If Ernest Hemingway had met Donnie Wilson, Spencer Tracey might’ve played the role of a deer hunter instead of a fisherman. He’d have suffered rope burns from dragging a buck, instead of fighting a marlin.
Oh, and the ending to Papa’s man-versus-nature tale would’ve been far happier.
The only thing easy about Donnie’s hunt last year in Ohio’s Wayne National Forest was arrowing a deer. The sun had barely risen, and he’d been in his treestand no more than 20 minutes.
Tracking wasn’t even necessary.
Yet it took four hours for Donnie to drag the animal to his truck, an ordeal that probably had him talking to the dead whitetail much like Hemingway’s protagonist spoke to his prized catch: “Fish, I'll stay with you until I am dead.”
After photographing and field-dressing his buck, no doubt a 200-plus-incher, Donnie attempted to drag it the usual way, by the antlers, but it was too awkward while carrying a bow and wearing both a backpack and climbing stand. He wound up tying one end of his safety harness to the deer, the other to his belt.
He walked slowly, pulling the deer as he went.
“It’s a good thing this buck wasn’t one of those 300-pounders that sometimes fall here in Ohio,” he said.
“The going was very slow, no more than 20 or 25 steps at a time,” he continued. “There were frequent breaks for me to suck in air. I was sweating so badly, I stripped off every extra piece of clothing and tied it to the climber.”
He probably thought about removing his pants as well, since the weight of the buck he was pulling kept pulling them down. At one point, Donnie could barely walk for pulling up his pants.
“I finally had to stop for a long rest and to get better organized,” he said. “When I unbuckled my belt, it fell apart. The stitching holding the buckle had all broken, and the buckle came off in my hands.
“I rested a bit, and then checked my iPhone’s GPS app, which showed I was less than 400 yards from where I’d parked,” he continued. “Since I’d seen nobody else all day, I covered the buck, carried my gear to the truck, and then went back for the deer.”
The three-quarter-mile hike, which Donnie had made in an hour that morning, took four grueling hours.
“My best hunt ever,” the crazy man beams. Or maybe crazy is too harsh a modifier.
Hunting well off the beaten path, scoring a world-class buck off public ground, and breaking a sweat have their allure. So does revisiting the place where you shot your first buck.
“Many years ago, a hunting buddy and I decided to hunt the Wayne National Forest in southeastern Ohio. We found a place to park, and walked into the forest with just a couple of topo maps,” Donnie said. “I took my very first buck there.”
When he returned to the forest in 2012, Donnie was alone. But he had more than a topo map, and he wasn’t hunting blind.
“I arrived a day early to set up camp for the night. My plan for the following morning was to walk about a mile, striking out in the dark,” he said.
“I had ordered an app for my iPhone called BackCountry Navigator, plus I had downloaded all of the topos and satellite views. The app is essentially a GPS, and I had marked the place I wanted to hunt before I ever arrived.
“With my climber and backpack strapped on, I headed out into the black of night with my bow in one hand and my phone in the other. Long before first light, I was in the place I wanted to be,” he added.
Donnie found a suitable tree, climbed to about 25 or 30 feet, and then pulled up his gear. When dawn broke, he was feeling pretty good about his choice.
“The wind was blowing from the southwest, straight up the hollow I was watching,” he said. “I figured the deer would come up out of that bowl and cross a nearby saddle to drop down into another very deep hollow on the other side.”
As is his custom, to compensate for the noise he made while scaling the tree, Donnie tickled his rattling antlers together a few times. Ten or 15 minutes later, he saw a deer approaching from 100 yards.
“As soon as I realized it was a shooter, I stood, grabbed my bow and turned around to see the deer looking straight at me, or at least I thought it was. I became a statue, waiting for the buck’s next move,” he said.
“After a few minutes of staring, the buck lowered its head and resumed walking.
“When it was at 20 yards, I stopped it by bleating with my mouth,” Donnie continued. “In that split second, I released my arrow.”
Donnie didn’t know if he’d misjudged the distance or if the deer had simply ducked, but the arrow spined it. A second one through the brisket opened the tap, though the buck managed to put 50 more yards between them.
“I was afraid to get down because of all the noise a climber makes,” Donnie said. “I just sat there, watching through my binoculars, for 15 or 20 minutes. ‘Just stay there, fellow,’ I pleaded. ‘Please don’t move any more.’
“Only when I was convinced it was dead did I get down and walk to the buck. When I lifted its head, I was astounded by the mass and number of points.
“I texted my wife, ‘BBD,’ and then called my dad. I’d started counting the points while it was ringing. I was still counting, out loud, when he answered. I was ticking them off ... 10, 11, 12 ... when he said, ‘Wow, a 12-pointer, huh? That’s pretty good.’
“‘That’s just the left side, Dad,’ I told him. There were 13 more on the right,” he said.
His father offered to drive the three hours to the forest to help, but Donnie told him it wasn’t necessary.
“I told him I had all day to do it,” he added.
– Photos By Ed Waite
Hunter: Donnie Wilson
BTR Score: 204 5/8”
This article was published in the September 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.
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