By Lucas Smith
-- It was mid-September when I first saw the buck. My eyes had taken a snapshot of its wide, thick antlers, and stored the memory deep in my mind.
I knew the very first time I laid eyes on the buck that on opening day, it would be mine. But all of that was a distant thought as I headed toward my stand in the thick, overgrown briars and honeysuckle, which had overtaken the swamp.
The moon was still out and the stars shown brightly over the old oak and pine trees that dotted the muddy bottom. The week before, I had hung a lock-on stand to the side of a sparsely branched oak. I had determined the buck would approach the swamp from the direction of a thick patch of pines, to the left of my stand. From there, the deer should walk right in front me, down the worn path that leads to a small field planted in soybeans.
After 20 minutes of slow and meticulous walking, I reached my stand. The stars and moon were just beginning to fade, and I knew the sun would be up soon.
It wasn't long before I reached the tree. I tied my bow to the pull-up rope and began to ascend the tree. Taking my time, being cautious of the new screw-in steps I had just bought, I finally reached the stand.
Stepping onto the metal platform, I quickly pulled up my compound bow and unclipped it from the hook. Before I sat down I sprayed myself with scent eliminator and pine cover scent. It was still early in the season so I didn't bother to put out any buck or doe lure.
As I sat down, a noise caught my attention and I froze in place. It was coming from the pines. Could it be my dream buck or was it a pesky squirrel? My latter thought was correct as I saw a gray squirrel appear out of the darkness.
I eased up and sat down, hanging my bow on its holder. It was a used bow bought at the local archery shop, but I had practiced a lot over the summer and soon became very efficient with it.
By now, the sun had started to come up, and its rays were beginning to top the tree line. I expected it wouldn't be long before the old bruiser would be walking my way. A slight breeze had begun to blow, but I was fortunate as it was in my favor, blowing against my face, carrying my scent harmlessly behind the stand.
A little time passed before I caught the first movement. The branches from the pines were swaying back and forth, giving away the tell-tale signs of a deer.
I slowly reached for my bow and clipped my trigger release to the string. Suddenly, the deer came out of the thickness and presented its small, forkhorn rack in my direction.
This was definitely not the deer I had seen earlier in the year, and I was not about to blow one of my tags on such a young deer.
After sniffing the air, trying to catch scent, the young deer walked right in front of me, just as I had intended the big deer to do. The deer passed, never knowing that a human was just 30 yards away. I was glad that the deer had not caught my scent and spooked, ruining my morning and maybe my season.
It wasn't long before I caught movement in the pines again. This time it was a dandy 8-pointer with a tall, yet thin rack. The buck didn't even bother to sniff the air as it approached my stand.
As the buck walked past, I contemplated whether to shoot, but held the urge as the snapshot in my mind came filtering back. I was here to shoot a county record not a young scrub buck. From my stand, I could see the two young deer fidgeting around in the field, the way deer do when something is on their trail.
I quickly looked toward the pines to see the brush moving again, only this time a lot harder. My grip on the bow soon tightened and my heart began to race. I knew this was going to be the buck that I had waited my whole life to shoot.
The first thing I saw was a long, thick point protruding out of the brush, then another and another and another, all coming straight toward me. I tried not to stare at the rack, which I found extremely difficult to do, and instead focus on its broad shoulder.
Its hulking body continued toward me as I slowly stood and drew my bow. The bruiser had no idea I was there, and I felt confident that it never would. The buck soon covered the distance to my stand and was almost in the right spot. Finally the moment came, the buck stepped into the small clearing of grass, and I grunted with my mouth. The buck came to a stop and looked dead at me, its eyes peering right into mine, almost as if in a staring contest.
I shook the thought and drew a bead onto its shoulder, slowly squeezing the release. Ffffffuuu! The arrow was released, and I saw the deer take off, bounding through the woods. My heart sank. I had seen a deer bound off like that before and it was not after a hit.
I had missed the buck of a lifetime. I soon realized that in all the commotion, I had used my first sight, the 20 yard, instead of the second which was the 30 yard. My stomach began to twist and turn into a big knot. I felt as if I could throw up at any moment with disgust.
After sitting in the stand for more than an hour, going over everything I had done, I climbed down from the stand, thinking of how best to explain my story to everyone and how I had missed the buck of a lifetime. I continued to hunt the rest of the season, finally taking a small 8-pointer, but I will never forget the large buck and my missed opportunity.
Salisbury, North Carolina