Powerless to do anything but gawk, Jeff Yelton’s gaze shifted back and forth from the deer with the strange rack to his watch. Always one to follow the rules, the hunter from Chesterton, Ind., knew it wasn’t yet light enough to legally squeeze his muzzleloader’s trigger.
He was almost convinced something was wrong with his too-slow watch.
He KNEW something was wrong with the animal’s antlers.
The left side of the rack was normal, if not extraordinary. If Jeff had bothered to count the points, he’d have tallied six long (typical) ones on that side alone.
But it was the right side that kept him from counting, and which demanded attention. All that junk couldn’t be antler, could it?
This brief encounter occurred four days before Jeff’s question was answered.
Jeff and a couple of friends hunt property in Porter County that’s bordered by a nearly 400-foot-long power company right-of-way and an underground pipeline. They’ve acquired permission to plant several food plots on the right-of-ways.
“I first encountered this buck on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving,” he said. “It came out of the adjacent property we call ‘the preserve,’ private ground owned by a fellow in Chicago who doesn’t allow hunting.
“It was early, about 30 minutes before legal shooting light, when the buck came to within 20 yards of my stand,” Jeff continued. “I was sitting there on pins and needles the whole time. It stopped next to a fallen log where I’d spread some estrous doe lure, and didn’t seem to know I was there.”
Jeff kept an eye on his watch, willing the minute hand to move faster.
“It wound up walking straight north and away from me,” he said.
Because of the poor light, Jeff couldn’t tell exactly what was different about the buck’s rack. The left side seemed normal, but the right seemed off-kilter. There was a mass close to its head.
“I thought it might be carrying some brush or tangled briars,” he said.
Only when the deer was leaving was Jeff able to get a closer look through binoculars, and that’s when he realized the mass was antler, not vegetation. And he was crushed.
On the Monday after Thanksgiving, after he’d worked the weekend, Jeff was back in his stand before sunrise. Before shooting light, he saw a familiar doe come into the field. She was recognizable because of her three fawns.
“About 7:40, I saw a pretty big buck come out about 400 yards away. I lowered my binoculars and cradled my muzzleloader in my lap,” he said.
“The buck was walking parallel to the strip of trees in which I was sitting, but I lost sight of it because of all the undergrowth.
“My attention was on that deer when, all of a sudden, I heard a snort behind me. When I turned to look, I saw the flash of antlers near another stand about 150 yards distant.
“I’m thinking: The wind is wrong for him to be smelling me. Something else must be causing his alarm.
“I thought the second buck was approaching from the bean field side of the fencerow. I heard a couple more snorts and a snort-wheeze —closer that time — and then silence,” he continued.
Eventually, Jeff saw the buck coming through a gap in the fence line, followed by a doe. It was the one with the junk around the base of its right antler, coming his way.
“I’d gun- and bowhunted from that ladder stand for many years, and I’d ranged just about every twig and tree,” Jeff said. “There are several Russian olive trees, one at 80 yards and another at 120.
“When the buck approached the nearest one, I got down on one knee to steady myself and to use the stand’s side rail as a rest. As soon as it cleared the tree, I grunted.
“I centered the crosshairs on the buck’s shoulder when it stopped,” he added.
Jeff thought he saw the buck kick after the shot, but he wasn’t sure because of the smoke. A second or two later, he saw it and the doe running for the woods.
“I waited 30 minutes or so, and then headed for the olive tree,” Jeff said. “I didn’t see any blood or hair, and I wondered if I’d somehow missed.”
Just to be sure he hadn’t misjudged things, Jeff walked the 40 yards to the next olive tree, eyes riveted to the ground. But there was no sign whatsoever.
On his way back to the first tree, he happened to glance toward a tangle of multiflora rose and saw a fingernail-sized drop of blood. He also saw some hair.
“From there, I walked a straight line to the woods and saw nothing along the route. So I returned to that one drop of blood,” he said. “When I scoured the area, I discovered a huge puddle of blood in the grass. I can’t imagine how I missed it earlier.”
From there, Jeff followed the trail to his deer, which had careened into a tree soon after entering the woods.
Hunter: Jeff Yelton
BTR Score: 198 7/8
– Photos Courtesy of Jeff Yelton
This article was published in the October 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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