For this Kansan, hunting is far more fun than gathering.
To begin with, Don pursued this same Kansas whitetail for three seasons before he arrowed it in 2011. And prior to his sealing the deal, two friends, knowing they’d break his heart if they shot it, let the deer continue on its merry way.
On the December afternoon Don got his chance at the distinctive Coffey County buck, he’d been hunting it for 67 consecutive days. And, of course, everything that could go wrong went wrong.
He first became aware of the deer through a trail camera photograph. He’d already tagged his one buck that year, so he waited until spring to begin looking for the animal’s sheds, which he found.
He saw the buck frequently prior to the next bow season.
“The corn didn’t develop right that year. When it was combined, it just didn’t come off the cob,” Don explained.
“The result was a field full of corn, and the deer were just piling into it.”
Because there was no doubt about the neighborhood whitetails’ preferred food source, Don was pumped. It helped, too, that Crab Claw was even bigger.
“Crab Claw’s rack had probably grown 20 more inches that year,” he said. “He’d really put on some mass, too.”
After the season opened, a good friend, Gary Martin, came to hunt with Don. Gary spotted the big buck, grunted to him, and Crab Claw walked right underneath his stand. But Gary decided to let it walk.
“He knew how much I’d thought about that deer, how much time and effort I’d put into stands, planning and hoping, and he just couldn’t do it to me,” Don said. “That’s a true friend.”
After Gary left, Don decided to sit in the same stand. He saw his dream buck, too.
“I grunted, but he just took off running,” Don said. “Turns out, though, he just made a big circle in order to approach me from downwind. When he returned, he stopped just 12 yards away, behind a tree.
“He had three ways to leave, and two of those would give me a shot,” he continued. “He took the other one.”
Don had another encounter a few days later. With the rut in full swing, a doe ran through the area with Crab Claw hot on her trail. When grunting didn’t halt the deer, Don finally just shouted, “Hey!” The buck stopped then, but, again, its vitals were obscured by a tree.
“Then he just disappeared, and I didn’t see him for about two weeks,” he said.
The next time he saw Crab Claw, one of the rack’s P-2s had been sheered.
“After that happened, I think I could have killed him a dozen times, but I wanted to wait and try again the next year,” he said. “I filmed him a lot after that, and each time I saw him, even though I wasn’t hunting him, I always got nervous.”
The next year, another hunting buddy, Ray Milligan, a New Mexico elk outfitter, visited to do some deer hunting. The two men sat in Don’s “observation” stand, a box from which he often watches deer prior to archery season and sometimes during the rifle season.
“Crab Claw came out, and Ray put the scope on him,” Don said. “I was unable to breathe until Ray said, ‘I’m not going to shoot your deer.’”
Ray passed the rifle to Don, who centered the crosshairs on Crab Claw’s vitals. Be he didn’t squeeze the trigger; handed back the gun.
“I told him I wanted to get the deer with my bow,” Don said. “Soon after that, another buck appeared, and Ray shot it.”
The consolation buck, no match for Crab Claw in size, grossed 170 inches and tipped the scales at 268 pounds.
The Kansas archery season runs from September through mid-December, with rifle season imbedded into it for about two weeks. Don hunts with his bow during rifle season, and on the last day, Dec. 11, he began to concede that his dance card might grow moss.
For 67 days, he hadn’t missed a chance to hunt the buck, but work obligations were about to bring his season to an end.
Don, who often writes while in his stand, typed this message into his cell phone about an hour before legal shooting time expired:
“As I sit here in my treestand and watch the setting sun, I realize my quest for Crab Claw is soon approaching some sort of conclusion. Whether that conclusion is the end of the season or the end of Crab Claw, it really doesn't matter at this time of the game. I've come to realize, and I believed this early in my hunting career, that the hunt is more important than the kill.
“I don't ever want anybody to think the killing of the animal I'm chasing doesn't make the hunt more meaningful, but it’s a smaller portion of the hunt than what I once considered a triumphant hunt. I look at my bow and think of all the places and all the situations that it has been through along my side. Well, it’s getting to that magical hour, so I must put my phone away now.”
With about 10 minutes of daylight remaining, a small buck appeared with a doe. Then, in the woods behind them, Crab Claw’s distinctive rack materialized.
And that’s when things started to go wrong.
“I reached up to grab my bow, and when I brought it to me, a cam hit the metal on my treestand with a loud clang,” Don said. “He looked right at me. I could see him through a hole in the trees.”
Don realized the hole was his only chance, and that he’d have to take that chance soon.
“All I had to do was draw my bow,” he said. “And I happened to notice that a strap from my safety harness was stuck between the string and the cam.”
Don quickly moved the strap out of the way, drew and shot.
“He ran out into the cornfield and started circling before he fell,” Don said. “I could see him out there in the stubble.
“When I went up to him, I sat down and put my hand on him,” Don continued. “I’d already resigned myself to looking for his sheds. It was almost a letdown to have the pursuit come to an end.
“Since I’d started hunting him, I’d learned so much about deer movement and habits,” he added. “He basically lived and died on the same 80 acres, where he had everything he wanted.
“Part of that whole experience was shared with good friends, who also got to see and admire him,” Don continued. “And that’s a huge part of what made it so special — all those passes — in the spirit of true friendship and respect, from one hunter to another.”
Hunter: Don Erbert
BTR Score: 210 2/8
– Photos Courtesy Don Erbert
This article was published in the Winter 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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