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Beginner’s Blessing

Forrest HurstBy Forrest Hurst

-- I had been an avid waterfowler and upland game hunter for years, but I didn’t have any experience hunting big game. At the urging of a friend, I decided to give deer hunting a try and bought my first compound bow in 2003. It made sense to take advantage of the longer archery season in Illinois, and I also figured it probably wasn’t much of a challenge to shoot a deer with a shotgun anyway.

I know what you’re thinking: "How does he know how hard it is to tag a deer with a shotgun," and "Oh, no, not another story of beginner’s luck."

I’ll admit that this hunt had nothing to do with any special skill or ability on my part, but it does prove that on any given morning the planets can align just right and any hunter can get the buck of his dreams.

I had always admired the bowhunters I knew and enjoyed their stories of up-close encounters, both successful and not-so-successful. I listened to family members and friends and took in as much information about bowhunting as I could. Next I spent hours practicing with my used High Country bow, newly modified with a Whisker Biscuit, a new sight and carbon arrows.

My first three trips to the woods brought nothing but squirrel sightings. Then, on a Thursday morning, exactly one week after my first bow hunt, I went up a proven tree in a climber on my brother’s property. It was early November and everyone told me the rut was coming on hot and heavy. That really didn’t mean much to me since my brother had given me permission to take a doe to get some experience under my belt.

I was eager for any opportunity, so you can imagine my heart rate when a doe and two yearlings came trotting down the hill behind me. They were headed to the clearing right in front of me and would most likely present a shot opportunity. Right on que, the big doe stopped broadside at 20 yards.

I slowly drew my bow and looked through my sight; there was a single tree limb obstructing the vitals. I had heard enough stories and encounters with Murphy’s Law to know that any arrow I sent toward the doe would be drawn to that branch like a magnet.

The doe was facing away and didn’t seem aware that she was in danger. I needed her to take just one little step, but she just stood there for what seemed like an eternity. I was getting very tired from holding the bow at full draw and began to shake badly.

I had just decided to try to relax the bow when the two yearlings came running in from the hill behind me. I knew better than to try to turn to look, but I moved my eyes that way and caught a glimpse of a third deer chasing the yearlings.

Before I even know what was going on, a big buck had chased the yearlings into the clearing, and all the deer just stopped and stared. The buck just happened to be standing broadside, so I released my arrow and immediately saw it was a complete pass-through.

The buck ran about 75 yards and went down — and then the adrenaline hit me. It came on so strong that I had to sit down and literally hold on to the tree to keep from falling. It felt like the temperature had dropped 20 degrees in an instant, and that’s when I realized I had just experienced what makes bowhunters so loyal to their sport.

Everyone had told me to stay in my stand at least an hour if I shot something, but after 45 minutes, I couldn’t wait any longer. I climbed down and approached the massive buck. It was laying on its side with the rack facing away. When I got to 15 yards, I realized its chest was still moving. That’s when I realized that newbies to the sport really should listen to those who have "been there, done that."

Rather than wait it out, I had taken another step which resulted in the loud "Snap!" of a broken twig. The buck jerked its head up and looked right at me. "It’s okay, boy," I said. I guess I thought my soothing words would keep the buck calm, but, of course, it found no solace in my voice and immediately jumped up and headed for the thickest part of the woods. As it disappeared, I realized I might have just lost the greatest trophy of my life.

Now what? Once again my inexperience shone through and I immediately took up the buck’s trail. After 45 minutes of tracking, I caught sight of the deer again. This time I kept my cool and my distance and watched until the buck passed.

Although my story ends very happily and without incident, I was lucky the buck ran away instead of charging. I’m also fortunate I didn’t lose the trophy because of my inexperience and impatience.

Many of my buddies have told me I might as well quit deer hunting because I’ll never do any better. But I now have a love of bowhunting and for whitetails that will last a lifetime, along with a desire to share that love with my children and grandchildren. So was my first bow buck beginner’s luck? Maybe so, but I prefer to think of it as "beginner’s blessing."

Forrest Hurst
Freeburg, Ill.

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