Last September, my wife changed my computer screensaver to read, “Tim, you are awesome and I hope you score big on your hunt this year! Love you, SK.” So when the alarm buzzed at 4:30 a.m. on the cool, crisp morning of Oct. 28, 2005, I was confident in her message.
Rising early to fill my backpack and pack a lunch is just one of the tasks in this passion for hunting whitetails with a compound bow. The anticipation for what would be seen in the woods that day, let alone what would be harvested, was almost too much to handle. There are approximately 170 years of hunting experience between the 10 guys in our hunting club, and many big bucks have fallen to our arrows.
I had spent months prior to the hunt scouting the land and looking for the right tree for a stand. I had placed three permanent stands and cut shooting lanes for two other trees in which I would use a climber.
My choice on Oct. 28 defied some of the rules for hunting trophy whitetails. I had hunted it many times, but it was best for evenings, hanging 10 yards off a field edge. I had observed many deer coming out of the woods into this field to feed in the evening, and although I had never hunted that stand in the morning, I thought that if the rut was kicking in, the big bucks would come out and begin to troll for some hot does.
The area was also riddled with buck sign. My fellow hunters and I had seen many big bucks on the Guernsey County (Ohio) property, and trail cameras confirmed our suspicions.
Once all the guys had loaded up their vehicles and had wished one another a safe and successful hunt, I drove out a lane to the base of the hill where I would head along the edge of the woods to get to my stand.
I have been taught that if you fall, you get back up and keep striving toward your goals. Ironically, in 2004, I had fallen while getting out of the same tree that I was about to climb. I regret not using my fall restraint system at the time, but I learned an important lesson and am lucky to still be around to chase bucks today.
Living the Dream
I was settled in my tree at 6 a.m. Around sunrise, approximately 6:45, I began to notice deer activity in the fields around me. At the opposite end of the field, I saw a number of does and even two small bucks sparring. While watching with binoculars, the thought occurred to me that I was not going to shoot these bucks that were hundreds of yards away, and that I should begin to pay attention around my stand in case a trophy whitetail came within shooting range. When my hunting buddies and I had cut shooting lanes, we’d left most of the saplings and brush for cover.
The tree was on the side of a hill, so the grade steepened as I looked out from the stand into the woods. I positioned the stand so the tree would hide my body from a deer walking the edge of the field. I knew that if a buck was to show up there, I would have only two opportunities for a shot because there were only two narrow shooting lanes cut to the edge of the field — one over my left shoulder and the other over my right.
At about 7:40, I hit a bleat call. Five minutes later, I thought I heard some activity. Straining to see movement through the leafy woods, I finally spotted something about 45 yards distant. I still didn’t know if it was a shooter, but I stood up and got my bow in hand. By now, the deer had crested the top of the hill, entered the field and turned toward my shooting lanes.
When the buck was approximately 30 yards out, I saw enough of his rack to know he was a shooter. At that moment, I was concentrating on stopping it in the shooting lane. I was so focused on a good shot that I didnt’ look at the rack.
I went through my game plan in my head: I was about to take the shot of my lifetime over my left shoulder through the first shooting lane. If I was not able to take that shot, I would have to do an almost 360-degree turn and aim for the shooting lane over my right shoulder.
The deer walked slowly into the shooting lane while looking for a hot doe when I made a mouth grunt that stopped it in its tracks. Taking careful aim, I sent the arrow on its way.
The buck immediately whirled and took off in the direction from which he had come. Within 15 yards, he was over an embankment and out of sight, but I had seen my arrow sticking approximately 3 inches out of his side.
Had I just shot too far back? The sight of that fletching made me think I might have overcompensated for avoiding a shoulder shot. I listened intently as I heard the deer running down the steep grade. After a brief silence, I heard the awesome sound of crashing.
I sat down, collected my thoughts and gave thanks for the opportunity to be hunting. I stayed put for about an hour, but I just couldn’t sit still any longer. I knew not to walk toward the deer, so I went the opposite direction – through the field toward my vehicle. Then I took off a layer of clothes and drove around the property to see if any of my hunting buddies had come out of their stands or had been successful. Nobody was to be found.
I used my walkie-talkie to check in with my hunting buddies, Larry and Joe, to see how they had done. When asked if I had seen anything, I responded by saying that I had hit a shooter, but that I did not know how big he was. I then drove to the top of the hill where I had cell phone reception and returned a few phone calls and called my wife, Stacy.
By then it had been two and a half hours since the shot. I drove back to my original location and walked up to my stand. Enough time had passed to walk toward where I thought the deer fell. Then I had second thoughts. Color blind, I have a difficult time seeing the blood trail, and I sure didn’t want to jump this deer if the hit wasn’t as good as I hoped.
A Celebration Yelp
This time when I drove out of the lane, I found some of my fellow hunters coming out of the woods. After debating whether enough time had elapsed to track the deer, we decided to find a blood trail. Three of my friends, Brian, Gaylord and Pat, spread out with 10 yards between them where the buck entered the woods.
I showed them where I had hit the deer, and we walked down the steep embankment. As soon as we got into the woods, Gaylord said that famous phrase that is music to the shooter’s ears: “I’ve got blood!”
I sprinted toward him. It was bright red blood and I was again assured I had made a good shot. We walked forward about 15 yards and I found my arrow. The deer obviously had been taking huge leaps down the steep embankment, and it was difficult to stay on the blood trail. After walking approximately 125 yards and losing it yet again, I thought: Oh, no, I shot a little too far back.
Then I thought about what I had seen and heard and realized we had to be off the blood trail. I stopped and looked back up the hill toward where I thought my stand might be. I left my fellow hunters and began to walk that way. I had only gone 15 yards over a little knoll when I looked down and saw the rack.
The shot was a little farther back than I would have liked, but I am not complaining. It was all I could do to contain my excitement. I swear that people in the surrounding counties could hear my celebration yell. I didn’t take time to count points because I was so astonished at the enormity of the rack.
Gaylord was the first to arrive, and he started counting. Once he got past 20, it was just too surreal. He still claims his hearing is permanently damaged from my continuing to shout with excitement in his right ear.
Patience and persistence had reaped the King of the Hill!
This article was published in the July 2006 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.