Never Too Old to Make a Rookie Mistake

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  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.



  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.



  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!



  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”.


Deer Slayer's picture

Thank you for the story. It

Thank you for the story. It was very well written. The pictures were great and that plaque would make an awesome gag gift. As far as making mistakes go, what is a rookie mistake? What is an expert mistake? A mistake is a mistake no matter what it is. As long as we are learning there will be mistakes. The day you don't make mistakes will be the day you are perfect. We all know no one will ever be perfect so there will always be mistakes because we are always learning. I hope I didn't confuse you all too much by that, lol.

ManOfTheFall's picture

I really enjoyed your story.

I really enjoyed your story. Thanks for sharing it and your pictures as well. The ground blind looks like a perfect spot for an ambush. I don't know why seasoned veterans make rookie mistakes. But, I think I do have an answer and this can be applied to anything in life. First off, no two situations are the same. We see something developing and we see events from the past and let them dictate our future decisions. With that just said there is your answer. One other reason is overconfidence. NEVER underestimate your opponent and take each hunt for what it is, not what you think it will be. Once again, great story, I loved it.

The very first time I was in

The very first time I was in the treestand by myself I had a doe come in on me on my right hand side. I shot, She ran off. My Dad came to my stand to help me trail. He looked around on the ground where I shot at her. Nothing until he looked up on the tree. A perfect hole on about a 6" tree dead center.

It stood for about 2 more seasons then eventually collapsed at the point I shot it.

Ca_Vermonster's picture

That's a funny story Jerry,

That's a funny story Jerry, and even funnier plaque that your buddy got you... lol

Good to see that we can laugh at some of our mistakes.  Of course, it's a little easier to do when you've been as successful as you, but for me, I'd be kicking myself.

groovy mike's picture

Honesty here

Jerry -

Thanks for the honesty in your writing.  You don't sugar coat it and you haven't tried to hide any mistakes.  But like the other posters who have commented said - you are NOT alone.

If someone claims that they haven't don ethis, they either don't hunt in the woods or they haven't hunted enough to make this mistake yet.  Yep, I've done it too.  The absolute worst one was the first shot I took in Afria after sighting in.  There was a massive kudu - a real trophy bull at about 25 yards.  I snapped a shot with my 30-06 and thought sure that he would just fall over dead.  Well - he didn't.  Not only didn't he fall over dead, he bounded away and he kept on going.  Like you, I checked for blood.  We searched the whole area around where we had last seen the bull without findingeven a single drop of blood.  In desperation I went back to where I had fired from and traced the path that my bullet should have taken.  Between me and the bull, my bullet had hit a tree.  Beyond where the bull had stood there was another tree - with a hole in it - the only trouble was that this second impact was a good two feet higher than where I had aimed.  That first tree had deflected my bullet high - too high to even hit the massive moose sized antelope at just twenty five yards!  It was unbelieveable and heart breaking.  But God is good and I got a second chance and bagged a very good kudu later in the week.  I saw the first kudu again on the last day that I was in Africa, so I know that he was unharmed.  My brother in law didn't get him that day either.  In fact he never fired a shot at him because the kudu busted us mid-stalk.  So as far as I know that big boy is still out there.  May he sire many many more! 

jim boyd's picture

Jerry, Your writing is good


Your writing is good regardless of the spacing!

I do not have any literary training and am occasionally scorned for my writing style - which is not unlike yours - and the only reason I can come up with for it being that way is that I do not know any better!

I do genuinely love the humility in your stories - I see not one trace of arrogance or ego in them.

I think all hunters, myself included, are the better for reading them!

I think the plaque is delightful and this sets me to wondering what types of "awards" I can create for some of my friends and hunting buddies!

Love the ground blind - this looks like a lot of the blinds my little brother Ronnie creates and he is quite successful in hunting from them.

I am sad that you did not get the buck and your mistake is a common one - many a guilt free tree has been (wrongfully) blasted into smithereens by hunters who intended to harvest a deer or other game animal.

Loved the story - send us some more!


Tndeerhunter's picture

new comment

Jerry your writing is good.


GooseHunter Jr's picture

Wow such the luck.  I can

Wow such the luck.  I can honestly say I have been there.  I missed a cow elk 2 years ago and destroyed the small aspen behind her.  maybe next time I will have to mount the tree.  That is a great idea and would make a nice conversation piece in the man cave!