By Mike Bartig
It was the first week of November during the 2006 fall Missouri archery season, and I was trudging up the hill to my tried-and-true treestand on Dave’s place. I had carefully positioned “Stinky” — my homemade deer decoy — upwind from the perch that I planned to call home for the rest of the day.
I remember thinking that the setup would be a sure thing, as the only route to Stinky would be from directly behind the stand (upwind). Any deer exiting the thicket would be tempted to jump the fence where I was positioned and walk right in front of me. Did I mention that the setup was a sure thing? I had no idea that I was about to embark on a whitetail quest that would take me to new heights of frustration — and satisfaction.
I had just finished thinking out my plan when a giant buck, the biggest whitetail I had seen in 24 years of hunting, appeared. I remember thinking, “This can’t be happening.” It was only 2:00 in the afternoon, but there stood a magnum 10-pointer with a second tine hooking forward out of its base.
A cedar tree prevented the buck from seeing the decoy; but a couple of steps later, it was locked in and approaching Stinky with its head cocked to one side.
Euphoria set in; I had never felt so confident about my chances of killing the deer of my dreams. Then the buck started to walk through the tangle of primrose directly beneath my stand. It was trying to move downwind of my setup. I knew that I needed to act quickly. Bending over, I drew and sent an arrow directly toward the buck’s spine.
The deer immediately fell to the ground, just as you would expect. Imagine my shock when it stood back up and ran out into the cow pasture with the arrow lodged in its face. As the buck stood there, I shuddered and was sickened at my poor shot. The physics of the arrow flight made no sense. The arrow must have deflected off a limb, then shifted 45 degrees back to the right to strike the buck in the face. I knew this animal could end up dying a terrible death at my hands, just as I knew my chances of finding him were slim and none. And that’s where the legend began.
I never found the buck I nicknamed Captain Hook, but I vowed to learn from my mistakes. Fast forward one year to Sept. 15, 2007, the opener of the Missouri archery season. In early August, I had placed a scouting camera adjacent to a trail that contained a large set of deer tracks. As I drove home from our local photo lab, I was excited about the evidence I had in hand. I had a new focus: a beautiful 10-pointer that was bedding in an ironwood thicket less than 100 yards from my home in Kirksville, Mo.
The morning of Sept. 23 was picture perfect. It was my 42nd birthday, and I killed a beautiful 10-pointer as he strolled back to his bed at about 8 a.m. — just as the trail camera had predicted. The same deer gods that had cursed me in 2006 seemed to love me in ’07.
After taking the 10-pointer, I remembered how good it felt to hold a mature set of antlers; it had been two years since I had completed the chess game on a nice buck. But the 2007 season wasn’t over yet.
Early in November, I called my good friend Shawn Smith to make plans for the Missouri firearms portion of deer season. I was disappointed to learn that he had to pass in order to pursue academic endeavors. It’s always fun to hunt with Shawn, but I was going to hunt with or without him.
I awoke at 5 a.m. on the second Saturday in November and wasn’t concerned about taking a deer. It had been a long week at work, and I was just happy to be in the woods. I have a bad habit of rocking back and forth when I’m thinking, and I was mulling over the problems of the previous week when a wide 8-pointer busted me as the sun arose behind my rocking shoulders. The buck stared in my direction for a few moments and then made his way across the CRP field. As it melted out of sight, memories of Captain Hook crept back into my head and once again churned my stomach. I wondered if the deer had survived and possibly been claimed by another hunter — someone who would never know the story behind that great animal.
As the morning sun warmed the hilltop, I hadn’t seen another deer and was regretting not taking the 8-pointer. By 10 a.m., I was well on my way to talking myself out of the stand in anticipation of a big, hot breakfast. Then the big 8-pointer came running back across the field.
I quickly raised my rifle and placed the crosshairs on its shoulder. Just before firing, I caught a glimpse of another set of antlers and pulled off the 8-pointer for a better look. It was Captain Hook; I was just sure of it! The big buck dropped its head and plowed the 8-pointer in the rump, sending it to the ground less than 30 yards from my stand. Without even having to think, I shouldered my gun and shot the big buck.
Today, I often step into my den to look again at Captain Hook’s 176-inch rack. I’m always thankful that I got a chance to cross paths with that buck again. Deer hunting has taught me plenty about life; and while the highs and lows are sometimes too much to bear, they’re all part of the journey and what makes it memorable.
This article was published in the September, 2008 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.