Mary O'Neill Phillips
Why sharing the highs and lows is important to the sport of hunting.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of a giant buck and a successful hunt, but how often is that not our story? Television was created to entertain us, which is wonderful, but I fear many hunting shows have fallen into the trap of only showing "Monster Buck" harvests and showing only their successes and not the failures. I get it; it's embarrassing to fail and it's a huge hit on our ego to tell people we have failed, but I believe we miss huge lessons to learn and grow, not just for ourselves, but for those that are new to hunting.
Life is about failing and picking yourself back up, learning, adjusting and moving forward. Hunting, I believe, is the same. So let me tell you my most recent failure that has a happy conclusion.
I recently was able to fulfill a bucket list hunt, hunting whitetail in Saskatchewan. This hunt was in my top two, next to hunting moose in Alaska. These big deer roam in a rugged, wild, beautiful environment.
My husband Zach, our good friends Mike Tussy and Ruben, and I find ourselves at Battle River Cree Outdoors outfitters is in Saskatchewan. Not only am I getting to hunt whitetail in Saskatchewan but also experiencing the culture of the Cree Nation people on native land.
Our first day we sighted in our rifles and headed out for a hunt. Sitting in the blind that first day, I remember being a little in disbelief at fact that I was actually here hunting on a bucket list hunt. After the last two years of lock downs, no travel and restrictions, it felt so refreshing to be able to do this. Day one saw lots of muley action, no shooters, but it was a beautiful, snowy hunt.
Day two, we changed spots to a blind that had three whitetail shooters and at 5:15 p.m., a beautiful, big mature whitetail with a split brow tine walks out at 130 yards.
As much as I had built this moment up in my head, there was a part of me that never really thought I would have an encounter with a buck like this. Now I was faced with a giant in front of me.
Buck fever completely took over. I could not control it. I propped my gun on the windowsill. I thought I was calm enough but reflecting on the footage, I was very shaky and couldn’t get steady. I thought I was fine and I took the shot. The giant runs away and I immediately have a gut wrenching feeling take over my body, and I burst into tears. I completely messed this up.
Looking back on the footage, I clipped his hair, non-lethal, and he ran off. To me, this was the ultimate high to low. A hunt I dreamed about had just come crashing down. There is no way, I believed, I was ever going to get another opportunity like that. I'd flown to Saskatchewan and ruined my bucket list hunt. What a failure! What a loser! Why didn't you just wait longer!? All the thoughts running through my head as I replayed in slow motion what went wrong.
Now, on top of my own personal mental sabotage, I also had to face everyone in camp and tell them what happened. Which was a mixture of complete embarrassment, humiliation and just feeling like a total failure in general. Luckily, the guys in camp were sympathetic and shared their stories of failure to ease my pain…slightly.
That night, as I lay in bed replaying over and over what went wrong, I had a conversation with God. I told him how sorry I was for ruining the opportunity. I realized that he had shown up and brought out the buck, and I had rushed it and failed. I asked him to please let the buck be OK and if he gave me another opportunity to get a buck, I promised I would give him all the glory and could He please just make this an incredible story.
In the midst of the failure, I realized how focused I had become on getting a “giant” that I had completely missed God's creation in the whole thing. Shame.
In the morning, we went back to that stand to check cell cameras, and what a miracle, that buck had been there chasing doe and eating all night! You know I said, "thank you God" over and over again in that moment! Lance at BRCO outfitters gave me a hug, confirmed he was fine and told me to get back after it.
I sat in the same stand and figured it was a longshot that the split brow buck would come back there during daylight, but I might get lucky. I also decided to bring a shooting stick, so if I started shaking again, it would help my odds a lot!
After the conversation with God the night before, it was like my eyes had been opened. I witnessed the most incredible sunset over Saskatchewan. This is what he wanted it to be about.
5:15 p.m. rolls around, when the split brow giant had walked out the previous day. Nothing.
5:16 p.m. Nothing.
5:17 p.m. I hear - surely not - GRUNTING!? Out walked split brow, nose down doggin’ behind some thick bushes! How was this even possible? He was back!
I watched him move through the bushes and knew not to try anything until he was clear, It was so thick I didn’t have a shot. He walked behind a big pine tree and I lost him.
Then maybe 45 seconds later, there was split brow out in front of me at about 150 yards. Zach and I confirm he had a split brow and I got ready. Buck fever hit me again but I noticed it right away and started to take deep slow breaths. (I’m very thankful I have the shooting stick!)
With each slow breath, I calmed myself a little more and then, for reasons I can only give to God, I breathed in a last time and as I breathed out I said, “Jesus” as I shot. The ultimate calming word. Was I asking for Him to steady my hand? It just overcame me; I can’t explain it.
I shot and knew it was a lethal hit. It felt completely different. I was prepared. I was ready and I learned from my mistake the previous day.
I had always thought it would be incredible to track a deer in the snow. We tracked and recovered him less than 80 yards from where he was shot. But here is where the story gets even better. It turns out, I had two giants with split brows in front of me at the same time. This was a 14-point split brow they had never seen before, who appeared like Houdini as the other one slipped into the thick. And, what is even cooler, the original split brow went on to get harvested the next week by another hunter in camp. Sometimes the story ends even better than we expected.
Would I have liked not to tell anyone about the failure, only showed the success, and only shared on social media that buck without the full story? FOR SURE!
Sharing the failure is a HUGE ego hit we don’t often want to take, but I knew this was important to share because I’m not alone. It happens. It has probably happened to you, or if not you, then one of your hunting buddies. Failure is a part of life. The point is to keep picking yourself back up. Keep learning, adjusting and being as prepared as you can be.
Some things are out of our control and I think we can all agree on that looking back over the past 2 years. I personally have walked away from the last two years seeking authenticity and honesty more than ever in my friendships, lifestyle, and life in general.
We can’t control what others do and share but we can control our narrative and where that lands. That is why I believe it’s important to share the highs and lows of the hunt.
I hope this has resonated with some of you. Enjoy the hunt!