This is one opening day a father and daughter aren’t likely to forget.
Mike Speaker usually ushers in Pennsylvania’s gun deer season with friends at his buddy John Kelly’s Big K Camp in McKean County.
But not last year.
“My daughter had come home from college, where she is studying to be a pharmacist, for Thanksgiving," he said. “She held off going back to school on Sunday evening so she could hunt opening morning.
“I decided we’d go behind our house,” he continued. “We have 34 acres on the side of the mountain. All around us is another 3,000 acres of public land within the Allegheny State Park and 500,000 more in the Allegheny National Forest.”
A lot of deer roam that acreage, including a buck the Speakers and their neighbors nicknamed Double Drop. He’d been seen many times.
The buck’s range extended at least 2 miles through the valley, and hunters on both sides of the Pennsylvania-New York line were hankering for a shot.
“My son Shane spent many hours in his stand, also above the house, during archery season, hoping for an opportunity at the buck,” he said.
Mike had already gone to his friend’s camp after Thanksgiving, but he drove back home Monday morning to hunt with Rachel.
“We agreed she would sit in the lower double ladder stand, and I would go farther up the mountain to the one we called the high stand,” he added.
Deer were afoot all morning. When Rachel shot a nice 5-pointer at 11:45, she called her dad for help in field-dressing and dragging.
When the buck was in the barn, Rachel headed for the shower. Rather than join his friends, Mike went back to where he’d spent the morning.
“I was back in the stand by 1:00,” he said. “I decided to give out a few grunts to cover the noise of my getting back into the stand. Then I settled down to eat a sandwich.
“About 20 minutes later, I heard a noise and glanced over my right shoulder to see a brown body moving about 120 yards downhill. As I was reaching for my binoculars, I realized there was no need. Even from that distance, I could see those two incredible drop tines.
“I stared at the buck as it slowly fed toward me. It looked as if the deer had come out of a very dense patch of woods just behind my barn,” he continued. “I couldn’t help but wonder if it had been there all morning. If so, why did it suddenly decide to get up and move at that time of day?
“I must have watched the buck browse for nearly 8 minutes, growing more nervous with every step it made. Because there are hundreds of young beech trees in that area, I waited for the deer to come fully into the clear before taking the shot,” he said.
When Mike did squeeze the trigger, the buck ran about 20 yards, slowed to a trot, and then plowed nose-first into the leaves. When it hit the ground, it slid downhill toward the barn.
“I have absolutely no recollection of getting out of the stand. I just know I didn’t break anything in doing so,” Mike said. “I started in the direction of the fallen buck, but stopped about 15 feet away and just sank to my knees.”
He needed to decompress.
“My reverie was broken when my cell phone rang. My son was calling from camp, 15 miles away. He wanted to know if I’d just fired a shot. How could he possibly know? I wondered.
“Turns out, Shane’s friend, Mike Wolfe, was hunting nearby. When he heard the shot, he knew it had to be me, so he sent a message to Shane,” he continued.
“I told my son I’d shot Double Drop, and that the deer was lying just down the hill from me,” Mike added.
Shane advised his father that his friend was on his way, and to watch for him.
“I soon saw the young hunter coming through the woods at a fast pace. He saw me and quickly joined me on the hillside. He asked how many points the deer had, and I had to tell him that was as close as I had gotten to the deer. We both sat there, silently staring at Double Drop.
“We sat another few minutes before I sent a text to my daughter. She was just getting dressed for her return trip. After hanging up, she donned some heavier clothes, and then drove the four-wheeler up to join us,” Mike said.
“We walked to the downed animal together, a solemn moment that evolved into jubilation,” he added.
Within minutes, the news spread via internet. By the time they arrived back at the house, a crowd had already gathered.
Mike took the buck to his friend’s camp, and the celebration continued into the night.
Editor’s Note: Ed Waite is a master scorer and regional director for Buckmasters Whitetail Trophy Records. A longtime contributor to Rack magazine, he has also published three volumes of big deer tales, “Wallhangers” I, II and III, which are available at book stores, on Amazon and through WallhangersUSA.com.
This article was published in the October 2016 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.
Read Recent RACK Articles:
• Because of a Misfire: If this Texan’s smokepole had fired the first time, he’d have gone home with a much smaller deer.
• The Exception: This Nebraska couple had agreed not to hang a shoulder mount in their home, but they didn’t chisel it in stone.
• Michigan Milestone: The deer gods care not for how many years are under your belt, nor how many notches are in it.