The one you let go...


October 29, 2013, 12:31 AM
Notice I said, "let go." Not "got away," "missed," etc. Let go.

Most of my hunting is the pursuit of the 4-legged brown pests known here in Wisconsin as Whitetails. Sure, I do my fair share of small game, upland and turkey, but our cloven-hoofed meals on legs are my most frequent prey.

Some years ago, my family and I started hunting on a leased property near Portage, WI. For those not familiar with the area, this is basically smack-dab in the center of the state. Lots of farms, Amish, and wooded, rolling hills. Beautiful.

One of the first years I was there, I was sitting with my Aunt Rose in an elevated stand that was placed near the end of a 'point-' more like an isthmus, really, as it was a thin patch of tall grass and brush that seperated a cornfield from a marsh that was partially on the lease and partially on public land. Thick woodline lay to our backs and at our fronts. The stand was poorly covered, so the November winds chilled us deep. Soon, both of us were drifting off in our respective corner of the stand.:o

Suddenly, there was an incredible crashing noise as a VERY large buck blundered his way out of the woodline to our rear and right. Being barely awake, my aunt and I were slow to raise our weapons. Her M1 Carbine became tangled, while I was able to shoulder my fathers' Browning BAR (fine, fine, FNAR...) and find the buck in the crosshairs of the 5x Redfield as he trotted down the isthmus, then bounded about 30 yards into the marsh. Then he stopped.

I was able to get a good look at the deer for the few seconds he stood still in the long grass. He stood high enough that most of his upper body could be seen above the grass. He was quartering almost completely away and I couldn't guess a weight, but I CAN tell you that he wore a rack whose spread could have wrapped around my shoulders with a point tucked into each of my shoulder blades. I counted 12 points. My aunt and the almighty as my witness, I swear this was the deer I saw. :what:

Then I realized something. The deer was facing away. In a marsh. 110 yards from my position, maybe more. The wind was blowing straight across my line of fire. And I didn't feel like risking a terrible shot or- even if my 150 grain .30-06 menace didn't down him- trudging into a soppy marsh to drag his rather large behind out, not to mention gutting him. :eek:

So, I watched him turn and trot off the property through the marsh and onto public land. I have not regretted not taking that shot.

So, anyone else with a story of the shot not taken? (Paraphrasing R. Frost, just a little... ;) )


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October 29, 2013, 12:47 AM
Two years ago I was out Elk hunting when out of the brush emerged a cow with 2 calves. They walked into a big clearing I threw up my rifle to blast this cow but I watched her I realized something. I realized how peaceful and amazing these calves and cow seemed to be it would be like killing someone's mother. So I let her walk away from me to take care of her babies and I have not one regret.

October 29, 2013, 02:44 AM
Last season, I encountered a big mule deer buck, but under the circumstances, wasn't confident in the shot and declined to take it. I actually had a "doable" shot, but, being familiar with the area, thought I'd be able to intercept him at another point, and watched him trot over the hill. Well, my plan failed...miserably. Not only did I not get a shot at him, but I never even SAW him again. I thought I knew EXACTLY where he'd go, but he wasn't there, nor anywhere else in the proximity. I was heartbroken. I REALLY wanted that deer, but he was a "public land" deer, and I figured he'd be mounted on someone else's wall when all was said and done.. Fast forward a couple weeks....I work overnights, and hunt the area around the family ranch which is a good 1.5 hours away. I talked myself into going hunting, even though it'd mean I'd have little to no sleep before my next work shift. I hunted hard all morning, and passed several lesser bucks. Around 1pm, my mom called and asked if I wanted to meet her for lunch. Being "in the zone" I declined, and told her I'd catch up to her before I went back home. I popped over the next ridge, and noticed a few does below me. The ridge made somewhat of a horseshoe shape, and I thought to myself that it'd be pretty neat if the other side held my buck. Imagine my surprise when I peeked over the edge JUST in time to see him lay down in some heavy brush and disappear. A second later, I'd have never seen him, but I did....and from my vantage point, ALL escape areas were visible. I tried to wait him out to see where he'd go....but patience has never been my virtue. I decided I was going to simply start down the hill towards him and see what happened. About halfway down, he emereged and stood there about 250 yards away in all his glory.....and a single shot from my Model 70 7 mag harvested my biggest mule deer buck to date. Even if I'd MADE the shot I declined originally, I wouldn't have had the same story to tell, and certainly don't regret letting him walk! photo in this thread:

October 29, 2013, 06:51 AM
I had just joined a new hunting camp. My state limits us to TWO legal bucks.

