7 Bucks I Couldn't Kill and Why

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Deer Hunting Mistakes and Things Out of Our Control

I’m not an expert deer hunter. I’ve never claimed to be. Sure, I’ve been fortunate to take some nice deer throughout the years. But a fair number of big bucks have escaped due to my blunders, too. I can’t lie. My nerves have gotten the best of me on more than one occasion. And some bucks have slipped away unharmed due to factors out of my control, too.

Some of the most memorable days in the field were days I didn’t come home with deer. In fact, a good many of them were days I might have brought home a deer but didn’t due to a mistake or factor I couldn't help. After all, they do say you never forget the ones that get away. Here are seven of those moments of bucks I couldn’t kill and why I fell short.

The False Nock Buck

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1 | The False Nock Buck

September arrived and it was early bow season. The big boys were still in velvet and showing their faces in daylight to boot. This particular buck, which I’d come to call Big Brow, was a regular on the mineral station.

Then, one September morning, conditions were right so that I could slip in undetected. Shortly after daylight, the big nine showed itself directly in front of my ground blind. The buck stood broadside. I drew back, but the buck spun and concealed its vitals. I let the bow back down and waited for another shot.

It came a minute or two later. I drew again and let the arrow fly. I immediately knew something went awry. While the moment of truth always seems to mirror a slow-motion Die Hard scene (kidding . . . sort of), I knew my arrow was traveling much slower than it should. If it were a baseball, it would have been the equivalent of me lobbing a breaking ball that didn’t break. Nonetheless, the arrow struck true but only got a couple inches of penetration.

Lesson Learned: I don’t know for sure what happened. But I suspect the arrow slightly unnocked itself when I let off. Then, when I drew back, it wasn’t seated properly and never had a chance of reaching peak fps. The buck ran off and I never recovered it despite three days of searching. I’m almost certain the deer lived. The lesson? Always do a quick scan on your bow before drawing back on your deer. Check the arrow, cams and other moving parts on the bow for debris and issues.

The Double-Take Safety Deer

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2 | The Double-Take Safety Deer

It was rifle season and the rut. Bucks were running does. The orange army was out in force. All was right in the deer hunting world. I had my Marlin 336 XLR lever-action .30-30 prepped and ready.

Suddenly, the big 8-point buck I was hunting dashed across the field. I found the running deer in my scope and managed to stop the deer at 115 yards. I pulled the hammer back, settled the crosshairs and pulled the trigger. Click. I’d forgotten to take the safety off. The buck started running again and never offered another clean shot.

Thirty minutes later the buck came running across the field and headed for a neighboring property. Two or three minutes after exiting my view, a gun shot rang out. The wide eight was dead.

Lesson Learned: Remember to take the dadgum safety off.

The Biscuit Buck

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3 | The Biscuit Buck

Above is a mid-summer shot of a nice buck I watched during the pre-season quite a few years ago. I’d planted a small kill plot designed to target this deer. One morning, a few weeks into bow season, I hunted over that small kill plot. I hunted for several hours without a single deer sighting. And I was craving a biscuit somethin’ terrible. So I climbed out of the blind and went to grab some biscuits and gravy.

A week later when I returned, I pulled the SD card from my trail camera on that kill plot. The big deer I was after had fed through the little plot five minutes after I left to go fill my own gut. I’ve since lost that photo, but it’s still burned, and forever engrained, into the back of my brain.

I didn’t eat biscuits and gravy for a dang month. And I love biscuits and gravy.

Lesson Learned: Always stay longer than you think you should. When you’re ready to go, give it another 10 minutes. You’d be surprised the action you encounter when you’re more patient.

The Trespasser Problem

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4 | The Trespasser Problem

I was after a really massive and tall 8-pointer. It was still fairly early in bow season. Deer were still hitting the half-yellow, half-green soybeans. I was camped out in a little group of trees, ready to capitalize should the big deer show itself in daylight.

Later that afternoon, five yearling bucks filed out. Then, the big 6½-year-old giant stepped into view. As they moved closer to me, the yearlings encircled the big deer, almost as if they were sentries (it’s a thing). One by one the younger bucks passed by my stand. All that was left was the big deer. It stood looking in my direction a mere 20 yards away. Then I heard it. Splashing sounds in the creek as a trespasser crossed to our side and climbed up on the bank. That cleared the field and sent all of the deer packing. The buck took off, ran directly underneath my stand, and kept running. I didn’t see that deer again until the next year.

Lesson Learned: I wasn’t about to take a chest shot with a bow. And there was nothing I could do to prevent the trespasser from doing their thing. Oftentimes, the outcome is out of our control.

The Sixth Sense Connoisseur

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5 | The Sixth Sense Connoisseur

This was a buck I hunted pretty hard. But this deer had me pegged. The day I came closest to killing it was in early November. But I didn’t come close enough.

I was in the stand only a few minutes before I saw this deer easing through some thick undergrowth. The buck stopped broadside just 40 yards from me, but some brush blocked my view of its vitals. The buck stood there for several minutes before turning around and leaving. It came back five minutes later and did the same thing again.

I never have figured out why the deer hung up. The wind was good. It hadn’t come close to my foot trail. I’m not sure what spooked it. But one thing is for sure, there might be something to the sixth sense.

Lesson Learned: Sometimes things go wrong when everything seems just right.

The Vacationer

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6 | The Vacationer

This is a truly big deer. One that anyone would get excited about. The only problem? I never had a chance to hunt it.

This buck only showed up on trail cameras between 12 and 4 a.m. It didn’t matter where I placed my cameras. The buck never showed in daylight. Or anywhere close to it. In fact, I only had eight or 10 total images of the deer. I soon realized that the buck was probably bedding on an adjacent property, sometimes feeding where I had permission to hunt, and that I’d likely never have a chance at this deer.

I was right. I never received photos of the deer in daylight or sightings while scouting from afar. So I gave up on this deer and pursued a more huntable buck.

Lesson Learned: Don’t hunt the biggest buck you have on your trail cameras. Hunt the biggest, most mature buck that is killable.

The Big Tease

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7 | The Big Tease

Sometimes deer get the best of us. Actually, they get the best of us way more than they don’t. To be an animal lower on the food chain than us, they sure do have a knack for making us look pretty dumb.

This buck was only hitting one spot in daylight that I had a legitimate shot at killing it. The problem? It only frequented that spot when the wind was dead wrong for me to hunt it. And there were no alternate options for a stand or ground blind site. That was it. And the big monarch knew it.

Sure, I hunted that spot several times. But the big boy never showed. He beat me. However, a neighboring hunter killed the buck about a half mile away during the rifle season. My early bow season misfortune made for an outstanding rut hunt during the November rifle season for another hunter.

Lesson Learned: Some bucks will only enter a given area (or any area) when the wind is at least partially in their favor.

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