It took four years to bag this whitetail, but it was worth every minute.
We all hear rumors from a friend of a friend’s cousin or some such connection, and they almost never turn out to be true. That’s why I was skeptical when I got a tip about a huge buck that was spotted on my friend Eric’s dad’s friend’s driveway one night in 2007.
The man’s son said it was the biggest buck he had ever seen, and he stopped counting at 13 points.
I didn’t have many big buck leads to follow that year, so I scouted the area and found a rub that had to be made by a big buck.
I hung a trail camera and an electronic dripper there during the Pennsylvania rifle season. I knew I couldn’t pursue this buck with a rifle because of the suburban location’s special regulations, but I wanted a look at him. The extra challenge of hunting him with a bow added to the anticipation.
About a week later, I got a picture of the buck’s bases up close. I thought someone was messing with me. The flash blew the picture out and made it look like a negative, but I could still make out some details. The buck’s bases were wider than his ears! Such mass is a rarity in the Keystone State.
My friend Nick and I decided to try hunting the buck in the extended season. We hunted hard, but didn’t see it until the last day.
I put on a one-man drive for Nick, and when we met up later, both our eyes were as big as saucers. I had seen the buck all right, and it had skirted past Nick. He was at full draw but couldn’t get a shot. From that day on, we called the deer Faith Buck.
We continued to try to get him on camera, but that push was the last time we saw him that year.
I was anxious for the 2008-09 season. I put out corn and scouted with cameras throughout the preseason. During our scouting, Nick and I found a ladder stand adjacent to the thicket where we had seen Faith Buck. Whoever had put in the stand had gone to extremes to clear out the area, and we worried the buck had been spooked away for good.
When we hadn’t seen Faith Buck by August, I began to think the worst. Then, late in the month, I got about 15 pictures and videos of him on my trail camera.
I was amazed at how cautions he was. Even with infrared settings, he would watch the camera the whole time he ate.
I knew it was Faith Buck because he had the half-circle cutout in his ear that was on the picture I got in 2007. I also spotted him in late August with my friend, Eric. While my drive to get him didn’t need any help, watching the buck in the lights at 20 yards was incredible.
Word about a big buck travels fast, and I soon learned local hunters had nicknamed the buck Crabby because of the thick mass and the antler configuration.
They said they thought he was 3.5 or 4.5 years old and told stories of how one bowhunter had just nicked his back. They also said other bucks vanished from fields whenever Crabby showed up, so the name fit his personality.
I hunted Crabby relentlessly that season, and it wasn’t just me. Eric, Nick, my father and the locals were after him, too.
We didn’t see him or even hear a rumor of Crabby throughout the 2008 archery season, so I eventually decided to switch tactics.
I moved deeper into suburbia, hunting and placing cameras in the oddest places. Eventually, it worked.
My dad and I were hunting in a heavy rain during the rut. I’ve never met anyone who hunts more than my dad. I guess that’s where I get my passion.
Drenched, we were walking out when I spotted Crabby about the same time he spotted me.
He was 50 yards away, and it was the first time we had ever met in this addicting game of cat and mouse. He didn’t run, but stood there as if I was supposed to do the running.
Dad couldn’t see him, but my quick halt told him something was amiss.
I turned to Dad and said, “Faith Buck!” Then I laid out a plan using hand signals.
I told Dad to wait two minutes and start walking along the hillside. I ran up the hill out of sight and then cut back down to get Crabby between Dad and me.
The plan worked perfectly, and the deer came right to me, but he saw me and locked up. I was at full draw, and Crabby was looking straight at me at 20 yards!
I had my pin on his swollen neck for a minute or so before he trotted off, but I never hit the trigger. Why didn’t I take the shot?
No guts, no glory, I thought, but I also knew I had made the right decision. Better to live with a shot not taken than injure and not find that awesome buck.
I saw him again later that year when I was putting on a drive and kicked up two bucks to my friends Eric and Nick. They both put an arrow in and eventually got a three-legged buck we called Tripod that was running just ahead of Crabby, allowing him to get away again.
The following season in 2009-10, I didn’t get any pictures of Crabby until Nov. 6. Despite the late date, I wasn’t worried. I had heard rumors he was still alive from a new friend and hunting buddy, Mike.
I hunted hard, but since Crabby sightings were so scarce, I began to focus on a 160-inch 12-pointer we named Big Twelve. That’s the buck I was after when I was in a stand during the rut and my phone rang. It was one of my friends who knew about Crabby, and he had seen the buck about a half-mile from another area I hunted.
