I got into the deer hunting game late. Until a friend offered to teach me the ropes in exchange for sharing the hunting rights on another buddy's Clark County, Ohio, farm, I'd always been content to hunt small game.
Lynn's property had been my rabbit, squirrel and pheasant haven for about five years. There weren't many deer when I first started hunting there, but the population had grown to a point that Lynn considered them nuisances rather than novelty. He had no problem whatsoever in allowing me to include a friend who might help eliminate some of them.
Eager to put my newly acquired knowledge - or theory - to the test, I went out and bought a crossbow and a better grade of camouflage clothes. My very first time in the field (loaded for whitetails), I took a nice fat doe and decided deer hunting wasn't any more difficult than squirrel hunting. Boy, was I wrong.
I spent the next five years trying for deer No. 2. I spent countless hours in the field, looking for an opportunity that never came. Well, a few came. My inexperience and overconfidence cost me more than once. I approached my stands from the wrong direction. I moved at exactly the wrong moments. And if I did happen to get a shot, I missed with both gun and bow.
It had to be my equipment, I reasoned. After all, had I not taken a deer during my very first time out? Was I not an accomplished small game hunter?
I completely missed 2006, the fourth year of my deer hunting career. I was in Florida, taking care of my dying father's business.
Looking ahead to the 2007 season, I was determined to do better. I also changed tactics.
The farm is dissected by a half-mile-long lane. There are two barns, the first halfway in, a second all the way at the end.
Up to that point, I'd always driven to the last barn and walked to my stand from there. The land behind this barn has a gentle roll. About 400 yards out, there is a thicket on the fence line, and that's where my treestand is situated.
The only thing between it and the barn is a low spot the planter doesn't hit because of the angle.
In 2007, I decided to park at the first barn and walk the rest of the way to my stand. The first time I tried it during the early bow season, the beans had been picked. The corn, however, was still standing.
I didn't expect to see anything. But as I climbed the ladder to my stand, I couldn't believe my eyes. There, about 50 yards out, lay a huge buck. It was at least a 16-pointer.
It had to be the same buck I'd encountered three other times in seasons past. I never got a clear shot at it. After every sighting, I described it to my wife, who would smile. "Maybe it's like the big fish that always gets away," she said. "You should just leave it alone."
Seeing such a deer so close, I thought my heart was going to burst.
I slowly and quietly finished my ascent; I couldn't spend the next 90 minutes halfway up the ladder, waiting on dusk. I thought I was home free, but when I stepped onto my stand, the buck spotted me and trotted away.
I was elated that I'd seen the deer, but watching it run off was a bummer.
Maybe my wife was right. Telling anyone about the big buck would be like telling an all-too-familiar fish story. People would smirk, and I'd feel like the kid who cried wolf too many times.
Frustrated by my inability to shoot a deer with my crossbow, I vowed then and there not to hunt (deer) again until the gun season opened. Besides, I had not been squirrel or rabbit hunting for four years; I'd pursued only whitetails.
The next six weeks went very well. I was successful every time I went out in search of small game, and my confidence was restored.
Gun season started the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 26. But I had no desire to go sit in the rain. Tuesday morning was clear. I was in the field early with my blackpowder gun, sure that the day would end with a dead deer. But when a large doe passed by at about 75 yards, I missed. And I saw nothing else for the remainder of the morning.
"What am I doing wrong?" I wondered.
The year before, I'd inherited a 12-gauge Remington 870 Express from my dad. He'd set it up for turkey hunting. I decided it was time to make it a deer gun, which required a trip to the sporting goods store and $379. I didn't see anything for the next three days. What a waste of money, I thought. And, no doubt, my wife would've agreed.
Because of other commitments, I was not able to make it out on Saturday morning. I ran into my friend, Lynn, early in the day. He told me that chances of shooting a deer were always fewer as the season progressed. But I wasn't ready to throw in the towel.
The day was cool with a light breeze blowing from the south. At about 2:00, the weatherman began calling for snow.
Parking at the first barn still seemed like a good idea, even if it required a longer walk back in bad weather. It felt good to be out in the field. I was going to relax and enjoy the afternoon, no matter what occurred.
As I approached the low spot, I was debating whether I should stop there or move on to the treestand. When I stopped to ponder options, I saw movement off to my left. It was the big buck, running away from me!
Without hesitation, I raised the gun and fired. Truthfully, I was totally amazed when the fleeing buck stumbled. My second shot missed, but the buck went to ground about 20 yards later. I sat down, trembling with excitement.
My deer hunting mentor had instructed me never to chase a wounded deer. So I sat there for 10 to 15 minutes, just waiting. I was horrified when the buck stood again and stumbled over a small rise.
Only because it was heading toward the neighboring farm, which was off-limits, I ignored my buddy's advice and dashed the fastest 100 yards I've ever covered.
When I crested the rise, I saw the buck struggling to stand. One more shot finished it.
Hunter: Russell Shatto
Official Score: 183 5/8
Composite Score: 206 7/8
– Photo by Russell Shatto
This article was published in the November 2009 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.