I used to hunt with a guy named Michael. We were in college together back when hunting shows were starting to become a popular endeavor for anyone with a camera and a place to hunt. Since I owned the camera, Michael was the hunter.

It was peak rut where on a gray afternoon that dragged the temperature down with every passing hour. My lock-on stand was about ten feet above Michael’s on a pair of white oaks growing out of the same stump. Our distance was perfect for me to capture him and the field in front of us in the frame. What good fortune.

About a half hour before dark, when I was thinking about the truck’s heater and a cup of coffee, heavy bodies moving through the woods to our left brought us both to attention. First, a doe emerged into the food plot. Not 20 feet behind her was a very nice buck. The footage, I knew, would be perfect.

Michael allowed me time to film the buck dog the doe before I gave him the greenlight to shoot. He flipped off the safety of his rifle, exhaled slowly and squeezed the trigger. The boom! vibrated up through my body as I tried to keep the buck in frame. In fact, I didn’t have any trouble keeping him dead center because he continued to stand in the same spot. Michael racked the bolt and took aim again. Boom! This time the doe took off back toward the woods and the buck followed. Michael worked the bolt once again and let off a final effort  just as the pair went out of sight.

“I don’t know what happened,” he stammered, the anger apparent in his voice.

“Let’s look at the tape before we decide anything,” I offered.

Sure enough, running back through the three shots, the miss was quite apparent. Just when I thought Michael had settled down and regained his composure, I heard a crashing below. Surely more deer weren’t returning to the field was my initial thought before realizing what was actually happening. Michael had just thrown his rifle from the tree stand. A very nice wood-grained rifle and a top-quality scope lay broken 30 feet below us. I didn’t know whether to cry or kick him in the face. Why would someone do such a thing?

The damage to the scope was irreparable. His rifle was broken in two at the stock. I’ll never know if he got it fixed because that was the last time I hunted with Michael. His true colors showed that cold afternoon, telling me that he wasn’t someone I wanted to share my hunting memories with.

Missing is Inevitable

Throughout the years I’ve missed some “sure things,” shots at big game animals so close I could already see the shoulder mount on my wall. By human nature, the first thing I wanted to do was blame the rifle and scope, which turned out to be a false claim nearly every time. One of many factors leading to human error undoubtedly occurred - rushing the shot, jerking the trigger, holding my breath, misjudging the distance... the list is long.

When it's your turn to miss, grit your teeth and move on with the hunt.

Check and Recheck

A lot of us travel by air for big game hunts. If you’ve ever sat in a window seat watching luggage being loaded onto the plane, then you know there’s nothing gentle about the process. In fact, it’s almost if those guys are testing the durability of each piece the way they lift it unnecessarily high and drop it onto the conveyor belt. When you get to camp shoot your rifle several times to recheck your zero before you begin hunting.

Be An Example

As we get older, start families and introduce our young ones to hunting, it’s important to remember that the best way to lead is by example. So much of what I learned in the early days of my deer hunting career was by simply watching my father. Those lessons have even carried over into the way I conduct myself in day-to-day situations.

Have a Short Memory

As a high school athlete, my coaches always preached these four words: have a short memory. Dwelling on the past can have dire consequences on the future. If you’re still thinking about the miss when the next opportunity arrives, you’re already at a disadvantage. When you miss, eject the spent shell and move on with the hunt.