January 03, 2017
It's a sad tale heard every year, a shot that was missed as the season winds down, an errant arrow that costs a hunter the chance at a buck he's been dreaming of for months on end.
And sometimes, the tale of woe gets even worse as the shot turns into an errant one, an unleashed arrow that can cause a mortally wounded animal never successfully recovered.
To avoid succumbing to either unwanted scenario, be sure you keep on practicing as the season goes along.
Because for starters, it's just simply a good idea to keep practicing as the season unfolds so that your shooting form remains in top-flight form, not to mention you stay alert to any unwelcome changes happening to your equipment.
And second, doing so will keep you brimming with practiced confidence if Mr. Big does indeed come calling.
Take for instance my longtime North Texas hunting friend, Jim Lillis, a retired Senior Regional Director with Ducks Unlimited.
A few years ago, as he readied for a post-rut hunt on a popular piece of public hunting ground, he made sure he sent a few arrows downrange at his Block target the day before his hunt actually began.
After some three dozen shots were launched into the target's bull's eye, he knew his equipment was still dialed in perfectly, not to mention the shooting form he had spent months honing during the warmth of summer and early fall.
The next day, with mid-morning temperatures hovering in the 40s, Lillis was high up in his Lone Wolf treestand when the unmistakable sounds of an approaching deer began to grow from behind his stand location.
Moments later, when a 175 2/8-inch-net typical whitetail walked through a shooting lane, Lillis' shot into the Boone & Crockett Club buck's boiler room was all but automatic and a bit anticlimactic.
Outdoor Channel big buck expert Pat Reeve is a stickler for religiously practicing with his bowhunting equipment while wearing his late-season hunting gear. Doing so paid off for Reeve a few years ago with this handsome Minnesota whitetail on a frigid winter's day. (Photo courtesy of Pat Reeve)
But late-season practice isn't just important to keep one's confidence up and to ensure equipment is still performing flawlessly.
It's also important – especially in the more northern states – because of the increase in heavy clothing hunters will typically wear as the season winds down.
You know, the kind of clothing that loves to reach out and grab a bowstring, sending an arrow flying wildly as it comes rocketing off of the string.
Which is exactly why Outdoor Channel big buck hunter Pat Reeve religiously practices in his wintertime hunting duds, especially since late season sits are such an important part of his annual hunting and filming plans.
"Before the season and during the season, I always practice in the exact same stuff that I'll be hunting with as the season goes along," said Reeve.
"That's especially true when I'm hunting in heavy late-season clothing," he added. "I use an arm guard, but with that big bulky jacket sleeve, it can still reach out and catch the string, so you want to know (how to avoid) that beforehand."
In addition to using the same exact cold-weather clothing he'll wear on late-season hunts, Reeve also makes sure that he practices his shooting from the same exact position he'll be hunting from.
"If I'm hunting in a ground blind, and we often are later in the year when wintertime rolls around, I'll certainly practice those shots in a sitting down position," said Reeve, who along with his wife, co-hosts Driven TV with Pat & Nicole.
"And I'll be sure to do that in the same exact gear that we'll be using when we're out in the field hunting."
In addition to duplicating the clothing and the hunting situations Pat and Nicole will find in the field during late-season hunts, he also is a stickler for shooting at least a little bit when the pair gets into a late-season camp.
No matter how cold it is or how dark it might be just prior to a hunt beginning.
"Again, practicing in the same gear that we're using, I want to check our bows out when we get into camp to make sure everything is still performing flawlessly, from the bow to our shooting form," he said.
"Even if that means – after a long trip to get into camp in Canada or somewhere else – that we'll end up going out in the dark if necessary and using vehicle headlights to illuminate a quick practice session.
"Because when it comes to cold weather and travel, the least little thing camp bump things off just a little bit, enough to cause a miss or a bad hit on a buck.
"You just can't leave anything to chance and you can never think that your equipment is going to stay the same."
Because it often will not, especially under the rugged conditions of late-season rain, sleet, snow, cold and wind.
But if you want to harvest the kind of big bucks that my friend Jim Lillis and Pat and Nicole Reeve shoot, then taking the time to do all of this is a small price to pay.
Until it comes time to write a check to the taxidermist, that is.
But that's a stroke of the financial pen every big-buck hunter I know of is almost always willing to pay.