Rather than striking out for my deer stand in the pouring rain on Oct. 31, I crawled back under the covers. The storm was supposed to move out by noon, which meant I could still spend half my Saturday in a tree.
I’d hung my stand several months earlier, after spotting a huge whitetail bedded on a brushy hillside. The buck’s travel route was through a ravine leading up to a saddle where it could cross over the ridge. I liked my old stand setup, which has produced several book-class deer, but the big boy steered clear of it.
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The new stand was within 100 yards of the former site. I found a climbable maple on the south side of the buck’s favorite ravine and hung the stand about 28 feet high.
A perfect north wind was blowing that day, and I knew I could sneak deep into the woods without making much noise. Also, Halloween is my favorite day of the year to hunt.
The combination of perfect conditions, a new stand, my favorite day and the knowledge that a monstrous buck called the place home had me feeling pretty good about my chances that afternoon.
I almost forgot I was running a fever that day.
I looked at my watch after pulling up my (Mathews) bow and getting situated. It was about 1:30. I was fortunate that day to have a hunting buddy in my old stand. On the way in, we discovered several very fresh scrapes. I could practically smell the buck that made them.
The long walk to the stands had me sweating, so I sprayed myself liberally with scent eliminator. I had just finished spraying when I heard a crashing noise right below my stand on the brushy hillside. I grabbed my bow and turned to see a big doe squirting up the ravine, heading uphill and right under me.
Her body language told me she wasn’t alone. She sort of acted like she’d seen a ghost. And, moments later, I saw it as well!
The doe was going through the saddle and over the hill when I heard a loud crash again below me. I looked down and right where the doe had emerged came this ghostlike buck, the same wraith I’d seen the previous year – the one that had prompted me to hang my stand there.
I looked at that enormous rack just once, and then I tore my gaze away from it.
The deer was walking very slowly uphill and toward me, sniffing and grunting like a pig. I had never heard a deer make so much noise.
Before I knew it, the buck was at 15 yards and closing. I drew and waited until the deer stopped 10 yards away, and then I released the arrow.
It hit right where I was aiming, but since the buck was so close and I was shooting almost straight down, it didn’t pass through. The animal bolted with half the shaft sticking up between its shoulders.
My own gut hurt at the thought of not having a blood trail to follow.
But I was so wrong.
The buck went to ground within 50 yards of my stand and never moved again. I was shocked.
Nothing in 20 years – not all-day sits, terrible weather, endless scouting, dreaming, hanging and moving stands – had prepared me for that 30-minute hunt.
I had set antler restrictions on our farms and had allowed many nice bucks to walk over the years in hopes of collecting a giant. I’d come close a couple of times, too, downing several 150- to 160-inchers – all great deer. But I guess I never really thought I’d actually tag a bruiser like this.
I yelled and screamed to my hunting buddy, John. I was holding the rack up when he arrived at my side. He’d actually seen the buck standing under my tree when I shot.
It took more time to get that deer out of the woods – an hour – than we spent in our trees. By the time we got it in the truck, several friends (thanks to cell phones) arrived to look at it and help celebrate. Thanks, Brian and Derrick.