I'm always amazed by people who claim they have no regrets.
I don't know who these folks are, but they sure aren't bowhunters. Heck, I've got plenty of regrets just from my time in a treestand -- not to mention the rest of my life!
We bowhunters know all too well that failure is usually the result of our own shortcomings. Although errant shots top the archer's regret list, there are hundreds of other factors that can result in a good hunt gone bad. Maybe you didn't pay enough attention to scent control. Maybe you were busted by an ill-timed movement. Maybe you neglected to keep the wind in your favor. Maybe you just picked the wrong stand and watched helplessly as Old Mossy trotted past your second-choice location.
The bottom line is, if you hunt with stick and string long enough, you'll accumulate enough "coulda, woulda, shoulda" stories to fill a book.
Like me, I'd imagine most of you have two or three really BIG regrets that continue to haunt you years after they happened. One of my "best" regret stories concerns a late-season hunt from seven or eight years back. Although I had scored on a couple of does during the regular season, my buck tag was still hanging on my back come mid-January, and I was down to the final Saturday of Pennsylvania's late archery season.
Shortly after lunch, I strapped a climbing stand onto my back and headed up a small, wooded hillside not far from my home. It was a bitterly cold and windy day, and by the time I selected a tree along the well-worn deer trail, attached my stand and climbed into position, I had lost all feeling in my extremities. As the wind tossed my tree to and fro, I shoved my hands into my pants for warmth and wondered why I even bothered to leave the house.
The next four hours crawled past. Not even the squirrels were moving in the howling wind, and I was essentially holding on for dear life as the biting breeze swept over my hillside perch. Desperation will make a bowhunter do some crazy things, but this was getting a little ridiculous.
Then, to my great disbelief, it happened.
As the sun dipped below the horizon and dusk began to envelop the winter woods, I spotted a doe cautiously making her way around the hillside, slowly picking her way in my direction. Not far behind her was a respectable 8-point buck -- not a record-breaker, mind you, but plenty good enough under the circumstances. Maybe, just maybe, I was going to be rewarded for running this fool's errand. However, I still had to make my move, and a naked
January landscape offers precious little cover for that.
As the deer eased closer, I stood in slow motion and gingerly shifted my body into shooting position. Bad idea! As I straightened my bow arm and quietly lifted my rig, the doe stiffened, stomped and fixed her gaze upon me. There is little you can do in such situations other than freeze (and hope), but I wasn't feeling very good when the doe let out a snort, turned and high-tailed it back around the hillside and out of sight. "It's O-V-E-R," I thought to myself.
Amazingly, the buck -- still unaware of my presence -- just watched the doe go and resumed his slow amble in front of me. Suffice it to say I blew it big time.
I'd like to say it was the cold. I'd like to say it was my nerves. I'd like to say it was the wind. But the painful truth is, I simply underestimated the range and squandered a picture-perfect, broadside shot by sending an arrow sailing harmlessly into the dry leaves under the buck's chest.
With that, the buck came to full alert, quickly looked around for the source of the disturbance and bolted over the hilltop, out of sight and out of my life.
As darkness fell, I packed my gear and trudged home, the stand on my back made heavier by the added weight of self-loathing and shattered dreams. That night, I lost some sleep reliving my failure, and lingering memories made for a very, very long off season.
I could tell several more similar stories, but you get the point. Failure is at least as much a part (if not more) of this bowhunting game as success, and I don't think any archer truly knows the thrill of victory until he or she has tasted the agony of defeat.
My point in sharing such thoughts is not to depress you. In fact, it's just the opposite.
Sure, we've all got a few regrets, a few shots we'd like to have back, a few too many "mental trophies" that live only in our minds instead of on the living room wall. But we're never going to change the past. All we can do is learn from it and keep things in proper perspective.
If you're still licking your wounds of regret from last season, it's time to get over it! July is a great time to move on from the failures of the past and start building hope for the future. With any luck, you're now spotting a few nice bucks feeding in the fields and capturing some promising images on your trail cameras. If that's not enough to get you fired up for the season ahead, I don't know what is.
Besides, those regrets from the past will only make this year's success taste that much sweeter.