Look up the definition of “rookie” and you will find: (1) an athlete playing his or her first season as a member of a professional sports team; (2) a raw recruit, as in the army or on a police force; (3) a novice.
So a rookie is a person who is new to doing something; he or she is not familiar with the way things are supposed to work, not having the necessary experience.
As such, he is expected to make mistakes that a person more familiar with the occupation or activity would have learned to not do by virtue of experience.
I have been hunting since I was old enough to shoot a BB gun.
Mice, rats, red squirrels and certain birds were not safe when I carried my Daisy pump air rifle.
I began hunting small game with a .22 before I was 12 years old, and with a shotgun when I was 13.
I have been hunting whitetail deer with both bow and high-power rifle for over 40 years and have taken something over four dozen head, both bucks and does.
So then, why do I keep making rookie mistakes?
You’d think I was too old, too wise, too experienced to make the kinds of mistakes that I keep making.
If all the deer that I have missed due to simple mistakes were added to the ones that I have tagged, my grocery bill would have been greatly reduced over these past 40 years.
Now, I haven’t made some of the mistakes that could be made.
I have never failed to load my rifle – or to bring my arrows along.
I have never forgotten where the safety was, or how to release it.
I have never stood and watched while a shootable deer just walked on by.
But I have missed deer (several) from a tree stand by failing to bend forward from the waist – which usually causes the shot to go high.
I have also shot over the back of a deer because, while I had the front sight of the rifle behind the shoulder, I failed to align the front sight with the rear sight (that actually happened when I was a rookie).
And I supposed if my memory was better, I could recall several other rookie mistakes that I have made over the years.
But the story I really want to tell you is the one that I’m still trying to live down now – a little over two years later.
I expect it to be a while longer before it is finally put to rest.
It was the second day of our 2008 deer season.
I was hunting with my wife and my good friends, Ed, Randy and Rob.
I had taken a doe on the first day, and now was looking for a buck.
We were hunting in one of our favorite places, a roughly 1 ½ square mile area of public land which had produced good numbers of deer for us in previous years.
I was sitting in a natural blind that we call the Wood Pile.
THE WOOD PILE BLIND
It was made from the large limbs of a dead oak tree that had been pulled together to make a four-sided ground blind.
Some of the area inside had been scraped out so that when you sat on the ground with your feet in the hole, only your head and shoulders were showing.
The Wood Pile was within a red pine plantation that had been planted maybe 40 or 50 years ago.
There were virtually no lower limbs, so when you look through them, all you see are trunks.
The interesting thing about this spot was that it was right on the edge of a patch of aspen (poplar) that was only about ½ acre in size.
For some reason that we still don’t understand, many deer traveling through the pines gravitate to this relatively small patch of aspens, making the Wood Pile the prime ambush spot in this whole square mile.
THE ASPEN PATCH
OK – I had to set that up so you would understand the complete “rookiness” of this rookie mistake.
As I sat there waiting, watching the squirrels and birds that filtered in and out of the trees, I suddenly caught movement off to my right.
Turning my head, I was amazed to see a deer casually walking into the aspens from the pines.
What was so amazing was how close this deer had approached my stand without my hearing it. Of course, it was walking on pine needles, so that’s about as quiet as it gets.
I saw the curve of antlers and immediately knew this deer was mine.
He was simply walking along as though he didn’t have a care in the world, but he was coming on a course that would bring him in front of me at no more than 15 yards.
This is what we call “a chip shot”.
For an experienced deer hunter such as I, with numerous antlers already on my wall, this was a no-brainer.
And with that statement, sports fans , I think we have identified the problem!
What do they say, “No brain, no pain”?
Yup, that’s it.
At this range, my only concern was that the movement of raising my rifle would spook him, so I waited until his head was behind a large pine trunk.
In one fluid motion, I brought the rifle to my shoulder and quietly slid off the safety so as not to make a loud click.
Perfect – the buck was none the wiser.
I picked up the slowly moving deer in my scope, put the crosshairs right behind his shoulder and pressed the trigger.
The buck jumped in a “mule kick” that often accompanies a heart shot, and began bounding off to my left – basically in the same direction he had been going.
I watched him, expecting to see him stumble and fall the ground at any moment.
About 30 yards away, he abruptly stopped.
“Ah”, I thought, “Now he’s going to just topple over”.
But instead, he bounded away and was gone before I could think of doing anything else.
What did I do wrong?
How could I have possibly missed?
I had followed the deer in my scope without paying any attention to those blasted pine trees (at least one was blasted).
Concentrating on the spot I wanted to hit, I totally didn’t see the tree that came into my scope as I swung along with the deer.
My bullet blasted the side of the pine tree, showering the deer with nothing but wood chips!
THE BLASTED PINE - One Year Later
We had some fresh snow on the ground, and believe me, I searched that area every which way without finding a single hair or drop of blood.
I even followed the deer’s tracks for well over 100 yards and never found the slightest sign of a hit.
It wasn’t until the third time I was at the spot where the deer took off that I looked back at the Wood Pile and saw the blasted pine from the deer’s point of view.
What a rookie mistake!
I should have found an opening between the trees that the deer would enter, put the scope there and wait for the buck to walk into it.
Hopefully, next time!
That Christmas, one of my other friends who heard the story presented me with a wall plaque of a bullet-blasted piece of a tree.
It has a brass plate on it that reads, “Jerry’s 8-Point Tree”.