Walter Mitchell almost quit hunting last year.
The bowhunter from New Madison, Ohio, was so upset over losing a buck, he spent half of November and nearly all of December feeling sorry for himself.
Seven yards should’ve been easy-breezy, but the arrow clipped an unseen limb and veered off course, piercing the deer’s paunch and burying itself in the far hind leg. It wasn’t Walter’s fault, but he took no comfort in that.
He and friends spent days looking for the wide-racked whitetail, gaining permission to cross two neighboring tracts. He even solicited the help of a man with a bloodhound.
When Walter finally stopped searching, he hung up his bow and sulked.
He remembered how to smile again on the day after Christmas, when a buddy badgered him into jumping back into the ring, to the very farm and stand where he’d lost his mojo.
Only he never made it to his stand.
Walter’s season had gone pretty well before he lost the buck — not perfect, or he’d have notched his tag early, but he was otherwise enjoying his time in the woods more than ever.
“I met a man, Jerry Everhart, at church one evening,” he said. “He taught me a great deal about hunting scrapes and how and where to build mock ones: starting small and doctoring them with estrous doe urine.
“Jerry’s strategy was to make three scrapes within 20 yards of his stand, one on each side and another in front. When I followed his prescription, I definitely saw an uptick in doe traffic, which would eventually mean more bucks,” Walter continued.
In addition, his new friend is a believer in laying scent trails via urine-soaked boot pads.
“I also spent more time in the stand,” Walter added. “Whereas I used to head home about noon, I began waiting until 2:00. I was seeing more deer during those extra hours than I was in the mornings.”
His pump was primed, however, before he even set foot in the woods in 2011.
“The day before bow season, I was out glassing fields close to where I hunt and saw a deer in a drainage. Several trees had been cut and the stumps bulldozed. They were lying all over the place,” he said.
“I thought I was looking at a doe until I noticed wide-set antler beams and tines,” he continued. “The spread convinced me it had to be the same buck a friend and I had seen two years earlier.”
They’d nicknamed it the Steer Deer because of its angus-like body, which made its legs seem short and pencil-thin. The buck’s rack was about 22 inches wide.
They never saw the buck again, though, and Walter thought someone else must’ve shot it. He was pleased to discover otherwise, even more because it had grown substantially.
He figured the buck was bedding within a large wooded area on an adjacent farm, which is off-limits to hunters. Nevertheless, it was close enough to put a spring in Walter’s step.
“I left work (the night shift) an hour early on Nov. 12 and drove to the farm. I skipped my usual shower because I was in a rush to get into the stand while it was still dark. I sprayed down with a cover scent instead and was aloft just before daylight,” he said.
“Several does came into the field first, and then a young 8-pointer joined them. At 7:45, I looked into a thicket to my left and saw what I thought was a mature 8-pointer with a pretty heavy rack.
“While I was trying to guess where it might enter the field, the buck surprised me by heading for one of my mock scrapes. As soon as I realized it was the Steer Deer and that it was going to pass in front of me, I almost panicked,” he said. “My heart was beating rapidly, and my breathing sounded like Darth Vader’s. I don’t know how he didn’t hear me.”
Walter was standing when he first saw the buck, but then his legs began protesting and he sat.
“When the buck crossed the fence, it was following the trail I’d taken, and it seemed to sniff my every step,” he said.
“When I drew my bow, the buck was only seven yards from me. The arrow deflected off a twig, so instead of a clean hit to the heart-lung area, it passed through the deer’s paunch and went into the far hind leg.
“When it was gone, I slumped in my seat, banging my bow on the stand in the process,” he continued.
With his own gut in a knot, Walter called his grandmother and asked her to pray that he’d be able to find his deer. While she was tying up that hotline, a doe approached Walter’s tree. Since he had a doe tag, he decided to go for it.
“My arrow hit her in the wrong place, too, which meant I had TWO wounded deer to track, and it looked like both had run onto property I was not permitted to hunt,” he said. “I was totally deflated.
“Turns out, I’d knocked my sight loose when I hit the stand with my bow,” he continued.
That explains the second errant shot.
“I knew the owner of the off-limits woods was home, so, after a while, I contacted him. He gave me permission to follow the trail as long as I didn’t carry my bow.
“Six hours had passed by the time two buddies and I started along the buck’s trail. There was blood, but not as much as I would have liked. His and the doe’s trails eventually crossed, and we weren’t sure which we were following.
“As we approached some very tall weeds, we almost ran into the buck. My friends and I dropped to the ground instantly. It was looking the other way, but it knew something was not right and headed for the nearby cornfield, which belonged to yet another landowner,” Walter said.
They got permission to follow the deer, but wound up marking the trail and quitting for the night. They were joined the next morning by Nick Lenhoff and his bloodhound.
“We felt we were making good progress until we came to a steep ravine,” Walter said. “As we were assessing the situation, the buck stood and fled again.
“After some serious soulsearching, I decided the deer was too far from dead to continue. We left his track and found my doe,” he added.
Finding freezer meat couldn’t keep depression at bay. Walter went out almost every day to search, every day in vain. He watched the sky for buzzards, looked for coyote activity, until, after three weeks, he finally gave up trying.
“I lost interest in hunting, too,” he said.
Walter’s friend, Bryan, called on Christmas to persuade him to get back in the saddle. They talked for a long time until Walter agreed to accompany him the next day.
They went to the same farm, but Walter didn’t want to hunt from the same stand. Bryan insisted it was the best way to exorcise his demon.
Walter walked the several hundred yards through the corn stubble. About 70 yards from his destination, he spied a rib cage. Since it never occurred to him that it could be the remnants of his buck, he kept on going. After covering a little more ground, he walked right up to the head and antlers of his trophy.
“I was suddenly thanking God and totally freaking out,” he said. “I yelled at Bryan and started waving my arms. He was beside me in short order. That the buck had traveled so far only to end up almost where it had been arrowed was amazing.
“After a bit of detective work, we determined the buck had circled back and died in a thick honeysuckle patch just 30 yards from my tree. Of course, we don’t know when it died. If only I’d returned to that stand just once in those intervening days, I probably would’ve seen or smelled it.”
Editor’s Note: Because Walter had not shot another buck after he arrowed this one, and since he used his buck tag to check it in, the deer is considered a bowkill vs. a pickup. Had he burned his tag on another buck, he would’ve been required to obtain a separate possession tag and the deer would’ve been classified as the latter.
Hunter: Walter Mitchell — Photos Courtesy of Walter Mitchell
BTR Official Score: 181 1/8
BTR Composite Score: 210 2/8
This article was published in the Winter 2012 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.
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