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A Strong Will to Survive

Brian BothumBy Brian Bothum

-- It was Oct. 31, 2007, and the Minnesota Rifle season was only a few days away. That afternoon, I drove to my stand, 40 miles north of Thief River Falls and 9 miles west of Karlstad.

The area I hunt is situated in the middle of a mile of a CRP grass. A tree line running north and south divides the field in two.

I arrived at my stand at about 3 p.m., and it took 30 minutes to get everything unloaded and organized. I hunt from a box blind, so I performed much-needed maintenance like hooking up the propane, replacing the batteries in the fans, cleaning the windows, etc.

I finished with an hour to spare, so I decided to scout an area I previously had taken a big buck. That stand is located a half-mile east along a woods line. I got out my laptop and, using a gps system I recently had installed on my vehicle, downloaded a near real-time satellite image of the area. I’ve been using satellite images and aerial photos to locate heavy trails and bedding areas, and they’ve been a big help. Next I got in the stand and decided to just sit and see what I would see.

I glanced out the window and watched an eagle fly out of the CRP approximately 300 yards from my stand. As I watched, another eagle flew up from the same spot. My first thought was that a poacher had killed a deer there. Then the eagles came back, stayed for a few minute and flew off again.

The next thing I saw was a deer standing where the eagles had landed. I was baffled. The deer stood there for moment, never lifting its head above the cover of the CRP, then bedded down.

Not much time had went by before the eagles came back. I grabbed my binoculars and I climbed on the roof of my stand and glassed the area. It wasn’t long before the deer got up and the eagles flew off again. I watched the deer trying to move backward with its head remaining down. It finally occurred to me that I was probably looking at two bucks locked together.

In 1983, my Uncle Kenneth, his son, Larry, and grandson, Ryan, were driving down the same trail I used to get to my stand when they came across two locked bucks. One of the deer had been killed during the fight; the other was shot and tagged by Uncle Kenneth.

It was happening again, 24 years later.

Realizing I didn’t have my bow, nor a tag, I was faced with a new dilemma: Whom should I contact to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience?

Three names came to mind. First, I needed to get this on film. I grabbed my disposable camera and starting walking toward the buck, all the while trying to decide whom I should call. When I got to about 40 yards, I got my first glance of the racks through the CRP. When I got to 10 yards, the buck stood up, revealing a broken right leg.

Attached to this 10-point, 150-class buck was a 15-pointer with half of its body missing. The smell of death and decay was heavy in the air. The decomposing buck appeared to have been dead for between three and five days.

I took some pictures and finally realized whom to call. Todd Porter, a friend since high school, had undergone throat cancer surgery five weeks earlier. We had only enjoyed a few hunts together, but I know him well enough to appreciate his strong passion for whitetails.

As I was headed back to the stand to call, imagine my surprise when Todd came driving up the trail. He had been driving by and saw my vehicle and wanted to stop and say hello.

I briefed him on what was happening and watched the excitement bloom on his face and in his voice.

We hopped into Todd’s truck and headed for his place a few miles away. He changed into his hunting cloths and got his bow equipment ready while I hooked the trailer up to his ATV.

When we got back to the buck, it stood up in defiance, still determined to fight off any and all comers. Not wanting to prolong the buck’s distress, Todd tried to pull back his bow. Thanks to the effects of his recent surgery, though, he didn’t have the strength.

Todd finally managed to draw the bow and released a shot that ended the magnificent buck’s long struggle. As I replayed the whole ordeal over in my mind, it occurred to me how much Todd and the buck had in common.

Todd was fighting cancer battle that he had little control over, and the buck had been locked in a desperate situation that no effort no matter how determined could overcome. Its fate was entirely out of its hands. Neither Todd nor the buck had the word "quit" in their vocabulary.

You don’t often get to see something that changes you in your very core, but that was what this experience did for me. It’s also a constant reminder how our choices can make a difference for others.

Brian Bothum
Thief River Falls, Minn.

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