No Regrets


We all have regrets, but that’s not a bad thing as long as we vouch to make things different from here on out. It gives us inspiration to change.

At the end of each bow season I seem to always have a few lingering regrets. I should’ve hunted longer, or in this special place; I should’ve stalked that buck or bull, despite 10 minutes of shooting light remaining; I should’ve planned my hunt better, put in more research or had a serious backup plan when things suddenly turned sour.

Last season, while deer hunting with my friend Angelo in the backcountry of Northern California, we became overrun with hunters. There was a big fire in one of the prominent wilderness areas and loads of traffic came our way. I couldn’t believe it.

The deer quickly became spooky or nonexistent, and we were left with determining what to do. I gazed out at some distant foothills and began quizzing Angelo. “How about those mountains?” I asked. “Any good?” “I’ve never been over there,” he said. “It could be good. Problem is, that’s a ways off and I don’t know where the water is. That’s a must, for you and the deer.” I felt overwhelmed with thoughts of loading up a bivy pack and soloing out, but was it smart? I rationalized the situation to death. In the end, I played it safe and decided not to go.

        A month later, while hunting elk in Arizona, once again I encountered intense hunting pressure. Everywhere I went I saw “teams” of guys calling their brains out and holding decoys. Even 300-class bulls were running from calls—satellite bulls for Arizona.

        My traditional hunting areas, which included several great spots, were contaminated badly. I began scouring topo maps, hoping for a solution. There was some deep-canyon country less-than-ideal for bowhunting. During lunchtime one day, I investigated. The country seemed daunting—where would I start? Time was running out. The more I thought, the less promise I saw in the country. Once again, I played it safe.

        On that same hunt I counted on the productivity of water holes. With so many camo-clad people running around, sitting tight in ambush made a lot of sense. The problem was, it had rained a lot leading up to the hunt—water holes, every one of them, were full. However, hunting water still seemed intelligent.

        I always look for out-of-the-way water “tanks,” as they call them in the Southwest, thinking the big bulls get away from commotion. I’ve learned first-hand this just isn’t true. Elk, at least in this region, don’t mind commotion, as long as they have dense woods for bedding and the security of darkness come feeding time.

        While overlooking my maps, I noticed a couple of roadside water holes in a past-productive area. I went there and checked it out. Driving into the area, dust was everywhere, ATVs and trucks zipping all about. The tank was no further than 20 yards from the road. Relatively fresh elk tracks dotted the water’s edge. “But hunt in this mad ruckus?” I thought, “No way!”

        As I swept the area on foot for fresh sign not far from the pond, I wasn’t in the least bit impressed. Evidence of elk looked old. Heading back to the truck, kicking pine cones as I went, a trophy bull suddenly shot out from the trees, about 35 yards away. I could hear trucks still buzzing in the distance as he sped away, his gnarly-thick main beams floating against the branches and blue sky. I blew it, over thinking once again and playing it safe.

        Later on I was hunting blacktail deer in one of my longtime hot spots. A monster buck was roaming the hills this year, and I was on him big time. Chasing does each moment I saw him, I circled in the wind like a prowling lion and waited to strike. One instance I caught him in between groups of does, drew on him while broadside, and just couldn’t get the shot off in time. It was the biggest crusher of the season.

        After several days of playing cat-and-mouse with this buck, it was time to go home. I was with my family and while I hunted, they killed time shopping and visiting with other family members. He’s gonna’ slip up, and I’ll get ’em I thought—one more day. Looking back, I should’ve pleaded hard with my wife. The hunting spirits were calling me more than ever before.

        I believe regrets come from over thinking certain situations. If you feel a calling, act on it. Don’t over-analyze and play it safe. Playing it safe leads to a season full of regrets. Mark my words, next season will be different.

Joe Bell