We got our first snow the other day, so I knocked off work early. Real early, shortly after brushing my teeth. I figured they’d be moving mid-day and was, for once, right. There I was, trudging through the still-falling flakes towards the side of a hill where trails converge when I practically bumped into a doe and offspring coming the other way. For once, I saw the deer first. But only by about three seconds. They were 15 yards off and bopping along as casual as can be. Then they caught sight of me. No telling what I looked like to them through the mini-blizzard (an especially furious little storm cell was passing through at the moment). Mama snorkeled her head all around and took a few steps closer. She was more curious rather than frightened, and I wondered if my reputation had preceded me.

Had I approached my stand as all the magazines tell you to: hunting from the moment the car door shuts, an arrow nocked and ready?

Was I already scoping out shooting lanes and picking a spot on the animal to aim at?

You bet I was. And the really surprising thing was that the special friends I had brought along on this hunt–the Pope, Jessica Alba, and the head of the CIA–all had the good sense to remain absolutely still.

Of course I wasn’t prepared. My arrows were all safe in their quiver. My release was carefully secured around a limb of the bow. I was more prepared to compete on American Idol than I was to arrow a deer. Somewhere, I thought I heard the sound of Chuck Adams laughing.

They stood for about 10 seconds–curiosity itself. A whiff was all they needed to answer their questions. They swapped ends and vanished into the brush.

I thought over my options, climbed the nearest tree, and sat still as a Buddha for three hours. During that time I caught sight of another doe group, five of them, who must have been watching the whole time from their beds on a hilltop, which I ranged at 219 yards through the woods.

Neither they nor I moved there till dark, at which point I climbed down. I count no day afield a defeat. I was honing one of the skills essential to our kind: Treading that fine line between hunting really hard and making a complete idiot of yourself.