"Don't pass on the first day what you would kill on the last day."
“Don’t pass on the first day what you would kill on the last day.”

“It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done and I’ll never do it again,” recalled Steven Rinella on the January 23rd episode of MeatEater about his ill-fated decision to chase a moose, which resulted in his being charged and run over by the animal. In honor of his admission, MeatEater reached out to four of its most cherished contributors to ask about the biggest mistakes they made during the hunting season. Here they are, in their own words.

Ronny Boehme

Ronny is a life-long bird hunter and sporting dog enthusiast who hunts as much as life allows. He bounces between Michigan and Virginia and is Senior Judge for NAVHDA, the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association.

When it comes to buying anything – from tools to outdoor gear – I have always held to something my first employer told me: If you’re going to make your living with it, buy the best you can afford. For the most part, I have held to this since I bought my first pair of hunting boots, at age 15. My father saw the receipt for them and almost shot me. They were $45 back in 1972. I’m not sure what that converts to in 2014, but one could go to Sears & Roebuck back then and get good work boots for 20 dollars.

I mention this philosophy on gear because of something that happened on a caribou hunt with Steve Rinella and his brother Danny. I was first invited on this trip while having holiday drinks with those guys. While I listened to stories of adventure from the Arctic hunting grounds, my eyes were only seeing a double-shovel caribou rack hanging on my wall. Apparently certain details about this trip went in one ear and out the other, because I failed to recognize the importance of chest waders. They were specific about Xtratuf boots and dry bags, but they were hazy about the waders. And when it comes to rubber boots and dry bags, the choices are small and most of them work well for their intended purpose. But, waders! Waders can be great, good, fair, cheap and, yes, really cheap.

I ended up buying a lot of new gear for this trip. From a new rifle to binoculars to – believe it or not –a canoe to ensure we had plenty of room for my evening beverage of choice. Believing that we would not spend more than an occasional hour or two in waders, I skimped and brought along a pair that hung in my barn.  When we arrived at the spot where we parked the truck and started dragging gear and canoes to a small creek mouth, I quickly realized that standing in waders waiting for a duck to fly over was a realistic barometer for how well a pair of waders performs. Within hours, I was miserable. Not only were they too tight in the toe, but also they were apparently cut for a slimmer, trimmer man (and had possibly been marked ‘Women’s’). I couldn’t bend my knees without getting a wedgy that caused an almost bondage-type feeling. It seemed the longer I was in them, the worse this trip was becoming. We had to drag the canoes upstream for five miles as the crow flies — another detail that I apparently didn’t retain from that fateful holiday night. Besides the 20-hour plus drive to get there, the day-and-a-half hike in waders was more than I could handle. Through my usual routine of joking-whining-complaining, Steve eventually heard all he could stand. We stopped along the shore and he told me to switch waders with him! At first I said that I would be alright. He simply said, “No. Take them off and switch with me.” I did. I can’t remember the brand of waders he owned, but the difference in how they felt reminded me of the first time I rode a bike with variable gears. It was a revelation! I never heard Steve complain about the swap, though he did ask if I happened to find my waders in a box of Cracker Jacks.

Doug Duren

Doug is a passionate hunter, farmer, land manager and conservationist. He is the owner of Lone Oak Interests, LLC, specializing in site and land management consulting and contracting services throughout Wisconsin and the Driftless Area. In addition to his consulting and contracting work, Doug manages the Duren Family Farm near Cazenovia, Wisconsin where has been working and hunting for over 40 years.

Where were you hunting?
We were “mooch” hunting the neighboring farm that we were hunting for the first time this year. My hunting partners were waiting along a nearby ridge line. (Editor’s Note: By “mooch,” Doug is referring to a deer drive in a very slow, controlled fashion.)

What were you hunting?
Whitetail deer.

