The only sound worse than the steel-on-brass click of a firing pin punching a dud primer is the raucous laughter of the deer gods, one of whom is surely named Murphy.
Just ask Blake Voltz.
That’s precisely what happened to the deer hunter from Columbus, Ga., back in 1997, when he was staring through crosshairs at the biggest buck he’d ever seen. In fact, it happened twice.
There was less than an hour of daylight remaining on Nov. 2, a Sunday, when a doe towed a monstrous buck out of a Muscogee County pine thicket just 70 yards from Blake.
“The deer was obviously a shooter, so I did not spend much time looking at its rack or counting points. I just went into shoot mode,” he said.
He stopped the big whitetail in the open by grunting at it, but there was no bang when he squeezed the trigger, just the unbelievably loud snick of the pin.
The deer heard the click, too, which wasn’t lost on a panicking Blake.
“Lucky for me, I was well camouflaged up in my climber, so the buck didn’t spot me,” he said. “Instead, it resumed looking for the doe.”
When he could do so without drawing attention to his hiding place, Blake eased open the rifle’s bolt and looked at the .270 cartridge. The primer wore the telltale crater, which he hoped meant the cartridge was a dud. That would mean the rifle hadn’t malfunctioned.
Neither had ever happened to him before that day.
Blake set the dented cartridge aside, closed the bolt, reacquired the preoccupied buck in his sights -- thankful it hadn’t sought another zip code -- and then tried again.
“That time, the buck turned and stared in my direction,” he said. “Clearly looking for a reason to flee, it began stomping its feet. A few seconds later, it whirled and began running down the logging road.
“I had no confidence in my gun at that point, but I quickly chambered another cartridge and put the crosshairs on the running deer’s back,” he continued. “When it veered slightly to enter the woods, giving me a slight quartering-away target, I squeezed the trigger, and the thing fired.”
The buck stumbled at the shot, much to Blake’s relief, and then it rocketed into the woods at warp speed. Only after the buck had vanished did the hunter realize his second click had been a dry-fire; he’d not pulled the bolt far enough back to catch and chamber another round.
After waiting 30 minutes, he got down to look for blood.
Blake was hunting a new spot he’d stumbled across the previous day after his uneventful morning vigil. He chose to climb a tree there because large white oaks were dropping acorns. Also, the old logging road was pocked with fresh scrapes and rubs.
He knew he’d made the right decision long before he threw the metallic Morse code at the whitetail of his dreams. That morning, he’d seen five different bucks, two of them decent (not-quite-shooter) 8-pointers, beneath the white oaks. They were sparring, pawing scrapes and rubbing trees and overhanging limbs. That afternoon, he’d even heard bucks fighting within the nearby pine thicket.
Even if he hadn’t encountered the big one, he’d already decided that was the most memorable day he’d ever spent in a deer stand.
After half an hour of searching for the buck he was sure he’d hit, based on its reaction, Blake found neither blood nor hair. He was practically swallowing bile until, finally, his eyes focused on a few small drops about 30 yards from the point of impact.
“I decided I needed help because it was getting dark,” he said. “I returned to camp to collect a couple of the other hunters I knew were in the woods that afternoon.
“We returned and resumed looking, but there was no more blood to follow,” he added. “After an hour, we gave up and began walking in circles, which is how we found my deer. It had traveled about 150 yards.”
The lack of blood was not because the shot was bad. The bullet entered the near hip and lodged in the off shoulder. It did considerable damage, the right kind of damage, but the projectile didn’t blow out of the animal.
“While the 6 1/2-year-old, 200-plus-pound deer was a giant, to my eyes, I remained skeptical that it was a book deer,” Blake admitted. “Its rack might’ve been the biggest any of us had ever seen, but bigger bodied deer had been taken off that property.”
His skepticism proved unfounded.
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Hunter: Blake Voltz
BTR Official Score: 227 5/8
BTR Composite Score: 245 1/8
Location: Muscogee Co., GA
Date: November 2, 1997