The shot that will haunt me

In December 2021, my grandfather passed away. Weeks before, I jumped him when I came bursting into his house to tell him and my Grammie that I had shot a buck and had completed my Grand Slam. He laughed at my overzealousness but hugged me and told me how proud he was of me.  We made a deal hours before he passed away that he was going to deliver me an 8 point buck since I have yet to shoot one.  I held on to that belief all through the year.

Dad and I obsessed over trail cam photos throughout the summer and fall, we had three really nice bucks showing up.  They all seemed to be nocturnal, but they were around.  Fast forward to the start of the season and my morning kicked off pretty well by taking a nice doe in the first hour.

I had meat in the freezer and could focus on that 8 pointer that I knew Grampa would make happen. I watched the weather and changed work meetings around so I could hunt when it was snowing.  I sat for hours and only saw more does.

The weather at the end of the season was gross. The day after Thanksgiving was going to rain and turn to sleet.  Perfect. Dad and I packed up and headed into the stands. We were going to hunt from daylight until dark.

Dad had the run in with the trespasser. A few stands away, I watched a buck walk along the treeline.  I couldn’t see how big he was and I couldn’t get him to come closer.  I made a few doe bleats and watched him disappear. Our neighborhood owl showed up and hung out with me for a few minutes. By late morning, the rain had turned to sleet and I switched on the heater.

After 12, I heard a deer blow.  I assumed they could smell the propane so I turned the heater off.  The ground was crunchy enough by now that I could hear the deer walking, but I could not see it.  The deer was not in a hurry and the smell didn’t seem to stop them from walking closer.  I watched the two closest shooting lanes for movement.

I scanned from right to left.  When I reached my 9 o’clock, I stopped.  This massive brown body was eating.  His front shoulders were larger than anything I had seen but even more impressive was his stomach that seemed to be just as wide. It took me a second to realize what I was seeing.  Then, I saw the “M” of his antlers.  His head was down but it was a big buck.  I twisted my body into position and slide the barrel of my gun out the window.  I watched him lift his head and saw the right side of his antlers through my scope. He was larger than an 8 point.

Click.

Dumbfounded, I couldn’t believe my gun didn’t fire.  I kept an eye on the buck as I slide the bullet out of the gun, saw that the pin had hit it and it hadn’t fired, put it on top of my backpack and reloaded.

I had a clear shot at his front chest/shoulder and took it. It was the same shot I had taken on my doe when I dropped her.  The voice in my head questioned his reaction because it was not a normal death kick that I was used to seeing.

The rain was freezing on contact and Dad and I skated our way through the woods looking for blood.  There was not a lot and what there was became diluted with every rain drop.

We searched all afternoon.  At one point, we jumped him but he was not acting like a ‘close to death’ deer and the blood where he had bedded/stood was dismal.

This is when all of the “I should have’s start…”

I spent the rest of the night reliving the shot.  Reliving what I should have done.  I should have waited a little longer for the buck to turn broadside to me. I should have aimed higher because he was angled uphill from me vs the doe that was downhill.  He was in no hurry.  I should have waited.  I should have made a better shot. Grampa had held up his part of the bargain and put a big buck in front of me.

Saturday was sunny but windy.  We went back to the stand with our guns ready and started our search again.  As Dad and I were talking, a deer jumped from the tall grass.  All I saw was the right side of his antlers. I remember yelling ‘big buck!” as my brain tried to rationalize the thought that it was the same buck. Would he have come back?

We concluded that I gave him a haircut and a battle wound.  It was not a fatal shot. I am grateful that the buck is still out there and the pit in my stomach is still there too.  But, I will be better prepared this season.  I won’t make the same mistakes that I made.  I have learned from them and I will be a better hunter because of this experience. Even if it will be the shot that will haunt me for a long time.

2 Comments

  1. It’s a tough pill to swallow. I’ve had my share of these kinds of shots and it never gets much easier. All you can do is keep after it and improve for next time. Good read Erin!

    Reply
  2. Love that you felt your grandfather “the mighty hunter” with you during your first season without him♥️ He’ll always be there with you.

    Reply

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Erin Merrill, author of And a Strong Cup of Coffee, is president of Women of the Maine Outdoors, a senior writer for Drury Outdoors, a contributor to the Northwoods Sporting Journal and passionate all things Maine, Hunting, and the Outdoors.

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