Move over, Elvis, it's time for a new addition!
By Mike Puhalla
I started hunting deer in 1963, and I've had a Nebraska permit every year since, except for the four years I served in the Air Force. Even then, the two years I was stationed in Cheyenne, Wyo., I was able to hunt elk, deer and antelope.
The deer I bagged in 2007, my best in 44 years, was no stranger to me. Nor did it surprise my son, Tom, and granddaughter, Whitney Pfister.
Those two saw the buck in 2006 while hunting along what we call the hedgerow. They were hunkered inside a blind in the tall CRP grass until about 9 a.m.
While walking back to the truck, they spotted this buck in my cornfield. Nobody ever saw it again that year. My guess was that it had wound up in someone's Deepfreeze.
My opinion changed in early August. I was cutting the first round of hay in the prairie field next to the hedgerow when I spotted it. When swathing hay, you have to constantly watch over your shoulder to make sure you aren't plugged from a mouse nest or sticks that blow out of the hedge.
There are leaves on the trees that time of year, so my first glimpse of the buck was limited until it jumped from the hedge into the pasture.
That's when I knew it was the big one. The rascal could've been purple for all I knew; my eyes saw only the huge rack. I almost missed the slightly smaller buck accompanying the giant one. It was small only by comparison. If the season had been open, most anyone would've shot it without hesitating.
Tom and I set up a trail camera in October, hoping to get a picture of the giant. We got some good photos of lesser bucks and does, but the big one never strolled in front of the lens. Later that month, however, I actually saw the buck on my neighbor's land about three-quarters of a mile from my prairie. I saw it about four more times before the season, twice on my own farm.
When the '07 rifle season finally arrived, I went straight to my hedgerow. The first two days, all I saw were numerous does and a nice 4x4.
Because I still had lots of time, I let that one go.
My wife, Delores, enjoys hunting with me when she can. Tuesday was her day off, and she didn't have any grandkids to baby-sit. Although she didn't have a deer permit that year, she put on her orange and jumped in the truck with me at 5:30 a.m. We drove part way to the hedgerow and walked the last quarter-mile.
The hedge is a row of large old Osage orange trees. We were standing sort of back to back, next to one of the larger trees, where I could watch the CRP and she could see the pasture and prairie field. There is a lot of underbrush in there, so we were concealed pretty well.
Around 8:00, I thought about leaving. We'd seen only four does - three in a group and another that jumped into my pasture and continued over the hill.
About five minutes later, my wife poked me and said softly, "Oh my gosh." I knew by the way she elbowed me that it had to be a big one.
The doe that had jumped into my pasture came bounding back over the fence into the prairie. She was moving full tilt about 150 yards out, running left to right. When that buck cleared the fence after her, it was a sight to behold. I'll never forget that image.
I whistled a couple of times, trying to stop the buck. But it paid no attention to me. They made a big circle in the pasture. I knew if they got over the fence, they would soon disappear over the hill.
It's hard to be calm in such a situation, but I took a deep breath (I think) and bore down on the buck with my .30-06. Down it went, about 6 feet from the fence.
As always, I tried to jack another cartridge in my rifle in case the deer got to its feet again. But I was so nervous and shaking that the case jammed. It was a good thing my first shot anchored it.
Delores and I walked back to the truck and then drove up to the fallen deer. But we couldn't lift it. I finally resorted to backing into a nearby ditch, and thanks to the frosty prairie grass, we were able to drag it easily into the bed.
We took the deer home, field-dressed it and got out the camera. By then, we had an audience as my wife had used her cell phone to call the kids.
Delores, my "Good Luck Charm," said she would be nice and move one or two of her Elvis pictures, so the big one could hang on the wall in our home.
Now there's more than one king hanging in the den.
Hunter: Mike Puhalla
Official Score: 168 5/8"
Composite Score: 185 4/8"
-- Reprinted from the August 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.