Game Mistakes: He was huge and I was shaking

NOTE: This is the first in a series I will be writing about my hunting mistakes. Yes, I’ve made a lot!

I’ve never forgotten this buck. Even after 40 years, I can still see myself sitting on that stonewall, 30.6 in my lap, hearing him coming through the thick firs and brush, just after sunrise.

A lot of the fun of hunting is the anticipation of seeing a deer, and boy, I was enjoying a lot of anticipation at that moment!

I swung left and raised my rifle, still seated, so I’d have a good shot when he stepped out of the firs, but when he did, I just lost it. He was huge!

As he sauntered slowly across the 15 yard opening, I snapped off four shots without thinking. I was shaking so badly that – even though he was only about 30 yards from me – not one of those shots came close to hitting him.

Then he stopped. And I knew I had just one chance to get him. So I took a very deep breath, tried to stop shaking, peered through the scope, and fired my last shot. And I hit him.

But he bounded off and it took me about 15 minutes to calm down and take off after him. I remember little of what happened after that. I don’t think I even tried to follow his tracks. I just took off through the woods in the direction he went.

He was long gone. Morose by now, I returned to the scene and discovered a few drops of blood and a bit of hair. So I knew I’d hit him. But when I started to follow his trail, there was no blood, and eventually, no trail.

I’d never lost a wounded deer, and I was so sad, walking out of the woods and to the house. Dad was there at my house, ready to join me in the day’s hunt, and I told him my sad story. He suggested we go back and look some more for the buck, but I insisted it was no use, there was no blood trail, he was gone.

So we drove to another favorite spot in Mount Vernon, hunted the rest of the morning, then returned to the house for lunch.

After lunch, Dad insisted that we take another look for that wounded buck, and by then I had processed all my mistakes and agreed one of them was my failure to continue looking for him.

So back we went, easily picking up the buck’s trail and following it for about 300 yards to a spot where he had laid down. There was lots of blood in his bed.

And now, with the two of us working on it, we were able to follow his trail as he moved toward the stream. He’d laid down once more, left more blood, and then swam across the stream.

Later in the day I came up the other side of the stream but could find no trace of him. He was gone, but never forgotten.


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.