It’s good to have an Ace in the hole when you’re after a big buck.
Hunting is a tradition in my family. My great-grandfather taught my grandfather, and he passed it down to my dad.
Once I expressed an interest, Dad and Grandpa began to teach me. It didn’t take long for me to realize I wanted to hunt more than just the rifle season.
My bow is a pink-accented Mathews Jewel – a gift from my dad. I count the days until the opening of bow season, and when it finally arrives, I hunt every second I can. If I’m not hunting or at work, I’m doing something to make the next hunt more successful.
Our 2013 archery activities began as usual, getting stands ready on our family farm in Montello, Wis. It was several weeks into the season and I was returning home after a weekend of hunting when I pulled into my driveway south of Mount Horeb and saw an impressive buck bedded with a doe about 100 yards from my bedroom window. They rested and grazed near the house for about an hour before heading to a nearby CRP field.
I had to work the next day, but all I could think about was the buck. I named him Ace, my ace in the hole. Who would have thought I’d have a beautiful buck like this near my house when I’d been driving an hour and a half to hunt all season long?
Ace was clearly tending does around the property, and I saw him from time to time and took several photos, which I posted to Facebook.
I put up a ground blind in the woods adjacent to the field where I originally saw him and hunted from it several times.
Once, I watched him breed a doe about 100 yards distant in the pasture in front of me. I exited the blind around 4:30 and walked to the top of the hill to see what was happening in the other pasture. There weren’t any deer visible, so I went back to the blind, gathered my gear and headed toward the house.
When I looked back, there was Ace, silhouetted against the horizon with a beautiful sunset behind him. I hastily dropped my bucket and gear and ran toward the top of hill where I hoped to intercept the buck.
I drew my bow as I crested the hill and immediately found myself face to face with Ace.
We stared at each other from just 15 yards and, for some reason I’ll never be able to explain, I blew a short grunt on the call I had put in my mouth before I crested the hill.
As I stood there shaking from adrenaline, fear and fatigue, it struck me just how massive this animal was compared to me.
He stomped his foot like thunder, blew a loud snort, turned and bolted. I let the bow down and stood there catching my breath. As hard as it was to watch him go, I knew I had done the right thing. There’s no way I could have made a lethal, ethical shot from the head-on angle he presented.
When I got home, I called my boyfriend Nick to help devise a strategy to improve my chances of tagging Ace.
Based on our discussion, I slipped home during lunch hour the next day to move the blind closer to where I had seen Ace breeding the doe.
As I walked the horse trail along the fence line that divides two pastures, I looked up and saw the buck barreling over the hill. I froze and hid behind a tree as Ace crossed the path about 40 feet away. He ran out into the pasture, saw my horses, promptly turned and ran by again.
Armed only with a ground blind, I helplessly watched him leave before continuing my mission to relocate the blind. I returned to work with a heavy heart; there was only one place I wanted to be, and that was in the blind.
I hunted for Ace every chance I could for the next week, sometimes with Nick sitting by my side.
Weather wasn’t ideal for hunting on Saturday, Nov. 16. I sat in the blind all morning before going back to the house for lunch. The wind and rain were getting worse, and I was in the house, walking from window to window looking for deer activity.
Around 4 p.m., I saw what I assumed were a few does in a field across the road. I dressed quickly, ran out the door to the barn and climbed up to the loft to get a better look. I immediately saw five does, three fawns and Ace.
Rather than heading directly toward the buck as I had during our first encounter, I decided on a better plan. I decided the does were the key to shooting Ace. I got down and immediately headed across the property to a patch of woods near the edge of what I was sure was the doe bedding area.
Right on schedule, the does and yearlings paraded by while I hid downwind in the brush, crouched behind a bush with my back against a tree.
Suddenly, I heard something crashing through the thicket. I held my breath, and my heart raced as something moved in my periphery through a nearby ditch. I heard my dad’s voice, “Look with your eyes, not your head.”
I saw Ace’s rack moving through thick brush 30 yards away. He was making his way down the tree line in my direction.
A second or two later, he was almost directly in front of me at 15 yards, rubbing his antlers in a bush, tossing branches this way and that.
I rose slowly while he had his head down, and I drew my bow. I reminded myself to stay calm and breathe as my heart rate increased rapidly and my hands began to shake. Ace looked so big and majestic it didn’t even seem real.
The next 20 seconds felt like 20 minutes as I waited for the right shot. Finally, he stopped, quartered a step and gracefully turned his head and looked right through me.
He didn’t seem to notice my arrow had passed right through his vitals as he trotted back toward the road. I saw him stagger slightly just as I lost sight of him in the tall marsh grass on the other side.
I went home and waited, watching every second tick away for an hour and a half. I called my dad around 6 p.m. to help determine if I should wait until morning to begin tracking.
He listened to the story and recommended I begin tracking before the rain washed away the blood trail.
Tracking wasn’t difficult, as the trail looked like someone had spilled a can of red paint. A car came by just as I got to the road, and the male driver rolled down his window and asked if I needed a hand.
I explained I had a deer down, and two gentlemen immediately got out to help. “Is it a doe or buck?” the driver asked.
“A buck,” I answered.
“It’s a decent size,” I said, having already decided what I was going to say when they asked how big it was.
Seconds later, I spotted antlers. Next I heard, “Holy *#@&! Good job, girl!”
So there I was, a 25-year-old girl standing in the middle of nowhere with two complete strangers, jumping up and down, sharing high-fives and hugs as tears of joy ran down my face.
The guys helped me drag him all the way to the house, where we propped him up against tree to take some pictures.
With my dad and brother on the way, my new friends knew I was in good hands, so they wished me well and offered more congratulations as they left.
Hunting in our family has always been more about time together and sharing memories than taking game. I feel blessed to have had this experience and hope it helps inspire more women to take up hunting.
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This article was published in the September 2014 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.