By Mike Handley
The author notched his tag with this handsome 4x4 barely five hours into his November 2006 hunt. Four years earlier, he arrowed his first record-book buck from the same stand, with the deer in the same spot on his very first afternoon in Nebraska.
The rusted barbed-wire fence was as good a stopping point as any, and it was closer than the road. I dragged the buck right up to the bottom strand, let go of it and leaned my bow against an adolescent oak. In one burst of uncharacteristic effort, I’d covered 40 yards.
Thank god it was all downhill.
As I stood there sucking in air like a Hoover upright, rustling leaves on the opposite hillside pulled my gaze off the 8-pointer at my feet. Instead of the deer I’d expected to see, it was Cory, a kid who’d been hunting the adjacent property.
In a matter of seconds, the young man had crossed the dirt road and was pulling my buck under the fence while I picked up my beloved Renegade to go over it.
“I knew you’d shot a deer,” he beamed. “I heard the arrow hit, and then I heard it coughing ... I heard you cough, too, when you got to the bottom.”
Cory — betrayer of a desk potato’s indiscretions — had been in a ladder stand more than 100 yards distant.
Oh, but to possess the hearing of youth!
“It was awesome,” I began, eager to share the story and somehow squelching another cough.
I’d arrived in Nebraska at noon the previous day, Nov. 4, following a weeklong bowhunt in Kansas. Although I’d put in at least 40 hours in stands, I was eager to spend Saturday’s last four hours in yet another — preferably the same one from which I’d arrowed my best-ever bow buck in 2002.
At 4:30 that evening, a freshman 8-pointer chased a yearling doe out of the nearby cedars. While she browsed directly beneath my stand, her would-be suitor remained at 15 yards for a half-hour or longer. Neither deer had a clue that I was there.
I have a habit of lowering a heated scent dispenser on my pull-up cord after I’ve hoisted up my bow. In this case, I’d clipped on a scent-bomb canister filled with Tink’s #69. The doe was so close that when she lifted her head at one point, her nose nearly tipped over the orange plastic bottle.
I’d also approached my stand by blazing a new path and avoiding the numerous deer trails traversing the oak ridge. Along the way, I laid down a semicircle of powdered buck urine at 17 yards. The 8-pointer was fascinated, if not slightly unnerved by the remnants of an imagined rival’s passing.
Mike Handley’s 2002 buck was heading directly away from him until a couple of well-timed bleats caused it to do a 180.
The 25 longbeards, ‘possum and brace of obese raccoons that crossed the drag line before and afterward paid it no mind.
It was a glorious afternoon, capped by a succulent 14-ounce ribeye at a tavern in the small town of Beatrice. I went to bed that night with a full belly and a happy heart.
The full moon was so bright that I never had to turn on my flashlight while returning to the stand the following morning. While the halogen moon had severely diminished my chances of getting a deer in Kansas earlier in the week, I wasn’t all that concerned here.
My 16-foot ladder stand sat atop a north-south ridge linking thick cedars to soybean and cornfields. It’s perfect for either morning or evening, regardless of wind -testament to the eye Tim Puhalla has for choosing stand sites.
Tim, the proprietor of Wild Things Outfitting in Filley, Neb., is a bowhunter, which is immediately obvious to his archer clients.
During a lull in the incessant gobbling of nearby turkeys at about 7:00, I happened to glance through a window in the brush behind me and saw an enormous 8-pointer walking from west to east. One hand shot out to lift my bow off its hook; the other crawled down my shirt to grab my Woods Wise grunt call.
Grunting and bleating stopped the buck, which glared in my direction, but the animal ultimately resumed its eastward walk. Desperate to coax the deer closer, I continued alternating the grunts (blowing in the tube) and bleats (sucking on it), and I threw in a couple of higher-pitched whines by flipping the canister in my coat pocket.
As I was, reluctantly, about to write off that deer, I glanced to my right just in time to see yet another 8-pointer heading directly to me. This rascal had obviously been eavesdropping on my one-sided conversation with what very well could have been its father.
When the eavesdropper stopped at the scent trail I’d laid the previous afternoon, shielded by a tree, I drew. When it cleared the obstacle at 17 yards, I green-pinned it and released.
There was no doubt in my mind that the buck was carrying enough antler to qualify for “Buckmasters Whitetail Trophy Records.”
The 4x4 took two hops and looked around, unaware that the thwack had left it with two holes in its sides. Steam boiled out of both as it coughed twice before all four legs buckled.
Never doubt the lethalness of a double-lung hit with a sharp cut-on-contact broadhead. The whitetail was dead five minutes after the shot, and it had gone no farther than 10 feet. Still, I waited half an hour before going to ground.
Ten minutes into my wait, a third 8-pointer exited the cedar thicket and circled me at 15 yards. When it disappeared, a doe emerged and stared hard at my unmoving buck. The big 4x4 that set off the chain of events was trailing her.
During five hours in the stand, I saw five bucks, four of them 8-pointers. I was sorely tempted to go online and purchase a second $178 tag, which is exactly what another client did that week after arrowing a handsome 10-pointer. But I wound up spending my remaining day and a half riding around with Tim.
We spotted numerous great bucks while cruising the grid of Pawnee County’s dusty roads. And I lost count of the colorful pheasants we encountered. The week leading up to Nebraska’s firearms deer season is a wonderful time to bowhunt. The rut is under way, and there’s a never-ending parade of bucks looking for love.
I’ve been there four times now, and you can bet that I’ll go back. My goal is to accept a book-class whitetail whenever opportunity knocks, and I’m two-for-four with Tim. If he or I decide to raise the bar, I’m still safe.
I’ve had the pleasure of measuring numerous monsters in the 170- to 200-inch range that have been shot or, more often, found dead on the farms for which Tim has hunting rights. These are the old warriors that rarely show themselves in daylight.
Take a place that’s crawling with record-book deer, add the very real possibility of harvesting a buck worthy of a magazine cover, and you’ve got one great place to hunt. If you value hunting more than four-star accommodations and three squares, pick up the phone and call Tim. If you want a fancy place to hang your hat and dislike pub fare, do the rest of us a favor and book with someone else.
Mike Handley is the editor of Rack magazine and chairman of the BTR. You can reach Tim Puhalla by calling (402) 520-0006.
-- Reprinted from the July 2007 issue of Buckmasters Magazine