REBOUNDING FROM DEFEAT
“He was right there…..” I beat my fist on the ground and looked up at Jordan, embarrassed, upset and elated all at the same time. We had been working an area I’d just found a few days prior and had already passed on two bulls. Our day was going well until a dream archery bull spun and ran out of my life. Lets backtrack a few days though. Two days earlier I’d been just a few ridges over with my girlfriend Maddie. I wanted her to experience the thrill of archery elk hunting and we were lucking out as I had just found a great bull and him and a few others were all bugling. We had bumped him the night before and relocated him the next morning. We slowly tailed the herd as it was too noisy and open to try to move in close and call. As we crept up the ridge I could see him raking the ground about 120 yards up in the timber. He was a dandy and my heart beat increased instantly. We took the boots and backpacks off and started a sneak attack. Soon I saw a cow and she forced us to stay ultra low as she was bedded and facing our direction. As I neared the 90 yard mark the bull swung back around to chase off a spike. He then pushed the cow that had been facing us back towards the rest of the herd. Long story short either another part of the herd saw us or smelled us as we tailed him and they ran out of our lives. We went back to the packs and could hear bulls bugling across a nasty, nasty valley. I figured there was no sense in calling to them as it was almost 10AM and they’d soon bed. Maddie urged me to bugle and so I fired off about 3 bugles in 5 minutes. About 10 minutes later we could see a tree swaying just over the ridge. It was a bull raking a tree. The raking stopped and I patiently waited. Nothing came up the hill so I fired off a bugle and sat waiting with an arrow nocked. Moments later a rack appeared over the crest of the hill. A nice six point bull appeared and was coming towards me and too my left. I was kneeled down and as the bull passed behind a tree I drew and waited. The bull walked into my opening and turned uphill. I cow called and stopped him at 27 yards. He was facing me at a very hard quartering to angle, almost straight on but not quite. There was a good pocket in front of his left shoulder and I took my time to settle my pins on my spot. The bow went off and the bull quickly spun and disappeared. I’d seen my arrow as he turned and it looked like I’d hit him in the front of his shoulder with no penetration. Agghhhhhhh!!! All that practice all summer and I’d somehow screwed up a chip shot. Low right. Dang it.
I knew sometimes the arrow will pull out when the bull runs and I hoped I was wrong and had got better penetration. We decided to wait 4 hours and then go look for blood and the arrow. As we waited I proceeded to bugle another 6 point into 25 yards. He got the pass for obvious reasons. Four hours later I found my arrow just yards from the point of impact, broke off right at the back of the insert. It was a direct hit on the shoulder blade with zero penetration. The bull should be alright just with a bit of new hardware.
Fast forward to the next day, it’s 5:30pm and we are on top of a ridge where we thought a bull had bedded in from the morning. We slowly worked down the ridge calling occasionally. Finally I got a response down to my right. I knew the wind would be bad if I called him to me now and we quickly pushed lower. As we dropped about a 1000’ I bugled or chuckled at him about 4 times. Each time he responded allowing me to pinpoint his location and also slowly get him worked up. As soon as I got to his level I fired off a bugle which he quickly responded to. He was close and before i could have Jordan move downwind he had pushed his cows up into eyesight just 80 yards away. We both knelt quickly to stay out of sight. I could just see his horn tips. He looked around and then turned to go back the way he’d come. I slowly turned and ripped a bugle behind me. Instantly his cows ran up on the bench we were on and to our right. I shifted on my knees towards them assuming the bull would follow. Right as I asked Jordan how far the cows were I could see horns moving to my left. The bull was going to parallel our bench just below us. I quickly drew before his eyes crested the hill. He soon walked into full sight but with limbs in the way. I knew I’d have to pan with him as he closed the distance and thought at such a close distance he would key in on the slight movement. He was soon inside 25 yards with only small windows between limbs. I knew if he stopped it would give me the split second to find my gap and then shoot. But he kept coming. I had one last clear window and a cow call in my mouth. Unfortunately my brain had expected the bull to stop and look for his challenger by now and with yesterday’s events in the back of my head I wasn’t going to shoot until he stopped. Before I knew it he’d passed my gap and then hit my wind. Boom he ran off and I cow called and stopped him at 25. Of course there was a tree over his vitals. He then spun and ran off and over the mountain. I hate bowhunting. I’d just had a big, big bull at 15 yards and didn’t even get an arrow in the air. Deep breaths. I was mad, disappointed, and embarrassed since Jordan had just watched me royally mess up what should have been a slam dunk call in. I vented and then told myself it was an awesome experience and I was blessed to just be here. In the back of my head I was upset though.
It’s days like this that we dream of but moments of failure that make them unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. I know from years past these moments can quickly ruin a season. The mental side of it makes you rush from that point onward. You start thinking, “I should have already killed a bull, I need to get another opportunity quick,” “Time is running out,” “There’s only so much of the rut left I need to be aggressive from here on out,” and so forth. Being that close to killing makes you rush to try to get back to that point. That rush though often means you screw up well before you ever got an opportunity to let an arrow fly. You soon quickly add failure to failure and end up wasting days in the field rushing to try to kill your elk. You lose the ability to enjoy the experience and just focus on the kill. After years of hunting I’ve learned to slow down and reset my mind after a failure. Learn from it and count your blessing that it even happened in the first place. It could always be worse and hunting is more about failure than it is about success. How you rebound from those failures will determine the kind of hunter you are and show you more about your character as a human being. I’ve come to respect and appreciate failure when it happens and take the time to scrutinize it and learn from it. Don’t just try to forget about it. Scrutinize every detail of that encounter. What went right? What went wrong? Store that info so that you’re better on the next encounter. And remember, it’s just hunting. We are so blessed to just set foot in the mountains that we should have a smile on our face punched tag or not. Being able to rebound from failure will make the rest of your season more enjoyable and you’ll also have a better chance of filling your tag when the next opportunity presents itself.