By Pete Schoonmaker
From a distance, this buck's downward-curving left main beam looked more like a drop tine. Even so, the distinctive rack does have matching drops.
The existence of a trophy whitetail is no accident. They possess superior genes. They are surrounded by bountiful nutrition. And their realm possesses several varieties of protective cover.
Limited access or private agricultural lands will allow a buck to achieve full body growth and possess a true trophy rack of antlers. And some of these whitetail habitats and hunting locations can be in surprising places.
How about the outer reaches of Long Island, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean?
This place features 100-acre farm fields of potatoes and corn, surrounded by oak and pine woodlots. As it is with quality hunting grounds anywhere, landowner relations are essential. The October-December bow season makes this unique location an excellent place to find a truly mature trophy buck.
Richard Gates grew up hunting in the Long Island farm country. In 1982, he thought he would give bowhunting a try. His first deer came while still-hunting in some mountain laurel. On a ridge trail, he spotted a deer meandering 80 yards away. The wind was right, and the passing deer presented him with a 10-yard shot.
The new bowhunter was officially hooked on the sport. Like many archers, the bow becomes a part of life.
Richard began shooting with friends, participating in 3-D matches and even hunting carp in the summer to keep his skills sharp. Over the years, this hunter has learned to effectively scout, observe deer throughout the fall and develop a hunting plan to best select a prime bowhunting location. And in recent years, Richard has learned that the range expansion of rutting bucks can produce some welcome surprises.
On Oct. 27, 2002, a big buck appeared out of the woods chasing does at the far end of an open field. Upon closer examination, this was a buck never seen before, and the way it was moving away, Richard might never see it again.
A few grunts on his tube-style deer call stopped the buck in its tracks. Much to Richard's surprise, the buck traveled the length of the field and presented him with an 18-yard shot. The 18-point Irregular now resides on page 436 of the fourth edition of "Buckmasters Whitetail Trophy Records."
Richard Gates poses with his 2006 trophy, a 22-pointer that responded to his grunting and bleating. The Suffolk County, N.Y., whitetail was 5 1⁄2 years old.
Four years later, like déjà vu, a late October 2006 afternoon was unfolding a surprise of its own. Richard studied intently with his binoculars at the large-bodied, big-antlered deer that stood 100 yards away from his treestand. His eyes revealed points and antler mass the likes of which he had never seen.
And on the buck's left side, there appeared to be a huge, black and club-like drop tine of phenomenal proportions. Then, just as suddenly as it appeared, the buck was gone.
Richard hunted the next three weeks, but the amazing Irregular had left the area. No one, not even local landowners, had seen the buck.
On Nov. 17, Richard was informed that the drop-tined buck was back on the local farm. After narrowing down what stand of timber the deer was holed up in, it was decision time.
Should he go to his primary stand the next day and risk alarming the buck, or play it safe and go the least invasive route to set up a ground blind at far end of the field?
The bowhunter chose the latter option, and he was inside the blind by 3 p.m. on Nov. 18. The constriction of the ground blind reminded the seasoned hunter why he has always preferred a simple, reliable bow with a modest draw weight.
At 3:45, the buck entered the field with two does and chased them around in the open. Then the does led the drop-tined monster along the far edge of the field and directly under Richard's empty treestand and out of sight. A long 10 minutes later, the buck appeared alone in the field.
Taking advantage of the buck being solo, Richard began calling with a bleat can, soon followed by grunts from his tube call.
The buck came directly at the ground blind. At 25 yards, the buck turned and presented a broadside walking shot. A soft bleat stopped the magnificent whitetail in stride for Richard to release an arrow.
The jubilant hunter went home, grabbed a flashlight, called his uncle and gathered up his 10-year-old son and his daughter. A 100-yard blood trail was eagerly followed by the foursome.
As the flashlight glinted off antler tines, the hunter and his family quickened their pace. Upon reaching the trophy, Richard was delighted when his son looked up and said, "Hey, Dad, this is fun!"
Hunter: Richard Gates
Official Score: 188 3/8"
Composite Score: 208 5/8"
-- Reprinted from the July 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine