Every year since I started bowhunting about 6 years ago has been unique and filled with lessons. It seems that each new season has a new set of obstacles to overcome no matter how much I prepare. This past season was no different.
From day one I have been fascinated by mature whitetails. It seems like their behaviors are completely unique in the animal realm. My goal has always been to harvest only mature deer, and I have stuck to that. I always love a challenge and being from Pennsylvania has certainly provided that for me.
This past season the goal was the same, but the expectations were elevated. I have multiple private lands spots to hunt here in PA, all with a legitimate chance to kill a mature buck every time out. The best one being a 200 acre farm in central PA holding multiple deer in the 135-150” class and one that may be pushing 160”. While that may not seem like a big deal for our Midwest hunters, it is a huge deal here in PA and a blessing to be able to hunt there.
As the season approached, my expectations continued to rise. Big buck after big buck kept showing up on the trail cameras and I would settle for nothing less then putting my hands on one of them this year.
As it often happens, the season did not go quite as planned. I wasn’t having many encounters early on and the pressure to kill continued to rise. One thing that I really struggled with for a few weeks in early November was comparing myself to others. Seeing so many awesome bucks killed on social media I kept asking myself, why not me? I did plenty of scouting in the offseason. I studied my spots to hunt. I understand scent control and how to play the wind. Why haven’t I killed one of these bucks yet?
I was on an all day sit a few days before the archery season ended here in PA. It was rainy, windy and cold but this time I year I needed to stick it out. I spent a lot of time in prayer that day and right around lunch time I heard God tell me something that completely changed my mindset about hunting and what true success is. He told me to “love the process”.
Deer hunting for me is a 365 day a year journey. There is always something to be doing whether that’s scouting, looking for sheds, studying a map or actually hunting in a tree. The hunt never ends. And when I began to think about the entire “process” of hunting, I realized that I truly do love every single piece.
I love walking a property after the season ends to see the aftermath of the rut. I love looking for sheds with friends. I love running trailcams in the summer to see what some of the big bucks from the prior year turned into. I love glassing fields on a warm summer evening and watching deer pile out into the beans. And of course, I love climbing 20 feet up in a tree and sitting quietly for hours just waiting for that moment. I truly do “love the process”.
While I still want to harvest a mature buck every year, my success is not measured in whether I achieve that goal or not. Re-learning to love every step of the hunting process has been an amazing shift for me.
Hunting is supposed to be fun. Do the parts of hunting you really enjoy and skip over the ones you don’t. It was never intended to be a competition to see who could kill the biggest buck yet sadly that is what you see far too often. You need to figure out what you enjoy and simply do that. As a hunting community we need to figure out our own process and learn to love it. Once you have done that, you will never have a bad season again.