The early morning October sunlight sifted through the treetops and glinted off the white antlers of a small fork horn buck that was slowly feeding through the oak grove in front of me. I stood frozen in my stand, bow in hand, waiting for my shot opportunity as the deer gradually came closer. At 15 yards, I had my shot. I drew my bow and threaded the arrow through the hole in the hemlock branches, intending for the broadhead to enter just above the right shoulder blade, and out the opposite side.
Instead, my arrow zipped just inches past the deer and the broadhead buried itself in the soft dirt of the forest floor. I stood there, shaking and in disbelief as the deer looked around then slowly bounded off.
I was 17 years old at the time, in my second year of hunting with a compound bow, and I took missing a deer very seriously.
Climbing down from my stand, I examined the arrow and the ground to make sure it had been a clean miss. My dad came out to help verify that I had not hit the deer and it was pretty obvious that I hadn’t. I was devastated. I had yet to shoot a buck with my bow, and missing the first opportunity I got felt like a crushing disappointment.
Missing a deer is a tough pill to swallow for most hunters, especially those of us who practice shooting religiously and tend to only take shots that we feel are ideal. Yet, misses are something that will happen sooner or later, no matter how experienced of a hunter you are. And when it does happen, you should take it with a grain of salt. Understand why it happened, and strive to do better next time. What you shouldn’t do is let it keep you out of the woods – that certainly won’t make you feel any better and it won’t fill your tags either.
There are a variety of reasons why archers often miss. Sometimes, it’s simply choosing the wrong angle to shoot, perhaps the deer is too close or too far. Your equipment can be to blame, such as a bumped sight pin etc. It can have to do with not practicing enough from an elevated position or from a sitting position. A miss can happen due to low light, poor judgement of yardage, or the deer can move. The reasons it can happen are many, and it’s easy to get caught up in the “why” it happened. It can certainly steal your confidence.
After missing that buck, I didn’t hunt for several days. I felt I wasn’t deserving of hunting a deer, yet soon I began to miss the woods and honestly getting back in the woods or “back on the horse” so to speak is the best thing one can do after a miss. Your confidence will be shot (no pun intended) and building it back up is important. Mentally, it’s a big hurdle and practicing beforehand and making sure your equipment is in tune and you are on target is a big step. Knowing that you can still shoot accurately is always helpful and will help your mindset. It is very much a mind game when it comes to getting back in the stand and shooting at another deer.
The first deer you get a shot at after missing one will generally rattle you. Shortly after I missed the buck that year, I had an opportunity at a decent sized doe and I completely choked. I was shaking so bad I could barely draw my bow and the voices in my head wouldn’t let me release the arrow; I was too afraid that I would miss again. She walked away and I didn’t get another opportunity at her that evening. I always regretted not letting an arrow fly that night, and I probably would have ended up with a clean kill shot. However, we will never know.
As easy as it is to beat yourself up over missing a deer, it’s not a reason to stay out of your tree stand or out of the woods. The best thing you can do for yourself is to get back out there and try again – and accept that a miss or two will happen if you hunt for long enough. As long as missing a deer isn’t something that happens every single time you release the arrow, getting a little practice in and getting in the woods is the best cure for it.