How a Tennessee giant stole the cry out of this country singer’s voice …
I began putting out minerals and corn and set up a few trail cameras on the small piece of property I hunt in Tennessee in May 2013. In July, I collected images of two very nice bucks, followed by another photo that made me forget them.
As soon as I saw that third buck, I was smitten. I got only a side view, so I couldn’t tell exactly how many points the rack had. But it was huge!
Six weeks passed before I retrieved another picture of the buck. And, boy, when I got a better look at that rascal, I knew that no matter what else walked past my stand, I was going to hold out for him.
I collected a few more photos of the big buck during the next several weeks, all taken in the mornings, always in daylight. I studied every picture of the deer and noted the temperature, wind direction, moon phase and whether the day was cloudy or sunny. I also kept notes about the other deer’s habits.
With the rut in mind, I was hungry for any information — related to bucks or does — that might reveal a pattern. But once the season opened, my buck became nocturnal and far less predictable.
As long as the wind was right, I hunted from a lock-on-type stand every chance I got last year. The buck, however, was a no-show.
I prayed repeatedly, asking God that if I ever got a chance at the giant whitetail, to help me remain calm, to make the very best shot I could make, and for the buck to run only 40 or 50 yards before expiring.
On Nov. 18, the afternoon I got this buck, several things were working against me. For starters, my wife, Kari, and I travel a lot for our music career, and we were about to hit the road again, which meant the end of my hunting season. The wind was blowing out of the northwest that day as well, and I needed a more southerly breeze to hunt from my regular stand.
Kari was out running errands while I was taking care of last-minute preparations at home. She called at almost 3 p.m. to tell me that my hunting gear, including my bow, was in her car. She asked if I needed any of it to hunt that afternoon.
I told her not to worry about bringing it home, that I’d decided not to go that evening, even though it would be my last chance. Besides, I reasoned, I had collected only one afternoon picture of that buck in almost six months.
My wife said she was stopping to vacuum the car and would be home around 3:45.
A few minutes later, however, Kari walked in and said the vacuum machine at the car wash had taken her money, so she just came straight home.
“You really should go try one more time,” she told me.
“Well, what's the worst thing that could happen?” I replied. “That I’ll not see anything? If I sit here, I will have the same result.”
After a quick shower, I was heading for my spot with my bow and climber. I decided to venture beyond my usual stand and climb a new tree downwind of some nearby trails.
Soon after I was aloft, I saw some does in the distance. To be honest, I had zero faith this buck would show.
Moments later, I thought I heard something to my right. I slowly looked in that direction, half doubting I’d heard anything at all. And there was the buck I had been daydreaming and praying about nonstop, walking toward me.
I was mentally prepared for the deer to look smaller in the flesh than I thought it was in the photos. But it actually looked way bigger.
I drew when it was at 33 yards, and the shot looked and felt perfect. I watched the buck run for about 40 yards and then disappear behind a bush. I didn’t know if it fell or if it kept on going toward Kentucky.
When bowhunting, you never know.
Afterward, even though I was a nervous wreck, I started calling my buddies and asking them to say a prayer. Two of my friends dropped everything and started driving.
When we took up the trail, the search ended behind that bush. It had managed to go only 45 yards.
To finally put my hands on the deer over which I’d been obsessing for months was overwhelming. It was much bigger than I thought. With 25 points and some mass measurements nearly 8 inches around (at its thickest point), I knew it was going to score high.
I always wondered if I could remain calm enough to make a shot at a world-class deer. I’ve no doubt that God granted me calmness and accuracy just when I had lost hope and would’ve bet the farm that I wasn't even going to see this buck.
Editor’s Note: If you’ve never heard Kari and Billy perform, check out their song “Whitetail Ridge,” as well as others, on Youtube.
Hunter: Billy Arnold
BTR Score 210 6/8”
– Photos courtesy Billy Arnold
This article was published in the Winter 2014 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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