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The First Time

An element of surprise could trigger the stroke of luck you've been praying for.

The author tagged this Kansas brute last fall when hunting an area for the first time. This tactic has accounted for more than 60-percent of the author's trophy whitetails to-date.

Being a dedicated member of the bowhunting fraternity, it goes without saying that I spend a lot of time up a tree doing nothing. As a direct offshoot of this practice, I often find myself spending a lot of time meditating on a wide variety of issues. Sometimes I even find myself actually, seriously, focusing my cranial efforts upon the immediate task at hand--bowhunting! When this occurs, my thoughts always seem to drift back to that age-old dilemma: what are the secrets to this pursuit and how can I apply them to my efforts to become a better archery hunter?

Of course, we all know that there is no secret gadget that will open up the "Pandora's Box" of success. Yet, there certainly are things that we can learn, do and use that will put us well ahead of the status quo. It's the fellows that put out the extended effort, correctly calculate the results and then adapt to the savvy gleaned that rise heads above the rest. In far simpler terms, it's the guys that spend a lifetime "morphing" into consummate hunters that not only fill the freezer, but also cover their walls with "big bone."

As I sat in the whitetail woods this past autumn and reflected upon the countless hours that I'd spent trying to become an excellent outdoorsman, I realized something slightly ironic in the formula. I had spent many years trying to get my first big buck. After that was accomplished, it then took me many more years to get consistent at harvesting big bucks. Finally, it had taken many more years to harvest a respectable number of big bucks. Yet, in spite of all the time that had been required to become successful, more than 60-percent of the trophies that I'd taken to-date were harvested the first time that I hunted a particular location. Huh? It takes forever to get good at it, yet most big bucks will be taken on first hunts? As the reality of this fact settled into my psyche, I knew that such fact was far more than coincidence. Fixating upon this knew "revelation," I began to try and put reasons to the rhyme.

Understanding The Rules

As I've matured as an archery hunter of mature whitetail bucks, there's one hard fact that I've had to face: consistently killing mature whitetail bucks in 100-percent fair chase conditions consistently is as difficult of a challenge as the bowhunting world offers, one which no one will ever totally master. Why is this? Because our quarry is an extremely refined, survival orientated machine that has all the goods and means by which to rarely ever (outside the peak breeding season) place himself in a time and place where he is vulnerable to danger, a.k.a. an archery hunter. Sure, there are a few exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking, mature whitetail bucks easily out-smart, out-maneuver and/or out-class virtually every bowhunting effort that we have devised for them.

Okay, so let's say that there's nothing we can do to guarantee our success, so what's the next best crutch to lean on? Ever heard of LUCK? Yes, you say, but who wants to rely on luck? I can hear you thinking: I don't want to be lucky, I want to be good. Certainly, I agree, but then again, we just admitted a short while ago that no one could ever do it by 100-percent skill, all the time, right?

From my perspective, I've always felt that there are actually three kinds of luck: pure luck (we Okies also refer to it as "blind-staggering"--the type we have no influence over), good luck (the kind we want and have an influence over), and bad luck (the type we hate and have an influence over). So, how does all this luck stuff fit in here?


The Lucky One

There's no use wasting our time talking about pure luck because of the sheer nature of the beast--we have no control over it and it does as it pleases. Next, bad luck deserves very little discussion here also, because even though we can bring it upon ourselves, we hate it, don't want it and we try to avoid it at all costs. I've found that bad luck sucks and about the only good thing that I can say about it is that it's a really good teacher. Finally, to the real meat of the matter, good luck; the kind of luck we have a bit of a hand in, and strongly desire to have come our way.

Since we can't 100-percent guarantee ourselves our trophy goal, what might be the best way to help ourselves to a little bit of good luck? As far as the "consistent-harvest-of-mature-whitetail-bucks-by-bow" is concerned, what might sway the odds of good luck in our favor? How does hitting them with the element of surprise sound? The word "surprise" hints of the unknown, happenstance and a gamble, right? Combine all these ingredients together often enough and you're sure to come up a winner occasionally, right? And after all, isn't "occasionally" the best anyone can hope for in this game? Remember the old adage phrase, "even a blind sow finds an acorn once-in-awhile?" Or, the other one that goes, "I'll take luck over skill anytime." I don't know how many times I've heard people say behind my back, "he's either a poacher, or the luckiest s.o.b. in the world." Well, I'm certainly not the former, but definitely the latter. Let me try to show you how I've learned to steer good luck my way in the whitetail woods.

The Element Of Surprise

The best way that I've found to influence the intangibles in my favor is to combine good, solid hunting tactics with a complete surprise attack. As I stated earlier, most of my big bucks were harvested the first time I hunted a spot. I have a couple of different approaches to this twist.

