Travis Smola

#WhitetailWednesday: I Didn't Shoot a Deer This Year and It's OK

Didn't fill a tag this year? It's no big deal!

I failed to fill my tag again this year during Michigan's firearms deer season. That makes four seasons in a row without me shooting a buck. The deer in the photo above is the last one I shot. Granted, I don't really count 2014 because I was living out of state at the time and didn't hunt that year.

Full disclosure: I haven't bowhunted for several years now so my hunting has been limited to the 15-day window Michigan's regular firearms season affords, which runs Nov. 15-30.

But, it can still be frustrating when you've put in some serious hours and gotten nothing but some now-worthless, unfilled tags at the end of the season.

I'm not upset about my 2017 season, and for today's #WhitetailWednesday, I'm here to tell you why you shouldn't be either.

An empty freezer can serve as motivation.


Travis Smola

I haven't had any venison in my freezer for a while now and it sucks. Now, a lot of that is by choice on my part. The young buck in the trail camera picture above presented me with a 20-yard, broadside shot opportunity on opening morning. But, I held out for a larger buck, just like I have the last few years. I love venison, but I don't necessarily need it. For me, no shooters presented a good shot, so I'm left out. I made my choice and I'm sticking with it!

Really, I think you should only stress over filling the freezer if you absolutely need it to survive. In that case, why are you reading this? Get out there and hunt! Otherwise, I believe you're just putting undue stress on yourself.

However, that doesn't mean you can't use it as motivation. If it's been a long season and you're having trouble getting out of bed for the morning hunt, think of that empty freezer and what you can do to fill it. You certainly won't fill it sitting at home! An empty freezer can also motivate you to put in more work in the off-season to improve your hunting area and scout out new areas.

Every season is a learning process.

Even the season where you don't harvest a deer can be used as a learning opportunity. Maybe you observed deer behavior you'd never seen before. Why did the deer do what it did when it did it? Why had you not observed it before? These are important questions to ask and finding the answers can help you hone your techniques.

Also think about where and when you did see deer in an unsuccessful season. How does it compare to previous seasons? Have the deer changed their patterns where you hunt? If so, remember that in the off-season and try to figure out why in post-season scouting.

If you have a spot that's been productive year after year for you that suddenly stops producing, there's likely a reason behind it. You just have to figure it out. Maybe a tree fell and blocked off a natural funnel without you realizing it. Maybe a cornfield on a neighboring property went unharvested and bucks used it as cover all through the fall.

As an example, my uncle and I noticed some of the hunters on neighboring properties didn't hunt quite as much this year as they have in years past. We think it may be possible those neighboring properties became more of a sanctuary for bucks than normal simply because the hunting pressure was off there.

There's ALWAYS something to look forward to, even in a down year.


Travis Smola

Any day hunting is better than a day at work, right? So you didn't get a deer, so what? You still had fun didn't you? And there's always something to look forward to that's hunting related. Right now, I'm looking forward to checking my trail cameras in another couple of weeks. By then, deer activity should have returned to mostly normal and I can hopefully start to assess which bucks made it through the season.

There's really no greater motivator than realizing a buck made it through the season and knowing he'll be bigger next year.

I'm also looking forward to shed hunting season already. Used hand-in-hand with post-season scouting, shed hunting can teach you even more about the deer in your area and how to hunt them while also giving you the opportunity to at least get your hands on the antlers of a deer that eluded you all year.

Take joy in the success of others.


Travis Smola

Yup, I didn't get a deer this year. But my uncle took a dandy buck and my cousin shot her first deer ever. And you know what? I'm happy for both of them. Yes, it can be frustrating when everyone you know has their social media filled with photos of their successful season, but don't let it discourage you too much. Once the season is over, it's over. There's no point in getting all green-eyed about it. Congratulate friends and family on their successes and enjoy the memories with them.

I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to next season already.