By Alice H. Bartelli
Steve Bartelli's buck sports 13 points - three irregular ones on a 5x5 frame. This photo doesn't do justice to the rack's incredible mass. Photo by: Alice H. Bartelli
Whenever my husband, Steve, gets the urge to go hunting, he doesn't have to go far. We live in rural Greenfield, Ill., on 37 acres. When the season is in, all he has to do is fire up the tractor and drive to the elevated stand he calls his "tree house."
That's exactly what he did during the November 2006 gun season, all three days. On Friday, he saw only does and yearlings. They were restless, often looking over their shoulders to check their backtrails. But Steve never saw the bucks he envisioned would come.
He didn't have time to go out again that afternoon. He and I run a home-based scheduling service for American Airlines flight attendants who work out of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. He spent the rest of the day working on their December schedules.
On Saturday morning, Steve returned to his tree house. It was another clear and sunny day. There was only a light breeze, and the temperature was in the low 40s. The deer, alas, were not moving. Finally deciding they must be bedded down, he opted to come back to the house.
Steve put his shotgun and other gear in the tractor's bucket and drove through the woods toward the house. Along the way, he scared up a really big buck that had bedded down a few feet from the trail. It bolted up, crossed the trail right in front of the tractor and ran off to the east.
Photo by: Alice H. Bartelli
When he told me about the buck, I asked if he was going back out that afternoon.
"No. That buck is gone," he said. "It won't be back on our property today. And that's the one I want to get."
My husband was aloft again on Sunday morning. After sitting there for a couple of hours without seeing any deer, he decided to eat a sandwich. Of course, that's when he saw something out of the corner of his eye.
A deer was coming his way. It took a few moments before he could clearly see it. When he did, he realized that it had to be the big buck he'd seen the previous day. By the time Steve could put down the sandwich and pick up his 12 gauge, the deer moved in so close that my husband couldn't get a decent shot at it.
Steve quietly moved to another window, opened the sash and lifted the gun to the window. He told me later, "I had buck fever so bad, the gun was rattling against the sill. It sounded like someone's teeth clacking together from a bad case of the shivers."
By that time, the buck had moved farther away. When it stopped on a small rise to look around, Steve squeezed the trigger. The buck dropped to the ground, but only for a second.
Steve knew from experience that to go after the deer immediately would only push it farther. So he stayed in the tree house for another hour and 15 minutes - plenty of time for the buck to bleed out. After that, he put his shotgun and all of his gear in the front-loader and drove to where he had last seen the deer.
In short order, Steve found the buck lying about 20 feet off the trail. He drove the tractor up close, thinking he would load the deer. Before he could shut it off, however, the buck lifted its head and stared at him. They sat there for about 10 minutes, looking at each other.
"I had plenty of time to count the 13 points and admire its rack - especially the two big drop tines - but I couldn't think of a way to get my gun without spooking the deer," he said.
It was a standoff. If Steve moved in any way, the buck would surely run. On the other hand, he couldn't just sit there on the tractor all day. He finally decided to put his heel down on the back side of the accelerator pedal - which puts his tractor into reverse (no hand movement needed) - and try to ease back away from his prize.
But it didn't work.
The buck staggered to its feet and bounded away to the north. Steve was sadly disappointed to lose the deer. He went all over the property looking for it. By the time he got back to the house, he was disgusted and frustrated. I suggested we go out after lunch to look again, but Steve mumbled, "Nah. It's gone. I'll never see that one again."
Steve and I spent the afternoon working on schedules for the flight attendants.
By late afternoon, I couldn't stand it any more. I'd been thinking what a shame it would be if that deer was still on the property somewhere. So I said to Steve, "If you don't mind, I think I'll put Coga on a leash and see if we can track that deer."
Steve thought I was wasting my time, but he told me where the wounded deer was lying when he found it, so that I could start from there. I went out to get the dog, a Spinone Italiano. That's an ancient breed of bird dog common in Italy but somewhat rare in North America.
As Coga and I walked toward the designated spot, the dog stopped to sniff the air with serious consideration. He didn't pull or strain against the leash, so after a few moments, I urged him onward. We found the blood spot where the deer had been lying and followed its trail down into a slough.
After losing the trail and the scent twice, I went back to the spot to start over a third time. I started from the blood spot and moved a bit to the east, toward the nearest ridge line. Coga put his nose to the ground and headed north. He did not hesitate. He was tracking. He had the scent. Along the way, we crossed the spot where he had stopped to smell the air that first time. We approached the pond that is near the house, turned east, went about 50 yards, and then turned north again.
After a little bit of negotiating through the next section of trees, Coga went into a point. I scanned the ground ahead and, sure enough, there was the buck! The run had taken the last of its strength, and it died not too far from the house. I petted and praised Coga profusely, and then we ran back to the house.
I put the dog in the pen, and then ran to the porch. I was having my own case of buck fever. I pounded on the plate glass window and shouted to Steve, "I found it! I found it!"
He was watching television, and said something like, "Yeah, sure."
I took off my hat, waved it in the air and shouted some more. He still didn't believe me, so I ran to the shed to get the tractor.
By the time I pulled up next to the deck, Steve finally came outside - barefooted and in a pair of gym shorts - to ask if I really did find it.
"Yes, yes, come on," I urged. "We have to go get it!"
Steve got dressed, and we went to reclaim his big buck.
Hunter: Steve Bartelli
Official Score: 179 7/8"
Composite Score: 201 5/8"
-- Reprinted from the December 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine