Search for uncrowded parking lot puts author across hollow from taxidermy bill.
My 2010 season began as a comedy of errors, though I wasn’t laughing.
At first light on opening day of Missouri’s archery season, I drilled the biggest buck I’d ever seen. But after 12 hours of trailing in the rain, I reluctantly gave up the search, which was a first for me. I’d never lost a deer.
In mid-October, I had an opportunity at an 8-pointer that was bigger than anything I’d ever shot. But it appeared too late. I couldn’t see through my peep sight.
Three weeks later, I missed a doe when my bow’s upper limb hit my bow hanger.
So much for 50-something hours of sitting in stands on land about an hour and a half from my driveway!
I usually went with Eric, my best hunting buddy, and we’d hike at least a mile in before climbing our respective trees. Every trip into the woods with stands and climbing sticks. Every trip out of the woods with stands and climbing sticks.
It was tough, both physically and mentally, on me and my family. Yet I was all the more determined, even looking forward to the rifle season and hunting with my lever action, which I hadn’t carried afield for two years.
The day before the Nov. 13 rifle opener, Eric and I met four fellow Christians at our campsite. We gave them a tour of the property during a light drizzle, hung our stands, and then set up our tent city before the real downpour commenced.
While we were making camp, a man who owns the land south of the public tract drove by on his four-wheeler, a buck skull tied to the front. Turns out, he’d actually shot the 10-pointer two weeks earlier, but had just found it. It was the same deer I’d stuck on opening day, bigger than anything any of us had ever shot.
Seeing that rack sure got our juices flowing for the following morning.
It rained so hard that night, we got an inch of water in the bottom of closed coolers. My insulated bibs absorbed it all, too. Fortunately, a buddy who showed up at 4:15 a.m. just happened to have an extra set of bibs that would fit my 6-foot, 4-inch 280-pound frame.
We all prayed and left camp at 5 a.m.
While sitting at our familiar spots until 9:30, Eric and I had guys walk all over us. Some even sat down 40 yards away before being encouraged to move. Guys walked through areas we were watching, and some shot deer that were headed toward us. Ah, the joys of public-land hunting!
Eric and I were loaded for venison. Since we’re on missionaries’ budgets, we need the meat. And because we could shoot only one deer at that property, we’d formulated a backup plan for a different public access area where we could fill doe tags.
We’d never set eyes on the backup place, but we’d done a ton of Google-Earth scouting the previous week.
After the 45-minute drive, we looked for parking lots that had less than two trucks in them. Well, every lot had tents, RVs, pop-up campers, coffee wagons and hot dog vendors (okay, maybe the coffee and hot dogs were made up, but it’s not that far a stretch).
We eventually found one place that had only a tent and a single truck parked in it. We pulled in and shoved some turkey-and-cheese wraps into our bellies while looking at aerial and topo maps.
We walked in and each sat on the edges of deep hollows, hoping to see deer running up the hollows to thicker cover, away from the orange army. By 12:15, we were in place.
This was old school — deep hollows, mature hardwoods, fallen trees to sit on — just like I remember from growing up back in Pennsylvania. I sat on a root wad that gave me a shooting rest. I then texted Eric to say I was settled in and liked the spot’s potential.
Just as I put my phone in my pocket, two big deer came running up the hollow. One was a shooter buck, the other a doe.
Truthfully, we were there to meat hunt, but the buck got my full attention. It headed up the far side of the hollow, and I still had my scope dialed at 2.5-power. But the hammer was back and ready for the 100-plus-yard shot.
When my crosshairs found the running deer, I squeezed the trigger for the first time in more than five years.
I lost sight of the buck afterward. I think the doe ran back down the hollow, but the buck stopped moving. Then I saw it through the scope, standing still and facing up the opposite hill not far from where I’d shot at it. Trees blocked the view of its head and rump. All I could see was the deer’s midsection through small twigs in the tree tops, but I knew that I had to sling lead on public land before the deer bounded off to the next guy in line.
When I found it in my scope again, the buck was walking slowly across the opposite hillside. I scanned ahead for an opening in the trees, found a spot and waited for the shoulder to come into view. When the deer obliged, I fired.
I thought I saw the buck mule-kick, but I wasn't sure. It ran up the hill until I lost sight of it. A minute later, I heard it thrashing leaves.
I moved around on my root wad and saw it belly up, feet flailing. My crosshairs remained on it until it stopped moving.
Based on previous experiences etched in my Pennsylvania public-land upbringing, I knew I needed to hurry over and put my tag on the buck. But I first texted Eric: “Get over here NOW!” It was 12:20, barely 10 minutes into the hunt.
The mud and leaves made climbing the slope difficult. When I finally reached the crest, the deer’s white underside came into view. As I looked at this huge bodied deer lying there, I thought it must’ve tangled its antlers in a small tree, but then I realized the mass was antler.
I was looking at its 7x7 rack.
I just started saying the same phrase — Oh, Lord — over and over as I walked up to it. I fell to the ground and just stared up to Heaven and thanked Jesus for blessing me.
Because we had no cell phone reception, I couldn’t call Eric. Text messages stacked up and were delivered about every 20 minutes. He went old school and found the root wad where I’d been sitting when I shot. In my excitement, I had forgotten to pick up his camo pad.
We first made eye contact when he was at the bottom of the hollow. I held up my arms like a victorious Rocky, and he did the same. He got about halfway up the hill, still trying to be quiet, when he saw me holding the rack in my hands.
I will never forget what he yelled at that point: “Is that a rack?”
“YES,” I yelled, and then I ran down to him, sliding in the mud, and we hugged. We also jumped up and down like little girls before clambering back up to admire the buck.
Hunter: Jesse Maruschak
Official Score: 178 1/8
Composite Score: 193 6/8
– Photos Courtesy of Jesse Maruschak
This article was published in the October 2011 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.