All Photo Credits: JJ Pugh

My most successful hunting season has to be when my son shot his first deer with a bow. We started hunting the youth season here in Iowa after a long spring and summer of practicing with his bow as much as possible. Of course the first night in the stand, he would have a 130 inch 8 pointer walk within 20 yards (we had been shooting out to 30 with good groupings so it should be an easy chip shot). I whispered to get ready and make his shot when the deer turned broadside.

While in mid whispering sentence telling him to take a deep breath and slow down…he let the arrow fly…right over the deer’s back. Luckily there was another smaller buck with the group that stuck around at about 30 yards, so I told him to take a crack at it…the deer jumped the string. Two shots and two misses in one sit left him shaking pretty well. I told him not to worry, and that I’ve missed so many deer that I lost track of the exact number (no more than 10, no less than 5). It was a lesson learned the evening that he’s not going to get something every time he goes out.


The next trip to the stand gave him the same opportunity, just on a smaller buck. We were set up in a tree in the corner of a bean field that the deer had been hitting every night. A basket racked 120 inch two-year-old stepped out at 20 yards, presenting a perfect broadside opportunity. The kiddo pulled back and let one fly, but buck fever had him shaking so bad that he shot way under the deer. After the missed shot he lost it and started to cry. I had NO idea that was coming. The teacher/coach/guide hat flew off and the Dad hat had to be put on in a hurry.

There we were, 25 foot in the air, hugging my 12-year-old son in an attempt to console a missed opportunity to bag his first buck and first deer with a bow. I shed a tear for him because I just hate seeing him like that. The emotional roller coaster that comes with deer hunting can be one of “Real Housewives” caliber. All while we were working things through, and trying to calm him down, another buck came in at 20 yards. Surely he would be able to put this shot in the red zone. As the arrow flew my heart sunk as I watched the shot go high. This time he didn’t cry, he got mad. After that, I knew we were done hunting for a while until we could practice some more.

FATHER SON SUCCESSA month went by practicing as much as we could. It was early November and hot pre-rut action was kicking in full gear. We went to one of my favorite stands for the rut, which has a lot of bucks cruising through while looking for hot does. After getting settled in we waited for the sun to rise and bring a day we’ll never forget for the rest of our lives. Just 10 minutes after shooting hours came, I could see a small buck working the tree line. We were set up about 50 yards into the timber on a trail the deer work between an open staging area, and ag field.

I told my son to get ready as this little buck started to make his way into the timber. He couldn’t see the deer, and he waited FOREVER to take his bow off the hanger. The buck made its way towards the stand and gave him a slight quartering to shot. From my angle in the stand it looked like a perfect broadside shot, so I “whisper yelled” telling the boy to shoot a dozen times before the arrow flew. The lighted nock stuck out around front shoulder while the broadhead was left hanging from the other side of the buck as it bolted off.

My heart was going a million miles an hour, as I encountered “sympathy buck fever”. My son immediately looked up and asked how the shot was. I told him it looked okay, not knowing exactly what kind of shot he had really had. After waiting 30 minutes we climbed down to check out the area where the deer was standing. We followed the bright red blood trail that painted the forest floor, finding more and better blood with air bubbles as we slowly crept.

The deer only went about 50 yards before taking the big dirt nap. Such a feeling of relief came over me as we walked up on that brown and white pile of fur. I couldn’t have been more proud of my son at that moment. I’ll never forget when his face lit up with that huge smile. That was a memory and trophy hunt we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.

That year my son learned how to fail, but do it successfully. He learned that it’s okay to fail, but you have to do everything possible to not fail again. Perfect practice makes perfect. He learned what it felt like to put time and effort into something, and his efforts go unrewarded. On the flip side, he also learned that those efforts can be rewarded. I could go on and on, but you get the picture, important life lessons are learned in the outdoors.

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