I was 15 years old when I took off on an A-Zone blacktail deer hunt.
While sneaking through a brush patch that's served as a bedding area for deer in years past, I came across a three-point buck standing broadside, looking me in the face.
He had a small, basket-shaped rack, but at that point in my hunting career I'd never harvested anything better than a forked-horn.
Had I been ready, the shot was there for the taking.
Fortunately for the deer, I wasn't ready.
I had my gun slung over my shoulder, and by the time I brought it down for a shot, the buck was running.
There was enough time for a quick shot, which ended up as a quick miss.
Still hoping for a second chance, I ran down the hill and turned a corner.
Unbelievably, the buck had stopped to look back.
Knowing second chances like these almost never happen in the field, I raised my gun up and tried looking through my scope, but where there should have been a buck, there was only black.
As the deer ran off, I lowered my gun and saw that, in my haste, my sling draped over my scope from trying to raise it too fast.
That young buck and I both learned something that day.
I learned to keep my gun in hand during close-quarters hunting, and the buck learned never to look back.
A couple years ago, I reflected back on that hunt and wondered what would have happened if I didn't have a sling on that gun.
There were other opportunities I wasted because of other attachments on my rifles that caused unforeseen problems.
I've had trouble with a short-legged bipod that caused my bullet to tear into the hillside in front of me instead of into a four-point buck's vitals.
I've had trouble with high-powered scopes you can't see anything through when a buck jumps up 20 yards in front of you.
I've had trouble with flip-open scope covers that you forget to open before pulling down for a shot.
As nice as it is to have a piece of equipment to blame after missing the buck of a lifetime, the question remains: How many attachments are necessary on a hunting rifle?
Each year, it seems like hunters are scaling the hills with fancier boom sticks, but I'm not sure if it's helping that much.
After all the issues I had with my rifle and its attachments, I started a transformation a couple years ago.
I bought a decades-old 30-06 with a wood stock, as opposed to my .270-caliber's composite stock. No attachments, except for a cheap scope and a rigid leather strap.
The setup was similar to the .243-caliber rifle I started hunting with when I turned 12. I never missed with that gun.
I also bought a 30-30 Marlin lever-action rifle around the same time as the 30-06. No scope, strap or bipod -- just good ol' American rifle.
It didn't take me long to learn that keeping it simple and not fumbling with attachments made me quicker, more confident and more focused on my shots.
All four animals I pulled down on last season went down quick and clean.
In years past, I've gone for body shots on most of the deer I've taken, but with my confidence back last season, I shot one buck in the head and another in the neck. They were both clean kills and didn't ruin any meat.
I don't think it's a coincidence that my best season of hunting came after my pilgrimage back to simplicity.
I'm not suggesting anyone discard all the attachments they've worked so hard to pay for, but I do recommend keeping one rifle simple and without all the fancy equipment.
Getting back to basics worked for me.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.