November 25, 2022
By Alex Comstock
What feelings do you associate the word failure with? Unfortunately, for a lot of people, failure is often correlated with fear. After all, fear of failure can be paralyzing. But getting past being afraid to fail can catapult you into successes in life, and it’s no different in deer hunting. This November, when you were hunting the rut, did you ever let failure dictate what you can and can’t do? Fear of failure is felt by all kinds of people, including deer hunters. Fear can creep in unexpectedly. Maybe you made a bad shot on a buck last season, and now you’ve lost your confidence. Or perhaps you’ve never hunted out of state in rough terrain, or you’re reluctant to try a new hunting method. Fear of failure, or a reluctance to try something new, can take many forms.
Here’s the cold hard truth: Whether you are afraid to fail or not, everyone fails at some point. It’s alright to come up short when you’re after a goal. What’s most important though, and what’s going to be emphasized more than anything in this article, is the concept of learning from failure. Simply put, failure might be the best teacher out there. Read that again.
As I think about failing and how it relates to deer hunting, my mind always takes me back to a quote from Michael Jordan. The basketball legend said it best: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games; 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Though it’s a basketball quote and not even remotely related to deer hunting, those words are applicable to almost every imaginable situation. For me, that quote brings back memories from all throughout my deer hunting career, including many hard lessons I learned from failed hunts.
Perhaps the memories that get to me the most are the deer I missed or messed up on. Those instances have taught me a lot, and honestly, I think they come to my mind more often than the successful ones. Failure doesn’t necessarily just mean a missed shot or a spooked deer, either. For some, failure can be associated with a season without a punched tag, or maybe a season without an archery harvest. Or maybe failure is a November passing with little to no rut action, leaving you wondering if you failed to hunt the right spot or identify travel changes, etc. I can relate to this example, because for me, the 2020 rut proved extremely difficult to figure out.
Last fall, I had major goals I wanted to accomplish during the rut. I was hunting a buck around home in Minnesota that I thought I’d have a great chance to arrow. Plus, I was hopeful I’d put down my first ever Nebraska buck, as it was my fifth season hunting that state. Assuming I’d put in enough time to finally fill a tag, failure was never even on my mind. It was as though I just inherently figured I’d succeed, and so I went for it. I hunted almost every single day from Oct. 26 through the third week of November. Between hunting in Minnesota and Nebraska, it was an absolute grind. And it was all to no avail. Even though I wasn’t afraid of failure, I still failed — by some people’s definition, anyway.
I think it’s important to mention here too that failure can be a relative term. Failure is how you define it. On one hand, I didn’t achieve the goals I had set, so in my mind, I failed. But (and most importantly) on the other hand, I realized the failure had been a good thing, actually! How is that possible? Well, I realized my failures had taught me many lessons. When the season ended, I looked back on my mistakes and learned a lot from them.
I spent one week during the 2020 season hunting in Nebraska. During that November week, I had countless mature buck encounters, and a good amount of them were within bow range. And yet, I never even drew my bow back. There are a lot of things I learned from my “failed” rut hunt, but I want to focus in on a single example to prove the point I’m trying to get across to you in this article.
There was one buck in particular I wanted to shoot. He was the biggest buck we knew of in the area, and I wanted him bad. He was a giant 10-pointer and a semi-regular user of our small property. Halfway through the week of hunting, I decided to make a bold move and utilize a decoy. Now, my setup was in the timber, and decoying in the timber isn’t something often done. But there was enough of an opening that I thought I could pull it off. It snowed all day, and by the late afternoon the weather cleared. Everything was setting up perfect.
Shortly before sunset, I caught a glimpse of movement to my left. Because I self-film my hunts, I got my camera all set up to film that direction. But nothing showed. I strained my eyes looking for the culprit, but I couldn’t find whatever I saw. I was looking hard for it, putting my binoculars up and even searching with my camera lens, but to no avail. What happened next taught me many lessons I won’t soon forget. I was focusing so hard to try and locate the deer I had seen, my awareness of everything else practically evaporated. After I decided whatever I had seen had left, I let my guard down.
So, instead of slowly scanning my surroundings before moving around and settling back into my stand, I moved too quickly. I grabbed my camera, swung it back to its resting position and turned in the tree — all in one fast motion. As I made that hasty turn in the tree with hardly any cover, I was bewildered to see the buck I was after already postured with the hair on his back bristled up as he was getting ready to charge my decoy. The instant I saw him, he caught my movement. All in a flash, he was gone. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I had failed miserably!
It was heartbreaking, to say the least. Filming the interview after was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do deer hunting. I was crushed, and I just wanted to go home and hang up the bow for the rest of the year. Let me tell you though, I truly believe I will shoot a lot of bucks in my life because of that situation. No doubt, that blunder will come to benefit me sometime down the road. This small failure taught me to always stay aware of my surroundings while in the stand, even when I’m trying to focus on one thing. I wanted badly to see whatever deer I caught a glimpse of. In retrospect, as I was doing so, I should have been slowly looking around me to make sure there wasn’t anything else coming in.
Had I done so, I probably would have seen the buck making his way toward me much earlier and could have gotten prepared. Secondly, the fact it had snowed all day meant approaching deer were silent. There were no leaves crunching. With that in mind, the next time I hunt after a fresh snowfall, this buck will be at the forefront of my mind. I’ll remember to scan 360 degrees around me more frequently, as you sometimes can’t hear a deer approaching you after a fresh snowfall.
Lastly, that failed encounter taught me you can’t let your guard down in the tree when it comes to moving around, especially when you have no cover — even more so during the rut. I got discouraged and let my guard down, and immediately I got burned. That few seconds of my life I will replay over and over again in my head!
KEEP ON TRUCKING
Hindsight is 20-20. As I ponder that moment in the tree stand, now 8 months removed from it, I can’t help but wonder how things would have been different had I been afraid to fail. More than likely, I wouldn’t have brought the decoy, and that buck probably wouldn’t have been coming in on a string. And I wouldn’t have experienced that massive defeat. It would have been easier in the moment, but I wouldn’t have learned the lessons I needed to. Though I felt massively defeated, so much so I didn’t even want to hunt anymore, I kept after it and took so much away from it.
This rut, and in your future deer seasons, don’t ever be afraid to fail. Operating with a fear of failure will only hinder every action you take. Remember, you will most certainly fail while hunting. In fact, you’ll probably fail quite a bit. Every time you fail though, view it as an opportunity to learn.
The most successful deer hunters in the country fail more than you can even imagine. The ones that are killing giants year after year didn’t just wake up one day and have it all figured out. They failed constantly before becoming who they were. So, the next time you mess up during the big moment, or have a rut that doesn’t go your way, be sure to take the lessons with you. Those failures will transform into more successes, you can count on that.