If at first you don’t succeed, get another arrow ready.
A 24-year-old welder from Abingdon, Ill., made short work of dispatching a deer on Nov. 4, but it took the avid bowhunter more than two hours to realize it.
Matt Ford wanted to know if the gigantic buck was dead, of course, but he was in no hurry to confirm his suspicion that his less-than-ideal shot hadn’t allowed the arrow to penetrate far enough to do much damage. And it didn’t help that the last he saw of the whitetail was its nonchalant walk over a hill.
Matt might’ve pursued the deer earlier, but his stepfather, who was hunting nearby, hadn’t carried a cell phone to the woods. Rather than ruin his host’s afternoon hunt, Matt remained in his stand, wishing and doubting.
Earlier that day, he had been at a birthday party for his 2-year-old niece when his stepfather, Chance Ray, called to see if he wanted to join him for an afternoon hunt. Whenever they hunt together, Matt always goes to the same spot, where there are two stands: a portable 25-foot-high hang-on model and a ladder.
He chose the higher one, which put him almost at deer’s-eye level with the top of the hill.
“I’d hunted there only once in 2012,” Matt said. “I stay out of his hunting spot unless he invites me. At most, I might hunt there four or five times a year.”
For the second time that season, Matt parked and walked 250 yards through the Knox County cornfield to reach a narrow draw he knew was home to some massive rubs. He’d just settled in, arranged his gear and nocked an arrow about 3:40, when he heard what sounded like antlers hitting saplings — a much stouter version of playing cards clipped to a spinning bicycle wheel.
He’d never heard such a sound, but identifying it as antler hitting wood wasn’t much of a stretch.
His hunch was confirmed when he saw a buck about 70 yards down the ridgetop. The left side of its rack was clipping trees and brush.
Even though he suspected a buck was responsible for the noise, seeing one approach from that direction — the same way Matt had come — was a bit of a shock. He’s now convinced the buck had seen or heard him walking to his stand.
Nevertheless, here it came.
Matt loosed an arrow when he thought the deer was at 25 yards, but he misjudged the distance. It was actually 35, and the arrow sailed underneath the buck.
Fortunately for Matt, who wasted no time in nocking a second arrow, the buck heard the first one hit behind it and actually came down into the draw and closer. When it stopped again, it was at 15 yards.
When Matt released a second time, the buck was standing between two trees and looking at him. The only target was its neck, an iffy shot that he took anyway.
Because Matt had chosen the high stand, the arrow angled perfectly into one lung and the heart, although the young hunter didn’t know it at the time. Since the shaft came out when the buck wheeled, he was convinced it hadn’t penetrated enough.
The buck angled back uphill toward the adjacent cornfield. Its retreat was more of a fast walk than a flat-out run, and Matt saw it licking itself near the top of the hill. The deer then disappeared.
Since Chance didn’t have his cell phone and was still hunting, Matt sat and stewed for more than two hours. Only when his stepfather joined him did they follow the trail.
Chance was a bit skeptical about his stepson’s estimation of the deer’s size, but there was no doubt in his mind that the hit was lethal when he saw the frothy blood, which indicated a lung shot.
Matt breathed more easily when Chance declared, “He’s dead.”
As soon as Matt reached the timber’s edge, he saw the fallen deer. It had traveled 80 yards from the point of impact. A few seconds later, Chance learned to appreciate his stepson’s descriptive abilities.
“I still can’t believe it,” Matt said six weeks after that memorable 10-minute hunt. “I thought my (previous best) 145-inch 8-pointer was big until I got this one. I never thought I would see a deer this size, let alone kill one.”
Nobody had seen such a buck on that property. But when photographs of the 20-pointer were posted on Facebook, Matt was contacted by a neighbor who had two seasons of trail camera photos of it.
The rack wound up with a BTR composite score of 228 7⁄8 inches.
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This article was published in the July 2013 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.