Pennsylvania's No.1 Perfect by crossbow.
By Tom Pisarchick
Some of my fondest memories of growing up are of hunting with my dad. I could not wait to go to deer camp with him to join my grandpa, uncles and cousins. With the fire roaring in the fireplace and snow falling outside, the men played cards while we kids circled around and listened to their stories.
Grandpa George was an accomplished trophy buck hunter. He was old school, wore Woolrich hunting clothes, rubber Northerner boots and carried a 760 Remington .30-06 with iron sights.
Grandpa had two methods of hunting bucks: stump sitting and tracking them in the snow. His home and our hunting camp were both filled with his mounts and racks. He and his four sons were all successful hunters.
As a youngster, I always wished that someday I would be like him, placing my tag on a trophy buck.
I struggled during my younger days as a hunter. It took me six years to get my first buck, a scrawny little 3-pointer. After that, filling a tag was sporadic, and never for a real jaw-dropper.
I thought if I took up bowhunting, my luck might change; maybe I'd get a chance at the big ones before gun season forced them into hiding. In 15 years, I still was never able to bag a big one, but I was closing in on it. I was learning a lot through trial and error and seeing some nice bucks.
That's when Pennsylvania adopted a statewide quality deer management program with antler restrictions and more antlerless permits. In just two years, the tables turned. I was able to harvest six big bucks in consecutive seasons, four of them worthy of the record book. The biggest was a 12-pointer, and I got it in 2008.
With that buck and the ones leading up to it, I thought I'd reached the pinnacle of my hunting career. But that was before I received a tip about a true trophy-class buck that was still around in the second week of our '08 gun season. It had been seen for two years by the locals in the Beechwoods area.
A coworker showed me pictures of a buck on his property. He had told a couple of other coworkers about it, too, and they'd hunted it a few times.
As soon as the late muzzleloader season ended, I put some trail cameras out over corn. After one week, I checked the cameras and could not believe my eyes. An image of the largest buck I had ever seen was on the memory card.
As the winter got harsher, it was easy to follow the buck's trail by the deep hoofprints in the snow. I scouted and collected information about the buck's core area late into March, though I never found its sheds.
The deer disappeared about that time, too.
June was almost half over when my coworker, Paul Anderson, came to me again with the news of the buck's return. I set up my cameras the following weekend. I got photos of the huge buck throughout the summer.
I contacted two outfitter friends, Doug Church of Salamanca, N.Y., and Tom Indrebo in Buffalo County Wis., and asked for their advice. Both told me I needed to find the buck's secondary bedding area - the place it would go when hunters started taking to the woods.
As luck would have it, while looking for nuisance geese in mid-September, I saw a 140-class 9-pointer exit a huge block of private ground and cross a township road. That buck was the big guy's frequent companion.
I marked the trail from the road and came back later in the afternoon and found a natural funnel, a perfect pinch point between the I-80 interstate fence and a washed-out ravine coming from the Kyle Lake Reservoir's spillway. I hung two cameras on two different trails and checked them a week later.
I had only two deer on both cameras, but they were the ones I'd hoped to see. I went in with scent-proof clothing to hang two stands, but then I decided against it. There wasn't a suitable tree.
I decided I'd spend opening morning there in a Scent-Tite ground blind - which required some clearing beforehand - and to trade my compound for a crossbow. (That was the first season crossbows were allowed for the general public in Pennsylvania.)
I felt I had a good shot at the buck as long as somebody or something didn't alter its routine.
There was a southeasterly wind blowing on the morning of Oct. 3. As I sat inside the blind, waiting for daylight, my mind raced. I kept looking at my watch, knowing the buck could appear at any minute. The sun took its sweet time.
I had just checked my scope for light conditions when I saw movement up the trail. A buck was approaching, head lowered. When it stopped in a clearing at 35 yards and snapped up its head, I recognized it.
Oh, my God!
The big deer stared in my direction for what seemed like forever before switching ends and walking stiff-leggedly another 10 yards away from me. I just knew I wasn't going to get a shot.
I avoided looking into those eyes.
Moments later, the familiar 9-pointer came down the same trail.
Oblivious to its pal's reservations, it crossed the ravine 20 yards in front of me, and headed for some brush. The big buck watched it and slowly turned back toward me. It stood there a few minutes until some interstate noise stole its attention.
After glancing toward the road, the buck flicked its tail, dropped its head and started down the trail. When it passed in front of me at 20 yards, I squeezed the trigger.
The crossbow bolt's impact almost knocked the deer off its feet, but it scrambled across the ravine and into the brush.
After half an hour of shaking inside my blind, I got out and found my blood-soaked arrow. But because there was almost none on the ground, I backed out and didn't pick up the trail until that afternoon.
When I returned to start my search, I found blood where I didn't see it before. Turns out, the hit had been a little high and the spatter was off to the side of the trail, not on it.
As soon as I grabbed that massive rack, I realized I'd finally joined the club; I was walking in Grandpa's footsteps, after 35 years of trying.
• Hunter: TOM PISARCHICK
• Official Score: 159 6/8
• Composite: 184 5/8
-- Reprinted from the July 2010 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.