Rack Magazine

Joy in Mudville

Joy in Mudville

By Dale Weddle

Kentucky bowhunter avoids strikeout by whacking a home run on his third and final pitch.

David Howard had a small window, the last three days in October, to bowhunt his lease in Todd County. He couldn't have chosen a better time.

Not only were bucks chasing does, but they were also fighting for the privilege.

It wasn't until David had reluctantly decided to throw in the towel, however, that he found himself standing over home plate, bow in hand, and looking at a buck far bigger than the giant he'd been forced to watch from 300 yards for two days in a row.

He’d salivated over the latter, a clean 12-pointer — judging from the six uprights he’d counted on one side — that he thought would measure between 180 and 190 inches. But the one he encountered while walking out to his truck on Oct. 31 was a whole lot bigger than that.

In today’s world of trail cameras, climbing stands, legalized baiting and other technological advances, David is sort of a throwback to an earlier era. His high-speed compound bow is pretty much the only piece of equipment he employs.

The rest is know-how.

“When I started out 40 years ago, the popular items were Bear LTD bows and Baker treestands,” he said.

“Early on, I used a treestand occasionally, but after a few years, I just developed the technique I still use today.

“I find a tree I can climb that has a limb I can stand on, about 25 or 30 feet up, and that’s where I hunt. Of course, I do use a safety belt,” he continued. “I don’t use any trail cameras or attractants. I study the area I hunt, try to pattern the deer and go from there.”

He also tries to be in his tree a couple of hours before daylight, and he’ll remain aloft (following an afternoon hunt) until well after dark.

“I’ve always hunted pretty much the same way: one of the first to go in, and last to come back out,” David said.

“If I don’t see any deer in the direction I think they’ll be coming from, then the next time I hunt, I’ll move five more minutes in that direction and set up again,” he continued. “The only time I change this approach is when it’s really cold. Then I might go out and hunt later in the day because deer movement usually occurs later in the morning or in early afternoon on very cold days.”

In the early 1970s, David made his first trip to Kentucky’s fabled Land Between the Lakes to bowhunt. A friend, Donnie Mallory, usually joined him.

To get there, David had to drive through a portion of Todd County.

“There was this one place where deer ran across the road every time I passed through,” he said. “I finally just turned up a country road one day in the early 1980s and talked to the first farmer I saw, and he gave me permission to hunt.

“I’ve had a lease there now for about 15 years,” he added. “The farm I hunt is 367 acres. I usually pull a camper over and leave it in late fall, and then go back later and hunt.”

In 2013, David took his camper to the property in August, did some scouting and cut some shooting lanes. He wasn’t able to return until late October, and he had only three days to hunt — a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — before he had to return home.

Joy in MudvilleHe arrived at the farm about 4 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28, and did a walkabout. He found more than 20 rubs, one on a 21-inch beech tree.

The area he thought most promising was a 75-acre, overgrown field ringed with scrapes. There were corn and soybean fields nearby, but the weed field seemed to be getting the most activity, judging from the buck sign.

On Wednesday morning, David got up early and slipped in to the north side of the weed field. The big oak he had picked out the previous afternoon was easy to find in the dark.

When daylight came, the bowhunter was standing on a limb about 25 feet up the tree within sight of some fresh scrapes and other good buck sign. He could practically smell deer.

“Before too long, I had seen several deer — four or five does and six or seven small bucks. Some pretty heavy chasing was going on,” David said. “Around 8:00, I heard bucks fighting in the woods. I’ve heard them tickle antlers before, but this was nothing like that. This was like two rams fighting. It probably went on for 15 minutes or so, and then everything got quiet again.

“About 30 minutes after the fight stopped, I happened to look over to a corner of the field where the sounds had been coming from, and I saw this huge buck running around about 300 yards distant. I could tell through binoculars that its rack came way out past its nose, and I could count at least six points on one side.

“The buck ran around for a while, but it never got any closer before finally disappearing back into the woods. I got down from the tree about 12:30, walked back to my vehicle and took about a two-hour break for lunch.

“I was back up the oak tree on the same limb by a little after 2:00. A couple of hours later, the big Typical appeared over in the same corner, running back and forth, chasing does all over the place. But it never got any closer than 250 to 300 yards.

Joy in Mudville“It was just as typical as typical can be. It appeared to have a broken brow tine, and the right beam was a little in and angling downward. With those characteristics and size, there wasn’t any mistaking this buck. Just before dark, it disappeared into the woods again.

“The next morning, I climbed the same tree, thinking sooner or later the big deer might move over my way. That morning, I heard the fighting back in the woods again, and then about 11:30 a.m., the big Typical came out, ran some does around and went back into the woods, still in the same area,” he said.

David finally had enough of waiting for the big deer to come to him. After getting down from his tree, he walked over to the corner where he had seen the big Typical three times.

Since there wasn’t a tree he could climb, he built a ground blind out of logs, leaves and some camo netting. Several deer passed within bow range, and one little buck even made a rub within 12 feet of his hiding place.

Just before sunset, he heard the sound of bucks fighting again.

“The third morning, I went back to the blind,” David said. “I stayed until around 12:30 and saw only a couple of small bucks before deciding to head home.

“On the way out, as I was passing the big oak that I'd hunted out of several times, I heard bucks fighting again. Suddenly, a doe ran out of the woods 40 yards in front of me. Right behind her was absolutely the biggest buck I had ever seen in my life! It stopped and looked my way for half a second, and then took off after the doe again.”

Back and forth they ran with the bowhunter now helplessly frozen in place, witnessing the spectacle but unable to get in position for a shot.

“After they ran back into the woods, I tried my best to calm down and eased on down about 75 yards to the next deer trail. I could still see the two deer running in the woods. They suddenly ran back out of the woods and crossed the trail. The doe was so tired her mouth was open, and the buck was slobbering.

“The doe ran down over a hill and out of sight. The buck had pulled up on the trail. I ranged him at 45 yards. He was quartering away when I drew my bow, put the 45-yard pin on it, and released an arrow. I saw blood when it hit the mark.

“The deer took three or four fast steps, slowed down to a walk, and then fell after covering 20 yards. My arrow had angled up into its heart,” he said.

NOTE: For those who aren’t familiar with one of America’s best known, sports-related comic verses, the title of this story comes from the poem “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888” by Ernest Thayer.

Hunter: David Howard
BTR Score: 230 3/8”
Compound Bow

– Photos by Dale Weddle

This article was published in the Winter 2014 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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