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Better Luck Next Year!

Tommie (left) and Timothy Nickless with the 8-pointer Timothy took in 2007.
By Timothy Nickless

-- This is not the typical hunting magazine story. But I'll bet it happens a lot more often than anyone would care to admit.

Because I was going to school at the University of Missouri-Columbia last year, I wasn't able to hunt much. In fact, I chose to skip opening weekend of the rifle season so I could be with my campus Christian group during a big event. After that, I was feeling a little down about not going hunting because I have such a passion for it. When the next weekend came around, I was out in the woods trying to salvage what little time I had left.

It wasn’t until the last morning that I got a shot at a deer, and it turned out to be my biggest deer ever. It grossed 150 inches. God surely helped me for making sacrifices for Him.

I was living at home in 2008 and going to law school at St. Louis University when I decided to devote as much time to hunting as possible. I started scouting in the summer, and I came to know my hunting area like the back of my hand. I was sure '08 was going to be a great year.

During the first portion of the bow season, I was in the woods nearly every weekend and on some weekdays. I saw a few deer and even passed on a 1 ½-year-old 8-pointer. He needed a couple more years to reach his potential. None of the does would ever come close enough for me to get a shot, though. So going into rifle season, I still had not shot a deer.

On opening weekend of rifle season, the weather was horrible – swirling winds gusting up to 40 mph and rain. Nevertheless, I was out in the woods because that’s where the deer are. Unfortunately, I didn’t even see a white tail flicker. I knew it was just a matter of time, though, before something would happen.

On the second weekend, I had the neighborhood deer pegged. I knew right where they were walking, and I was sure I would see one. On Saturday, a young buck came trotting downhill beside me and I pulled my muzzleloader up on him. As he trotted into a clearing, I squeezed the trigger. But just as I did, he made a sharp right turn, heading straight away from me.

Turns out, I dead-centered a small tree about as big around as a softball. When I later showed my father the tree, he gently put his hand on it, and it fell over!

The next morning, I chose a setup about 100 yards away next to a good trail snaking out of a thick bottom. Around 8:30, three does came down the trail, and I was ready. As soon as the first big one passed through a clear spot, I put the sight on her and squeezed.

When the smoke cleared, I saw her take a couple of short bounces, as did the other two. They stood there for a minute as I tried to reload quietly, but I wasn’t quick enough. They all bounded back into the bottom.

I went to check for blood anyhow, thinking I had to have hit her. But there was no sign; it was another clean miss. After that, I went to sight-in my muzzleloader at a target. I was hitting high and right. I was bummed, but not out of the game.

Rifle season ended and I went to get a scope for my muzzleloader because that season started in just a couple of days. I got it sighted-in and was confident I wouldn’t miss again, provided I could actually see another deer. Two-thirds of the season was gone.

The second part of bow season passed much the same as the first. I was in the woods, but there weren’t any deer close enough to shoot. Finally, as my father and I were walking out for lunch one day, I saw a deer cross a dip down along the river we were hunting. In an attempt to head it off at the pass, we ran and I got behind a giant tree where I could see two trails.

This was probably one of the funniest moments of the season because the deer walked up directly on the other side of the tree, and I had no clue he was there. He came right up to the tree, and then darted out from behind it. He looked at me and, in a second, he took off for the trail flanking the river.

I quickly drew, found an opening and let an arrow fly. The deer was at 30 yards, and I watched my arrow fly like it was in slow motion. It was perfect timing, though, as the deer and my arrow were reaching the opening at the exact same moment. The next thing I knew, however, the deer ducked about a foot and my arrow flew right over his back.

I was shocked and puzzled. How could that deer have dodged what seemed to be a perfect shot? As I went to get my arrow and saw where the deer ran through, I realized the ground there actually dipped about 18 inches. Just my luck!

With only a couple of weeks left, I remained hopeful that every minute in the woods could lead to a shot. As December ended, though, so did my hopes of killing a deer. I injured myself a few years ago, and it left me with two bulging disks in my lower back. Those disks began pinching my sciatic nerve. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t even sit up for five minutes.

Just days before the end of the season, I went in to get a steroid shot in my back. The pain didn’t completely go away, but it was tolerable. I decided to make a last-ditch effort on the final day of the season.

I got out of class and went straight to the woods. With about 30 to 45 minutes of daylight left, I saw deer coming out around me. I was so excited; it was finally going to happen. But the deer kept their distance.

I grunted at them, and they looked my way. But none ventured closer. As darkness fell, I was left unsatisfied. No deer; no meat; nothing.

This was, by far, my roughest deer season yet. Even though I did not shoot a deer, I did get a couple things out of this past season. First, I now have an even stronger desire to get one next year. Second, I have an even deeper respect for these amazing animals.

Next time, I will go out a better hunter from having learned from my mistakes, more humbled for not succeeding, and -- as improbable as it sounds -- even more eager.

--Timothy Nickless

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