What was your dumb mistake?
I had an idea that a buck could be bedded in a thicket a couple hundred yards south of where I was “mooching”. The wind was blowing out of the south, right in my face, so my scent was certainly undetected and I was out of sight of that spot. I was moving slowly and stopping for a minute or two at a time. If a buck got up out of that brush, though, he would certainly head south into the wind and in 25 yards he would be in real thick brush; out of sight and gone. I was waiting for one of the other guys to circle around even further south of where that deer “spot” was, and his movement would give the deer no choice but to head east, west or north – all directions that were open and would allow for a clear shot. So it was important for me to be patient and undetected. The guy who was supposed to be moving through that brush was taking forever and I got impatient and moved a little closer to where I figured the deer would be.

A few more minutes passed and I was still waiting, so I got more impatient and decided to walk over and lean against a tree near that spot, wondering if I just had not seen him walk past. I moved too soon and too quickly, and a really good buck burst out of the brush, “hell bent for leather” as my Dad would say, and headed straight south. I moved to get an open shot and took one as he disappeared into the brush. He was quartering away from me and it was a marginal, maybe decent shot, but not a good or great one. In retrospect, it was one that maybe I should not have taken. I always try to take good ethical shots, and although I do not favor taking a shot at a running deer, I have taken several over the years and have actually had good success with kill shots. It seems that I either kill them or miss completely. In this case, I missed completely. I had to make a quick decision, as is often the case in this type of situation, and I decided to shoot. There was snow on the ground and I went to the spot where the deer was when I shot, found his track and did not find blood. I followed the track into the heavy brush for a while, just to be sure. Nope. I missed.

How would you do it differently?

I should have had the patience to wait until I was absolutely sure the other guy was past me and that spot. I simply needed to wait. I also question the shot, especially now in hindsight. It is a shot I will think about for a long time. I have never regretted a shot that I did not take, but there have been a few I have taken that I did regret. I am not ready to put this one on that list yet, but I might be soon.

Janis Putelis

Janis lives in Fairbanks, AK temporarily and guides big game hunts with Jay Scott and Darr Colburn of Coluburn and Scott Outfitters. He likes to hunt anything he and his family can eat.

Where were you hunting?
Central Colorado.

What were you hunting?
Bull elk, cow elk and bear on OTC tags.

What was your dumb mistake?
On the 4th evening of a 7-day hunt, I had the opportunity to kill both my cow elk and bull elk almost simultaneously. I killed the cow, but my drive to kill a big 6-point bull made me pass on the smallish 4-point bull (who stood there, posing broadside at 80 yards). The next three days were spent hunting a bull. And although I killed one on the last evening, I never gave myself the time to hunt my bear.

How would you do it differently?
Right now I would easily trade my 5-point bull antlers for the 4-point’s antlers and the opportunity to hunt a bear for a few days. I should have killed the two elk at once (filling my freezer) and then waited in the vicinity of the two fresh gut piles for a bear to pass by. Although killing the bear was not guaranteed, I like to think that with a few extra days of hunting, I’d be enjoying smoked bear hams, lots of rendered bear fat and a beautiful rug; all on top of my two elk. Lesson learned: when Mother Nature offers up the “bird in hand,” don’t start glassing for the one in the bush.

Cody Lujan

Cody is a former fly-fishing guide who has hunted Western big game his entire life. He currently resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico and his hunting photos have appeared in Bugle Magazine, The Huntin’ Fool and the Ridgeline Outdoors online periodical.

Where were you hunting?
The Gila region of southwestern New Mexico.

What were you hunting?
Bull elk.

What was your dumb mistake?
Dedicating the first half of my hunt to the pursuit of one tremendous and wily bull elk and electing not to shoot any of the other good bulls I had within easy killing range. I spent the last days of that hunt desperately scouring the backcountry for any legal bull, but the elk had moved out of my area and I went home backstrap-less.

How would you do it differently?
A bull elk in the hand is worth two on the mountain. That is, I should have killed the first legal bull that presented an ethical shot and filled my freezer. Passing the gifts that were close shots on bull elk during the first days of my hunt was clearly a mistake and I paid the price for ignoring the hunters’ mantra of “Don’t pass on the first day what you would kill on the last day”.