By Mike Handley
Strangely, the buck didn’t react to the loud pop of the crossbow’s string. The deer didn’t charge off toward parts unknown. It merely stood there, sort of bobbing its head and pawing the ground.
"I thought he was just peeved," remembers Jerry Bryant.
There was no way that the hunter from Peoria, Ill., could shoot again. He can only cock his 10-year-old crossbow from the ground, where he can get a boot on it.
Unaccustomed to missing, Jerry stood immediately — the Mountain Dew tipping from his lap and hitting the ground in a neon yellow spray, drenching the front of his Scent-Lok suit en route.
"My God, I missed," he gasped, oblivious to the intrusive clatter of the drink can’s descent. He’d never missed a deer so close. Never! He won’t even take a shot at a deer unless he’s convinced that he can hit it.
Jerry is not among the hunters who believe that a crossbow’s effective range is two or three times farther than a compound’s. If a deer is beyond 40 yards from him, it’s safe. But this buck was at 15.
"How could I miss?"
Jerry’s slack jaw turned into a grin, however, when the buck slowly turned and stumbled. It took another four or five steps, and then stumbled again, looking back over its shoulder as if to concede that it had goofed.
The last time the deer stumbled, at 30 yards, gravity pulled it to earth.
The retiree who had gone to his stand with hopes of shooting his first-ever turkey with a crossbow wound up shooting a 12-point buck. Or so he thought!
Eager to share the news with his friend, Fred, who had invited him that day, Jerry wasted no time in digging out his two-way radio.
"I just shot a big deer," he whispered, "maybe a 12-pointer."
"That sounded about right," Jerry now admits. "But truthfully, since I’d only seen one side of its rack, I had no idea how many points it had."
Fred had been hunting about a mile from Jerry. When he arrived about 5:15, he almost lost his voice. A 12-pointer would’ve been bigger than anything he’d seen roaming the Fulton County farm, but this one possessed 38 points!
He had no idea that a buck like that called the farm home.
"Okay, tell me what happened," he asked.
By 3:15, after a 2-mile hike, Jerry was sitting atop the 15-foot, metal ladder stand that he and Fred had erected that morning. He says that ladders are the only safe places for him since his heart attack in 1997 (which happened in the woods, by the way). Between that and the work-related accident that spurred his interest in crossbows, he says he just doesn’t have the strength to pull himself up tree steps or to climb anymore.
The afternoon sun was at his back, the wind in his face. He and Fred had chosen that location not because of an abundance of deer sign, but because it offered the best chance at a turkey.
Thanksgiving was a week away, and this was the last day before Illinois’ shotgun opener.
Just before 4:00, Jerry radioed Fred. They spoke only briefly. Fred had seen three does, and Jerry had seen only woodpeckers. They agreed to touch base again at sunset, a little more than an hour away.
As soon as Jerry put away his radio, he popped the top on a can of Mountain Dew, set it between his legs, and dug out a Hostess Twinkie. As soon as he’d finished eating, he spotted five gobblers cresting the hill 50 yards in front of him.
The leader of the pack was a crippled tom with an extremely long beard, a turkey with which Jerry was familiar. He’d seen that bird on previous outings, when he’d been armed only with a video camera.
Ever so slowly, Jerry lifted his crossbow from the peg on which it was hanging. But the turkeys saw him and kept their distance, eventually wandering out of sight.
About 4:30, Jerry heard something else coming. Before he even knew what it was, he lifted his crossbow and rested it across his lap. He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
This time, a doe popped over the hill and stopped 15 yards from Jerry’s tree. When she looked back over her shoulder, Jerry knew that she wasn’t alone. After the furtive glance, the doe squatted and urinated, and then she took off running.
"Who knows why she did that?" Jerry wonders. "I’m sure she couldn’t smell me ... Anyway, I’m convinced that she was in heat."
A few minutes after the doe disappeared and a chainsaw started sputtering somewhere in the distance, Jerry heard an awful racket beyond the hilltop – the sound of something big coming his way. It was a buck, all right, and it was practically prancing, swinging its head from side to side before stopping in the exact spot where the doe had halted and peed.
"My God," Jerry almost said aloud.
He knew that it was a monstrous deer, even if he could only see the left side of its antlers through the brush. The deer was standing almost broadside, only its front quarter visible between the forks of a tree.
As soon as it lowered its nose to the ground, Jerry took careful aim between the forked tree and squeezed the crossbow’s trigger. The broadhead sliced through the clueless buck’s bellows AND its Valentine.
"It was just meant for me to get that deer," says Jerry. "It was time for that deer to die."
The affable and modest hunter does not claim to be an expert, though he’s learned a lot about whitetails and their habits since he took up deer hunting late in life. Bird hunting was his passion (bird dogs still are) until the search for coveys of quail and pheasants became almost futile.
"If anything worked for me, it was that doe," he added. "If she hadn’t come through there, or if she hadn’t peed in that exact spot, I might never have shot this buck!"