By Jill J. Easton
Halloween 2010 was a hug-the-heater kind of day. The wind was blowing at 30 mph, the temperature was 29 degrees, and Bill Elza endured it all in his treestand, hoping to see rib bones.
That was the fifth year Bill had been gunning (or bowing) for a buck he’d nicknamed Ribcage, which is what came to mind when he first saw the row of tines on the then 3 1/2-year-old whitetail’s rack in 2006.
He saw it in 2007 and 2008, too, though the animal was a no-show throughout the ’09 season.
He’d almost convinced himself the deer was either dead or homesteading a different property, but that was before he came across some sign in 2010 that looked awfully familiar.
Bill had several close encounters with the buck in 2006, the year he first saw it. But he was never in the right place at the right time to launch an arrow.
Neither were the other hunters who saw it, and there were plenty of them.
The buck was famous in that corner of Pulaski County, Ind. In addition to mugging for several trail cameras, it left 5-foot-diameter scrapes and destroyed sizeable cedar trees.
Early in 2010, Bill found sign that indicated Ribcage might have returned. He decided right then to commit his season to harvesting the buck.
“I stopped telling people I’d seen his signatures: skinned 10-foot-tall cedar trees and a chain of big scrapes,” he said. “I thought, He’s here again, and I might finally get a break! And I didn’t mention to anyone that I was after the buck.”
Bill originally planned to move his stand on Oct. 31, but he didn’t want to spook a doe he encountered. He wound up climbing into it and spending a cold and somewhat boring day aloft, his hopes buoyed by the fresh scrape and live decoy nearby.
The previous afternoon, Bill had poured some Tink’s scent on a mock scrape he’d made west of his tree. He’d also hung a scent pad soaked with estrous doe urine in front of a trail camera attached to one of a circle of cedars in front of his stand.
After a day of shivering and seeing nothing, just when Bill began thinking about leaving a little early, opportunity came knocking.
“It was late evening, and the sun was setting,” he said. “My bow was on its hook, and I was idly watching a doe that suddenly became antsy. When I turned around to look where she was looking, I saw the buck approaching from behind me.”
The buck — it had to be Ribcage — came to within 10 yards, but it was on the other side of the cedars, close to the scent pad. Bill could see antlers, but the body was mostly hidden. After a few seconds, the buck made a U-turn and started for the doe.
“The buck was on its way out with its girlfriend, headed north,” Bill said. “I wanted to shoot, but I didn’t want to make a bad shot. Waiting was the wisest, but hardest choice.”
Ultimately, the doe led the huge buck into an opening.
“The buck stopped at 33 yards,” Bill said. “I thought it was broadside, but it was more of a quartering shot. The arrow flew, and the buck wheeled and disappeared.”
The thwack told Bill that the buck was traveling with at least one hole in its side, unless the hunter had imagined it.
“When I found the arrow, there was blood on the tip and feathers, but the shaft was clean,” Bill said. “I was afraid that meant the arrow had gone through without doing any damage.”
Soon thereafter, he heard three snorts, followed by a crashing sound, and then silence. He wanted to believe it was the deer going to ground, but he was afraid it was Ribcage putting pedal to metal.
If the buck wasn’t dead, if it was only grazed, it would surely leave the area forever, he thought.
Because it was getting dark, Bill called and asked his friend, Kenny Witrock, for help. Kenny was hunting nearby.
After searching in the dark for a while, Kenny convinced Bill to spend the night at a nearby farm so he could get an early start the next morning.
Bill was almost reluctant to continue the search. Even if Ribcage were dead, he’d miss the challenge that had fueled his desire to hunt for so long. If not, the game was probably over as well.
“Coffee cup in hand, I left the old farmhouse and went the back way toward where the buck had run,” Bill said. “I saw 20 crows talking in a tree, which bode well.”
He found Ribcage 80 yards from the stand.
“When I came across the buck, I started hollering and threw my coffee cup in the air,” Bill said. “The arrow had passed through its lungs and exited the other side.”
When the jawbone was pulled, the buck was aged at 8 1/2 years old. According to people who’d seen the buck for several years, it was actually in decline and would have scored even higher the previous year.
“After 35 years of hunting, it was finally mission accomplished,” Bill said. “But now, three years later, I’m still sort of depressed and bummed, knowing that the buck that left me so many messages isn’t still out there. I doubt I’ll meet another deer that will give me such a challenge.”
Hunter: Bill Elza
BTR Score: 204 4/8
– Photos Courtesy of Bill Elza
This article was published in the October 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
• Peepless in Illinois: Jon Wolf | Compound Bow | BTR Score: 216 3/8"
• Why Having Breakfast Aloft is a Good Idea: Tommy Johnson | Blackpowder | BTR Score: 208 7/8”
• There’s No Place Like Home: Phil Ryan’s 2011 Ottawa County brute carries 44 5/8 inches of mass, including bases of 6 4/8 and 6 7/8 inches.