As I embarked on my second 2008 hunt with Paradise Adventures in Altoona, Kan., little did I know my life was about to change forever. My goal was to harvest a record-book buck. Since I missed that mark by a few inches in 2007, I felt I had to be sure this year’s buck would make the cut.
My hunt began on a Friday afternoon with sightings of only a badger and a bunny. Saturday, I hunted a different stand and had some action.
About 9:30, I spotted movement to my left and out stepped a 2 1/2-year-old 8-pointer. It walked past and never knew I was there.
An hour later, a nice doe zipped by, breathing hard. If that doesn’t put a deer hunter on high alert, he might as well go play golf. Within two minutes, a buck parade started. First came the familiar 8-pointer. Next was a year-older 4x4, followed by a small 6-pointer. No shooters, but it sure was fun watching them trail that hot doe.
I hunted that same stand on Sunday. The only buck that came by was the small 4x4.
On Monday morning, Nov. 10, my hunt took an unexpected turn. About an hour before first light, I spoke with one of the owners of Paradise Adventures, Mike Nunnenkamp, on the back porch. He told me his brother, Kurt, had gone to the emergency room a few hours earlier, so they were short on drivers to ferry hunters to their stands.
He asked if I would mind walking out to the cow pasture stand where I’d spent Friday afternoon.
“Sure, no problem,” I told him. “And tell Kurt I hope everything turns out okay.”
Off I went through the field, walking past the sleeping cattle to the ladder stand. When I got there, I hung three Tink’s scent bombs in a circle about 20 yards from the base of the tree. I sat there in total darkness for 45 minutes, thinking about the possibilities. The previous week, another hunter had spotted a big 10-pointer three times from that stand, but he was unable to close the deal.
As most of us know, if you want to harvest a mature whitetail, you have to fool his nose. I felt confident that my clothing was doing its job, since none of the deer the previous two days had caught my scent.
As the eastern sky became a brilliant crimson red, I was excited about the morning hunt. I pulled out my rangefinder and made mental notes of some distances around me. Then it was game time. I took out my call and made two soft grunts.
Within two minutes, I could see legs moving through the cedars. As I reached for my bow, I knew it was going to happen fast. I stood up, and as I was clipping my release to the string loop, the big brute stepped into my first shooting lane. There was no doubt it was a shooter.
I could see very long P2s and 3s and a good P4. The buck’s ears were laid back, and the hair on its swollen neck was standing on end. It looked like it wanted to show somebody who the boss was around there.
The buck crossed the shooting lane before I could even attach my release and was again in the cedars. I repositioned my feet and drew. I held on the shooting lane off my left shoulder, and the beautiful deer stepped out right where I guessed it would. I grunted, it stopped for a second to look in my direction, and that was all the time I needed.
After my 100-grain Muzzy blew through the buck, it wheeled and was gone in two jumps. I watched for it to cross the first shooting lane again, but it never did. I never heard a crash, however.
After about two minutes, I sat back down and realized I’d just shot the biggest whitetail I’d ever seen in the wild.
Soon, I heard something approaching from the rear. Could my buck have circled me?
I stood back up slowly and turned to see a 1,000-pound black angus at 50 yards. I guess the whole herd decided it was time for a morning drink as about 30 of them came through in the next five minutes.
After they went by, I got down to look for my arrow. It was stuck about four inches into the ground and bloody from tip to nock. I took out my rangefinder and ranged my backpack still hanging in the tree: 25 yards.
I marked the starting point with orange surveyor’s tape and began following the trail. I felt good about the shot, but blood was sparse. I looked around in the cedars for a few minutes, and then I called Mike. He and Nate, one of the guides, came out in the truck to help look.
We followed the trail about 125 yards, eventually into a big pasture choked with 2-foot-high weeds —brown, of course. Mike suggested we go back to camp and give the deer more time to expire. So back to headquarters we went.
I watched a little television and tried to take a nap, but I just kept replaying those few seconds over and over in my mind. Did I choke? Was that deer going to suffer for days?
About 10:00, it began raining hard.
“There goes my blood trail,” I moaned.
Around 11:00, other hunters started returning to camp for lunch. Everyone asked about my morning. Every time I told the story, I felt sick about not finding that magnificent animal. Close to noon, I walked up to Nate and said, “Let’s go find my deer.”
I jumped in the front of Mike’s truck, and Nate and another hunter named Mark got into the bed so they would have a better view. Mike started driving in big loops through the pasture. As we approached the far corner, Nate started beating on the roof and yelling. Right then, I could see the buck’s big white belly near the edge of the field.
It had run about 600 yards after being hit through one lung and the liver.
When I first wrapped my hands around those massive antlers, I was overcome with emotion. I had gone from excited to dejected, to off-the-chart elation in five hours.
Nate and Mark loaded the buck onto the truck while Mike called Kurt and I called my wife and my best friend, Greg “Doc” Caldwell.
Back at camp, we took some photos and then weighed the brute. It tipped the scales at 248 pounds before field-dressing. We then hung it and started measuring the antlers.
Kurt arrived about that time.
The buck has 18 points and the coolest brow tines I’ve ever seen!
After dinner that evening, I started the 18-hour drive for home in central Pennsylvania. I think Doc called me three times during that trip to make sure I was doing okay. Doc had guided Kurt’s turkey hunters for 15 years, so he knew how grueling that drive is. As I pulled up to my house, my lovely wife came out to greet me, and Doc came over five minutes later.
Sadly, Doc passed away from a massive heart attack in mid-December, two months before the antlers were officially scored.
Hunter: Robert Dugan
BTR Official Score: 190 1/8
BTR Composite Score: 208 7/8
— Photos Courtesy of Robert Dugan This article was published in the November 2012 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.
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