If you seek only the best, be prepared for epic highs and lows.
Monster bucks are a rare thing.
But you already know that if you’ve spent any time in the woods trying to put your tag on one.
And while he’ll be the first to tell you he lives in an area that holds more bruiser bucks than most other locations, Daryl Sidwell is one of those even-more-rare-than-trophy-bucks hunters who takes monster whitetails on a regular basis. And it’s no accident.
“I have no problem with guys who go out and take whatever buck they want,” he said recently. “For me, I like the challenge. I’m blessed to live in an area that has big deer, and the scouting and preparation for the season is more than half the fun. What gets my heart pumping is tagging a mature buck, and it makes all the work and time I put in before the season worth it.”
That big reward can come at a big cost, however, as Daryl learned in 2008.
He had gone about his preparations for the bow season pretty much the same as other years. He put out trail cameras and visited the woods on rare occasions, just enough to keep his fingers on the pulse of things.
Daryl has a simple philosophy when it comes to taking trophies: There is a brief window every year when monster bucks are vulnerable. He says it happens at about the same time every year, the second week of November, give or take a day or two. When that window opens, he spends every second of shootable light in a stand.
“There’s just something about that time,” he said. “You can grunt and rattle, and if there’s a buck in the area, he can’t keep himself from coming in.”
Daryl was in attack mode on Nov. 10, 2008. He had several trail camera photos of big bucks and knew he was in a good spot. And it was “that time.”
I happened to be hunting across town that day during my annual hunt with Dixon Farms Whitetails in Colchester. Daryl and I had been exchanging text messages, making jokes and sharing reports of deer sightings. I suspected something was up when I hadn’t heard anything from him that evening.
Sure enough, about two hours after I returned to camp, the call came in. Daryl had shot a huge 8-pointer. There was just one catch: He hadn’t found the buck and sign was sparse. Daryl wanted help tracking and was gathering friends who knew their way around a deer trail.
“You sure you want to go after him tonight?” I asked.
“I normally wouldn’t,” he said, “but we have heavy rain coming in and I’m afraid it’s now or never.”
When our search party of eight gathered at Daryl’s hunting spot, he took five minutes to tell us the tale. It had happened pretty fast. “I looked about 150 yards down the timber and saw a buck with pretty good tines,” he said. “I wanted a better look, so I hit the grunt call two or three times. The buck came right up this creek bed and stood broadside at 20 yards. There was no doubt in my mind as soon as I saw him coming up the creek that he was a shooter.”
Daryl took the shot, which he said seemed pretty good.
“He ran about 30 yards and stood behind some brush looking around kind of like, ‘What was that?’ I thought he was going to drop right there. Of course, that’s when he just disappeared.”
Daryl then put us on last blood, and the work began. It was a long, difficult search, and there were times that each of us made a miraculous discovery of blood when the other seven had all but given up on the trail. Sometimes those discoveries were as tiny as pinheads and located off the established trails.
Such efforts should be rewarded, and it was a long time before anyone had the courage to say the words we were all thinking. We had tracked that buck for more than four hours, through thickets, over fences and across fields. But when the trail led us directly into a thigh-high creek with no sign of the buck on the other side (yes, we waded through the water and scoured the opposite bank), we were out of options.
Daryl thanked us for our efforts and asked us all to get back to our camps or homes to get some rest. He promised updates throughout the day as he planned to pick up the search again in the morning, rain or no rain.
For once, the weatherman was right, and it poured buckets that night. It was no surprise when Daryl called to report a complete lack of progress. He had found nothing past our last few drops at the creek.
“I was just sick,” he said. “You don’t want to lose any deer, but when you lose a buck like that, it’s that much worse. Plus, I was still thinking a lot about Cole, and it really put a damper on my enthusiasm. I kept hunting, but the whole time I questioned why I was even in the tree.”
When I left Illinois on Nov. 12 and returned to Alabama, Daryl was still doing everything he could to learn something about the fate of his monster 8-pointer. Nevertheless, I never expected the picture message I received on my cell phone on Nov. 13. It was a blurry picture of the biggest 8-pointer I’d ever seen with a caption that read, “Guess what?”
As it turned out, Ray Hietpas, an avid bowhunter who frequents a neighboring property, found the buck and called Daryl.
“Ray had trail camera pictures of the deer, and when he heard my description of what I had shot, he knew exactly what deer it was,” Daryl said. “Ray was in his treestand on the 12th, and shortly after daylight the crows started coming in like crazy. He said to himself, ‘There’s Daryl’s deer.’ He didn’t have to call me, and I could still be walking around depressed over this deer. I can’t thank Ray enough.”
As the two hunters stood in awe of the majestic 8-pointer, they couldn’t help put the puzzle together.
“Ray found that deer less than 300 yards from where he got trail camera pictures of it,” Daryl said. “Like Ray said, this is a case of a buck getting rut crazy, leaving his home range in search of love, and then trying to return home when things got rough.”
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This article was published in the Winter 2009 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.