These are the top five reasons why some almost never made it back home after a day in the woods.
Deer hunting season is as much about camaraderie and fellowship as it is about success and failure.
With that in mind, trying to discern smart planning from stupid things done in order to score a mature buck is like jumping off the roof with a parachute: you've think you've got the right tool, when you really just have just the wrong altitude.
Hunting mistakes should be more about not playing the wind correctly or poor stand placement, and not shooting out of the truck window and hitting the DNR robo-decoy! With that in mind, we were all young once and had our moment of stupidity, sometimes more than one. Here are a few I've made and I'm not the only one.
Deer hunters are a different breed of human being. Included in that overwhelming feeling that chasing the venerable whitetail deer is the beginning and the end of what it means to be successful as a hunter, the veteran buck chaser is equal parts intrepid hunting student, and uncommonly a wack-job with a firearm.
I've always said that there is nothing like firearms deer season to bring out bad decision making in some of the hunting public. Being that the season only comes around once a year—just like big bucks in the rut—hunters tend to get just as crazy about it as a 10-point chasing a doe, and sometimes forget everything they've learned about what it means to being safe or just plain how to make the right decision.
1. Hunting Without a Safety Harness
As bad as it was to hunt in stands that were inherently unsafe, we made it worse by failing to exercise the correct precaution of using a fall-arrester harness. Sometimes, in our younger days before the onset of today's better safety gear, we thought that we were invincible.
Some of the newer treestands come with a fully equipped, full-body safety harness that was basically made out of the same thing as the seat belt in your car, and some do not. It is imperative that any hunter that uses the trees to hide from their prey remain safely attached to that tree until they reach the ground.
Newer harnesses come with stirrup systems that help the hunter get out of such a situation without the help of someone else. I even make sure to keep a knife in my pocket just in case I need to cut my way out. If not, a hunter usually has a phone or a radio these days, and can always use his lungs!
It's best to do everything you can to avoid any mishaps without a harness.
2. Hunting From a Homemade Treestand
Now, let's be fair here, we've all built our own treestand out of scrap, or even brand-new lumber. We worked our butts off to nail, screw, or otherwise fasten wood to a tree in the hopes that a big mature whitetail deer would walk right underneath us when the season was on.
But be honest, there is a big difference between that brand new ladder stand we attached to a tree and some of the stuff that you and I have come up with over the years. Two-by-fours draped over a limb and nailed into the flesh of the tree with nails that we knew would rust inside of a year, not to mention the severe bend of that tree on windy days that loosened those nails, just won't cut it.
Maybe the worst thing ever was getting into an old stand that someone else had built long ago.
3. Hunting Out of a Power Line Terminal
One season many years ago I had the chance to listen to a couple of good friends regale me with their stories of an area that they hunted every single year to their great success. It was an area that just happened to border some of the main power lines that went across western New York from Niagara Falls towards Rochester.
Around this area was some of the densest cover a deer hunter could ever want to hunt. There were trails coming in and out of the road that the power company used to maintain the lines. The terminals there are as old and rusted as you can imagine and the deer in the area were more than used to walking around them.
Just looking up in the air at the vast height of the old tripods was bad enough, but to imagine that there were thousands of volts of electricity running through them should be enough to dissuade anyone from trying it. And yet I bet many of hunters have done it.
Never, ever try to hunt out of a power line pole. If you're lucky, you'll only get arrested and not killed.
4. Hunting With Unsafe Hunters
I had the misfortune once, and only once, of hunting with a man on public land who really was just starting out as a deer hunter. It was maybe his second season as a deer hunter, but it would forever be my last time hunting anywhere near him.
After having some success in the field—no, especially after having some success in the field—he became brash and outspoken as to his hunting prowess.
He had turned into one of those hunters that was the first one to shoot and always thought that the deer "was his," and he began to be pretty indiscriminate about the way that he fired his gun.
One time when a deer jumped up and started running my way, mister "It's Mine!" started unloading on it, even though I was in full view and wrapped in blaze orange.
This was the first time that I ever heard deer slugs whistling by me. They blistered the pine trees, starting to my left, whizzing over my head, and going off to my right. He spent all five shots he had loaded.
Luckily, his shot placement stunk to high heaven.
5. Hunting With Those Who Don't Use Blaze Orange
As I discovered recently, as of early 2016 only eight...eight of the 50 great U.S. states do not require hunter orange as well as six of the 10 Canadian Provinces including the three territories. All I can say is that when we're up in a tree with a loaded firearm, we want to know whether that the movement we see is a deer or a human, immediately. Do what you want, but it's borderline ignorant not to use safety orange.
It's an argument that is as old as the deer hunting hills. Some people think nothing of hunting deer during the firearms season in full camouflage, and you will never change their mind. It's one thing to challenge a tree and its height, it's quite another to challenge a shotgun slug or a rifle round coming from someone who doesn't know that you are there based on your own lack of safety colors.
I have never in my life pulled up on another hunter, but I've been close. More than a few times I've caught that motion in the woods, gripping my firearm ready to aim. But it was just another trespassing hunter that looked like something else in his off-red or brown colored clothes.
Idiocy knows no bounds when it comes to fools and little children. I managed to learn my lessons without ever getting hurt or hurting someone else in the process. There are some things that should just go without saying, and deer hunting safety alongside of normal firearms safety is one of them.
Don't let a cocky attitude get the best of you. I share my own experiences as a way of relating what happened to one such lucky fool.
A fool that got away with a few things, but was smart enough to know it, learn from it, and never do it again.