How do you measure success? Is it the physical award at the end or something more mental/emotional? With an outdoorsman it can be both. My second season of whitetail hunting on my little 27 acres saw a lot of off-season work, creating improvements. I have 2 old friends, closer than brothers to me, that were finally coming up from Florida to see the property and hunt it for the first time. We were going out opening days of archery season and neither of them had much experience with archery hunting. I worked extremely hard on food plots, stand placements, shooting lanes, walking paths and a plethora of other things to ensure as easy and successful a hunt as I could make it.
While anyone that hunts can tell you, there are no guarantees, there are things you can do to up your chances. They take planning and hard work. No matter what your passion or hobby is you want to see hard work rewarded. I got to see that.
There were problems and misses and no one got a deer on opening day but deer were seen and a quality hunting experience was had.
By the 3rd evening I could see frustrations and exhaustion starting to get to our small group. We had that evening and the next morning to hunt before they had to travel back to Florida. They had been up this way 2 years prior but left empty handed and I wanted, and prayed, the same wouldn’t happen this year. That evening saw good activity by everyone including me. One of my friends and I even busted a small 6 pointer off of a corn pile. The one time we were too busy talking to hunt our way in.
Sometime around 7:30 pm my good friend made a shot on a nice doe. As I packed up to get out of my stand and was gearing up to help him track the deer, excitement got the better of him and he got down to check his arrow. A little bit of blood and something green was what he reported.
Well bow hunters everywhere know what that means, a gut shot deer. Not good. Thirty plus minutes had passed before I finally got to his stand and we began our search.
The search was tough and there was no blood trail to speak of. Now my land has a steep hollar (that’s a small valley for those who don’t speak country) on a large portion of it, with a year-round creek running through. Gut shot deer always run to water and the year before I had made a poor shot on a doe, the same way in the same spot. After seeing his doe head down the same path and not having a blood trail to follow I commented that 1 other option we had was to go down and walk the creek bed. If she ran this way chances are she going to end up in the same place as that deer. (Thankfully during my months of shed hunting, I found the coyote ravaged remains of that doe.)
Since none of us like backing down and love a good adventure away we went down the hollar to the creek.
It was very dark that evening and the temperature change created some very thick fog in that hollar. On top of that the creek bed is full of thick mountain laurels. Now these plants may not have thorns (Thank the good Lord for that) but they are thick and will try to grab at you and RIP your pack or clothes off you given the chance. On top of that the time of year and abundance of rain meant that every step was met with a face full of spider webs. Now I know that climbing a mountain side looking for goats or going after one of Africas deadly 5 makes this adventure pale by comparison but the big open cornfields of the midwest would have been a beautiful dream for us this night.
The deeper we went the harder it got and doubt was weighing on minds as questions about how the shot went wrong were being asked. I kept being optimistic and telling them we still had a bit to go before we reached the location of the last doe. However, I can honestly say I had serious doubts myself.
That’s when the feeling of success and accomplishment kicked in. Because as we came around the bend there laid his doe in the water like she had read the script. I was leading so I got to see her first and it was great to be able to turn to my old friend and say, “There’s your deer, right there.” The sigh of relief is the greatest when the challenge is accomplished. That was the best feeling and I wasn’t even the one who took the shot. My desires for these first days and all of my hard work was meant to get these guys a deer. Something they weren’t really able to do where they lived and very well would have no other chances to do again this year.
Congratulations were made in a big way as well as many prayers of thanks. The fact that I had made a bad shot and lost my deer the year before wasn’t a complete waste. Had it not been for that experience I wouldn’t have known where that doe had gone. Making mistakes, making bad shots, loosing game; these are all part of any outdoorsman’s life. It’s what makes us better at what we do. Provided we keep working hard and learning from these mistakes instead of just giving up. God and life have a funny way of teaching things some times. Usually the hardest lessons are the best. We have to keep going and remember what happened before. “Those who don’t learn their history are doomed to repeat it.” That’s a famous quote. Another is “Those who dwell on the past will never move forward.” Now don’t ask me to tell you who said these things because I am awful with names but that’s not important. What is important is the wisdom in them. Remember and learn from your past so that you can use it going forward. Making a mistake is human but doing it again and again makes us stupid humans.
We found the deer, thanks to a mistake in my past and using that knowledge (along with my drive to move forward) we succeeded. I personally have no meat or trophy to show for this success. I have my memories and a few pictures of what turned out to be the greatest hunt the 3 of us have ever had. A lot of wildlife was seen, mistakes were made, lessons learned, and a brotherly bond was strengthened. The whole time they were here I never once touched my bow to take a shot. If I were hunting by myself I’d be writing about how frustrated I am. But, in this case I’m in cloud 9. My measure of success in this case was that smile and joy from friends that I call brothers. It’s the fact that not only did I send them home successful with meat in their coolers, but gave them a trip that neither they nor myself will soon forget. There is something magical about the woods and how it brings people together. There is also something extremely satisfying about seeing your hard work pay off for someone else. I wouldn’t trade that measure of success for anything. That’s my trophy and it’s a good one.