By Dan Armitage
Fumbling nervously in the darkness for one of his distinctive white-fletched arrows, Mike Beatty had made one of the toughest decisions of his life: to temporarily abandon the search for the monstrous whitetail he’d shot at dusk. Still not convinced that he’d chosen correctly, the Ohio bowhunter nocked the projectile on the barbed wire fence to mark where he should resume the next morning. He then went home.
Several hours later, as rain began pounding the roof of his home in nearby Xenia, Ohio, Mike began second-guessing his choice. The rain could wash away the blood trail that he had been following!
Unable to sleep, Mike was on the couch, wide-eyed but only half-watching ESPN reruns. He was really waiting for dawn.
"I got nauseous (just thinking about it)," he admitted. "I thought I was going to lose it."
The previous evening, Nov. 8, had started out in typical fashion. Mike left work at 3:30 and drove under drizzly skies to some private land in Greene County. The property where he has permission to hunt is a mix of cornfields and woodlots. The corn had not been harvested.
"The corn was wet, so it was pretty easy to slip through without making too much noise," he explained. "I set out my scents and got up in my stand about 4 p.m."
Because he figured the rut was "just kicking in," the hunter set out three canisters of doe-in-heat scent in a triangle pattern around his treestand, which was 18 feet up a pin oak — about 10 yards from the edge of the corn.
"The breeze was hitting me in the face," Mike recalls.
After about an hour of seeing and hearing nothing, he pulled out his doe bleat canister.
"I did that about three times — spaced out a little bit — and about 5 minutes later, I turned around and just happened to look behind me ... and here comes this deer, working a scrape right behind me about 40 yards away."
It was an 8-pointer, probably in the 150-inch range — one that he and his son, Andrew, had seen on scouting trips during the summer. It was a shooter, too. The problem was that Mike hadn’t cut a lane that would allow him to shoot at that awkward angle. To even try, Mike had to slowly stand, turn carefully, and then hope the deer would pass close enough so that he could get off a clean shot.
"I was shaking so bad with adrenaline," he said. "I couldn’t get a shot. And, all of a sudden, he just turned and walked away in the same direction he’d come."
Mike assumed, since the wind was still blowing in his face, that the deer must have winded him.
Shaken but unwilling to quit, he used a grunt call and did some light rattling during the next several minutes in hopes of attracting another buck looking for love or for a fight.
"About 10 minutes after 5:00, I hit the can call again," he said. "I hit it three more times. And a few minutes later, I looked behind me and saw another deer. It was coming from the same spot (used by the 8-pointer) and was working the same scrape line. I was thinking that it was the same deer. I just stood up and grabbed my bow. There was no hesitation like there was before, when I was trying to sneak, so to speak.
"Then, all of a sudden, I could see in one opening that it was a different deer. I put the tree I was standing in between me and the deer’s head so I couldn’t see the rack, so I couldn’t get nervous, and I just followed his rump right around until he got to a thorn tree that was my 15-yard marker. I pulled back and just did three-point contact, basically: peep sight, pin and then vitals."
It was not the perfect scenario. While Mike was already at full draw, the buck never would turn. It was quartering toward the hunter, leaving Mike to make a split second decision as the whitetail ducked under the thorn tree and into range.
"I didn’t have much time, so I hit my release," explained the hunter. "The deer spun around and hauled tail right back where it came from. I got to actually see his rack for the first time then, and I knew he was a tremendous deer."
Mike was confident that he’d made a good shot. The buck was no more than a dozen yards from his stand. He gives credits for his calm nerves to the approach of the 8-pointer earlier. It had provided the hunter with sort of a practice run.
"I would have been pretty nervous if I hadn’t seen the 8-pointer," he laughed. "It was like a blessing in disguise!"
After making his shot, Mike watched the big buck run back down the scrape line and into a draw. He had hoped the deer would drop within view, but he lost sight of the whitetail at about 100 yards.
"I ended up standing there for a few seconds, but my adrenaline was running high and I had to get down. I was so nervous," Mike recalled. He said that he sat by the base of the oak for a few minutes before deciding to go look for signs of a hit.
"I couldn’t find the arrow, except for one white feather," he said. "I shoot three white feathers on the back of my arrows, and I thought for sure that the arrow had hit something, or skipped and sheared the one feather off before missing."
After looking around a bit, Mike found what he was looking for: the beginnings of a good blood trail. He went back to the tree and sat for another 45 minutes. He couldn’t wait any longer!
"It was after 6:00 and dark," he said. "I just grabbed my flashlight, my bow and my knife and headed down the blood trail."
He lost the trail at one point in the drizzle and darkness, and he had to circle around several times before picking it back up and proceeding.
"When I was about 250 yards from the tree, I heard a deer blow at me from the top of this hill," Mike said. "I could hear one up there walking around."
Mike knew there was a fence bordering a nearby pasture, and when he came upon it, he had to decide whether to proceed in the darkness and risk bumping the deer or wait until daylight and hope that enough of a blood trail remained to lead him to his prize.
Meanwhile, the daylong drizzle continued.
Weighing the pros and cons, Mike made his decision. "I actually nocked an arrow in the fence to mark where I was and turned around and walked out of there.
"Needless to say, we went out early that morning, me and my son ... before he went to school," Mike continued. "It was about the break of daylight, and still overcast. We cut across the cattle pasture to where I placed my arrow, and I continued looking."
Halfway across the pasture, Mike felt a tug on his shirttail, and his son said: "Dad, dad! Over there. There he is!"
Having his son by his side when he found the buck, Mike describes as "one of the best moments I can flash back on."
The deer was a scant 30 yards from where Mike had ended his search the previous night.
"I knew it was a big deer, but I never dreamt — and still can’t believe — that it is a pending world record," Mike said. "I’m waiting for somebody to wake me up!"