By Edson B. Waite Jr.
On the eve of Indiana's 2007 shotgun season, Steve Padgett learned that his son, Steven, couldn't make it home from college. Father and son had not missed an opening day since junior was old enough to carry a gun.
"I was really bummed," Steve said. "It was probably the first time since 1978 that I could not force myself out of bed to go hunting on Saturday morning."
When he finally did roll out of the sack, Steve didn't know what to do with himself. He never imagined that he and Steven would not be together that day. By 2:00, his wife had endured more of his moping than she could take.
"Robin literally drove me from the house," Steve said. "Not knowing what to do, I called my buddy, Steve Eaton, who owns a farm just down the road. We've hunted that place together for years. It's situated next to a state-owned, flood-control tract that's full of deer, yet off-limits to hunters.
"Steve and his son were getting ready for the afternoon hunt, so he invited me to join them," he added.
When Padgett arrived at the farm, the weather was perfect. The temperature was in the mid-40s, the sky was clear, and there was only the slightest breeze.
There were four hunters: Steve Eaton and his son, Brad, Kenny Hardwick and Padgett. The Eatons and Kenny went to the south side of the 120-acre farm, where cropland adjoins a swamp. Padgett went by himself to the north end.
"We have about 25 stands hanging around that 45-acre woodlot," Padgett said. "I went to the one we call the 'Island Stand,' which is on a ridge between two deep ravines, right in the middle of the woods. It's a hang-on stand in a pretty decent tree - a good spot, since the deer use the ravines to travel from the state sanctuary to food and water."
Padgett was aloft by 3:00.
"The first 30 or 40 minutes, all I saw were a few squirrels. Then two does and a fawn came by, and I watched them until they disappeared. After that, I just sat there thinking I was wasting my time. I didn't want to be there, but I sat.
"About 10 minutes after 5:00, I heard something behind me. I slowly eased my head around the side of the tree and saw a doe standing in the pine thicket nearly 70 yards away. I watched her for four or five minutes as she came toward me.
"Eventually, I saw movement farther left in the pine thicket. I could tell it was a deer, but I couldn't see the animal's head, which was behind a large oak tree.
"Finally, after what seemed like several minutes, the new arrival I'd pegged as a doe took a couple of steps away from the oak, revealing a very large set of antlers. The buck was broadside to me, so I could see only the long tines on the right side of the rack. And then it also started coming.
"I figured the buck was following the doe. She was only 20 yards from me, still walking closer and heading smack into my scent stream. This, I thought, could not be good.
"When she passed at 20 yards, the path she was following branched into three other trails. She turned west toward one of the ravines downwind of me.
Sooner or later, she had to smell me.
"When I checked back to see what the buck was doing, it had already jumped the fence and was standing among a bunch of maple saplings, thrashing one of them to death with its antlers.
"I could still see only the one side. I didn't see any of the sticker points or anything besides those long tines.
"When I turned back to the doe, she had changed direction and was coming toward me again. She took about 10 steps and suddenly raised her head to peer straight up at me. I knew my cover was blown, but I froze. I didn't even blink.
"She stared at me for several seconds, and, believe it or not, dropped her head and walked away. She had been so close, I was afraid to breathe," Padgett said.
The doe was probably 40 or 50 yards ahead of the buck. Steve knew it wasn't going to let its girlfriend get too far away.
"I wasn't too worried about the buck winding me because its mind was on her. She was heading straight away from me at that point.
"I eased my gun down from the hook and searched for the best opening through the saplings and briars. I found an opening at 25 yards. When the buck reached it and brown shoulder filled my scope, I pulled the trigger," Padgett said.
"The buck bolted as I jacked another shell into the chamber. Just as I was about to fire again, its head started to go down. I knew it was hit hard. It might've made another 10 yards before collapsing."
Padgett was in a state of shock. He knew he'd shot a pretty good buck, but he took his sweet time getting over there to admire it. He sat in his stand for a few minutes before lowering his gun and gear. When he reached the ground, it was almost as if he avoided the dead deer.
"I don't really know why, but I decided to walk over to where the buck had been thrashing that sapling," he said. "It was really torn up, almost shredded. I can't believe it now, but then I walked about 25 yards in the direction OPPOSITE where my buck was lying. I don't know what I was thinking.
"Anyway, I finally came to my senses and ran over to it. From 20 feet away, I realized it was a lot nicer than I'd thought. When I stepped alongside and pulled up its head, I saw the drop tine for the first time and let out the loudest whoop you ever heard. My buddies, who were more than 200 yards away, heard me. Nevertheless, I called Steve and told him it was the biggest buck I had ever seen in my life.
"By the time my friends got over to me, it was dark. We eventually dragged the buck to a bush-hogged path, and one of the guys went for a truck."
The buck field-dressed at 177 pounds and was aged at between 6 1⁄2 and 7 1⁄2 years old.
Hunter: Steve Padgett
Official Score: 219 3/8"
Composite Score: 238 3/8"
-- Reprinted from the October 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.