This story first ran in February 2004.

SO IT’S FINALLY OVER. You’ve either got a deer in the freezer or you don’t. You’re either doing the funky-chicken victory dance or deciding whether to throw your muzzleloader away outright or save it as a tomato stake.

If you did get a deer—and I mean any deer—congratulations. You can sit back and tell the story over and over, until it takes on a life of its own. With each retelling, that deer will get bigger the shot distance will increase, and the temperature outside will drop a bit more. By about May, you will have killed an animal the size of a moose during a blizzard by blowing a soda-straw wrapper at it from 400 yards. And you will half believe the lies coming out of your own mouth. This is hunting’s oldest tradition. In fact, linguists now conjecture that language first arose among hominids to fulfill that most fundamental of impulses: the need to lie. “Korg, this is no bull. I was so close when that mastodon farted that it blew all the hair on my forehead straight back.”

Any fool can cope with a punched tag. Venison, a rack to hang in the den-these are child’s play. Nothing tests a hunter’s skill like failure. That’s when a real sportsman looks into the depths of his soul to see if he can summon up a level of creativity to which a successful hunter can only aspire: It’s time to come up with a good excuse. Let’s review the options.

1. Equipment Malfunction

Blaming bad gear is a perennial favorite. Psychologists (most of whom do not hunt) have a pejorative term for this. They call it blame shifting. I call it genius. Some samples:

  • I drew back on him and there was a rain bubble in my peep. All I could see was an optical illusion of six identical bucks standing side by side, and damned if I didn’t shoot the wrong one.
  • My scope fogged up. It’s like I was hunting in a steam room.
  • I was shooting handloads that a buddy swore were the best bullets he’d ever used. And they might be. But when I pulled the trigger, all I heard was click.

2. Tremendous Size of the Animal

Success depends on the hunter seeming every bit as incredulous about the event as the listener.

  • You want to know the truth? That buck was so much bigger than I had ever seen around here that I figured it was only 200 yards away. Turns out it was 300 yards off-50 I ended up shooting low. All I did was shave a few hairs off his chest. I’ve got them right here in my wallet. You want to see?

3. Fear of Collateral Damage

Excuses like this portray you in a favorable light.

  • I was just about to pull the trigger on a 10 pointer with a nice drop tine when I noticed a doe right behind him. I just couldn’t bring myself to take the shot.

4. Too Wild to Be Contradicted

You need to say something so outrageous that your listener must either accept it at face value or call your bluff. This works best with guys who are smaller than you. Assume a somewhat belligerent tone, as if you’re tired of explaining the obvious.

  • That bullet hit a gravity sump. Oh, yeah, they’re all over the place. See, gravity acts a lot like a liquid. You didn’t know that? Yeah, and there are spots where the force of gravity pools up and concentrates. You can’t map them because they migrate. I could shoot over one and it would just about cat my bullet up-drop it like a stone halfway to a deer. Next day, that sump would have moved on. You could shoot there and everything would be fine.

5. Verbal Jujitsu

Use your listener’s own momentum against him in a way he doesn’t expect, causing him to fly out the window. Look to the left and right when he asks how you failed to get your deer, as if making sure nobody else can eavesdrop on the profound secret you’re about to reveal. Take a step closer to the person and motion for him to bend in toward you. Take another look around, lean in toward his ear, and whisper so softly that even he will not be sure you actually had the audacity to say the following:

  • I missed.

The truth, used sparingly, can be the most astounding excuse of all.

You can find the complete F&S Classics series hereOr read more F&S+ stories.