We’ve all done it. We’ve made mistakes, and I’m not talking about the minor, piffling mistakes of a day-to-day life. I mean big mistakes; errors that cost you a deer, screw-ups that sent that whole flock of turkeys sprinting into the next county, or boneheaded blunders that flare ducks and geese at the last minute.
There are, in my mind, fundamentally two types of ways that hunters screw up. They either forget to do things that would lead to success, or they do things that prevent their success. In both psychology and philosophy there is a whole genre of debate about the same thing, called ‘errors of omission’ and ‘errors of commission’. I am neither psychologist nor philosopher, so I’ll leave the dialectics aside here and just fess up to things I’ve done on both sides of that particular ledger.
This always cathartic.
The constant hope is that you are alone when you commit these boners, so that you can just quietly berate and loathe yourself in solitude. Not always the case, though.
Two years ago, with my then six-year old son in the ditch next to me and four or five good friends in close proximity watching, I missed three layups on geese inside 15 yards. We had been having just a stunner of a morning. We had found a fresh-cut field and piles of willing geese; birds pitched in on almost every pass and we were beginning to make some solid stacks. A group of three spun hard at our calling and flagging, and as they bee-lined for the fakes, they slid ever so slightly to my left. It was obvious that those birds were going to all die together at the business end of my shotgun. I have always fantasized of making a true triple on a trio of decoying geese, and I like to think that my anticipation was the reason I balked hard on the birds. When I rose to shoot the birds still hadn’t made me and I whizzed my first volley over the head of the leading bird…a bird that should have been flaring and climbing. In panic I threw a wasted string of steel somewhere near the same bird, which was now obliging me by flaring hard and climbing rapidly, accompanied by the derisive laughter of my compatriots. The third blast was a true parting shot as the birds were making hasty exits and I ushered them along with a wayward hail of steel BBs. The lads down the ditch were roasting me loudly and thoroughly and I muttered a not so silent curse at myself. My son innocently asked why I missed and I tried to explain myself with a rueful grin on my face. Not my finest moment in the blind, although that evening and the next morning brought some redemption at least.
Sometimes you are alone, but people just have too many questions.
While walking into a tree stand a few years back in deer season I was obviously daydreaming or something and as I approached my ladder I was paying no real attention to my surroundings at all. I crested a small rise and heard a deer snort. Closely. Think inside thirty steps. I snapped my head up and saw a small buck standing broadside against a line of cedars. As I fumbled to throw my rifle to my shoulder he coiled and bounded for the safety of the thicket, while I blasted two cartridges at what I was certain was his front shoulder. After thirty minutes of searching, I found no blood, no hair, no dead deer. The radios we use when out party hunting were crackling with questions, and I passed it off as shots at a wayward coyote. Which way did the coyote come from, they asked. Which way did he go, they asked? Was he a big coyote? A dark one? Was he running fast or just loping along? Was it more than one coyote? How far were your shots? My tapestry of lies became untenable over time and I secretly confided in my cousin. He promptly told everyone, to my chagrin. Now it would seem that I cannot be trusted.
Sometimes you just screw up and just have to own it.
In two consecutive years I’ve missed two spring gobblers, and both times operator error lead to my hubris. I killed an absolute trophy piece of limestone ridge one year, instead of the handsome strutter giving me a full periscope of his head and neck behind it. Last year I blazed a pair of shots at a bird that I was convinced was a mere thirty steps away. On closer inspection he was much nearer to forty-five steps than thirty and I had cocked up an absolutely picture perfect opportunity for my cousin Luke and I to double up on a pair of Bruce Peninsula longbeards. I took that one out on myself particularly hard, almost renouncing my membership in the Tenth Legion on the spot…except we all know that would be an error as well.
I, of course, am not the only hunter who experiences flailing ineptitude. One of my favourite nights in deer camp, once the guns are away and the wine and whiskey flows freely, is hearing the camp elders, truly my heroes of deer hunting and men with countless deer under the belts, regale us all with the tales of their own hilarious failings, of their incomprehensible misses and gaffes, and for a while I don’t feel so crushingly inadequate…although that may have more to do with rye than with my reality.
Nevertheless, to err is truly human, and to miss is the mark of an experienced hunter, or so I’m told by people who really want to spare my fragile ego.