From one approach, I carry a stand strapped to my backpack as I still-hunt into an area. Many times, these junkets end up as simple mini-scouting trips without ever having hung the stand and hunted from it. Sometimes I hang the stand and hunt from it the same day; such an approach has led to the demise of many good bucks.

From the other approach, I hang the stand and quickly exit the area, planning on hunting the area at a later date. Many times I've come back to such a location after weeks, or even months, and killed a big buck on my first hunt there. One thing is for certain; the deer are not going to nail me to any one spot repetitively.

In a season, on the two or three properties that I will typically access, I'll make many such junkets into my hunting locations with the aforementioned approaches. I widely rotate my intrusions into the areas, rarely ever going into a location more than once every week or two. This low-impact approach allows me to stay savvy about the country and its deer, yet I don't educate, alter and/or relocate my quarry. I always have the element of surprise in my favor.

Everything about this approach is a win-win situation

. Remember, we've already admitted that mature bucks are going to outsmart our best laid plans 99-percent of the time, so it should go without saying that any attempt to keep them guessing would have to be a real helpmate. Also, don't kid yourself about the does. They are incredibly sharp also. Be sure that you do not hunt a particular spot often enough to cause the does to pattern you in any way. It's a tough egg you're looking to crack so don't get tunnel vision and fall into a rut. Keep an open mind to all possibilities. Absorb all information and make good decisions. Come at them from a new angle every time. This way every hunt you make will be a brand new gig.

First Place Finish

The first trophy whitetail that I ever took with my bow came as a result of having set in that particular stand for the first time. It also just so happens that the last trophy I harvested--just this past autumn--shared the very same coincidence. Let me tell you about my most recent "big boy."

I'd gained permission to bowhunt this particular piece of prairie habitat during the off-season. Due to the fact that someone else was hunting the same area, I made the decision to lay off the area until they had filled their tag. I've never wished another hunter quicker success than I did this fellow. Sure enough, in late October, the other hunter filled his tag and left. Immediately, I made a low-key scout of the area, placing two stands in likely areas. I had a very good feeling about one of the locations and I planned on leaving the spot alone until peak rut--then I'd play my hand.

By the evening of November 17, more than three weeks had passed since I'd been in the area. Slipping into my previously prepared stand, I climbed aboard, feeling very good about the unobtrusive route I'd used to access the stand. There's something good about setting in a spot for the first time; the anticipation of everything new and fresh. It was time for a plan to come together, and I hoped that this "first date" would be one to remember.

As the evening shadows lengthened, nary an animal stirred. Just as I was about to think that I'd been stood up, I caught movement far out on the prairie. Peering through my optics, a large set of antlers materialized. Bobbing steadily through the tall bluestem, the object of my desires was clearly headed my way. With plenty of time before the big fellow would be near, I grabbed my rangefinder and zapped a couple of objects at distances that strained my natural abilities. I wanted to be ready for anything.

Within a few minutes the old monarch had worked his way to within 100 yards of my location. As the buck dropped into the drainage where I was lying in wait, it became very clear to me that I was going to get a good shooting opportunity. That's when the adrenaline rush kicked in. Looking away, breathing deep, I focused on calming myself so as to be at the top of my game when the shot opportunity presented itself. As the buck approached 50 yards, I slowly handled my bow and squared myself to my quarry. Dusk was quickly settling into the area and I realized how blessed I was that this situation had presented itself in the nick of time. As the big fellow ghosted into range, I slowly pulled my bowstring. The next few seconds are remembered as if they were a dream. Looking into my peep sight, I swung my first pin onto the chest of the old timer as he came out from behind the last screen of brush. Subconsciously, the arrow was gone. A light "thump" returned to my ears as the buck scurried into the distance. Stopping on a nearby prairie, the buck sank into the grass as the fire in the western sky faded. Turning away, I thanked God for blessing me with the opportunity to put meat in my freezer and a trophy set of antlers on my wall. This had been a very good hunt. I had surprised the old magician himself. Basking in the afterglow, I felt very good about the fact that I'd done a lot to determine this sweet moment in my own destiny. Who says good luck can't be made?


Try to make all of your hunts a "first time" experience. You've got nothing to loose, and a lot to gain. Such an approach may open your bowhunting endeavors up to a whole new world of learning and success. If you're one that's never satisfied with the status quo, take a walk on the wild side; leave "normal" behind, stretch the envelope. Experimentation, challenge and learning; these are the real reasons why we go afield in the first place. And yes, the "big-racked" dividends really rock too!

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