This 24-pointer’s super powers vanish when Lady Luck switches sides.
There stood the buck, its antlers unmistakable. Ben Zuk’s heart sank.
The deer his family and neighbors had been pursuing for four years was out in a field in broad daylight, but the massive whitetail was almost 2 miles from the Republic County, Kansas, farms they hunted.
“We were all upset that he was that far away,” Ben said. “We kept hunting, but we all figured that the chances of him coming back were slim.”
They had hundreds of trail camera photographs of the buck and also shed antlers from 2013 and 2014. In 2013, the rack scored more than 160 inches; in 2014, over 200. Any of them would have been thrilled to put a tag on the buck in prior years, but finding the huge sheds after the 2014 season, well ... saying they looked forward to hunting season in 2015 would be a huge understatement.
“My dad (Eric Zuk) saw this buck five times in 2014, but he wasn’t able to get a shot at it,” Ben said. “He had the deer once at about 50 yards, but couldn’t get a shot. It was late November. He watched the deer come through, chase does and bed, but it never presented a clear shot.”
After the 2014 season, Eric returned to that stand on a mission, toting a chainsaw and other gear. He moved the stand and trimmed shooting lanes. During the 2015 season, the veterinarian spent at least 100 hours on stand.
Ben, a college student pursuing a degree in physical therapy, counted the days until his Thanksgiving break.
“I got there Friday, but it was too late to go out so I just drove around, doing some scouting,” he said. “When I saw the buck in a field 2 miles away, I was pretty panicked.
“We had such a history with that deer, between us and the neighbors. We’re all really good friends, and we all wanted one of us to get it,” he added. “When I got there to hunt, I basically was trying to stay out of their way.”
With his father opting to hunt an area where the buck was known to frequent, Ben decided to set up far away. For the morning hunt on Nov. 24, he went to the neighbor’s cornfield, which was being harvested that day. In the afternoon, he chose the far side of the family farm, opposite where his father had been hunting.
“I went back to the home farm, but I couldn’t pick between two stands,” Ben said.
He wound up choosing the stand that his dad had moved over the winter.
“As soon as I settled into the stand, I was already regretting the choice, but it was too late to move,” he said.
About 5 p.m., Ben heard a deer walking inside heavy cover 20 yards to his left, an area thick with cedars. He immediately stood and grabbed his bow, though he couldn’t see the deer.
“Through a small space, I saw part of the rack, and then I could see the two drop tines,” Ben said. “I didn’t have to see the rest. I knew it was the big one.”
The buck slowly moved a little more forward, behind a cedar tree, which gave Ben the chance to draw his bow.
“The buck continued to walk forward into a shooting lane that my dad had cleared almost a year earlier. A few seconds later, it turned broadside and I released my arrow,” he said. “The deer immediately turned and ran directly underneath my stand as it headed toward the thickest cover on the farm. I knew I hit it, but because it was so close, I wasn’t able to see where the arrow entered.
“When I got down and spotted blood, I knew it was good sign,” he added.
Ben called two of the neighboring landowners, Kris Dejmal and Jeff Noland.
“I told them I’d shot the big buck, and they came out to help,” Ben said. “My arrow was easy to find. It had stuck right in the ground. I picked that up, and we waited for a while to start trailing.”
Finding steady but meager blood, the three opted to back out and return the next morning.
Despite an early start, the team still hadn’t found the deer by midday.
“We had blood for a long time — more than 150 yards — but when the deer reached a main trail, we lost it,” Ben said. “We were crawling through cedars and using binoculars.”
Ben eventually spotted something out of place.
“Is that a deer right there?” he asked Kris.
“It was so thick, we kept crawling forward, and it became more apparent that it was definitely the deer,” he said.
The buck dwarfed the 140- and 150-inchers Ben had shot to that point.
“We were hugging and just in disbelief,” Ben said. “It had been a long day of tracking. Finding my deer was a special moment.”
Reinforcements arrived after the guys staged a few photographs.
“One of the best parts about my hunt was that everybody was home for Thanksgiving, and they could all see it,” Ben said.
This article was published in the April 2017 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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