Seeing a buck of this caliber in photographs is one thing. Seeing it in the flesh can steal consonants from speech.
Shawn Evangelista almost forgot how to form words last year. Even his three-word sentences, repeated for emphasis, were more a series of emitted vowel sounds, punctuated by gulps of air.
You’d think that seeing — and indeed arrowing — a deer he’d seen hundreds of times in trail camera photographs would’ve been easy-breezy. But looking at jpegs isn’t the same as ogling the real live buck, especially when it doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by a hole in its side.
But at least Shawn kept his cool when it mattered. He didn’t become undone until afterward.
He and his close friend, Dave Allen, had been hoping to connect with the brute all season. Both spent countless hours setting out and checking cameras, even (by permission) on property they couldn’t hunt. Their goal was to figure out where the big whitetail was spending its days.
“Between us, we run about 10 cameras,” Shawn said. “And two other friends, Gordon Brail and Bill Trump, also have cameras on nearby farms. The area is well covered.”
Dave was the first to retrieve photos — three — of the big (then) 16-pointer. Those were taken during the 2011 rut. Gordon’s camera also yielded a few pictures of it in a nearby apple orchard later in the season.
While the buck might’ve been on everyone’s wish list in 2012, nobody targeted it exclusively because nobody knew where the nomadic animal liked to hang its hat.
“During January 2013, I was able to pinpoint the buck’s late-season hideaway when I started getting daytime photos of it, more than 100, right up until the time it dropped its antlers,” Shawn said. “After they dropped, I spent endless hours searching for the sheds to no avail. Two other people found them, however.”
In the days leading up to the 2013 season, nobody was getting photos of the buck, which made Shawn think it might be bedding in one of the many local cornfields.
“I started knocking on doors, seeking permission to hang cameras,” Shawn said. “I managed to pick up a few farms, too, even if I couldn’t hunt them.
“Looking at maps and driving back roads around my part of Ohio, I eventually found a section that had been recently logged, and I went knocking on doors again. Surprisingly, I was given permission to hunt the land as well.
“Within a short time, I collected about 10 pictures of the big buck before it disappeared again,” he continued. “I wondered if it was patterning me instead of vice versa. So I backed away from his core area and concentrated on areas farther away to see if I could learn more about how the deer got from one farm to the next.”
The logged area, which was foremost on Shawn’s mind, held a lot of promise. It was close to agricultural fields and riddled with well-worn deer trails, but stand options were limited. Not only was the place difficult to traverse because of treetops and brush piles, but climbable trees were also sparse.
“I hunt from an API climber, which I’ve had for years. Whenever the wind doesn’t cooperate, I can move to another tree,” Shawn explained.
“On Friday evening, Nov. 8, I was able to take a video using my cell phone of a very nice 140-inch buck making its way down the trail toward the fields. After dark, I walked out to my truck, then across the road to pull the card from a camera. I started down the road and within half a mile, I had to slam on my brakes to keep from hitting this same 140-inch buck.”
When Shawn downloaded the card, he discovered that this same deer had passed the camera before exiting the woods. He had a real clear idea of how it got from point A to point B.
“Saturday morning, the wind was wrong to hunt that section, so I stayed out, opting to set up a double ladder stand elsewhere on the property, to use later in the season. I got a pair of buddies to come along and help.
“However, when we got into the woods, we spotted the only other hunter allowed to hunt in there. Rather than mess up his hunt, we left the stand and eased out of the woods.
“Five of us were planning to bowhunt that afternoon. I was discouraged, but Dave convinced me I should go in and try my best to tag this buck. The wind was wrong for the other hunter; it was blowing his scent right into the thickest part of the block of woods. So I thought I might use that to my advantage.
“Midafternoon, I headed into the block, determined to make the best of it,” he said.
It was 55 degrees, very warm for mid-November. Shawn doubted he’d see many deer while the sun was up, but he went anyway. He was aloft and settled in by 3:00.
“I am a strong believer in scent control, but I was sweating by the time I got to my tree and started climbing, which made me sweat even more. There was nothing I could do until I was in place, and then I sprayed down as best I could and hoped it would be enough,” he said.
