For those who don’t hunt deer, it must seem relatively easy. You plop yourself up in a tree stand. A deer comes within 100 yards or so, and you shoot it. The deer never knew what was coming.
It can be that easy sometimes. But as in most pursuits in life, there’s more to it than meets the eye for the casual observer, which is why the success rate for firearms deer hunters runs between 30 and 40 percent, not 90 to 100 percent.
You place your stand in what you believe will be a good place, based on knowing the patterns of deer in the area. You look for good habitat, the presence of deer trails, and — as the mating season approaches — the scrapes and rubs that bucks leave. But on any given day, many things might happen. A strong wind might be blowing, and deer don’t like to move much on windy days. Those days reduce the deer’s effectiveness at picking up scents and at detecting movement in the woods. Or, a gentle wind can be blowing, but it’s in the wrong direction for your stand. Your scent is blown from behind you into the area from which deer are likely to approach, thus giving you away.
Things go wrong, too. Guns jam. Firing pins freeze. Scopes fog up. Bullets are deflected by unnoticed trees.
Sometimes, it’s just a case of bad luck. A buck approaches, but your tag allows you only to shoot a doe. Or the deer is well within shooting range but never presents a high-quality shot. You pass up the shot rather than risking one of poor placement.
Or maybe it’s simply a very cold day, and instead of staying on the stand for five or six hours, you’re good for only two or three before you need to warm up. Maybe you drank too much coffee before going afield, and when you move about to take care of nature’s call, you spook a buck you hadn’t seen.
Or on public land, perhaps another hunter enters the woods a bit too close to you. He shoots a buck that was headed right for you.
All of these things happen on a semi-regular basis to hunters. You try to eliminate all the variables you can before going afield on any given day. But it’s quite possible that, even with more than a million deer roaming Minnesota and about 1.4 million roaming Wisconsin, you won’t have the opportunity to shoot one every time you go out. There are no guarantees.