Well, not really. But this PA sportsman might well consider his hunting spot as Heaven on earth!
By Tim Beaumont
Photos Courtesy of Bruce Stickley
Bruce Stickley’s pump was primed for Pennsylvania’s 2007 deer season, thanks to a buddy who stumbled across a shed antler.
“He found this shed near the property where I do most of my hunting,” Bruce said. “It had a drop tine and carried a lot of mass.”
If the wearer of that antler hadn’t been poached or died of natural causes, chances were decent that Bruce or someone in his family might actually see it — hopefully during the season.
The terrain in western Pennsylvania consists of rolling hills, thickets and farmland. The stretch of land that Bruce and his family hunt has all three characteristics, as well as an abundance of wildlife. Bruce lives near one end of the property. His oldest son, Jason, lives at the other.
Both father and son spotted the buck several times during the year, the first time in Jason’s own back yard.
“On Sept. 13, 2007, my wife, Denise, and I were going up Jason’s driveway and saw this giant in my son’s field. As soon as my headlights hit the deer, my wife and I couldn’t believe it. The buck was just huge,” he said.
They all were excited to learn that the deer made it through the winter. Archery season couldn’t open soon enough.
When Jason saw the buck for the first time, he noticed the kickers and drop tine and nicknamed it accordingly.
“My son started calling the buck Droppy because of the irregular points,” Bruce said. The name stuck, and the pursuit of a legendary whitetail — at the exclusion of all others — was officially underway.
“We had only one deer on our minds,” Bruce smiled. “I passed up 16 shots at legal bucks during the 2007 season. And some of those deer were shooters. But we were after Droppy.”
The deer apparently knew it, too, because it went underground until Halloween night, when Jason spotted it in his yard.
Seeing Droppy for a third time renewed the family’s hopes that it hadn’t left Allegheny County. Within a week, Bruce came across a giant rub.
He was certain it was Droppy’s doing.
“A buck had ripped apart the whole side of a big tree. The damage was unbelievable,” he said.
Seeing the rub gave the Stickleys enough confidence to endure the cold and spend some very long days in the woods. But the archery season came and went.
Bruce, his wife and sons kept the big buck as secret as they could.
They knew what they had on their property, and, if they didn’t disturb it, Droppy might just stick around for the two-week gun season that opened the Monday after Thanksgiving.
The first week of gun season was uneventful. On a sunny and extremely cold Thursday, Dec. 6, Bruce left his workplace around 3:00, convinced that it would be a perfect afternoon to hunt. The ground was covered by about 3 inches of snow. He called Jason on the way home to see if he would like to join him in making a few man-drives.
Since conventional methods hadn’t been working, Bruce thought a different approach might lead to an encounter with Droppy before the season ended that week. Jason agreed.
Their first drive saw Bruce pushing a small woodlot for his son. He jumped a buck, but Jason chose not to shoot it. Afterward, they switched places.
“I was thinking the whole time: ‘Where is this deer?’” Bruce said.
Once he took up a position and the second push began, Bruce didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Maybe 15 minutes.
“I could see only the rack, at first, and then a head before the deer disappeared,” Bruce said. “I was looking everywhere for it, but it just vanished.”
Eventually, the weeds in front of the hunter started to sway and the buck emerged from the tall grass.
Armed with his inline muzzleloader, Bruce knew his would be a one-shot opportunity. The buck was at 80 yards and closing when he took it.
“I had confidence in my muzzleloader,” he said, “until after the shot, when I lost sight of the deer. I was looking ahead of the smoke and saw nothing. I looked behind the smoke … nothing. And then I noticed this strange mound of dirt in front of me. It was my deer!
“The buck took one last lunge, and then it was still. I called my wife and waited for my son to approach before I left my post. If it was indeed Droppy, I wanted Jason to be as much a part of the moment as me.
“I’ll never forget it. Never,” Bruce teared up. “We walked up to that monster expecting a lot of mass and tine length, but never THAT much!”
As soon as Jason saw it, he exclaimed, “Droppy’s down! Droppy’s down! You shot our buck!”
Father and son exchanged high-fives and hugged. “It’s over, Dad. I can’t believe it!” Jason told him.
While all this was happening, Bruce’s other son, Jarrod, was at the dentist’s office. “He told the dentist, ‘You’d better hurry, or I’m leaving!’” Bruce laughed.
Hunter: Bruce Stickley
Official Score: 181 1/8"
Composite Score: 199"
-- Reprinted from the July 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.