By Ken Piper
I had the pleasure of bowhunting with Buckmasters field editor Bob Humphrey in Illinois this past fall.
I've hunted with Bob several times in the past, and he's one of those guys who gets it done. In other words, if he gets an opportunity, he makes the most of it.
On this particular hunt, however, Bob and I both were guilty of a hunting mistake I call Plan-itis.
In Bob's case, he was sitting a ladder stand overlooking a large food plot when a 140-ish buck stepped out at about 100 yards and began checking scrapes along the field.
Bob had already ranged all the scrapes he could see. The closest was a mere 20 yards away, and the next one was at about 35 yards.
As the buck approached the scrape at 35 yards, Bob said to himself, "When he comes to the 20-yard scrape, I'll take him."
Next, Bob calmly watched the buck work the 35-yard scrape. It was broadside as it dug in the dirt and then lifted its head to rub the licking branch. The buck then walked directly into the woods and out of sight not to be seen again.
"I don't know why I didn't shoot the buck when he was broadside at 35 yards," he said later. "That's well within my range, but I just got locked in on my plan to take the shot at 20 yards."
A similar situation happened to me two days later.
I was sitting in a Turtle blind in a cut cornfield. The advantage of hard-sided blinds is they conceal movement and hold in scent. The disadvantage is you have to keep the windows of the blind closed if you're right there among the deer like I was.
There were about 15 whitetails around the blind when the giant old 8-pointer the outfitter told me to watch for stuck his head out across the 60 yards of corn stubble directly in front of me.
After surveying the scene, he began walking toward the blind. By the way he was angling, I was pretty sure he was going to pass in front of the window to the left of center of the blind.
I calmly and slowly opened the vertical-shaped window and prepared for a shot. I was sure he would put his head down and browse for corn kernels like the rest of the deer were doing. As he approached the shot corridor afforded by the open window, I drew my bow ... but the buck picked up his pace and kept walking.
I panicked. I let down the bow and fumbled to open the next window, but just as I leaned back to draw again, the buck had stepped out of that window's shot zone. Whatever you call it when panic goes to the next level, that's what I got.
The old buck kept walking and eventually stopped with his front feet in the brush at the edge of the cornfield to my left. He was still at about 35 yards. Had I remained calm, I might have been able to open the last window on that side and take a shot, but by that time I was shaking badly. Plus, I was so distraught by how things didn't go according to my plan that I failed to realize I still had at least a decent shot opportunity.
By the time I got things back together — about 30 seconds later — the buck vanished into the brush. Thirty seconds doesn't sound like a long time, but when you're talking about having a trophy buck inside 40 yards, it's an eternity.
In both mine and Bob's cases, we got so caught up in what we planned to do that we failed to remember that big bucks seldom do anything according to our plans. Bob failed to take advantage of a solid, ethical shot opportunity because he had a plan in his head, and I failed to realize I still had a shot opportunity after my plan went awry.
It's always a good idea to survey the area around your stand and imagine what you'd do if a buck walked here or stopped there, but avoid getting locked into a predetermined scenario. Think on the fly and take the first ethical shot opportunity that comes available.
Bob bounced back from his mistake and ended up taking the tall 10-pointer in the picture. Me? I ate tag soup. You don't get many second chances when bowhunting for big Illinois bucks.