“Soon, my buddies and I started texting, joking and carrying on,” he added. “I think it was my brother who offered up a wager of a dollar from each to the first person who could take a picture of a deer that afternoon and text it to the rest of us, and we all agreed.
“I sat there, relaxed in my climber, watching squirrels running helter-skelter everywhere, making tons of noise, when I suddenly heard a twig snap.
“I knew it wasn’t a squirrel’s doing, so I glanced over my right shoulder into the deepest part of the thicket, and I saw a monstrous rack. The buck’s head was swaying from side to side, like it was arrogant. I’m sitting there with my cell phone on my leg, my bow on the hanger, and this guy was at 75 yards!
“I knew I was going to have to act quickly, so I grabbed my cell phone and stuck it in my pocket as I stood to reach for my bow,” he added.
The buck was moving quickly, following a trail that wound near Shawn’s tree.
“My mind was in a whirl, thinking of how events might unfold. I deduced that if it kept coming, it would pass me at only 10 yards. I checked the wind, which was perfect. I checked my bow and arrow, and to make sure my release was properly attached.”
But the buck abandoned the script and veered off the trail, skirting a swampy area. It was about 45 yards away and knee-deep in water, nowhere near any of Shawn’s shooting lanes.
“I was frantically looking for another lane that I might use when I spied a small window that wasn’t heavily brushed in, maybe 4 or 5 yards wide, at 40 yards — a long shot for me, but doable. I pulled my bleat can from my pocket and flipped it.
“The buck hesitated a few seconds while looking my way, but it never really stopped moving. I was sure it was going to pass right through the opening I had found, so I drew and waited. I was going to bleat with my mouth when the time was right.
“I don’t usually lose my composure, but I was shaking. That was the very first time I’d actually seen this buck on the hoof, and I really wanted it … so badly that I could see and hear my arrow vibrating on the rest. Fortunately, I was using one that kept my arrow from falling off it,” he said.
The deer, meanwhile, walked right into the little opening.
“I grunted once, and then released the arrow. The buck was quartering slightly toward me.
“I have illuminated nocks and was able to see the arrow hit the buck perhaps 2 or 3 inches behind my aim point before disappearing into the animal.
“The buck took two hops, and then started walking as if nothing had happened,” he continued. “It was angling away from me, and my mind was reeling. I couldn’t figure out what went wrong. It looked like a really good hit.
“I had to talk to someone to calm me down, so I called Dave. I could imagine him wondering why the heck I was calling instead of texting, disturbing his hunt. When he answered, all I could think to say was, ‘I shot him … I shot him.’”
It doesn’t matter if Dave heard “I shot him,” or if it was more like “I-ottim-I-ottim.” Dave knew from the sound of Shawn’s voice that his friend’s cage had been rattled. And he could guess why.
“I told him the buck just walked away afterward. So he asked me more questions, and I told him the buck was standing out there at 65 yards, just standing there, and the only thing moving was its tail, swishing from side to side.
“Dave wanted me to get my binoculars out and take a better look, but I was shaking so much I couldn’t focus them,” Shawn admitted. “Dave then told me to put the phone down and take a good long look and tell him what I was seeing.”
After several seconds, Shawn came back on line and said he still couldn’t focus on the buck, though he could see it with his naked eyes.
“I’m frantically trying to explain all of this to Dave, when, suddenly, the buck fell over on its side. I started yelling, ‘He’s down … He’s down!’ And then I collapsed into my seat, my heart pounding.
“After a few minutes, I decided to get down and get closer. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea, but I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time. I lowered my bow, almost getting rope burn as I let it slide too fast, and then I lowered the stand as quietly as I possibly could.
“From the ground, I could no longer see the buck. Although I knew I might be moving too fast, I nocked an arrow and started in the direction of the buck. I swear I was taking only one step per minute.
“When I was within 30 yards of the downed buck, I drew my bow and inched closer. But he never moved again.
"Oh, by the way, I got out my cell phone, took a picture of the buck and sent it out to the other guys to claim the prize for the first deer photo of the day,” he smiled.
Hunter: Shawn Evangelista
BTR Score: 237 5/8
– Photos Courtesy Shawn Evangelista
This article was published in the November 2014 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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