By Matt Sloan
-- Beads of sweat rolled down my face as I hoisted my bow up the tree. The warm September afternoon made my hike up the hill and into my stand less than pleasant. I had started to wonder if my friends were right when they told me I was crazy for hunting opening day. None of that mattered to me, though, because I was overwhelmed with excitement over my first-ever bowhunt!
I had moved back to Wisconsin after five years in the Navy and was very excited to get back into hunting. My dad had started me deer hunting when I was 12, and we used to gun hunt together prior to my joining the service. He had always bowhunted as well and talked me into trying it last year when I returned.
He told me archery hunting was different than gun hunting because it was low-pressure, a chance to be more selective, required a lot more patience and was the most exhilarating way to hunt deer. He had me hooked, and I couldn’t wait to get into the woods.
I hunt a beautiful farm in Trempealeau County, Wis., near the town of Ettrick. A month prior to opening day, the landowner (a family friend), my dad and I mowed the trails and looked for a place to set up my stand. I chose a tall poplar tree at the end of a narrow field.
No one had hunted that field for at least 20 years. After setting up the 20-foot ladder stand, the landowner and my dad looked around and proclaimed it an excellent spot.
Standing up in my tree, I began to imagine the scenario of a big buck walking down the field and stopping right in front of me. I had been shooting a bow for less than a month and wasn’t quite sure how I would deal with a big bruiser in bow range. Lucky for me, my dad pushed me to watch every hunting show imaginable, so that I knew what to do when faced with an opportunity.
After sitting for two hours, I noticed some movement at the far end of the field. I couldn’t quite make out how big the deer was, but I could definitely tell it wore antlers. The buck was slowly making his way toward me, walking with his head down. I slowly twisted my body so that I could reach for my bow. I didn’t think I would be shooting at the buck, but I wanted to be ready if opportunity knocked.
Another 10 minutes passed, and I still couldn’t see the buck’s rack clearly. Then, suddenly, I “clanked” my bow against the stand’s armrest and the buck raised his head. My heart nearly jumped right out of my chest because, even at 100 yards, I could plainly see that this buck was a monster.
The buck’s antlers extended well beyond its ears, and the tines were the tallest I’d ever seen. I had to do my best not to fall out of my stand from shaking!
I stood as still as I could and tried to calm my nerves. Soon, the buck lowered his head again and resumed chewing away at the grass. He soon began making his way up the field at a faster pace, and his rack seemed to grow even larger.
I quickly began to scan my pre-ranged landmarks and guessed he was going to walk right down in front of me. I chose my spot, an easy 13-yard shot that gave me the perfect angle. The buck continued toward me. He stepped into range, but he stopped and raked his antlers on a small sapling for 10 minutes. Leaves were blocking a clear shot.
My nerves at that point were going crazy as I relished the most awesome experience of my life. Finally, he stood up and began walking down the path again. He dipped behind a small tree. I pulled back my bow and let the arrow fly as he stepped out from behind it.
I was jumping up and down with excitement as the deer sped away.
I waited until dark to call my dad. When I told him what I had done, he didn’t believe me. He said, “Matt, lets go. Your mom has dinner ready.”
I chuckled a second before insisting, “Dad, get up here. I shot a pig.”
Yet he still did not believe me. “Matt, meet me at the truck,” he replied.
I finally yelled, “Get up here and help me track this buck!”
After a quiet moment, he said, “Are you serious?”
“Yes, now get up here,” I chuckled again.
When my dad arrived, we found a sizeable puddle of blood at the site of impact. Half a bloody arrow was nearby.
We followed the trail almost right down the path I walked in on to get to my stand. Finally, I heard my dad gasp as he saw the antlers poking out of the grass up ahead. He ran out in front of me in amazement. Neither of us could believe what we saw. The buck was larger than I had thought!
I couldn’t wrap my hands around portions of the right main beam. Every tine on the right had kickers. There were eight points on the right and five on the left. I couldn’t have imagined shooting a 13-pointer on my first day bowhunting, much less a monster.
My dad laughed when I asked him if he believed me now. During the ride home, we called a few friends who didn’t believe me either. We also arranged to meet the landowner at a local gathering spot on the way back into town. There were close to 30 people waiting outside when we arrived, all waiting to see how big the buck was.
Field-dressed, it weighed 215 pounds. The rack green-scored 156 3/8 inches.
I love beginners luck!