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Failed Hunt - Get there early. Trust your instinct. Stay within your means.


SH Member
Jul 25, 2019
Being a newbie hunter figuring things out on my own, I knew that I would have a long string of failures and mistakes I’d have to learn from before harvesting a deer. With each season, I continue to go through growing pains but with each hunt, I get closer to tagging that first deer.

For the other newbie hunters, hopefully, you’ll find solace in this story. For the veterans out there, maybe this will bring you back to your early years when you were just starting out.


It was a Friday afternoon and AC/DC crackled through the car radio static in the speakers. My buddy and I were on our way to a public land hunting spot I had been to before and that we had just scouted again that morning. We came across some bedding areas and an intersection of deer trails so we felt good about our chances of returning there that afternoon.

Sunset was at 6:07 and we had aimed to get there by 3pm and in a tree by 3:30. We anticipated the deer to start moving around 5pm so we thought this would be enough time to get in position for the ambush.

When we were planning this I had this gnawing thought in the back of my mind that was saying, “Get there earlier, 3 is too late. There’s going to be someone else in your spot.” But I pushed those thoughts away and we stuck to the plan as normal.


The public land we were going to allows only one vehicle per parking spot. If someone else is already there, too bad, you got to find somewhere else to park. This particular piece of land only had three parking spots.

The first was the coveted spot. It was the shortest walk into an intersection of dirt trails that let you navigate quickly and quietly to where you needed to go.

The second was further down the road but was useless. This led you to impenetrable brush full of vines, thorns and every other god forsaken deterrent you could think of. My hunch tells me this is where the real prize lays but that would be an adventure for another day.

The third was on the other side of this piece of land. We could still make it to our ambush location from there but it would take an additional 20 minutes on foot to hike in.

I kept my fingers crossed as we drove closer towards the first parking spot. That little voice in my head that said we should have left earlier was getting louder.

1 minute later

Our car approached the first parking spot and I saw another hunter already geared up, closing their trunk, and putting on their climber for the hike in. He must’ve beat us by only a few minutes!

We had no time to waste. My buddy sped up and started driving towards the third parking spot on the other side of this piece of land. If there was someone already there then we were truly screwed.

3 minutes later

We made it to the third parking spot and lo and behold, it was open! It took a little over 10 minutes to change into our gear, grab our bows and start walking down the sandy dirt trail to our ambush spot. It was approaching 3:30 and the sun was slowly working its way down.


We were walking at a semi-brisk pace and our footsteps crunched against the dirt with each step.

I heard a loud CRACK. I looked up ahead and about 20 yards away I saw the elusive whitetail of a doe disappearing into the woods. It must have been feeding right by the trail and took off running as it heard us approach.

My buddy and I stopped, looked at each other and shook our heads. We let out a low sigh, the kind that comes from deep within your chest but we knew we had to press on.

We made it no more than another 100 feet when my buddy stopped me and pointed down the trail. About 50 yards away, another whitetail was sprinting away, gone almost as soon as we saw it.

My forehead was beaded with sweat. Anger, discouragement and hope were all mixed into one glob in my chest. There were definitely deer in the vicinity just as we predicted and they were moving into the side of the forest we anticipated they fed and bedded down for the evening.

However, they were moving earlier than we thought they would and the additional time added to our hike didn’t help as shooting hours were waning and we weren’t even in a tree yet.

Without a word, we nodded to each other and kept making our way towards the spot we picked that morning.


By now, the other hunter we saw who beat us to the first parking spot should have been set up. We figured he’d be in the general area of where we were originally headed, so we decided to get off the trail and cut through the forest to work our way in from the back and not disturb his setup.

We made it about 20 feet into the pines and we froze in our tracks. All you could hear was a slight rustle in the brush and about 30 yards away we caught a glimpse of another deer darting away deeper into the forest. It was actually quite beautiful seeing how an animal filled with fear could be so graceful in its escape.

Our shoulders were now heavy with frustration. We didn’t even get a chance to get in the tree and already spooked three deer away from the area. We abandoned our original plan and decided to set up here in the pines near where we just spooked this last deer.

We figured if there were three deer in this area then we might as well take our chances now before kicking up any others and wasting more daylight.


My buddy and I split up and he was on one side of the dirt path we were on and I decided to go up a tree about 70 yards into the pines on the other side. The idea was that my buddy would have eyes on deer crossing the dirt path and anything he couldn’t take a shot on would hopefully come my way.

As I walked in, my first instinct was to set up close to the dirt path where I saw a couple of game trails intersecting. I paused and looked around. My gut felt good about the area and I was about to swing off my pack and start the ascent, but at the last second, I changed my mind.

I looked up ahead and decided to press further in past the brush. I would pay for this decision later.

I picked a tree, climbed about 20 feet up, and had a good vantage point on where I expected the deer to come in.

I leaned back in my saddle...took a deep breath...and waited.


A little over an hour later, I saw a brief shadow of movement to my left.

I scanned the area with my eyes, careful not to move and tried to pinpoint where the movement came from.

About 60 yards away to my left, I saw the brown head of a doe, taking a little nibble on the leaves in front of her.

My eyes locked on, my body tensed and I waited for her to move closer.


The doe started off at my 10 o’clock and slowly moved its way towards my 12 o’clock.

Remember when I said I’d pay for changing my mind on where to set up earlier?

Well, she didn’t come any closer to my tree but instead walked directly into the area my gut told me to set up in when I first walked into the pines.

She teasingly offered broadside after broadside, as if she knew that I was over 40 yards away and there was no way I could take a shot.

I gritted my teeth and waited.

