By Brandon Walton
-- My story starts on the second day of the Pennsylvania gun season. I hadn’t been able to hunt any of the archery season or for small game due to my daughter being born and taking on the duties of watching my two boys. With everything going on, I decided it was best to just skip those early seasons and try to get in some quality days with the rifle.
Before the big day, my brother and I scouted his new 20-acre property in Lancaster. We cut a few shooting lanes and checked out the deer sign, looking for trails, rubs and scrapes. We found all those, and they were fresh and active.
We had trail cameras set up and knew there was a 12-pointer, a 10-pointer, a big 9-pointer, and several 8s we would have been happy to get. It seemed we were sitting on a deer-hunting gold mind.
Pennsylvania’s rifle season opens on a Monday, but I stayed home and watched the kids while my brother and good friend went hunting. We all work together, which makes it easier to share deer sightings and news about fresh sign.
When day two finally arrived, I was more than ready. Up an extra hour early, I got to the woods, checked all my supplies, got my drag rope ready and put on my game face. Sitting in the stand and waiting for the sun to come up, I was pumped and ready to see something brown.
About an hour and a half after daylight, I looked down the hill and immediately noticed a rack (attached to a deer). My heart started to pump like it always does when I see a deer. If I could bottle that feeling, I’d be a millionaire. The buck had its head up and was looking right at my drag rope.
The buck got to within 10 feet of my drag line and stopped, looking around for about five minutes. I didn’t have a shot and had to watch as the buck turned and began to walk away on the same path it had used coming in.
I knew I wasn’t going to get a second chance and that if I found an opening of any size, I had to take advantage of it. Then I noticed it was heading right toward one of the lanes we had cut out earlier in the year. As the buck stepped into the clear, I grunted to stop it, pausing just a second before pulling the trigger.
At the sound of the shot, the buck made several big leaps, stopped, wagged its tail and walked away. Despite its apparent lack of injury, I knew I had the crosshairs on the deer when I pulled the trigger. So I waited.
Eventually I couldn’t take it any more, so I got down to look for sign of a hit. All I found was hair, so I called my brother and friend to come help.
They talked me into waiting two hours before we got on the trail, and we talked the whole time about what might have happened and where the buck might have gone.
When we began to track, the only sign we found was the hair at the area of impact. I was getting that sick feeling in my stomach, but still tried to be positive. We looked hard and covered the whole property, except a small piece where my brother hunts with his bow.
Next we decided to line up and do grid searches. I was right on the property line and had only gone 30 yards when I just happened to look up ahead. All I saw was antlers sticking up just like on the Buckmasters TV show.
Of course I was overcome with emotions, the first of which was relief. We had worked very hard to track that buck, and we could have given up a dozen different times. It had gone 300 yards without putting out a drop of blood. Now that we had the deer in front of us, we saw I had hit it just a little back in the liver. It was a good angle, however, and the bullet had penetrated into the vitals and done exactly what it was supposed to do.
Later, we took a look at the trail camera pictures to see if we could match up my buck with one of pictures of the big 8-pointers. It was pretty clear that none of the bucks in the pictures was the one I had shot, which goes to show that you don’t ever know all the bucks on a property.
Thanks to my brother and his good friend for helping me find this buck.