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Morken: Some takeaways from the 2018 deer season

The sun rises on a December morning in the deer woods during the 2018 bow hunting season. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The buck got downwind of me and knew something was not quite right, but instead of bolting, it seemed to pique his curiosity.

It was the morning of Dec. 30 and this young eight-pointer was still following around a group of does. I was hanging in my Tethrd Mantis saddle overlooking good sign in the fresh snow. These deer opted to use the south wind even more to their advantage by traveling further north of me on a shelf before it drops down a steep ridge. At this point in the season, I was looking to fill the freezer, so I was ready with my bow should any of them slip up.

That buck came close. He inched his way to about 20 feet, but on high alert and never in a shooting lane. Four different times, he got close, turned and trotted off before coming back again to investigate. Eventually, he determined it was not worth the risk.

I scouted my way out of the woods after the morning sit. I found an intersection where four heavily used trails came together, identified a tree that would work for a south wind and prepared it for my saddle that night.

For two hours that evening, I watched different does and fawns browse. About 10 of them fed their way past the tree I was hanging in that morning. None of them offered a shot opportunity in my new location.

Those final hunts kind of sum up my 2018 season. There was excitement, no doubt. I had some awesome encounters, but I would be lying if I wrote that there is not some frustration that lingers. Here are some of my biggest takeaways from the year.

The good

November 6 is a day I will always remember from this season.

It is a day I shot a buck that I did not recover. I wrote about that hunt in the past, so I won't go too much into the details, but it still eats away at me. There are lessons learned from that experience I am using to get better going into next season. It was a frustrating day, but it also showed me that the steps I am taking to get on good deer more consistently are paying off.

That property in North Dakota was brand new to me this season, so I used the bow opener in late August mainly as a scouting trip to prepare trees for later in the season.

This spot in particular was a meeting point of three separate trails that came together within the woods where thicker grasses formed an edge against the timber. I climbed into the stand that morning of the 6th and just had that feeling. Temperatures were in the low-30s. Winds were perfect out of the west. By 8 a.m., three bucks had cruised through there as I got the perfect shot I was looking for on a good eight pointer.

That specific tree was not in a classic pinch point that one can see on a map where the terrain forces the deer through a funnel. They could move through the low area off these trails, but downed timber in that thicker grass led me to believe bucks would prefer to follow that edge as they checked for does. That's exactly what they did.

Year by year, those pieces of the puzzle on how bucks use terrain comes more into focus. I had a handful of encounters this season with bucks I would have loved to take. That's exciting.

The bad

That also leads to the bulk of the frustration in not being able to close the deal.

Those increased encounters have coincided at a time when I am struggling with my shot more than ever. It started last season. I thought I had it fixed, but my shot process broke down again in the heat of the moment a couple times this year.

It is said that most archers will go through what is called target panic at some point. There are many articles and videos on what target panic is and how to fix it. For some, it can mean not even being able to hold the pin on the target.

During the 2017 season, my pin would settle about three inches below my desired bullseye. I was incapable of floating the pin where I wanted it, which led to punching the trigger as the pin flew by the bullseye.

Through a bunch of work and getting some advice on steps I could take to get back on track, I was able to fix that this past summer. I was shooting well heading into the opener, but there is a big difference between shooting in the backyard and shooting at an animal.

My problem this season stemmed from anticipating the shot. As things sped up, my mind saw the release of that arrow before it ever left the string. That led to my arms dropping early, forcing me to hit lower than I wanted.

Since my trip to North Dakota in early November, I have set up my target in our shop to shoot at 10 yards. The only thing I am thinking about during practice sessions is following through.

There is no doubt that experience in North Dakota made me hesitant to release an arrow again during the rest of my hunts in Minnesota. A buck on the evening of Dec. 15 provided what I later found out was a perfectly clear shot at 15 yards at last light. I chose not to take it for fear there might be thin branches in the way I could not see.

Things might not always go perfect in the whitetail woods. I realize that, but we owe it to the animal to try to make it as perfect as possible. For me right now, that means getting my shot and my confidence back through whatever it takes this offseason.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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