Back in 2000, Ronald Ewert Jr. picked up a shed on the family farm near Leavenworth, Kan., that bewitched him. The misshapen antler sported a foot-long drop tine that more resembled a club.
When he learned in 2003 that his neighbor shot a 22-pointer with a drop tine, he was afraid the buck he’d obsessed over was dead. But when Ron finally saw the neighbor’s trophy, he breathed a sigh of relief.
The deer, while certainly impressive, did not exhibit any of the characteristics of the antler Ron possessed.
His hopes were bolstered further in 2004 when he found a big rub on a cedar the size of his thigh. The gouging extended from the ground to a height of five feet.
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On Oct. 15, Ron jumped on his ATV to head out for an afternoon of hunting for arrowheads and scouting for the upcoming rifle season. As an afterthought, he grabbed his bow … just in case.
Ron’s 160-acre farm is divided into 40 acres of corn, 40 of soybeans, 25 of timber and the remainder in pasture. A small creek runs through the bottomland with the timber on the south side extending up a ridge that parallels the creek.
Rain had been plentiful that year. All the farmers talked about the crops “looking the best they had in 20 years.” And the hunters predicted it would be a great year for big antlers.
Ron likes to still-hunt along an old oil well road that cuts through the timber flanking the creek. That afternoon, his walk down the road did not yield a deer sighting or any arrowheads. So he returned to his ATV and headed back toward the house.
When he crossed the creek and drove in the grass strip that separates the creek bank from the soybean field, he almost fell off the machine.
After four years of hunting the big drop-tined buck without ever seeing it, there it was: 70 yards away, standing under a locust tree within sight of Ron’s house.
Ron and his daughter, Lindsay, frequently ride their ATVs along the creek. Ron knew that if he stopped, the buck would bolt. So he maintained his composure and kept riding down the trail as if he hadn’t seen the 31-pointer.
The trail winds along and drops into a ditch farther up the creek – out of sight of the buck’s location. Ron parked there and slinked back along the creek. Being intimately familiar with the land allowed him to slip silently down the creek to the deer crossing nearest the tree where the buck had been standing.
Ron slowly climbed up the bank, hoping the buck was still there. But when he crested it, there was no sign of the deer. Scanning the 30-yard-wide grassy strip, Ron crept ever so slowly toward the big locust tree. Soon, he spotted antlers rising above the waist-high grass.
“All I could think was that I had to get closer,” he said.
Ron managed to take a few more steps before the buck rose from its bed under the tree. On the left side of its rack was the clublike, 14-inch drop tine. It had grown in four seasons.
Ron immediately drew his bow and judged the distance. It was a long shot (later paced at 28 yards), and the buck was severely quartering away from him, yet Ron let ’er fly before the buck could take flight.
He doesn’t know if the buck took a step or if his aim was a little off, but the arrow struck the ancient deer in the hindquarter, severing the femoral artery. The buck bolted through the high grass, running parallel to the creek. Ron could tell an artery had been cut.
“It was the best, worst shot I ever made,” says Ron.
The buck ran about 120 yards in a half circle to the left, away from the creek toward the beans. Ron prayed for the buck not to go into the waist-high beans – afraid that it would be lost in the unusually high crop. But the buck turned again and came back toward Ron, going to ground a mere 40 yards from the hunter.
Ron had planned to wait 20 minutes before walking over to his trophy. But his black Labrador retriever, which he’d tied up before going hunting, came running past him, heading for the creek. When the lab hit the deer’s trail, it followed it to where the deer was lying.
The buck rose on its front feet and shook its antlers at the dog. Ron quickly stepped up and put a finishing arrow into the old whitetail.
When he released the coup de grace, he could tell something was wrong with his bow. Apparently, when he fired the first shot, the bottom fiberglass limb had cracked. Luckily the second shot was enough to finish off the huge deer.
The buck still had velvet clinging to some of its 31 points. It also had a large infected spot on its forehead where even more points were digging into the deer’s skin.
State wildlife authorities examined the deer and said they doubted it would have survived the winter due to its age and poor condition. The teeth on the bottom jaw were almost totally worn away.