A lot of things can go wrong in deer hunting

Another in my series of hunting stories, including missed shots and other mistakes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve made all the mistakes you can make in my 55 years hunting deer. I hunted throughout my teens and early twenties without even seeing a deer. In my late twenties I began to get close enough to see some deer, and even got off occasional shots. I had a habit of walking right up to them, startled when they got up, unable to react with a rifle and scope set for a hundred yard shot, not a hundred feet.

One cold rainy late November day, I walked a game trail in Readfield, hunting alone (no other hunter was insane enough to want to get out on this miserable day) when I spotted a rabbit about fifty feet down the trail. Taking careful aim with the 30.6, I shot the rabbit, cut through the woods about a hundred yards to put it in the trunk of my car, and returned to the spot from which I had shot.

I took about five or six steps when a large doe jumped up right beside me on the other side of a small fir. She had not moved even when I shot! My wet and cold fingers couldn’t even get the safety off before she was gone.

On another infamous occasion, the last day of a deerless season for both of us, Dad and I had given up and were walking out a woods road, happy in the camaraderie of a good hunting season, not really disappointed that we hadn’t killed a deer, when we looked down to our left and noticed three handsome deer at the bottom of a ravine about 175 yards away. We stood side by side, carefully aimed, and shot the hill away just over the top of those deer.

Sometimes you don’t even have to be on hand to be a victim of the cruel fates that hunting throws our way. A second deerless season passed into oblivion one year as I hunted a couple of miles from home, while my wife enjoyed watching a doe meander around our front law for fifteen minutes.

Bad luck or ill timing has even caused one of my old hunting buddies, who I will call Bigfoot, to miss some chances. Famous for his appetite, I remember one day when he left his stand and headed home for a mid-morning meal just five minutes before I chased a large buck and doe right directly through where he’d been standing.

Now that I have had a lot of success hunting deer, with four big buck mounts on the wall, I wonder what changed my luck. And I marvel that I never gave up through years of adversity and bad luck. What kept me going?

Well, we are entitled in this country to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is the pursuit of happiness that brought me into the woods and kept me there, seemingly unsuccessful in ever actually bagging a deer, but every year more and more aware of my surroundings, as well as the hunting craft and good luck that is required to consistently put venison in the freezer.

Bigfoots abound and I certainly had my own tendencies in that direction. Many hunters fail to bag a deer year after year after year. So many things can go wrong! And don’t let anyone tell you that things have not gone wrong for them. We suffer together.

But few would say this is really suffering. The stories get better and better every year. The failures take on heroic proportions. The legends are built, traditions developed, crafts learned, amid the peaceful and quiet dawns and dusks of our hunting days. To all those deer we’ve missed before, a tip of the hat. Thanks for the memories.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.