One of my fondest memories of being on the lower Platte River takes me to my favorite hobby, bowhunting whitetail deer. The hunt was near North Bend. I was in the treestand well before light, and it was a cold, crisp early November morning. My stand was only about 10 yards from the river, and as I waited for a hint of daylight, I could hear some coons working the shoreline and some waterfowl out on a sandbar. For a bowhunter, that predawn light is a magic time to be in the stand as you try to make out the dark forms in the distance that look like deer, most of them becoming a stump or clump of vegetation as more light eventually rats them out.
A loud splash in the river regained my attention (that was no coon, much larger animal, has to be a deer). I could hear it coming across the river but could not see it quite yet. It was getting louder, sounded like it was alone (good, hopefully that big five-pointer I had seen on several earlier hunts). The animal continued across, and I could finally make out that it was a deer for sure; it appeared to be a buck, but it was just too dark to size him up. I could faintly see it was heading in my direction, and I then realized (damn, it’s not going to be light enough to shoot even if he does get into bow range). Oh yeah, a deer showing up before shooting light is a common way that bowhunts get foiled.
The buck finally crossed the river and was on the bank. I could see it was a nice, mature buck but I wasn’t sure how big yet. As luck would have it, he picked the trail that came by fairly close to me, but try as I might, I could not make it any lighter out for an ethical shot. So I could only watch him walk away.
As the morning rolled on, I could see several does with fawns in the distance, but the bruiser didn’t show up again. I cursed my earlier luck; if he had come by 20 minutes later, I would have gotten a nice 15-yard shot. Oh well, it was a beautiful morning and just being in the stand with all of the fall colors around me was a treat. I was about to get out of my stand and head home when I changed my mind and thought I would try rattling (banging two antlers together to imitate two bucks fighting, which can trigger another buck to come in to see what the action is all about). I only smacked the antlers together once and the response was immediate. The big five-by-five busted out of a stand of nearby timber and was coming in like a black angus bull that was angry at a smaller bull for bothering his cows.
The adrenaline rush is almost unreal when a buck that size is bearing down on you and will be at close range in a matter of seconds. I did everything right—well, almost., I raised the bow while he was moving and looking for the intruders, pulled back and anchored solidly as he closed the gap, 40 yards, 30, 25, 20, 15… I did a light mouth grunt and stopped him right there in my shooting lane, the 15-yard sight pin wavered back and forth behind his shoulder and finally settling down. And that’s when it happened. I released the arrow and the unthinkable occurred: The arrow sailed about an inch over his back and, in a flash, he was gone, never to be seen by me again that season.
When I finally got my heart rate back to normal, I stared blankly into the distance for a while and took in the beautiful scenery that was before me. And I wondered if anyone else that morning had an experience similar to mine; I was guessing not many. I wasn’t upset that I missed; a little disappointed, but that’s the game: You have to deliver at the moment of truth. But as I walked to the truck it occurred to me that since I missed, I still have my permit, which meant I could get back out there the next day to watch the Platte River wake up in all of its fall-color splendor.