May 19, 2021
By Bill Winke
I'm supposed to write about valuable lessons I have learned through a lifetime of bowhunting. With that in mind, this month I’m hitting on the role of luck in our success.
The longer I do this, the more I am convinced that luck plays a huge role in every bowhunting success.
When I was younger, I thought I could beat luck by being a great hunter, smarter or maybe just hunting longer and harder. The years have humbled me, and the animals have humbled me. Hard work and skill are absolutely keys to success, but they are not enough. You can have them in spades and still carry your tag all season. So, let’s talk about the role luck plays and the things you can do to reduce that role.
Sometimes You Don’t Need Luck
If the area you are hunting is good enough, you don’t need much luck. In some cases, you don’t even need much skill. I once co-owned and hunted a property in Iowa that had so many decent bucks you were usually guaranteed to shoot one if you hunted there for a week during the rut.
I had a friend, Dan from Michigan, who hunted there with me. Dan was awesome — he would shoot deer he called “Michigan trophies” and was proud of those 140-inch bucks. They were good deer for sure, but to put it in context, I once saw 52 different bucks one November morning while hunting there. I had two hot does go past. Of course, those bucks weren’t all within bow range, but still, it was a zoo. Those 140-inchers were a dime a dozen on that property.
Without a doubt, to shoot a buck like that on a property like that, you didn’t have to be lucky. You only needed to select a stand in any kind of funnel, hunt for a week in early November and be able to shoot to 20 yards accurately. Luck never really played a role.
Of course, shooting older deer that had bigger antlers significantly reduced the number of candidates, even on that property, and it required more thoughtful hunting and a lot more luck. But my point is that there are situations where luck isn’t a factor in success. In the real world, luck plays a much larger role than it did on that property.
You can either accept luck or you can grumble about it; regardless, it will be your silent partner every day you hunt. I used to feel sorry for myself when things weren’t going my way, when other people were shooting nice bucks and I was going empty-handed. It really irritated me that the winds of fortune weren’t always blowing my direction.
The tendency is to only acknowledge luck when it is bad — when a buck turns off just before he gets into bow range, or when the wind swirls at just the wrong moment. You curse your luck, but you rarely acknowledge it when things go well. At the last second, the buck turns your way, or a doe appears behind you to bring him closer. Those events are the result of luck, but we tend to chalk those successes up to skill instead.
It All Balances Out
In the end, luck tends to even out. Unless you are a really bad hunter or hunting bad areas, you will eventually have good luck to go along with your bad luck. When I have an unlucky hunt, I might get bummed for a couple hours, but I also realize I am one day closer to luck swinging my way. It always does; it’s how things work.
I have had some amazing luck over the years. With every buck I have killed, I could go over the many events of luck that allowed that to happen. I shot a really nice buck in 2019, for example, that I didn’t even know about. I was hunting that spot because the wind was wrong for the spot I really wanted to hunt. If the wind had been 45 degrees different, I would not have even been there and likely never would have killed that deer.
Even when that buck came out, he looked like he was going in the other direction, but then he seemed to change his mind and walked my way. More luck. There was nothing I did, other than being there and making the shot, that wasn’t the result of luck.
I have had way more days when the deer would have gone the other way, or when I hunted one stand when a good buck walked past a different one. That’s bowhunting; getting a 30-yard shot at an animal that is not programmable always requires a lot of luck.
Reducing Luck’s Role
Now that we have a little perspective on this key part of bowhunting, it’s important to know that we do have some control — we can affect how often we are lucky. Even if you make a ton of mistakes, you can eventually succeed. If you do things right, however, luck will fall your way more often.
As bowhunters, that is our goal; to hunt in such a way that we can enjoy luck more frequently. We have to accept that we won’t beat bad luck, but we can put ourselves into positions where good luck is a more frequent partner. Basically, you reduce the role of luck by just hunting smarter in better areas. More time afield also helps.
I’ll leave you with an analogy that symbolizes the role of skill versus luck in bowhunting. Suppose you are at a gas pump filling your tank. Once the tank is full, that is like filling your bow tag. If you have enough time, the tank will fill even if the gas comes out at a trickle. You may have to stand there for a long time, but it is inevitable. In the same way, good luck is inevitable if you have enough time.
The time required to fill the tank is what we are trying to reduce. It is totally a function of how fast the gas flows. In hunting terms, it’s the length of time required to be lucky, and that is a function of the quality of our preparation and the quality of our decisions. We can make the numbers click faster if we squeeze the handle harder. That means hunting good areas, preparing mentally for the adrenaline when a big buck shows up, playing the wind, having good entry and exit routes, being able to shoot well and scouting for the best stand sites. If we do these things, luck comes sooner; the tank fills up faster.
If you had a great season last year, count your blessings and acknowledge how luck had to fall your way for that to happen. If you had a rough season, take encouragement in the fact that luck will swing your way soon. This perspective keeps the highs from being too high and the lows from being too low. Success comes eventually; the goal is to enjoy the journey and not just the result.