The quick rustle of leaves and two shadows suddenly rising from their bed startled me. I had not intended on busting two big bucks out of their rest in this location, and at this time! Yet there they stood, two mature thick-bodied pigs staring me down, trying to figure out what I was.

My intent that morning was to use an old ladder tree stand I had borrowed from my father-in-law. I had risen early in the morning and headed up the hill with my bow, backpack, and the awkward three piece stand hanging off my back with makeshift straps.

I was new to all this. This was the first year I had ever shot a bow, with only with a month until the opening of early black-tail season, and I had little time to learn the art of bow hunting.

I was also careless. As I was stepping out of my Jeep onto the logging road I dropped my bow hard and did not even think twice about it. And I did not heed the wise counsel to always be alert and watching for those elusive but curious creatures that could be around any corner or behind any tree.

Yet I had some luck on my side. The wind was in my face and was sloughing through the trees with enough noise to cover the quiet clanging of the aluminum stand. Dawn had arrived but she had yet to unveil the full light of the sun. I also had the optimism of beginners luck in my head. Surely there was a massive record setting buck out there with my name on it standing broadside so I could execute a perfect twenty yard shot.

But now I was caught, like a child with his hand in the cookie jar, and I had no clue what to do. There was no clear shot and I had a mass of noisy metal hanging off my back. Had I already blown it with my nonchalant stroll up the gravel road? Or was this my moment of victory? Do I keep moving or stand still?

The adrenaline in my body began pumping as I considered my options. I slowly loosened the tree stand off of my back and lowered it to the ground, cringing as the metal stand pieces clinked together. I grasped my bow and crept slowly back to an opening that would give me a clean line of sight. However, as I became fully visible, one of the bucks sprang into the nearby thicket and crashed out of sight. The other hawg however continued to pierce my muted movements with his staring eyes.

Finally a clear shot; about twenty yards away the buck took a couple of stiff steps and offered a beautiful broadside shot! The advice of my father-in-law was screaming in my mind’s ear. “Don’t look at his rack; focus on all the essential elements of gripping your bow, pulling back, sighting in, and executing the shot.” In a couple of seconds I knew my shot would be gone. Desperately trying to keep my nerves in check I pulled back into full draw and sighted in on the kill zone.

“Zing!” With smug victory already resounding in my heart I gently pulled the trigger and sent the arrow flying. “Thud!” The buck jumped and sprinted into the thick Western Washington undergrowth crashing out of view and I was left there stunned. I was stricken with grief as I saw my arrow firmly set in a tree trunk that was a full twelve inches to the left of the target. The anguish built as the full weight of what had just happened rested on my shoulders: the dream opportunity of all bow hunters. What now? Did I try and pursue the deer? Did I wait for them to become curious and circle back around? Or were they gone forever?

For the next hour I stalked as silently as possible through the brambles looking for another glimpse of the ghosts. But they were gone and I was crushed. I headed back to retrieve my arrow from the tree. As I was digging my arrow out of the tree trunk I slipped and sliced open my finger on the corner of my broadhead. Since I could not stop the bleeding with my small medical kit I had to abandon the rest of my hunting day and head in.
The next couple of hours were painful as every second of that experience replayed in my mind. Frustrated at myself for rushing the shot I took out my bow to practice the essentials. To my astonishment, every shot I took was hitting twelve inches to left of the bulls eye. I suddenly realized that I had not rushed the shot but my sights were off most likely because I had dropped my bow that morning on the logging road. I was relieved that I had made a good shot but angry at myself for being so careless with my bow.

As troubling as my inexperience was at the time, I have learned to heed the sage advice from those who mentor me. I am now cautious with how I treat my hunting equipment and I stay alert at all times on the hunt.

So I have learned that every experience is an opportunity for positive growth. Every time I am in the woods I seek to learn more about the animals I hunt, the location I am in, and about the God who created them all. Hunting is, after all, more than a kill. It is one experience building upon another making me a better hunter. Hunters, we must not let one moment of inexperience ruin our lifetime of hunting experience.