Taking your best shot


Do deer hunters evolve?

That’s the theory. The belief is that, given enough time in the deer woods, a hunter changes over time. In the beginning, he just wants to kill a deer. As he matures and becomes more seasoned, he becomes selective. He passes up the does and the young bucks, preferring to save his tag for the buck of a lifetime. Some older hunters in the twilight of their years just like being in the woods. If they kill a deer fine; if the don’t, well that’s alright too. Some older hunters I have known decided to give up deer hunting altogether, as they became more mindful of their own mortality.

Over the years, I have found myself evolving somewhat as a deer hunter. Truth is, though, that my “growth” as a deer hunter kind of leveled off. I cannot picture myself ever not getting excited about the opportunity to match wits against a Maine whitetail, even if I live to be 100. But I have discovered something, a new twist, in my later years of deer hunting….

Bow hunting.

On and off for the past 10 years, I have toyed around with bow hunting for deer. In Maine and Maryland, deer presented themselves beneath my tree stand. But I never took the shot. Some considerations tugged at my subconscious, facts of life about bow hunting deer. Far too many bow hunters were losing wounded deer. They did so either because they were not well-practiced bowmen, or because they lost their composure at the critical moment. I did not want to be one of them. A couple of times, I let off my drawn bow over a deer and sacrificed the shot because I was not dealing well with the adrenaline rush. Other times the deer was just out of my effective range, or in a bad position for a double lung shot.

A friend, who is a seasoned and very successful bow hunter, hinted that perhaps I was being overly cautious, that I just didn’t really want to bag a deer with a bow. He got me thinking. This past bow season, I practiced religiously. To increase my exposure to bow-deer situations, I bow hunted deer at every opportunity — Maine, Maryland and Montana. Finally, good things happened — for me, not the deer. Two deer — one in Maryland and one in Maine — met their demise from one of my arrows. Both were double-lung shots and both expired within 30 yards of my tree stand. Neither shot was more than 17 or 18 yards.

As the adage goes, experience is the best teacher. My first bow deer gave me confidence in myself and my equipment. This, in turn, helped me manage my composure better at the moment of truth. I also learned that, when it comes to bow hunting wary whitetails, knowing when to draw that bow back is half the battle. Making the right choice as to when to make that drawback of the bow, in a way that the quarry doesn’t detect your motion, is key. And, of course, you need to make that move at the same time that the deer is in a vulnerable shot position.

Again, only experience teaches this, not text books on bow hunting.

Speaking of books on bow hunting deer, there is one simple, straightforward book that I have found well worth reading. Bow hunter and author John Jeanneney, who is also a highly respected New York tracker of wounded deer, has written “Dead On!” In his book, Jeanneney devotes a chapter addressing the eternal question for all ethical bow hunters: “Should you take the shot?” One of his sub-chapters titled “Shot Placement Basics,” Jeanneney thoroughly explores the critical nature and challenge of making a lethal shot on a deer with a bow. For my money, it is must reading for any bow hunter who cares about ethics and who agrees with the author’s premise: “As hunters…we are predators, but we can be more humane predators than wolves and coyotes.”

In a chapter called,”After the Shot,” Jeanneney also challenges the conventional wisdom that bow hunters should always wait at least 30 minutes after shooting a deer with a bow. His arguments make compelling food for thought! His book is sold for $13.95 and is available through his website: www.born-to-track.com. His email address is: [email protected]

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] and his new book is “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook.”