With six does under me, I just about jumped out of my treestand and flew over to my spot. I was sneaking toward my stand when I spotted Crabby courting a doe. With his attention focused on his lady friend, Crabby had no idea I was there. My legs were shaking and I had trouble walking. I needed just four steps to get to an opening, and they were the longest, most difficult steps of my life.
I finally got in the clear and was in the process of drawing my bow when the doe snorted and sent deer fleeing in all directions. Crabby got away once again.
During the gun season, my friend Todd pushed the buck by my stand just out of range. It seemed to disappear after that, but the two close encounters made me even more devoted to taking that deer.
The good news is I eventually harvested Big Twelve in the extended season and made a new friend and hunting buddy, Drew, who runs with one of the best hunting parties in the area.
After hunting season, I got daylight video of Crabby, so I had hope he would be around for 2010-11.
The fall of 2010 was crazy. Word was out about Crabby. He was bigger than ever at approximately 8.5 years old.
Everyone in the area was after him because somebody had leaked some trail camera pictures. I fed him all summer and had so many pictures I could make a flipbook to watch his antlers grow.
Mike helped me get permission to hunt a spot where Crabby was hanging out. The plan was to team up and each of us hunt the area when the other couldn’t make it. My hunting group has learned to share information and work together, and it has had nothing but positive results. Mike and I felt we had a good shot at one of us taking Crabby.
Then one night, someone got wind of where we had been putting out food. Why, I don’t know, but this guy walked through the thicket at 1:30 a.m., and the buck vanished after that.
Hunting season was approaching, and I was back to square one. I decided to run an electric dripper and fill it with all kinds of scent.
There were 13 bucks hitting my setup, but not Crabby. Finally, during the rut, he appeared, but only showed himself at night — until Nov. 15, the day after archery season closed. That day, he was under my stand in broad daylight at 8 and 10 a.m.
While many of my friends had given up on the buck, saying it was a waste of time, I had built a kind of bond with it.
“Dan, there are other bucks out there,” Nick said. “Get a life. You are hunting a ghost.”
That was easy for him to say. Nick shot a 150-inch buck on the second day of archery season that year.
During the rifle season, I was after Crabby with my bow. Although my friend John drove two BTR-caliber deer by my stand, I promised myself it was Crabby or bust!
There was no doubt where I’d be when the extended season arrived. That was when Drew introduced me to Brian.
“Trust me, Brian is tagged out and will push for you all day long,” Drew said. I admit I was a little skeptical, but it’s always good to have a little help in the late season, so I gave it a shot.
The first time I met up with Brian was Jan. 14, 2011, and it was the first time in four years we had fresh snow for tracking. I had dreamed about this day, telling people, “All I need is a tracking snow to get that buck.”
It wasn’t long before Brian said he had seen the Crabby. He showed me a giant track that pierced through 6 inches of snow down to the mud and grass. In four years hunting that area, I had never seen a track that big. It had to be Crabby’s.
We tracked the buck and tried cutting him off that whole day. When it was over, we had seen Crabby three times, but he was always a step or three ahead of us. The snow showed us the buck’s escape route, however, and we used that information to formulate a new game plan.
The next week came around, and Brian and I got an early start. We saw a few small bucks, including a 120-inch 8-pointer and a lot of does before we took a break for lunch.
With only two more days to hunt, I began to think Crabby had gotten the best of me once again.
With full stomachs and new energy, Brian and I headed back out. It wasn’t long before I spotted Crabby by the area where I had pictures of him all preseason and where I had him at full draw the previous year.
I drove down the road and parked, telling Brian to nonchalantly walk up and make eye contact with Crabby and his doe. “Just let him know you see him and he should bump right to me,” I said.
Brian turned to me and said, “Dan ... just kill him.”
I snuck in to my stand and got ready. It was 7 degrees that day, and I prayed the platform wouldn’t creak or make a noise, so I shifted my feet several times to loosen it up. Wow, that was a good idea.
The wind was perfect, and as I set my quiver aside and nocked an arrow, I knew this was it. A few minutes later, hope turned into reality.
Crabby was in front of the doe at about 80 yards but heading my way. It was unbelievable how he moved through his turf. More than any other buck I’ve seen, he scanned the woods with the utmost caution with every step. Then he was under my stand at 15 yards — with a tangle of grape vines between us!
Seconds seemed like minutes until the buck suddenly bounded a few times to the right. I drew and mouthed a few bleats, stopping Crabby quartering away at 18 yards.
It’s hard to describe how strongly emotions come over you in a moment like that, but after four years of blood, sweat and tears, it was almost overwhelming as I watched my arrow sail through Crabby’s vitals.
I still find myself scouting through his core area, glancing in patches and beds where he used to hide. I guess doing so has just become habit, or maybe I’m just hopeful one of his sons will turn into a giant in years to come.
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