Some athletes use a process called visualization, where they create a mental image of some action they’re about to undertake. They might visualize a downhill slalom run, a free throw, a breaking ball or a penalty kick, over and over so they will be more practiced and proficient when the moment of truth arrives.

Hunters do it too, but it’s called daydreaming.

We imagine when, where and how that big buck will arrive on scene and how we’ll react. It rarely ever works out the way we plan, so it doesn’t hurt to entertain alternative possibilities, and stay cool enough to react to the totally unexpected.

My original plan was to paddle upriver with my neighbor, but he was called away unexpectedly leaving me with a solo hunt. As it was only the first week of the season I’d been trying different stand locations just to test the waters, gauge the action and see which might offer the best chance when temperatures cooled and the action heated up.

Checking wind direction I decided on hunting a small food plot, where I’d gotten some decent trail camera pictures a month earlier. It was better for a morning hunt and this afternoon would be unseasonably warm but I chose to burn an afternoon just the same. Gathering up my gear I jumped in the truck and headed off, and was halfway to my destination when I noticed a very strong pungent odor. Reaching down I felt a moisture in the pocket of my vest, and suddenly realized the bottle of Tink’s 69 Doe-In-Rut Buck Lure had leaked. This could be an interesting afternoon.

It didn’t seem that way for the first couple hours, but the afternoon was rapidly winding to a close when I heard footsteps approaching in the dry leaves and was reasonably confident it was a buck. If you spend enough time in the woods you can tell by the way they walk: confidently, deliberately. Experience has also taught me that when approaching an opening, a deer will stop just inside the woodline and survey the area to make sure all is clear before venturing out, and then usually not until shooting light has vanished, especially if that deer is a buck. Knowing the likely outcome kept me calm, cool and collected, until the unimaginable happened.

The buck came on in a steady pace and without the slightest bit of hesitation walked into the open clover patch and directly to the base of my treestand so quickly there was no time to react. Then he paused at the base, concealed by the saplings I’d left there to conceal myself. I could see movement and patches of brown and white as he lifted his head, and I could hear him sniffing the air, and the tincture of Tink’s 69.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and quick thinking. Remaining seconds before the end of shooting light were rapidly ticking away. Something had to be done, and quickly. It was a huge risk but seemed the only option under the circumstances so in a loud conversational voice I said, “Hey.” The buck wheeled around and took three bounds across the open plot. Four would have gotten him to safe cover but he paused to look back over its shoulder, which proved a fatal mistake.

It is said that practice makes perfect. Some things, like shooting and calling you can practice. Others, like making a split-second decision on what you think an animal might do, can only be honed through experience. Knowledge can be gained through books and magazine articles but there is still no substitute for time spent in the woods, where you never know what might happen.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer, registered Maine guide and certified wildlife biologist who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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