Hard Luck Story Has a Happy Ending.
My story starts and should’ve ended back in 2008, when I saw this buck at 150 yards during Indiana’s muzzleloader season. When I squeezed my blackpowder rifle’s trigger, the giant whitetail collapsed.
I was so sure the deer was stone cold dead, I didn’t bother reloading. I just sat there, marveling over my luck.
The buck regained its feet a minute later, but it fell back down. It tried again, fell, and again, and then wobbled into the woods. I was stunned, but also sure it couldn’t go far.
It stopped bleeding after 150 yards, which is when I left the trail. I waited until the next morning to resume the search with one of my three sons, Tristan. We jumped the buck around 1:00, and it acted like it wasn’t even hurt. Even the bed showed no trace of blood.
That was a hard lesson.
The next time I saw that deer was in November 2009, when it strolled in front of one of my trail cameras. I wound up with four photographs, but I never saw it on the hoof that fall.
Others saw the distinctive buck in January, however, so I knew it survived the season.
I was thinking about that whitetail when I set out my cameras the following summer. None of them yielded photos of the buck, however, and I never saw it while hunting. The closest I came was to find one of its shed antlers during the state’s youth hunt.
Until March 2011, I feared the buck had either been shot or had moved to another area. That’s when Tristan and I found another shed antler from the 2010 season. We returned to look for the antler’s mate a few days later, accompanied by my buddy, Jamie Mullins. Jamie found the other side by almost stepping on it in some weeds.
That did it for me. “Bones,” as I’d come to call him, was going to be my obsession for the 2011 season. I knew Bones was getting up there in age, probably 7 1/2, so I was determined to get him before he started his downhill slide.
My cameras produced no images of him in the spring, summer or early fall. I learned in mid-September that he had been seen three-quarters of a mile down the road. A buddy, Ryan Carpenter, e-mailed me a deer photo that was being passed around locally. As soon as I saw it, I recognized Bones’ distinctive rack.
He had grown even more trash.
A lot more.
Turns out, the neighbor down the road had caught him on his trail camera.
Hoping pressure from neighboring tracts might push the deer back onto mine, I stayed away from my spot until the rut kicked into gear.
On Nov. 2, I slipped into my area after work to do a little scouting. I found a promising scrape line where three ridges converge. I decided to return and hunt there in a couple of days. The weather and wind were supposed to be perfect.
It rained for most the night, but quit just before daybreak on Nov. 4. I was pumped because I knew the bucks were apt to be afoot, cruising and refreshing scrapes.
A dandy 9-pointer slipped past me just after first light. Seeing it gave me high hopes.
Around 8:40, I spotted a deer farther up the bottom to my left. I couldn’t tell what it was, but I pulled out my tube and grunted a few times. It was just a doe, however.
Once I realized the deer wasn’t a buck, I grabbed my phone to check a new text message. After replying, I looked up to see none other than Bones at 25 yards. It was wet and windy that morning, so I never heard him approach.
Fortunately, I was already standing up and had my bow hanging from my belt. All I had to do was lift it and draw.
Just as I got my hand through my wrist sling, he turned to walk to my left and out a few yards farther. I drew my Mathews, stopped him with the usual “mehhhh,” settled my 30-yard pin and squeezed the release. As soon as I hit that trigger, he dropped like a sack of rocks.
I knew I hit the deer high, but I thought it was low enough to do the trick.
An hour later, when I got down and found my arrow, the lack of blood and some small meat chunks on the shaft turned confidence into wishful thinking. I thought I was going to throw up. I had just messed up a deer AND blew my chance.
After a very sparse 250-yard blood trail, the red eventually stopped just before he entered a large thicket.
In my gut, I didn’t think the wound was fatal. With gun season only a week away, I chose not to enter the thicket. I never go in there except to look for sheds anyway. I knew if I pushed him out, I might never see him again.
I wasn’t taking that chance.
I hunted the rest of bow season, gun season and the first part of muzzleloader season, when the wind was right. I neither saw the buck, nor retrieved photos of it.
On Dec. 10, I couldn’t take it anymore. Since the season was drawing to a close, I didn’t have anything to lose.
I went into the thicket.
A half-hour into my sit, I saw a dandy buck 75 yards away and across a ravine. One side of its rack was missing, but the remaining one had a drop tine. I didn’t realize I was looking at Bones because I didn’t know he had a drop tine on that side.
I chose not to shoot the buck, but then it spun around to walk away, and that’s when I saw the wound on his back. By that time, it was too late. No shot. I’d just let the deer walk out of my life again.
I prayed it would turn around and come back.
Half an hour later, lo and behold, it did. I shot.
Afterward, I packed up and went home to change clothes and call my buddy, Greg Yazel, to give me a hand.
We collected the buck easily enough, but he’d snapped off the remaining antler. I guess the stress from the arrow wound had not only caused him to shed the left side prematurely, but it also — no surprise — had weakened the right.
We found the right one immediately. Tristan and I found the other side a couple of days later. It was lying in the deer’s bed.
Closing this unforgettable chapter of my life didn’t happen the way I would have liked, but it is what it is. I’ve tried here, but words cannot fully convey the range of feelings the hunt for this buck evoked.
Editor’s Note: This past season was a banner year for the Scudders. Not only did Steve wind up with his heart’s desire, but his son, Tristan, also scored with a jaw-dropper. The boy’s story follows this one.
Hunter: Steve Scudder
BTR Official Score: 210 7/8
BTR Composite Score: 210 7/8
— Photos courtesy of Steve Scudder 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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