Rack Magazine

Making Lemonade

Making Lemonade

By Ed Waite

When the hunting gods start dropping lemons, grab a pitcher and start squeezing.

Managing a veterinary clinic’s office leaves only evenings and weekends for Heather Sweeney to hunt deer.

For the past four years, she and her husband Tim have had permission to hunt a former 80-acre nursery in southwestern Ohio. The Sweeneys have devoted many hours to their own brand of landscaping, adding food plots and mineral sites.

They also run several trail cameras to gauge the quality of the deer herd. In 2014, they retrieved an image of a small buck with a single deformed antler.

"We were able to watch it all through the summer, but we never saw it in person,” Heather said. “In fact, until the day in 2016 when I shot it, none of us actually saw it on the hoof.”

Whenever the deer was photographed by cameras, the sky was always dark, either very early in the morning or late at night. The animal might have been nocturnal, but it certainly wasn’t camera-shy.

“I named him Bam Bam after the baby from the Flintstones TV series. He had more of a club than a typical deer antler,” Heather said.

The following year, Bam Bam was wearing a more respectable rack, though it was still gnarly. The Sweeneys believe he was only 2 1/2 years old in 2015.

“If he was venturing out in daylight, it was not on or near this farm,” said Heather, who wound up attaching her tag to a 9-pointer.

In 2016, Bam Bam was much larger in body, and his distinctive rack had become even more impressive.

“Bam Bam was appearing on our trail cams, but he was still too shy or cautious to show himself in daylight.

“The pictures started in the summertime, and it was like Bam Bam was auditioning for a starring role in someone’s lifetime movie,” Heather continued. “He was carrying an awesome rack of incredible proportions and mass!”

Despite the added incentive of knowing a very large buck roamed the farm, the Sweeneys’ season didn’t play out exactly as the couple envisioned.

The neighboring landowner was having new fencing installed around his property. The machinery and stepped-up activity affected the deer’s habits and choice of travel routes.

“I couldn’t hunt from my own favorite stand as the construction was right beside my tree,” Heather said. “I had to hunt from another stand if I wanted to hunt the early season.

“To compound matters, a piece had broken on my crossbow, rendering it useless until it could be repaired. I had to use my old backup, a $150 bow for which I had only one bolt remaining. The bow was capable of killing shots no greater than 20 yards.

“On Nov. 9, I left work early,” she continued. “I went home about 2 p.m., changed into my clothes, gathered my gear and headed for the farm a few miles distant. That was only my second time in the woods that season.

“I knew I couldn’t hunt from my stand, so I left my car and headed for another good location. The other stand was high in a very skinny tree. I didn’t like it as it tended to sway too much.

Making Lemonade“It would do in a pinch, however,” she added.

“After getting into the stand and strapping in, I pulled out my binoculars and began to scan my surroundings. The first thing I saw was a huge coyote,” Heather said. “At that point, I thought my night was doomed. But since I had just gotten in the tree, I decided to stick it out.

“About 4:15, I spied a huge deer coming out of the timber about 60 or so yards away,” she said. “I thought, This is it. It’s going to come right to me!

“I had my rangefinder in hand. Just as I ranged the buck at about 55 yards, the men working on the fence spooked it, and it tore back into the trees from whence it came.

“At that point, I am telling myself: This is just a bad night. I might as well pack it in and go home. I decided to text my husband to vent my frustration if nothing else. He encouraged me to stay put and to wait it out ’til dark. Things could still turn my way, he told me.

“Not 30 minutes later, another big-bodied deer came out of the woods. As I looked in front of me, my eyes locked in on antlers! This one was about the same distance as the previous buck, 50 to 60 yards, coming toward me slowly.

“I knew I had to get ready if there was to be any chance of getting off a shot. The tree was easily swayed, and the deer would surely see any movement,” Heather continued. “I held my breath as the buck kept approaching. My body started shaking along with the tree.

“The buck was walking very slowly, stopping to eat here and there and surveying his surroundings, which made me even more tense,” she said. “Finally, he was about 10 yards in front of me, but still moving. I made a slight ‘eeerp’ noise to stop him before taking the shot.

“Afterward, he twisted around and bolted into the tall weeds as fast as he could. I thought I’d made a good shot, but I began second-guessing myself as the buck ran out of sight.

“Immediately, I grabbed up my phone and called my husband. I was shaking and all emotional. When he answered, I whispered loudly ‘I think I just shot Bam Bam!’ It was all I could say until I calmed down a bit. He told me to stay put until dark, and then he would join me,” she said.

When Tim finally arrived and helped his wife out of the tree, they began combing the ground for blood. Sign was sparse, but Heather had taken note of the deer’s path.

Fifty yards down the trail, Tim found the bloody crossbow bolt. The broadhead had not opened upon impact, which explained the lack of blood to that point. The trail was easier to follow after that.

As husband and wife approached a deep gully, they slowed considerably. They were worried the deer might be just over the rim, still alive, and they didn’t want to jump it and scare it off the farm.

“I was thinking: Oh, darn. After all these years hunting this buck, I might’ve only wounded him. Might never find him. You know how that goes? It wasn’t looking good at that point,” Heather said.

They pressed onward, however, and peered cautiously into the ravine. When their flashlight’s beam illuminated the dead deer’s white belly, Heather remembered to breathe.

“As we pulled the animal from the gully up to the flat, we saw a shooting star streaking across the night sky,” she said. “It was a wonderful night!”

This article was published in the December 2017 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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