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1999 Cowinner: The Dale Larson Buck

By Dale R. Larson

As I was listening to the raindrops play their rhythm on the fallen leaves, I noticed the flick of a tail and glimpsed a deer’s antler. The buck was about 90 yards distant, walking along a brushy fence line — traveling perpendicular and away from my position. My view of the thicket was obscured by scattered trees and brush, making it impossible to maintain visual contact.

I retrieved my grunt call from my rain gear and blew a couple of low, tending grunts. At that moment, the buck was entering a dogwood thicket. I couldn’t see his response, so I called again with more gusto, but I still couldn’t see him.

Thinking that any more volume might blow him out of the country, I decided to call it quits. As I was putting the call away inside my rain suit, I caught sight of movement 25 yards in front of me. I saw immediately that it was “Dagger,” and he was coming on a dead run.

A Little Background

I was introduced to archery at the early age of 8, although I did not start hunting whitetails until 12 years later. After 10 years of it, I began targeting only mature bucks.

Bowhunting has been a major part of my life. My wife, Connie, is also an experienced bowhunter, and my stepson, Matt, is fast becoming one. Our devotion to whitetails is a yearlong endeavor. We manage for quality, do a lot of off-season scouting, engage in shed hunting, recreational viewing of wildlife and actual hunting. In fact, one of the keys to our success is year ‘round involvement.

The majority of our hunting area is tall grass prairie, wooded drainages and small cultivated fields. Our woodlands consist of several species of hard and soft woods that spread up the drainages and out into the grasslands like fingers on your hand. The small amount of cropland is spread between the upland and bottomland, giving the land a mosaic pattern with an abundance of edge habitat.

We’d come to call one of the best bucks inhabiting the tract “Dagger” because of a drop tine on his left main beam that grew down and backward. We first saw him when he was 3½ years old, when he was otherwise a mainframe 10-pointer. He continued to carry the drop tine throughout his lifetime. The next year, his rack carried only nine points, but went back to 10 before eventually growing a 12-point frame.

I had wanted to film Dagger’s antler development during the summer of 1998, but my star was playing hard to get. I had some bad thoughts of Dagger succumbing to hemorrhagic disease, which had plagued the local deer herd. I was having a hard time staying optimistic, although we found his previous year’s sheds, but at least we knew he had survived that long.

The first sighting of Dagger last year occurred when Connie and I were going to vote. It was almost dark when my wife spotted a large deer in the pasture. I tried to identify the deer through my binoculars, but with the light conditions and quick sighting, I wasn’t sure. What I could see was that the deer had a huge typical frame with a long drop tine on the left beam. If it wasn’t Dagger, he was still a keeper.

The second time I saw him was with my stepson, Matt.  It was also near dark, about one mile from the previous sighting. Just as before, the encounter was brief, but encouraging. He was still alive!

Back to the Hunt

Although I knew better from previous calling experiences to be ready for action, I was not prepared for the deer’s fast and aggressive response. The buck ran directly under my stand and stopped. He stood there turning his head first one way, then another, trying to locate the vocal intruder. Standing 12 feet below me was Dagger — the buck of a lifetime — and my bow was still hanging on its hanger.

While I was pondering my next move, Dagger started walking toward the edge to look downhill. Thinking it was “now or never,” I put my hand in the bow sling, removed the weapon from the hanger, stepped back and drew — all in one slow and deliberate motion. I fully expected to see him looking up at me when I got settled in my stance, but he had continued to slowly walk away from me.

I positioned my 20-yard pin behind his right shoulder and let instinct take over, sending the arrow to its mark. At the impact, Dagger lunged forward and ran downhill and out of sight. I could hear his retreat for a few seconds, and then all was quiet.

After waiting about 30 minutes, I headed back to meet my hunting partner, Perry, at the truck. We both arrived at about the same time. I told him that I had shot Dagger and I didn’t think he went very far.

We drove back to the house to pick up flashlights, my wife and stepson. Because of the light rain, we decided to start the tracking job sooner rather than later. Upon reaching the site of the shot, we found the lower half of my arrow lying beyond where the deer had been standing. The blood trail started immediately, and his staggering tracks were easy to follow. We had gone between 70 and 80 yards when we saw his antlers in the flashlight’s beam.

This magnificent 6½-year-old animal was something to behold. He had fallen in such a way that his long drop tine held up his head. At this position, you could see all the kickers, stickers and his huge typical frame. Everyone there had dreamt of harvesting this deer, and most had enjoyed (or not enjoyed) an opportunity. We were all amazed at his size and did nothing but admire him for quite some time.

Editor’s Note: Dagger’s score of 264 5/8 Irregular propelled him into the No. 1 spot – the largest buck ever taken by a compound bow – until the Beatty Buck was harvested in Ohio two years later.

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