I went hunting in Kansas a few weeks ago and whiffed. On a big one. I was 17 feet up a ladder stand attached to a flimsy tree in 25 mile-an-hour wind, when the buck appeared 33 yards away in a nearby hedgerow, the one place no shooting lanes had been cleared. Between the obstructions, the swaying stand, and my swaying legs, I couldn’t keep it together. I thought I had a tiny window, but I really don’t know if my arrow deflected or just missed without any external help.

UnruhHere’s the weird thing. Missing didn’t hurt as bad as I thought it would. Sure, it hurt. Sure, I was bummed. But it was mostly because I knew the guys back at the magazine would be giggling and high-fiving one another at the news of yet another botched encounter by yours truly.

In the place it really matters, there was no sense of failure. It was almost the opposite. I’d felt the rush of being inside a big buck’s bubble of awareness undetected, that indescribable explosion of adrenaline and heart rate and the presence of something almost like fear. I called Jack Unruh, the guy who draws me with a big red nose in the magazine every month. “So you missed,” he said. “But it was because you got so excited, right? And that’s what it’s all about. The day you see a buck like that and don’t get excited, that’s the day you ought to start worrying.”

He’d nailed it. I’d missed. But if there was any doubt about the power of hunting, my wobbly knees had pretty much settled the question. Here’s the one secret you won’t find on any Mega Monster Madness video: the most important trophies don’t go on the wall; they go inside the heart.