Written by Jason Swingen, Updated

I’m not going to lie. This bowhunting season started off to a rough start and got worse.

I was extremely excited for this year’s bow season. I had just gotten my first buck with a bow the previous year and had a higher level of confidence. I had also upgraded some of my equipment and been shooting more this year than ever before. I felt confident with my bow and had been seeing deer on my trail camera.

That excitement soon subsided after my first two morning sits resulted in walking into the woods only to spook deer that had been standing directly under my stand, then my next handful of hunts were extremely slow. I had to convince myself that I hadn’t scared all the deer out of the woods and ruined my locations. All I wanted was to see a deer, to give myself some confidence that I was set up in the right areas.

A few bucks caught on my Stealthcam.

After seven sits of either bumping deer or simply not seeing any I finally saw my first ungulate of the year. Naturally, because the city hunt requires that I shoot an antlerless deer before a buck, the first deer I saw was a buck. It was just a fork-horn, but he was still a welcome sight in the quiet woods. Soon after watching the buck walk back behind my stand I turned around to see a big black blob through the woods about 40 yards in front of me. It took a few seconds of intense blinking to realize it was a black bear! I watched as it stood up and scratched it’s back on a tree, then got back on all fours and slowly walked right toward my tree. It walked within 10 feet of my tree and just kept on walking.

The Lows of Bowhunting

After only seeing that one small buck and watching two deer run by just before last light I decided to more locations. So I setup my climber in a tree in the middle of some oak trees and waited for a good wind to come back for a hunt.

I went back in to hunt a few days later. It was the first morning that temperature had dipped below freezing and I was expecting to see some movement. It had just settled down in my stand and looked off over my left shoulder and saw a deer standing within 20 yards of my stand. It was still pretty dark out, but I could tell it was a fawn. I grabbed for my bow and waited for more light.

After ten minutes it was just starting to get light out. Just before shooting light as I was watching the fawn I heard leaves crunching behind me. I slowly turned and watched a nice 8-point buck walk up over a hill and walk directly towards the fawn. He stopped to freshen up a scrape. I still needed an antlerless deer before I could shoot the buck. So I watched the buck walked right past me and up to the fawn on the other side of my stand. The fawn jumped and I thought the buck was going to chase it off, but it looped around and started walking down a path 25 yards from me. I drew back my bow and grunted to stop the deer. It stopped with a sapling directly in front of its vitals. I leaned off to the right to get a little better angle and shot.

Whack! I watched as the arrow hit the deer. It looked like a great shot, except a little too far forward. I had held too close to its front shoulder because the tree was in my way and I hit it right in the shoulder. I watched the deer run off with my arrow mostly sticking out of its side. Because I was using a lighted nock I could see that my arrow had fallen out a maybe 20-30 yards away.

I sat up in my stand for 15 minutes trying to convince myself it was a good shot, then thinking my arrow just bounced off it’s shoulder somehow. If I could just look at my arrow I would know. So I climbed out of my stand to grab my arrow, but just as I got to my arrow I heard a deer run off in the woods…

I texted my wife to come help track the deer, becoming more and more worried that that deer I had heard was the one that I had shot, and because of my lack of patience, I had bumped it. We spend the rest of the day tracking that deer only finding small drops of blood for over 200 yards. Then eventually we lost blood. I called a few friends to help me track it in the afternoon, but we still weren’t able to find the deer or any more blood. I went back in the next morning as well and walking circles around the last drop of blood until I was physically and mentally exhausted but I never recovered the deer.

I was so anxious to finally get a deer that I ended up not recovering it at all. This was the first deer I have ever shot (gun or bow) and not recovered. It’s a sickening feeling that I never want to happen again. I kept running the scenario through my head again and again. If only I had waited for more light. If only I didn’t stop the deer and let it stop on its own. If only I didn’t get out of my stand so soon. In hindsight, there are many things I would have done differently, but that is part of hunting and part of life. Learn from your mistakes and don’t make them again.

I was considering packing up the bow for at least the season if not good. Fortunately, I got a call from one of the guys that helped me track the deer and told me the only way to get past that feeling was to get back in the stand.

Getting Back in the Stand

A week later (and dozens of arrows shot through my bow in the backyard) I decided to get back in the woods. I didn’t think I would be able to mentally handle losing another deer so I was only going to shoot if I had a deer standing broadside, within 20 yards, during the day, that didn’t know I was there. After my slow start to the season, I wasn’t very optimistic, but the rut was just starting to pick up and I was starting to see a few more deer on my trail camera during the day.

