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Former Shotgunner Back in the Fold

By John Miller

Hunter: John Miller
John Miller had forsaken hunting for many years before succumbing to the urge to give bowhunting a try. A wrist injury and a botched opportunity at this buck led to his switching to a crossbow in the fall of 2001. The second time their paths crossed, the Ohio man was ready. Photo Courtesy of John Miller.

After a long hiatus from hunting, I decided to give bowhunting a try back in 2000. I'd taken several deer with a shotgun as a teenager.

Since most of the places I had access to hunt were at least an hour from my home in Hartville, Ohio, I sought permission from local farmers. After half a dozen unsuccessful tries, I finally met a gentleman kind enough to allow me on his 80 acres, after the hunters who usually hunted there didn't show.

When the '01 season opened, I was confident that I'd tag my first deer with a bow. I'd come to know the property through scouting and had found the perfect place for a stand, about 30 yards from multiple creek crossings between a bedding area and a soybean field. After hunting there the first four weeks and seeing only a few does, however, I decided a move was in order.

Of the 80 acres I hunt, only about 40 are wooded. The rest is cropland. With such a small tract of woods, there are only a few options for stand sites.

On Oct. 29, I got to the woods early in the afternoon with plans to put up a new stand. I decided to hang it at the edge of a cornfield that had several paths leading up to it. I spent the rest of the evening there without seeing any deer.

I returned the next evening, and it was a beautiful day: wind calm and the temperature mild. I saw my first buck of the year at 5:30, and what a buck it was!

Hunter: John Miller
Photo Courtesy of John Miller

I heard it in the thicket behind me, and it took awhile for me to locate the source of the noise. The deer - I couldn't see antlers, at first - was traveling parallel to me, but then it changed course, heading down a trail that would bring it within 30 yards of my stand.

I finally spotted antlers through the thick brush, but it wasn't until their wearer stepped out in the open that I realized the buck was a true monster. It halted at 30 yards to nibble on some leaves. Because it was angling slightly toward me, I did not want to take a risky shot.

The buck eventually stood at a fork in the trail. One route would've taken it 25 more yards away; the other to within 10 of me. It chose the farthest, so I had to so something.

Just when I started to draw, it stopped and gazed in my direction.

I froze.

The deer just stood there for a very long minute or two. My wrist, which had been in a cast for 10 weeks after being shattered during a basketball game the previous spring, was throbbing. As the deer turned to move on, I eased the string forward and tried in vain to pull it back again. I was pulling only 50 pounds because of my wrist, and my arm was too weak to do the job. I felt sick as I watched my dream buck waltz off stage. Its thick and heavy rack bobbed as it walked straight away from me.

I watched, helpless, as it got out to 100 yards or so before vanishing. Right then and there, I decided I would hunt only for that buck.

For the next eight days, with the exception of Sunday, I was in the same stand. Some might think it unwise to hunt the same setup so often. I definitely don't think it's a great idea. But hunting such a small tract of land didn't give me a wealth of options. I was extremely careful of my approach and departure of my stand, making as little noise and leaving as little scent as possible.

After my initial encounter with the buck and the condition of my wrist, I wasn't taking the risk of not being able to draw and hold my bow. I decided to go with a crossbow.

The first few days back, I had lots of action. The deer were really moving. Nov. 3 provided shot opportunities at four different bucks in the first half-hour of daylight. The biggest was a 135-class 10-pointer. As it was only my second year of bowhunting, that was one lucky young buck. But I was determined to hold out for the big one.

The next few days, I saw nothing. I had seen seven bucks in the preceding weeks. I was beginning to doubt that I would ever see the big one again, at least before I had to leave for South Carolina on Nov. 9.

On Nov.7, with about 30 minutes of shooting light remaining, I still hadn't seen a single deer all day, and then it happened! My dream buck, chasing two does, ran into the just-picked cornfield about 150 yards from my stand. The deer still had a lot of ground to cover if I was to get a shot.

As the buck closed the gap, I had a decision to make. Light was fading quickly, and it was still about 80 yards distant. One of the does was about 40 yards from my stand, and I was afraid I might spook her. But I decided to try grunting. After a few grunts, the closest doe just stood there, and the other one seemed to be curious as she entered the woods about 40 yards behind me.

The buck didn't seem to hear the grunt. Its mind was elsewhere. Fortunately for me, however, the animal changed its mind.

When I walked into the woods that evening, I'd put some doe-in-heat scent on my boots. The doe crossed my path, and the buck was headed her way. Would it leave the doe for the scent trail? I thought probably not, but I was wrong.

The instant the old boy hit that trail, it changed course for my stand. When it got to the edge of the woods, it stopped, offering me a broadside shot at 15 yards. My shot was a little higher than I wanted, but it did the job.

Read More Stories From RACK MagazineThe buck bolted into the cornfield about 60 yards away and just stood there. After what seemed like forever, I finally saw it go down. What an incredible hunt!

After leaving it alone for about half an hour, I headed to my vehicle to get a flashlight. I quickly headed back to the field to get a close-up look at the giant buck. When my light shone on those antlers, I couldn't believe my eyes! The whitetail was way bigger than I'd thought.

Hunter: John Miller
Official Score: 180 7/7"
Composite Score: 201 3/8"
Crossbow
Semi-Irregular

-- Reprinted from the December 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine

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