This broken-jawed giant’s luck ran out when it raided the wrong garden.
Using one eye, I peeked out from behind the old wooden shed. My quarry for the past 24 days, the non-typical monster occupying my dreams, had just appeared and was on a trail heading my way.
I eased back out of sight to draw my bow, found my anchor point and leaned forward to take the shot.
The old buck saw the movement, stopped and stared. I concentrated and released the arrow as soon as my 30-yard pin got mid-level on its chest.
The buck immediately spun and bounded down a hill toward a thicket with the fletching visibly protruding from its left side.
My 24-day quest for that very special whitetail was over, but would the ending be happy or sad?
I have been hunting bucks for 47 years, using every method imaginable. I’ve bowhunted occasionally with some success, taking a few does and small-racked bucks.
In 2009, I was watching a lot of hunting shows and became inspired to upgrade my archery outfit and get serious.
I took a nice 8-pointer in 2010 and gained valuable experience hunting does. Those experiences, and being familiar with my gear, helped prepare me for the shot of a lifetime.
Earlier in the Mississippi gun season, I ran into my friend Ben. He lives in a residential neighborhood that adjoined a wooded area. Deer had been getting in his garden, and he asked if I’d like to come arrow one. I agreed to help thin the herd, but I hadn’t set a plan into action.
Then Ben e-mailed me a picture and asked if I would like to hunt for “this deer.”
At first, I didn’t see anything except trees, but I looked closer and barely made out a deer. I zoomed in closer until I could see all kinds of points, stickers and antlers going everywhere!
I immediately called Ben and told him I’d be over the next day. “And, please,” I said, “don’t tell anyone about this buck.”
I’d invest the remaining seven weeks of the season hunting that deer, if that’s what it took. A buck that big is rare, especially for this part of Mississippi.
The next afternoon, I met Ben and scouted the property. He showed me plenty of deer sign and tracks, along with three major trails through his place.
I placed a trail camera and set up a climber and a ground blind in promising locations.
The second bow season began Dec. 5, and I felt confident in making a shot up to 47 yards.
The camera caught the old monster several times during the next two weeks, both night and day.
The last snapshot was taken the afternoon of the 17th while I was out of town. The old buck was following a doe, and I smiled. The rut was just beginning.
A BEAUTIFUL DAY in the NEIGHBORHOOD
I hunted every chance I got, but sitting in the woods near a residential area is not a typical hunting experience.
More than half the time was wasted because of disturbances – dogs spooking deer, loud voices, music, banging doors, kids yelling, construction projects or folks just wandering through the woods.
The quiet times were sparse, primarily at dawn, dusk and when it was raining or really cold and windy. I saw plenty of deer movement during those times, but never encountered the big buck.
On Dec. 28, after 15 days of sitting on Ben’s property, I headed out early to hunt for an hour or so, arriving just before dawn.
About a half mile from Ben’s, my headlights illuminated a buck crossing the road. I couldn’t make out details at first. After a short pause, the deer continued walking and passed through an open area. I saw the left side of the rack and knew it was the monster I was after.
It was the first time I laid eyes on the buck since my vigil began more than three weeks earlier.
It turned into a strip of woods that led to Ben’s property, so I wasted no time getting there. I quickly gathered my gear and rushed to the ground blind.
It was still dark when I heard deer passing by a scant 30 yards away. When dawn arrived, there was nothing to see but birds and squirrels.
A few hours later, I peeked at Ben’s house on the hilltop and saw him in the kitchen. I had to leave to pick up materials for a project, but I dropped by to tell him the news about seeing the buck.
He was excited, but he also had some news for me. One of his neighbors had seen evidence of another hunter on a vacant property nearby. I decided to walk over and see if news of the big buck had spread to the masses.
I was about 75 yards from my truck when Ben called and said he’d just seen deer moving in the woods on his neighbor’s property.
“You’d better get back there right now!” he said.
I ran back to my truck, grabbed my gear, stalked to the garden area and peeked around the corner of the old wooden shed...
REPLAYING the SHOT
After the buck ran off, I played the shot over in my head. I was confident the arrow had pierced at least one lung.
I went to Ben’s house and told him everything. He was excited, but we decided to wait 30 minutes before doing any tracking.
After a long, anxious half-hour, we found and followed the sporadic blood trail. The sign increased slightly after 40 yards, and then we found the nock end of the arrow covered in blood.
At 70 yards, the blood trail continued over a shallow creek. I was wearing rubber boots and crossed right there; Ben went farther down to find a footbridge.
The trail went up the creek bank to the edge of a pasture, turned left and stopped about 5 yards from a cane thicket. The buck had blown out a grapefruit-sized, thick puddle of bright red blood. After that, we found nothing.
We stood there whispering for three or four minutes when the buck suddenly jumped up from the cane and moved back into the pasture. All it could manage was an awkward trot.
Since we were well away from any of the neighborhood houses, we decided to leave and meet at Ben’s house in three hours.
I drove home and picked up my ATV and managed to wait almost the whole time.
Then I went alone to the spot we had last seen the buck and followed the blood trail about eight yards to the edge of a field of boomsedge.
As I looked out into the grass, I saw a stalk move slightly against the wind. I eased to the side to get a better look, and there was the buck, lying on its side. It wasn’t going anywhere, but I made sure with a final shot.
What elation! I held the rack to make sure it was real, enjoying the moment. It was an exceptional buck, a trophy anyone would be proud to take.
But there was more to this old buck’s history. It had a large protrusion on the left side of its jawbone. When I caped out the head, I noticed the jawbone was missing some teeth, so I removed and saved it.
Later, a friend offered to x-ray it. The results revealed a metal fragment where the buck had most likely been shot, resulting in a fracture and loss of some teeth.
A reliable witness claims to have seen the buck during the previous four winters and said its rack had not changed much except to get heavier. The buck was probably 5 to 7 years old.
The gray monster’s mount is currently on display in a sporting goods store in Starkville, Miss.
Looking back, it sure is a blessing to have friends like Ben. I thank him every time I see him.
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This article was published in the August 2014 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.