I just completed my 30th season of bowhunting deer. I don’t even own a rifle, and just don’t see myself ever being a rifle hunter. Don’t get me wrong — some of my very close friends rifle hunt and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just choose to bowhunt. I like the challenge of having to get a deer within 30 yards.

I admit, I‘m blessed to have a lot of time to spend in the woods. Being a bricklayer, we have a lot of days off simply because it’s too cold to work.

Over these 30 years, I’ve taken 15 trophy bucks. The first 10 years I bowhunted, I didn’t even have one shot at a trophy. I finally realized it must be the way I hunt. For years, I thought that it was only luck when someone shot a nice buck. I knew of a couple of hunters who consistently killed nice bucks. These bowhunters weren’t hunting ground that was any better than mine. So I drastically changed the way I hunted. It wasn’t one change, but many. I believe each little change turned into making a big difference, and that first year I killed my first Pope and Young.

First of all, and most importantly, I thank God for the farmers who allow me the privilege to hunt their ground. I can’t believe that each and every one hasn’t turned down money to lease up their ground for the hunting rights. A couple of them whom I consider dear friends of mine told me that if they did that, “where would you hunt?” Wow! Again, I thank these friends all the time for the special gift they give me.

I had a great bow season this year, as I shot two does and a buck, seeing all three expire within 70 yards. The buck I shot on Nov. 4th was taken at 5pm in a really out of the way spot. I had walked in over a mile and felt like if I had taken the close, easy route, he would have seen me walking in and the hunt would have been over. I can remember at least four other times when I thought about walking the extra distance but went ahead and took the easy route, only to bust a big buck out not far from my stand. This year’s hunt is a great example, as I believe this deer was bedded about 60 yards from my tree.

I believe my buck was a 6.5-year-old deer. He had survived five deer seasons and had learned what it took to survive. He lived in a place that had very little human activity. This buck was killed from a tree I had never sat in before. Of the 15 trophy bucks I’ve been blessed to kill, nine of them have come in the same way — the very first time I had crawled up in a particular tree. I’m sure some will say I’m giving too much credit to that animal, but I believe facts don’t lie.

Russell Hull, who some considered a legendary bowhunter, used to say it would be nice if a helicopter could drop you in your stand. You wouldn’t be spreading scent walking in or spooking deer. Better yet, if you could have Scotty from Star Trek beam you into your stand.

Don’t ever get me wrong — even though you do all you can to tip the odds in your favor, it still takes a lot of luck to succeed at bowhunting. There were so many factors that had to come together for my success and I thank God. I was very lucky and blessed.

Rick Cunningham is an avid outdoorsman from Ellis