A few years back I headed into the month of December with one main goal in mind—killing a doe. It seemed like an easy task, almost insignificant, so I approached with a false sense of confidence and no fanfare. This proved damning. In this essay, originally written right after that season, I come to terms with a different reality and a newfound appreciation for my quarry.
I’ve been trying to kill a doe for the last month. I figured it would be easy.
Every year I spend an enormous amount of time and energy trying to get a shot at a mature buck. The mission is all consuming. It’s the sun my world revolves around and the anchor to my ship. Admittedly, when it comes to does, they’re a bit of an afterthought. Opportunities would come, right?
The December Debacles
My late-season doe hunt began in early December, and on my first hunt I was busted by a weary matriarch just before drawing back. Not a good start.
A few days later I headed out again, but this time a muzzleloader issue resulted in multiple misfires and a hang-fire that cleanly missed a doe. Strike two. Fast forward a week, and I’m attempting a spot and stalk on a group of does I saw feeding from afar. But just as I got into position, an unseen deer spotted my final movements and cleared the field. Strike three.
Luckily, this isn’t baseball, so I would have more chances (and I’d need them). My next hunt out I was borrowing my dad’s muzzleloader, given the issues with mine, but my bad luck apparently transferred to this gun too. Two misfires had two more does running off with nothing but a scare.
Perplexed and frustrated, the next day I cleaned the gun, dried everything, and loaded it up for another test shot. Misfire. I cleaned again, dried again, loaded and fired. Misfire again. I decided then that maybe I’m meant to just stick to bowhunting.
That takes me to last night. The weather was cool, the wind was right for one of my best stands and I knew a shot with archery tackle was very possible.
Before heading to the woods, I grabbed my bow and stepped out back for a few practice shots. I shot at 30 yards, bullseye. I grabbed another arrow, let it go, and watched it dive-bomb into the ground several feet in front of the target. Confused by what happened, I grabbed another arrow, drew back, released, and then crack! My arrow rest snapped in half and flew off in two directions. This doe hunt was turning out to be anything but easy.
Luckily, I have a back-up bow, so I pulled that out of its case and took off for my treestand. There couldn’t possibly be any more bad luck in my future.
The Final Hunt
Settling into my stand, I thought back on the last month. The frustration of the many debacles had been mounting; the dud guns and busted bow had nearly sent me over the edge. I had pulled the trigger on five does and didn’t have a single blood trail or punched tag to show for it.
As I sat 20 feet up, I took a deep breath, held it for just a moment extra, and then exhaled all the frustration. Tonight I would just sit, enjoy, and soak it all in. Luck be damned.
Then, out the corner of my eye, a single deer tentatively stepped out of the swamp. A few minutes later another followed, then another, and another. Before long, ten does calmly fed in front of me on the oats and brassicas I’d planted that summer. As a mature doe came into range I steadied my nerves, drew back and centered the pin. What would go wrong this time?
As fate would have it, nothing. The arrow hit home, she spun, legs buckled and forty yards later she was piled up in the brush.
An hour later, standing over her still body in the snow, I thought back on the hunt and the weeks leading up to it. Sure, it’s nice when things come together the way you plan. It’s great when you get lucky and I’ll never complain when a hunt turns out easier than expected. But more often than not, it’s the toughest hunts that I appreciate the most.
When things go wrong, when your plan goes out the window, when the only luck you have is bad; that’s when you learn something. That’s when you grow. That’s when you begin to appreciate the hunt in a more profound way.
I’m glad this last month was such a struggle because that doe deserved as much. Because to kill a doe or any deer is to engage in a dance that’s been spun for thousands of years. To kill a deer is to fail, to learn, to try again, and when you someday succeed, to cherish it.
To kill a doe is to take a life, and that should never be easy.