Trailcam Buck
One of the bucks I caught on my trail camera during the rut.

My first morning hunt began like my previous hunts this year, with a deer running off in the darkness as I made my way to my stand. After seeing a few small bucks chasing does around a few days before I decided to just stick it out since it was a cold morning and the deer would likely be on the move. Mid-morning I saw two deer running below a hill and not long after I looked over and saw a wolf walking from where the deer had run from. Then a few hours later another wolf walked up and stopped on a hilltop 50 yards away from my stand.

After I watched those two wolves and a few deer running from the other side of a hill I decided to move locations. I quietly snuck down out of my climber and moved down the hill to where I had seen a few deer running by earlier in the morning.

After I got settled in to the new spot I looked down and saw some movement through the trees. It was just a button buck moving slowly through the trees. I watched him slowly move for 15-20 minutes, then all of a sudden he looked up and perked up his ears. About the same time, there was some rustling in the leaves in front of me. I looked up and saw a handful of deer coming right towards me. The little buck had noticed them as well and started running after the group of does and fawns.

As soon as he got up to them they took off. One of the fawns ran around a small frozen marsh and stopped quartering away a few feet in front of a down tree I had just ranged earlier at 20 yards. I drew back my bow and settled my pin directly behind its shoulder and let an arrow fly. It was a perfect shot. I watched as the lighted nock flew perfectly behind its shoulder and disappeared. The deer jumped then took a few steps and fell over 8 yards away.

heart shot
A perfect heart shot

I was so happy to have this hunt work out so perfectly. I regained my confidence, filled the freezer, and was able to start hunting bucks. However, there wasn’t too much time left in the season.

My Biggest Whitetail Buck

My first sit with a buck tag in hand was a cold one with the temps getting down in the single digits with a stiff wind. The cold temperatures had deer on the move and three small bucks were running through the woods. One of them was grunting as he ran by following the recent tracks of a hot doe.

It was two days before my wife and I were planning on leaving for the Thanksgiving break on the 27th, and a snowstorm predicted to dump nearly two feet of snow was on its way. There was some last-minute work I needed to get done and wasn’t planning on hunting before the break, but knew I needed to give it one more try.

After hopping in the shower to de-scent I threw on my winter hunting clothes and headed out to my treestand around 2 in the afternoon. I didn’t have the greatest wind, but since it was still the rut, there could be deer coming through in any direction.

I knew there were bucks in the area and had heard them grunting a few days earlier, so I let out a few grunts and rattled a few times. Within a few minutes of my last rattling sequence, I heard something crunching through the snow. I grabbed for my binoculars and looked up the hill where the sound was coming from. The only thing I could see was the front legs of a deer, then through some thick branches, I could see just a few tines of a whitetail bucks antlers. I had no idea how big it was, but I knew that if it gave me a clear shot I was going to take it.

This was the same stand where I had taken a deer earlier in the year, so I had a few trees already ranged. There was a chance he would take a path right in front of me, but there was a down tree that could push him out of my range.

I watched bow-in-hand as he walked past a tree at 40 yards, slowly turning towards my stand. I tried not to look at his antlers to reduce the amount of target panic I might get. Everything looked like it would work out except that the wind was blowing nearly right at him. As soon as he went out of sight behind some brush I drew back my bow. Instead of walking right out into the open he stopped. After what felt like minutes but was probably only 20-30 seconds of holding my bow back the buck finally kept walking. He passed by the only shooting lane I had so I grunted to get him to stop, but he was now directly downwind of me. I don’t know if it was buck fever or holding my bow back for what felt like forever, but was starting to get shaky.

I let my pins settle behind his front should and began squeezing the trigger.

Just as the bow went off the buck ducked and turned. Instead of hitting right behind the shoulder, the arrow hit directly in front of the shoulder as he was quartering towards me. He dropped instantly.

It was difficult to not jump out of my stand. Even though I could see him from my stand, the recent memories of bumping a deer was still engrained in my mind. I resisted the urge to jump out of the stand and sat quietly in the woods soaking in the moment. Eventually, I climbed down out of my tree and walked over to the biggest whitetail buck I’ve ever shot.

2019 Whitetail Buck
My biggest whitetail ever.