I have not killed a deer this year. I’m not going to tell you or myself how many times I’ve been out. Sometimes, it’s better not to know the numbers. Let’s just say that if a football player posting numbers like mine had started the year in the NFL, the only way he’d be allowed into the stadium now would be if he bought a ticket.

Looking back, I’ve had a few chances that I might have capitalized on. Which makes me wonder if I’m getting soft. Once, if I’d been faster to draw and shoot, I probably could have killed one—and almost certainly would have attempted to do so in years past. But I’m increasingly distrustful of haste in such situations. I know how it feels to go to bed haunted by the knowledge that an animal out there is suffering needlessly because you screwed up.

More than ever, it seems to me that when you shoot a deer, a “good try” doesn’t cut it. It should be as sure a thing as you can possibly make it. I did have a sleek button buck sniffing the base of my tree a couple of weeks ago. I trembled above it at full draw. The bumps on its head were so small I could barely make them out. I briefly considered a spine shot. I’ve heard guys say that a spine shot anchors a deer, after which you can easily finish it off. But the spine is not a wide target. Miss it and you’ve got a mortally wounded deer with at least one good lung. A deer like that can cover a lot of ground before it dies.

I let that deer walk away, hoping it would offer a shot as it left. But the height of my stand—which hid my fresh scent from the deer’s nose, helping to put him in range in the first place—made a quartering-away shot too angular until the deer was at least 10 yards away. However, being a deer, it chose the brushiest possible path, and by the time it was at 10 yards, it was screened by brush.

I’m glad I didn’t try to kill that deer. But don’t get me wrong. I’ve got a freezer to fill. I hope to kill several deer before it’s all over. I just want to do it on my own terms.