Take the Shot: Lessons from Deer Hunting on Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Self-Doubt

A few days ago, I was in the woods hunting with my dad.  The weather was cold and the wind chilly; however, I was bundled up in my hunting gear, so I didn’t have to worry about it.  The woods get so peaceful sometimes; there’s plenty of opportunities to just sit, think, and clear your mind.  It’s a great way to start the day.

That day was like any other hunting morning my dad and I had experienced over the past six years.  As usual, I was fighting to stay awake.  It’s amazing how easy it is to just relax and fall asleep while the squirrels hoard up their nuts for the winter, the birds chirp and squawk, and all around you is the beauty of the freshly fallen golden leaves as autumn comes to an end and winter’s chilly hands descend on the earth.

I had gotten settled in the woods on the morning of Wednesday, November 12, 2014 at around 5:25am.  It was now 8:30 according to my cell phone (set to vibrate, of course).  My rear was way past numb, and my legs were trailing closely behind.  I had been hearing several bucks off in the distance in a hollow to my left, behind the blind where I sat.

I can’t take much more of this, I thought to myself.  There I was, being tortured by the calls of at least two bucks for the past twenty minutes with no sign of them coming up to where I was. Desperate, I said a short prayer:  “Lord, if I don’t see anything by nine o’clock, I’m going down there and actually hunting!”

Knowing that I would be getting up and moving soon was enough to help me keep my eyes open.  A new excitement filled me as I anticipated the thirty minute mark expiring and setting off on an actual hunt.  It dawned on me that I hadn’t been hunting all those years, I had been sitting…waiting.  And I decided I wouldn’t wait any longer.

Little did I know that in a few minutes—just fifteen minutes shy of my deadline—waiting would be the least of my worries.

Adrenaline or Nerves?

At 8:45am I heard a ferocious stomping of the ground coming up behind me—fast.  I raised my muzzleloader to get it ready for action, and two does whipped past me on my left.  It happened so suddenly, all I could think was, There goes all the hard work dad and I put into baiting and blinding this place over summer and fall.  I was seeing my chances of claiming my first deer running away, getting smaller and smaller in the distance.

Then, almost immediately after seeing the first two deer, another deer flanked me on my right.  I swung the gun around to take aim, and saw this new deer turn back, startled at the movement.  It had seen me, too.  Only, instead of running away, it took a few steps to get its bearings and just stood there…I believe the expression is “like a deer in the headlights.”

That’s when I realized I was shaking all over.

My breath had gotten faster, my heart now pumping blood as if I’d just run the 100 yard dash.  I can’t let this one get away, I thought, But how am I going to get the shot now?  It’s too far to my right, and if I move it’s sure to take off.  Do I move my gun a little further to the right and take that chance?  Do I continue sitting here or should I stand up?

As I was debating my next move, the deer decided for me and began trotting toward a nearby tree directly in front of where I was now aimed.  Oh no, it’s getting away, I thought and raised my gun to take aim as I flipped off the safety.  But it stopped and just stood there behind the tree.  I had the deer in my crosshairs now, but I was still unsure of the shot.  One more step and I’ll…BANG!

Reaping the Rewards

I was certain I’d hit the deer as it ran off into the woods to my right.  Sure, the gun could have spooked it, but I believed my aim to be true.  A week or so earlier, I had been out with my dad as he was lining up the gun I had now just unloaded on the deer.  When I took my first shot on the target, it had been a center bullseye from about 75 yards away.  The deer I’d shot was only about 15-20 feet away.

Bullseye pic My whole body now shaking from the suddenness of the entire event—which happened in the space of maybe one minute…maybe—I lowered my gun, engaged the safety, and ejected the blast cap.  I had paid attention to where the deer had run off and knew where to begin tracking it.  I texted dad and said I’d shot a doe and that…

Hold on!  Another deer, this one clearly a buck with horns about five inches tall with maybe three or four points, came swooping by on my right, his head down, no doubt sniffing for the scent of the previous two does that had first trotted by.  Even if I’d reloaded my muzzleloader, there would have been no time to shoot this one as well; I would have been in the middle of reloading when he came.

I resumed my text to dad and told him to watch out for three deer headed his way.  Only, he hadn’t gotten the text because I’d received a reply from him saying he was on his way to where I was so we could track my deer down.  A few minutes later, dad arrived, I laid aside my gear, and we began tracking—the hunt within the hunt, you might say.

