COMING UP EMPTY by Mike Billiel

The 2009 MA bow season started with such promise as I had taken a 3 PT before the rut had even started and I was going to be off for the first three weeks in November.  November is my favorite time to bow hunt because of the chance to see a monster buck that you normally won’t lay eyes on the entire year.

It was the first week in November and I had located an oak grove that had a dozen rubbings in it and the ground was covered with acorns. There was sign everywhere and I knew it would only be a matter of time before I would see a buck if I hunted this spot long enough. I located a tree and threw a stand up on Thursday Nov. 5.  On Friday morning I was in it well before day light. About an hour after day light I saw a large 4 PT with at least 6 inch forks work his way across the far edge of the oak grove and out of sight. The wind changed directions later that morning and I moved to another location but I knew I would be back on Saturday morning November 7 th.

I was in the stand Saturday morning before day light.  It was and shortly after 7:30 when a 3 PT came crashing down through the oak grove passing just out of range. Things were looking good, 2 bucks in 2 sittings in this new stand.  That afternoon as that magic hour approached I heard the unmistakable sound of a deer walking behind me.  I glanced back and saw a deer coming up the ravine behind my stand. It was a doe and she stopped and looked up at me.  I didn’t move and I couldn’t believe she was looking up as I had to be 30 feet above her.  She stomped her foot once and I stayed motionless. Content I was nothing more than a squirrel she put her head down and began feasting on acorns.

As she fed she worked her way right under my stand.  I heard another deer walking and looked back.  I could see a large body coming through the hemlocks and I knew this had to be a buck.  As the deer came into the opening I could see it was an absolute monster.  The rack was heavy and wide with G2’s close to 12 inches long and G3’s at about 10 inches. I would have guessed him at close to 20 inches wide.  I immediately knew he was Pope & Young material and he was easily over 200 lbs.

He approached the spot where the doe had stomped her foot and stopped.  I don’t know why.  I’m not sure if she gave off some type of scent or what when she did that but he stopped and remained there motionless.

My heart was pounding and my knees started to shake.  I didn’t move and I looked away so I could get control of myself.  It was 3:50 PM and I had over an hour till dark.  The doe continued to feed around my tree stand.  I had made two mock scrapes and they were about 12 yards in front of my tree stand.  The doe worked her way around the tree I was in and walked into the scrapes.  I had placed some tinks gel #69 in them and she sniffed around and walked through them.  I knew she must be ready to breed or she would not have gone near the scrapes.

The buck remained motionless behind me.  He raised his head and licked his noses every few minutes but he didn’t move.  The doe finally fed up the ravine in front of me and continued to feast on the acorns.  She was now about 50 yards in front of him and he must have decided she was getting too far out in front.

He made his move.  He started up the ravine but at his pace.  He would take a couple of steps, stop, test the air, lick his nose and look around. Everything he did was in slow motion and at his pace.  His chest was huge and his gut sagged and I knew he was at least 5-6 years old.

On Nov. 7, 1994 at 3:50 PM I had shot my biggest buck a 229 LB 10 PT less than 400 yards from this tree stand.  He was coming and I knew I was going to get a shot, could history repeat itself 15 years later?  He was less than 20 yards and the direction he was heading he would pass by my stand broadside at no more than 14-15 yards.

Two, three steps stop look around lick his nose.  It was painful.  When he paused it was for 2-3 minutes at a time.  He was in control even though his other head was trying to think for him.  He knew she was going no where and he would not be chased off by any other buck in the area. Finally he was right beside me just to me left.  The top of a large oak tree had broke off years ago and he was working his way around it.  When he cleared it I would have the shot.  He stopped and paused just before the fallen top.  I told myself when he starts to walk I’ll draw, he’ll have cleared the tree top and be broadside at 14 yards.

I had watched this deer for over 45 minutes and I had regained control, no shaking, heart was pounding, but that’s something we as bowhunters live for.  He started to move, draw I told myself.  I came to full draw and he stopped, dam.. he didn’t clear the top completely.  His body looked huge as I looked down my site pin.  I could see branches from the tree top sticking up and blocking parts of his vitals.

You CAN get an arrow by that I told myself, DON’T be an idiot my other half screamed, he doesn’t know you’re here, let down he’ll take another step in a couple of minutes.  He’s right there shoot, you can DO it, DON’T take the shot he’ll step out, SHOOT, DON’T be an idiot, DO it, DON’T and it was off. I watched in horror as the arrow sailed just over his back and slammed into the ground. The buck bounded toward the doe that was now bounding up the ravine and out of the oak grove.  What the hell just happened.  How could I have blown such an easy shot, why didn’t I let down and draw when he cleared the tree top.  I don’t have the answer.  I think subconsciously I was in another zone and I didn’t even realize I had touched off the trigger on my release until it was too late.  I looked at my watch it was 4:45. I felt drained and I wanted to throw up.  In 36 years of deer hunting I have seen 4 deer that I knew without a doubt were Pope & Young material and over 200 lbs.  Those opportunities are few and far between and to actually get one that close and blow it was devastating.  I was beyond pissed off at myself for screwing up such a chance.

In years past I would have lost sleep, been sick to my stomach for days, allowed doubt to creep in and really questioned whether I could every hit another deer with a bow and arrow again. I didn’t do that this time. I sat for 11 hours on Monday Nov. 9 and analyzed that situation over and over. I had to learn from it, what had I done that caused that miss.

I sat in the same stand and stared at the spot where he was standing.  I could clearly see how my tunnel vision had blocked my thinking clearly.  The deer was not in the clear, his size had greatly mislead me in to thinking there was an opening large enough.  I had drawn and been at full draw at least 2-3 minutes prior to releasing the shot.  I never practice holding that long.  I should have let down, better yet I should not have drawn until he was in the clear.  I should have know this because he wasn’t in a rush to go anywhere, he did not know I was there.  If I had drawn when he was in the clear everything would have been automatic, draw, locate, aim, release, dead deer running.  Some of life’s lesson’s in the bowhunting world are the most painful.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I can’t see that buck standing there broadside at 14 yards and I’m telling myself to wait and some nights I have nightmares about it.  I’m trying to take the shot back and just wait but it’s not happening.  I don’t think I’ll every make that mistake again but it may have been most painful lesson I have ever learned in my deer hunting career.

Mike Billiel