Opening day of the early muzzleloading hunt, I killed a nice 7 point. Happy.

Opening day of the modern gun hunt, I killed another nice 7 point. Happy.

A few days later, I saw movement down at the end of a long opening. Bino's showed a nice looking buck untangling his antlers from vines. He came into the opening, turned toward me and walked 75 yards or so toward me-to within about 40 yards before going off into the woods.

He was an 8 point with a WAY wider spread than I had ever even seen in the woods. Well polished antlers and an absolutely perfect, beautiful set of headgear. Had to let him walk-NO TAGS! UGH.

The following year on a COLD December day, I was the only hunter in camp. Thought I heard a freight train coming up through the woods. THE SAME DEER came running by chasing a doe at full tilt. I YELLED and he stopped at about 25 yards.

Threw up my Model 70 in 300 mag with the scope screwed up to about 12X. Only thing I could see was a wall of hair! Too close + too much magnification. I guesstimated a lung shot and touched her off. Knocked the deer down into a mud puddle-he jumped up and ran about 10 yards, half circled and fell in sight.

He now hangs on my wall!

Art Eatman
October 29, 2013, 08:14 AM
Many years ago while climbing down from a tree stand on a drizzly afternoon, I spotted a fat little eight-point buck. He ambled on and I decided to track him. Leaves and grass were wet, so staying quiet was easy.

He finally stopped with just his back half sticking out of some brush. Head and shoulders were hidden, and apparently he'd not heard me.

I eased up to within about ten feet. Shoot? Nah. Hit him in the butt with a marble-sized rock.

Entertainment ensued. I doubt that my raucous laughter soothed his nerves even one little bit. :D

October 29, 2013, 10:28 AM
I'm happy to say that I've never let a legal trophy buck go of my own volition. If it was big, presented a reasonable shot and was legal where I was hunting, I shot at it. I didn't always connect but I didn't pass it up. I have passed inferior bucks though.

Bush Pilot
October 29, 2013, 10:44 AM
What seems like a million years ago I was hunting sheep in the Yukon when we decided to take a break from climbing a ridge. As we were resting, a big boar grizzly came in to the clearing 50 yds below us and started feeding. There was a grizzly tag burning a hole in my pocket and I really wanted the bear. The guide reminded me we'd seen a nice ram further up the mountain the day before and a shot might send him on his way. Jumping ahead, I passed on the bear and later that afternoon I harvested the ram. In retrospect, I'm not sorry I passed on the bear, being that close was as big a thrill as taking the sheep. In the following years I've seen dozens of grizzlies and never had a desire to take one, go figure.

October 29, 2013, 11:06 AM
I'm a meat hunter so I frequently let trophy animals walk.
About 2 weeks ago I was up in the stand before the sun came up. Just as it was light enough to see I see a 6 pt. buck walk by not more than 50 yards away. Not a huge buck but good size by FL standard.

Not 15 minutes later the sun came up over the horizon on a clear blue sky. It was a beautiful sun rise and I got a real good shot with my eyes to remember it for a while. For me it's the best part of hunting... being out in the woods to see such beautiful view.

About 20 minutes later I see a large 10 pt. buck walk up to the edge of a pond about 40 yards away. He was there for about 5 minutes and would have been an easy shot but I passed. I just enjoyed watching him.

When I got back home my wife said "no luck today?"
I told her I got some real visual trophy.

I'll get some meat next time out.

It's not always about killing with our guns.

October 29, 2013, 11:39 AM
I'm happy to say that I've never let a legal trophy buck go of my own volition. If it was big, presented a reasonable shot and was legal where I was hunting, I shot at it. I didn't always connect but I didn't pass it up. I have passed inferior bucks though.
Im sorry to hear that you cant let a questionable shot walk. I have found several dead deer over the years because someone missed them and they ran off with a gut shot or other fatal wound.
The spirit of the hunt isnt all about shooting the woods up in hopes that something drops.

BP Hunter
October 29, 2013, 11:55 AM
About 2 years ago, I went coyote hunting with my 10 year daughter. We drove up a few hills on my truck, and once I got out, a coyote started running about 80 yards behind us. I took out my rifle and place it on the rear of the truck and had him on my sights. But he stood on top of the hill and had no backdrop. I thought the bullet could go anywhere if missed it. I let it go.