2 minutes later

As I had my eyes on the doe in front of me, I heard a loud rustle in the brush to my left. My eyes darted over to the sound and inexplicably, there was another doe stomping its way through the brush to the doe I was looking at.

My heartbeat sped up and my hand clung to my bow...I waited.


I now had my eyes on both does and they were still no closer to me than before. My mind kept blaring, “You idiot! Why’d you set up so far? You were right the first time. You should have set up closer.” Another voice in my head jumped in and whispered soothingly to reassure me, “You had no way of knowing. It’s not your fault. Just stay patient and they’ll come your way. Be ready.”


But the second voice was wrong and the does never came any closer. They stayed outside my range and taunted me; slowly gallivanting and enjoying the coming chill of the evening.

They worked their way to my weak side and I had practiced a weak-side shot only once before. I immediately forgot the mechanics and in despair, I swung my bow over in front of me, rotated my body the wrong way and tried to set up for a shot. I hoped I could justify to myself launching an arrow in their direction at a range I knew I hadn’t shot before.

Karma paid me a sweet visit.

As I clumsily tried to aim and draw my bow, my right boot slightly slid off the edge of my platform and I helplessly lost my balance. My tether was the only thing that kept me upright and in that moment I knew it was over.

The deer didn’t notice a thing. They sauntered off as I leaned there looking at their backsides slowly disappear into the forest.


It’s officially sunset and shooting light is over.

I spent those last 25 minutes standing in my platform thinking about the course of events that transpired. I came away with three lessons.

Lesson 1: Get there early.

Someone out there wants it more than you do. They’ll beat you to your spot every time if you get lazy, cocky, or complacent.

Lesson 2: Trust your instinct

Something in my brain/gut/subconscious told me to set up closer to the dirt path. Maybe it was a millennia worth of hunting instinct being resurfaced from my DNA to my brain. Maybe it was just a lucky inkling.

Whatever it was, I ignored that feeling and instead pushed further in. Had I not, I would have gotten a clear shot at the deer at sub-30 yard range and more than likely my freezer would be full instead of empty right now.

Lesson 3: Don’t shoot beyond your means

As I tried to line up for a shot that was well past my confident shooting range, the universe came and corrected me by having me lose my footing.

I was safe and my bow was intact, but my ego was put in check. I should have never tried to even attempt lining up for that shot and I was quickly reminded why by forces beyond my control.


We were back at my buddy’s place having a cold beer in the living room, recounting the late afternoon’s events.

He too was teased by the same doe I couldn’t get a shot on and we laughed when I told him how I flailed like a buffoon trying to set up a hail mary shot.

While harvesting deer this time was an utter failure, in its own way it was still a successful hunt. We came away with more experience and lessons you can only learn by being out in the field.

Perhaps more importantly, that itch to get out hunting for whitetails grew stronger and we couldn’t wait to be up in a tree again the following week.


Well-Known Member
SH Member
Dec 3, 2018
Maybe not everybody agrees but if i have deer under me, weather i get a shot or not, i consider that a pretty successful hunt.
Agreed!! Anytime I can deer in and out of bow range without being busted is a win for me.

To the OP the success is that you saw deer and able to to learn from it. Your probably going to make more mistakes than not at first. Thats just how it is. Luckily you have SH to help you shorten the learning curve


Well-Known Member
SH Member
Nov 1, 2018
What you have to ask yourself is, why were the deer just over there and not where you were. I've been deer hunting for 40 years more or less, I've had more stories like yours than I've had hunts that resulted in dead deer. It's a learning thing forever. Do consider it a successful day. The temptation is always there to try a shot that's just out of our range. It's tough to watch one walk off. You said you were a new hunter so I don't know if you've wounded a deer yet. It can happen even under ideal circumstances, it's a sickening feeling. Exceed your maximum effective deer killing range knowingly, and wound one....... sick and guilty. Thank the universe, for not letting you loose an arrow.


Well-Known Member
SH Member
Jul 16, 2018
Good read. I’ll throw a counter argument to your first lesson, take from it what you will.

While getting there early might help, it’s not always the antidote. Sure, it would have helped get you the primo location this hunt, but because you had scouted and knew the land, you had an option b, c, etc ready to go when you needed it. That’s the biggest lesson I take from that. Scout smart and it doesn’t matter. You got beat, and still got into deer. That’s a win in my book!

boyne bowhunter

Staff member
SH Member
Aug 17, 2016
Good story and great write up. Thanks for sharing. We've all been there so many times. Even after 45 years of bowhunting I still sometimes struggle with the "right tree" decision, it's a question you'll always deal with. As has been pointed out above, hunting is a continual learning experience and you'll have highs and lows. It sounds to me like you had fun and were able to share some stories and experiences and, really after its all said and done, that's what its all about.

Red Beard

Well-Known Member
SH Member
Mar 3, 2019
In my skin
GREAT READ solo! Love the way you allowed us to walk in, set up, and sit in the tree with you. You've got the right attitude about the whole thing sir... you came away with a bit more education.

Can't wait to hear about your next time out when you get there early!


Well-Known Member
SH Member
Dec 25, 2018
Good writing for a good read! Everything you've written is relatable in one way or another. I often times find myself fighting with my instincts to set up in a certain area for the need to go deeper into the woods only to find deer tracks on top of mine on the way out. I hope you write more of these excerpts in the future!


SH Member
Jul 25, 2019
Thanks for all the feedback y'all, it's much appreciated!

Y'all are definitely right that this is a continuous learning experience and I've learned a lot here from y'all since I joined a few months ago.

I went out again this past weekend and once I wrap up some work I'll write up how that hunt went as well.