archery bowhunting

Beating the Bowhunting Blues

December 4, 2023 by Leigh Hauck

We have all said it before - ‘bowhunting sucks’

Bowhunting brings out the highest highs and often some of the lowest lows in our lives. You might pour hundreds of hours (and thousands of dollars) into the lifestyle that is bowhunting over the year. Setup, practice, fine tuning, driving, sitting, climbing, pouting, just to have an empty freezer at the end of the season.

It happens to all of us. If you had a successful season with your bow and checked off all your boxes for the year, this blog probably isn’t for you. But come back next year, you might be in the Bowhunter’s Blues Boat with the rest of us.

I didn’t have a terrible season, but I had my share of disappointments. Notably, I experienced what might be the most soul crushing thing that has happened to me as a bowhunter. Maybe this story riddled with my mistakes will make you feel a bit better about your season.

On opening day here in Alberta, I was driving to an elk spot that I had hunted before, when my eyes picked up a glimpse of what looked like a small branchy bush in the middle of a quarter of canola.

It was worth a stop and a glass. I had found what was one of the biggest bulls I had ever seen in person just bedded in this canola, right down a sprayer track. Now he wasn’t getting any top 10 awards, but he looked like he would outclass my buddies 320” bull from the previous season. Adrenaline kicked in.

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I checked my landowner map, I didn’t know the name, but I called my buddy who is a farmer in the area. He pulled some strings, and within 20 minutes or so I had access. It was a hot day for a Canadian bowhunter, 27 degrees Celsius (or about 81 Fahrenheit for my American friends reading this). The bull was laying in the left sprayer track, about 300 yards from the road where I would enter the field.

I made my way into the right sprayer track, thinking that I would want the mid-section of canola as cover if I were to get close, as he was in the left track. In what felt like hours and was more likely about 45 minutes, I had crawled my way inside 100 yards. The wind was perfect, the bull was still there, but I could only see one antler. His head must have been sideways, like he was laying down for a snooze.

As any open country bowhunter knows, that 100-yard mark in a stalk is a pretty cool moment. When the digits in your range finder turn from triple to double, a new level of reality sets in. You are very close to being in shooting range, this just might happen.

I continue closing the distance, while dropping my pace significantly. I need to be silent. I keep checking my rangefinder every few steps. If he stands up, I need to know the range before he has a chance to take off. In about another 15 minutes of methodical crouched stepping through this sprayer track, I had come to within 50 yards of this bull. He was still dead asleep as far as I could tell, this was getting real for me.

40 yards. 30 yards. 20 yards. As I closed these distances, my heart started racing (even faster than it had been this whole time) and my mind started to ponder some possibilities.

Was it more likely that a bull of this age let me get to within 20 yards of him, or that I might be stalking someone's wounded or now dead bull from earlier in the day? It was opening day in Alberta after all, and I was not the only bowhunter out there who would have given a kidney for this bull.

The other thought that started plaguing my mind was, “what now?!”. I was within 20 of this bull, as far as I knew he was either dead or dead asleep. I was in the right sprayer track, he was in the left, and at this point another few yards wouldn’t have made a positive difference. I backed myself out to about 50 yards and crossed the 6 feet of canola into the left track. I needed to see this bull’s body.

I made my way to 15 yards before I stopped ranging. This didn’t seem real. There I was, pouring sweat and kneeling in the middle of a canola field with this bull laying 15 yards in front of me, on his side passed out like a horse.

My “this elk might be dead’ hypothesis really kicked in at this point. I looked for movement in his chest that would indicate breathing, but I am not going to pretend that my mind was stable enough to assess the reality of that. I had no idea if he was dead or alive, and I had no idea what to do next.

With an arrow nocked and my release on my d-loop, I made the slightest chirping noise like a bird. I wanted to see if he would react in any way that would tell me whether he was alive and well, severely wounded, or dead. At this point you might be saying to yourself “how could you not know if he was alive or not?”. I am telling you, he looked dead.

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I made a slightly louder chirp, and another after that. When he didn’t even twitch a muscle at any of this, I was more and more convinced that I had just stalked some other bowhunter’s bull from this morning.

Suddenly, in a split second this bull was on his feet and sprinting through the tall canola away from me. He stopped at 120 yards, at which point I pulled out my binoculars and could see that he was totally fine, not wounded, and that I truly had just gotten to within 15 yards of a sleeping 300 class bull elk with my bow in hand. 

That walk back to my truck was one of the most painful of my life. I had made so many mistakes in the heat of the moment, I didn’t even know where to begin.

Should I have sat at 30 and waited for him to wake up on his own? Should I have thrown a pebble over top of him to wake him up from the other direction? I don’t know and I still don’t.

It has been three months, and I think about the devastation of that stalk every day. I have the picture of me gripping that bull's antlers with my bow laid across his front in my head.

You are probably thinking to yourself “well obviously you should have done this” or “I would have killed that bull no problem”. Well, I didn’t. I learned a hard lesson, and I know that you have all learned hard lessons like this too.

This is what makes bowhunting the passion and lifestyle that it is. There won’t be a day that passes in my bowhunting life where that story doesn’t haunt me, and it made me a better bowhunter.

So, if you have finished this season feeling like I did on that hot day in late August, take some solace in the fact that you aren’t alone, and that that experience made you a better bowhunter.

Believe me, I feel stupid and embarrassed about that stalk, and I dreaded having to tell the camp about how I executed a perfect stalk on a fantastic bull and then scared it away by chirping at it like a damn bird.

The heat of the moment in bowhunting is a crazy thing, and things like this happen to all of us regardless of what you see or hear on social media or on YouTube about bowhunting. You will make some sudden decisions that you seriously regret in hindsight.

If you have bowhunted much at all, you have had the Bowhunter’s Blues, and it is a wicked medicine for sharpening you up for next season. Here is to your next great bowhunting experience – win or lose we should be grateful for every moment spent outdoors with a bow in hand!

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