October 30, 2013, 12:34 AM
My Pop, my older brother and I were elk hunting in Western Colo. several years ago, elk season first, then deer season followed. My brother and I were working our way up this long bench toward the timber, we sat down to get a drink and catch our breath. About 5 minutes into the rest, we heard a crashing sound to our right front, up the hill toward us came 2 of the biggest Mule deer bucks either of us had ever seen. The lead one was a 6 X 7, beautiful, huge rack, the other buck was a huge 5 point, both trophy wall hangers. They both slowed to a walk, heading straight toward us, we just sat and watched. Finally, about 6 feet from us, they both stopped and looked at us, the bigger of the 2 stepped right up to me, I could have poked him in the eyes with my rifle muzzle…… just had to sit there and watch them walk off. Never have I, in all my years hunting, have I seen another buck like those 2 trophies , just walk out of sight.

October 30, 2013, 10:57 PM
Last year I called in a bobcat. It came to the road and was looking away from me. I almost shot it, but at the last moment I "pulled" the shot. The last time I saw him he was half way to Ga.

October 31, 2013, 12:56 AM
We've tried to manage our place for bigger bucks so I've let lots of them walk...some really nice ones too.

Perhaps more memorable were the doe I let walk. One time I was stalking through a hilly bedding area on a cold clear January morning when I bumped a doe out of her bed. She jumped up perhaps 40 yards from me.

I saw her running for the lip of a big draw and I knew exactly what she was going to do. I raised my 7 mag and followed her as she bounced toward her escape, then right when she got to the edge she stopped and looked back to see what I was. The crosshairs were rock steady on her breathing was fine...I was totally in tune with everything. I was looking at her and she at me...and I lowered the rifle. She blew at me and dropped over the edge and out of sight.

The fact that I knew exactly what she would do, knowing that I was on her, knowing that I could have taken the was enough for me that day. I smiled, alone in the cold and feeling very satisfied, then I resumed my slow motion stalk to see what else I could find.

October 31, 2013, 01:20 PM
Some great stories in this thread. I've enjoyed reading them, especially since Maine's rifle season for deer starts on Saturday and I'm like a kid waiting for Christmas morning. It's been a tough week at work, so I'm enjoying the escape some of these stories provide and the day dreams of what opening day could hold.

October 31, 2013, 02:24 PM would be like killing someone's mother. So I let her walk away from me to take care of her babies and I have not one regret.
This happened to me once... but what I did different was to shoot her baby and then I ate it.


October 31, 2013, 03:13 PM
Would you believe a Ruger flat top .44 mag with 7.5" barrel?!! But it was years ago and I don't cry as often as I use to.

October 31, 2013, 03:29 PM
The only one I can remember is the deer that surprised me while I was taking a little nap.

I awoke to see a nice buck bounding past me. I stood up, lined up the shot, then had that little strange feeling that told me something was wrong. I stopped my swing and pulled the barrel up, only to see my friend's dad clear the corner about 40 yards away. I knew he was off in that direction, but had no idea he was that close or was coming my way. As we were in relatively thick woods, he was very hard to see, and I'm still not sure why I pulled off.

Best shot I never took.

October 31, 2013, 07:58 PM
Elk. I had an over-the-counter spike tag, and it was my first elk hunt. My brother and I had been hiking through the morning, and came into a draw that was full of aspens and stinky elk beds - that's the good kind of stink, that lets you know you're where they were just a little earlier. We heard a shot as we hiked up the other side of the draw, and just as we got back into the pines, we heard a bunch of heavy hooves and bodies crashing through the timber, going back to that bedding area. We turned around and hotfooted back to where we could see the beds, and sure enough, a herd of cows and calves were there, blowing and milling around, quite uptight.

There was a little raghorn mixed in with them, but his antlers branched on one side, so he wasn't legal for a spike tag and then I saw him. A little spike bull, maybe still a calf, sticking to his mama's side like he was glued to it. She took a step, and so did he. She turned, so did he. They milled around for several minutes, and I thought, well, I'm not going to get a shot, he's just going to be stuck there next to her, and I'll have to let him go.

Then they started moving out of the bedding area, and he got a little separated from his mama, heading straight away from me, going downhill - I was above him, but only about 80 yards away. I aimed between his shoulders, right at the front, thinking I'd get a lung or spine and lung - something. But I wasn't confident in the moving shot, wasn't confident in the hit, and decided to wait for a better opportunity. It didn't come.

What did come was a huge bull. 7x7. He was moving like a locomotive, coming through the pines and aspens into the bedding area, and he passed right in front of me, a beautiful animal presenting a full side-on shot at a very reasonable 50 yards at his closest point.

I still had a spike tag. I didn't shoot him either, and just watched as he followed his harem of cows out of the draw and on down the mountain.

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