for a future column.
On my last archery sit of the season, I was able to get a shot at a
140-class muley before he pulled into the field with his
binoculars. The buck approached from
behind me, walking past my bush blind and out beside the stick I had planted at
thirty yards in the alfalfa. My bow was
at full draw and the arrow was resting anxiously in my Whisker Biscuit?but
wait! Right on his heels was another
muley of similar stature. By the time
they reached the middle of my window, they were standing side by side. What dumb luck! Two shooter bucks right in front of me and I
can?t release for fear of hitting both of them!
Luckily, they separated by the time they reached the right side of my
window and I let fly. Trying to avoid a
similar outcome to my spring bear hunt, I had run the whole scenario over and
over in my head before the deer even appeared.
However, when the moment of redemption arrived, I forgot to factor in
the additional eight yards the bucks had traveled away from me during their
separation. My confidence level hit
ground zero at the same time as my arrow.
Another undershot broadhead ruined by sand and dirt as the deer bounded away
to graze on the other side of the field.
Avoiding the temptation to break
all my arrows in half, I reluctantly put my bow away for the season. Maybe I?d be able to shake the monkey with my
Remington 7mm Short Action Ultra Mag.
But November saw unseasonably mild temperatures and practically no
snow. The deer weren?t moving well and
the deep rut I had hoped for was more like a shallow imprint. Add to this an increase in posted lands and
pressure from more hunters, you begin to understand my frustration.
When it comes to shooting
opportunities, we?ve all had them, not had them, lost them, and beat ourselves
up when we wasted them.
opportunity to hunt doesn?t necessarily result in the opportunity to
shoot. But when it does, make sure
you?ve learned from every single shot you?ve made or missed in the past.
Don?t worry about things out of your control
like weather and the strategies of other hunters.
Becoming a better hunter means continuously
fine-tuning your skills, equipment, strategies and attitude. And as long as there?s next season, there?s
always hope for that prized shoulder mount to erase that dark spot in your
memory and blank spot on your wall.
To see the