By Jeff Lutz
Two years ago, my good friend and bowhunting partner, Dusty Boyko, was showing me trail camera photographs of some nice bucks he'd caught on film. After one look at them, I was sold. I needed a trail camera, but there was one problem: They cost money.
My Christmas wish for 2006 was set.
The following August, my family and I were on our way to Calgary for a two-day break from the farm. Taking a slight detour would be simple, I thought. Drive to my deer spot, find a main trail, set up the camera and be on my way.
Unfortunately, when you are in a hurry, it's impossible to find even a minor deer trail. After walking aimlessly for 15 minutes, I could hear the van's horn honking. I wound up setting up the camera beside a less than exciting trail skirting the field's edge. I left disappointed.
A couple of days later, I retrieved the camera. There were only three photos on the memory card. When I took a look, the very first photo to come up was of a MONSTER! My wife, Rhonda, and I could not believe our eyes.
We quickly checked the other two photos, and they were of the same buck. We nicknamed him the "Crown Buck" because the double row of tines sort of looked like one.
I became obsessed with that deer. Unfortunately, because of the long hard harvest in '07, my opportunities to hunt or even to capture him on film again were few.
On Aug. 14, 2008, I set up two trail cameras in the same bush where I'd originally photographed the Crown Buck. To my disbelief, he appeared on both, even bigger than he'd been the previous year.
From that point on, I collected several pictures of him - all in the dark up until Sept. 20. That was the last picture I had of him in full velvet, and then he vanished. I was seriously depressed. My deer was gone, and I hadn't even had a chance to hunt it yet.
New photos arrived on Oct. 6, however, this time of the Crown Buck sans velvet. Harvest was winding down, and I knew it wouldn't be long 'til I could be sitting in the bush, finally hunting.
During the next few days, I gathered several more photos, but they were different. At least half of them were in the daylight.
Oct. 12 was my first day in the stand. I had an idea where the buck was bedding and eating. But I saw nothing.
The next day at last light, there he was: 20 yards away, broadside and in my shooting lane. But I did not have enough light to see my pins. Can you say FRUSTRATING?
After several more days of hunting and several more sightings, nothing had come together. All I had was a neglected family and a very upset father/boss as he felt he had put more than his share of hours in the tractor.
Sunday, Oct. 26, I was playing bingo with my wife. She decided I owed her an afternoon since I hunted roughly the previous 13 days. Rhonda won $200, but all I could think about was planning my evening's hunt.
My gear was already in the truck.
Rhonda dropped me off, and I walked to my stand just like every other day. One hour before dark, I heard a deer approaching from the same trail I had used earlier. It must be a doe, I thought. But slowly looking back, I could see a glint of antler, and then the buck's whole head. It was the Crown Buck!
In a matter of seconds, he was pausing in my lane.
Already at full draw, I released the arrow and heard the familiar THWACK. The arrow flew true and hit the vitals perfectly. The huge buck turned and ran straight away from me. That's when I knew something was wrong. I could see my arrow parallel with the deer's body.
I couldn't believe how calm I was.
Methodically, I dialed home and Rhonda answered. I babbled into the phone. While the words were unintelligible, she knew by the sound of my voice that I must've shot the deer of my dreams.
Finding my arrow did nothing to soothe my anxiety. It was colored deep red, not a frothy pink. When Rhonda arrived, we searched for more than an hour until it was way too dark. We decided to give up and try again in the morning.
The drive home was quiet. When we got there, I couldn't sleep, eat or even sit still that night. I needed to know, and dawn couldn't come soon enough.
The next morning, Rhonda and I picked up the trail, but the sign was faint. We followed it out of the bush and, to my dismay, into the field.
That the deer crossed open ground didn't bode well for my chances of finding him.
Nearly four hours later, my expert tracker (Rhonda) had found the trail again across the field in the next bush. My doubts grew even more when we saw that he'd crossed a beaver dam.
Just when my dream was fading away like smoke, Rhonda said, "Look at the blood on the ice. It looks like he's bleeding way more."
She was right.
We continued around the beaver dam and followed the trail for another couple hundred yards. The sign was barely visible.
Finally, with no trail left to follow, we decided to just walk through the bush. But there was no deer. We found ourselves with just a tiny sliver of bush between us and the road. There was no way he could be in there.
We'd just decided to call it quits when Rhonda heard something. We both looked to her right and there he was, standing up and now running straight away. He looked huge and very hurt. We ran out of the bush and to the top of the hill in the field just in time to see him stagger into a small willow clump. Rhonda stayed back 100 yards as I slowly approached the willows. When I entered the tall grass, all I could think was, "Please let me get another shot."
After about 15 steps, there he was, bedded and staring at me not 20 yards away. I drew my bow and began to move sideways to get a shot at his vitals.
This was when I realized he was not going to stand up again; he was too weak. I placed my pins on his chest and at that moment all my calmness I bragged about earlier was gone. For about five seconds, I actually forgot how to shoot my bow. Then I regained my composure and put him down for the count.
After closer examination, we concluded that my mechanical broadhead had hit the third rib from the back. My best guess is that one blade opened before the others and deflected the arrow. My arrow had come to rest between the chest cavity and the deer's left shoulder.
I am very fortunate and very lucky to have a wife like Rhonda, great kids and an understanding (if not sometimes grumpy and tractor-sore) father.
I can't wait to see the finished mount by Brian Dobson at Artistic Taxidermy.
Hunter: Jeff Lutz
Official Score: 188 7/8"
Composite Score: 209 7/8"
-- Reprinted from the July 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.