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Back in the Saddle

John Kolb

After surgery, South Dakota bowhunter settles old score

By John Kolb

2010: The First Sighting

When I look back a couple of years to the day I first saw this buck, I remember being immediately entranced by its size.

My memories are still so vivid. The sun was shining brightly; it was a cool and crisp morning, and I spotted the buck walking west, moving through a crossing on my aunt and uncle's farm.

I can't really say if the bruiser was responding to my rattling and grunting. I believe it was just passing through. When it reached a clear spot, I grunted and it stopped, looked my way and nonchalantly continued walking toward the river that winds through the property. That was the last I'd see it that season.

2011: My Bad

My next encounter was during the 2011 season while I stood in the treestand I call my lucky tree.

On this day, as I looked to the south, I spotted the buck standing at about 50 yards away facing north.

My lucky tree grows at the bottom of a steep riverbank. The stand actually sits lower than ground level at the top of the bank, so I was pretty much at eye level with this buck.

It continued to walk toward me, so I got ready to draw my bow. Unbelievably, as I pulled back on the string, my beanie and neck gaiter got caught on the release and twisted in front of my eyes. I could only see half the buck, so I let down the string.

By this time the buck was only five yards away, and I couldn't believe it didn't catch the motion. I dared not draw right away for fear it would spook.

It was now right beside me, standing on top of the bank, so I was only about two feet above it. Then the unthinkable happened.

When I attempted to slowly draw again, it either heard me or sensed something was wrong. The buck turned, ran, and once again vanished for the remainder of the season.

2012: Back Surgery

July 26, 2012 was an absolutely horrible day for me. I'd been ailing from a herniated disc in my back for about five months, and I left work early, feeling ill. I would never wish that kind of pain on anyone.

I was bedridden until mid-August when I had my second back surgery. I couldn't walk, and I needed crutches to move at all. Following surgery, I was out of work for two and a half months. Needless to say, my scouting was nonexistent.

In October I headed back to work, but I wasn't able to shoot my bow until my doctor gave me the okay. Once he did, I gave my son the old bow I'd been shooting for 13 years and bought myself a new one.

Once I received my license, I went hunting the next morning. Between work, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and daily living, I'd only been out about six times by November.

On November 7, I invited one of my co-workers to hunt with me. He is new to archery, and I thought it would be nice to have him along. At the end of our shift as we were punching out, I turned to my co-worker and said, "I'm going to shoot a deer tonight."

"Yeah, right. You might see a deer," he joked.

As I walked to my stand, I periodically spritzed buck urine and doe pee on the grass.

I got to my stand around 3:10 p.m. and immediately saw a nice 9-pointer. I grunted and rattled, but it kept walking.

As the afternoon progressed, I did a sequence of rattling and grunting, but had no action at first. Then I saw movement around 5 p.m., and two little does emerged from the brush. About that time, I heard something behind my left shoulder and turned around to look.

To my surprise, there was the big buck I'd chased for two seasons, walking down the trail I came in on. It caught me completely off guard!

Slowly, I reached for my bow and attached the release. My heart was pounding like a jackhammer, and I froze, not making eye contact with the monster, but watching it through my peripheral vision.

It stopped 10 yards away to my left, sniffing the grass where I'd squirted buck urine and doe pee. I tried not to fall out of the treestand because my heart was beating so hard.

It eventually turned, quartering away from me, so I instantly drew and slapped the 20-yard pin on its vitals and shot.

Hunting Stories Wanted!After the arrow hit, I heard what I'd best describe as a gasping noise. It whirled and ran like greased lightning, and I lost sight of it at the bend of the river.

I got down right away, which is one of bowhunting's cardinal sins, and I walked over to where it had stood.

There was blood there, and I knew deep down I'd just arrowed my largest deer to date. I followed the blood to where the river bends and decided not to pursue any further.

I hightailed it to my truck and called Dave, my good friend and hunting buddy, and told him to get out here now. I just shot the big one! 

Dave arrived, and we immediately picked up the blood trail and followed it across the river.

After we'd gone about 150 yards, Dave said, "Found your buck!"

Lo and behold, there it lay with an unbroken arrow protruding from its side. We took lots of pictures and, of course, posted it immediately on Facebook.

We field dressed the monster and took it to a friend's house to hang. Lots of people gathered to see it when the word got out.

When I got home, my oldest son, Conner, ran out to see me and said, "How big is he, Dad?"

He's BIG, I told him, and asked him if he saw it on Facebook. What a great way to end the day!

Author's Note: Harvesting a mature whitetail buck is one of the hardest things to accomplish, especially with a bow. I'm incredibly proud of the time and effort I put in to take this incredible animal. It really paid off.  And a special thank you to my wife and kids for putting up with my addiction.

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