The whole experience was exhilarating, to say the least.  My first deer—a button-buck which ended up falling dead in the open field so that we didn’t even have to drag it out of the woods.  “Thank you, Lord,” I said.  Six long years of sitting in the cold, harsh climates, walking up hills and valleys, finding numerous hunting spots, and—most heartbreaking—going home empty-handed, and all my efforts had finally paid off.

The funny thing is, the buck ended up weighing maybe fifty pounds total, and that was before we field dressed it.  (As you can see in the picture at the top, I was over twice its size.)  I checked it in at a local gas station, and we went back to dad’s place where he taught me how to skin and “block out” the meat.  Dad and I agreed when we first started hunting together to split the meat we take, so we both ended up with only about 15 lbs. of meat apiece.  But it was mine, and I was proud to have it.

Take the Shot

So why have I told you this story?  Why have I written such a long article?  Simply, sometimes you just have to take the shot.  With anything in life, it can get scary and you can find yourself unsure of what to do with your future that’s staring you in the face.  “Should I quit my job and start my own business?” might be your “deer.”  Or maybe, “Should I marry this person after two years of dating?”  Or even, “What would happen if…?”

Sometimes life brings difficult questions with it.  Sometimes you have to stay right where you are and wait.  Sometimes you’ve waited long enough and decide you’ll get up and do something about it “once I can afford to” or “when I retire” or “when the time is right.”

And sometimes—more often than not, I sincerely believe—you just have to take the shot.

Your aim may be off.  When you think about it, all the decisions that you’ve made and actions you’ve taken prior to this moment were the “aiming”—the practice.  In music, sports, or almost anything else, you practice and practice and practice so that you can just do it when it comes time for you to perform.  No thinking, no doubt, no hesitation…only instinct.  That gut feeling that tells you, in spite of all your doubts and fears, that now is the time to act because in a few precious seconds your “deer” might decide not to stick around any longer.

“Sometimes you just have to take the shot.”

If I hadn’t taken the shot at that deer, I wouldn’t have enjoyed everything that came after.  Read that last sentence again; let it sink in.

Had I not taken the shot, there wouldn’t have been anything to look forward to except the regret of never knowing if I could have been successful.  And that unknowing could never have been unknown.

Believe me, thoughts like “I might miss,” or “I might hit the wrong spot,” almost caused me to doubt myself.  Actually, I ended up hitting the deer low in the ribs instead of just behind the shoulder where I was initially aiming.  But I wouldn’t have experienced the excitement and thrill of hunting, tracking, and harvesting my first deer had I allowed my doubting subconscious to hold me back from pulling the trigger.

So if you’re still reading this, if you’re still along for the journey, take the shot, my friends.  Don’t let fear, worry, self-doubt, or anything else keep you from it.  There are many risks in life, but the upside is that many of them are worth taking because the payoff isn’t only in the conquering…it’s in reaping all the rewards after, which will never come if you don’t take the shot!

E

P.S.  On Saturday, November 15th, just three days later, around the same time of day, dad shot his first deer of the season.  It was also a button buck not much bigger than my own.  We carried on about how much of a coincidence it was, but the very next day I heard a sermon at my local church, Fredonia Community Church in Livingston, TN, from pastor Jerry Harris about how Jesus healed ten lepers and only one came back to thank him (Luke 17:12-19).  Jesus asked the returning ex-leper where the other nine were.

At that point, Jerry then asked the congregation if God had done anything for us that we should return and “glorify God” for; in other words: “Where are you?”  After a few testimonies from the congregation, I stood up and thanked God for the deer he had allowed me to kill this year and said that to everyone else it may seem a small thing, but to me it represented six years of hard work and preparing to receive the blessing.  I also mentioned that the previous years weren’t “due season” and now, because I hadn’t “fainted,” God had allowed me to “reap the harvest” (Galatians 6:9).

After recounting about dad’s recent deer (the button buck), I stated something I hadn’t realized until that moment: that God had given me a double portion.  You see, since harvesting dad’s deer meant that I would receive half, I went home with double what I had gotten when I killed mine.  Now, around 30 lbs. of meat sits in my freezer, courtesy of God’s answering my prayers and efforts over the years.  And because I had taken the shot, God could step in and guide my bullet like he had David’s stone in order to slay Goliath (1 Samuel 17)…or in this case, my first deer.

Question: Have you ever had to contend with Fear, Worry, and Self-Doubt? What’s holding you back from “taking the shot” and reaping the rewards of your harvest? Leave a comment below and tell us all about it.

One comment:

  1. Son, sounds like your reliving my life as a young man. Just keep at it. There’s so much to learn and so much more God would love to teach you out there. Wouldn’t take anything for the 43 years I have hunting.

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