Salvage the Season



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Arliss McNalley

Salvage the Season

By Arliss McNalley

Aug 9, 2006 – 10:10:00 AM

 

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 equipment?

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. 
ARGHHH!!!

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.  Remember the 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.

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