By Dean Hulce
Most successful deer hunters are patient by nature. Many will continue to sit in a deer stand day after day if they think a big buck roams the area. Clark Dirden waited three years for his.
Back in 1996, while Clark was halfway up a tree, hanging a stand, he sensed something was watching him. He turned around and there, within bow range, stood a beautiful 10-point buck. Unfortunately, Clark's bow was 10 feet away, on the ground. All he could do was watch the buck and hope it would return.
And return it did. Three years later.
In 1999, Clark was hunting from this same treestand when he saw the same buck. There is no doubt in his mind that the buck from '96 was the same one he took in 1999. The buck looked almost exactly the same as it had three years earlier, only bigger.
Opening morning of that year's shotgun season broke clear and cool.
The temperature was in the mid-20s, and it was unusually calm. At first light, Clark saw a deer a quarter-mile away in a bean field. He could see through his binoculars that it was a tremendous buck, though it might as well have been 10 miles distant.
Clark watched the buck slowly make its way toward the woods where he was waiting. There were three bean fields to cross before the animal would get to where Clark might be able to take a poke at it.
When the handsome whitetail got close to the edge of the woods, it disappeared behind a ridge. After a long 1 1/2 hours, the buck finally reappeared 80 yards away, slowly walking closer to Clark's tree. Clark let it come, his gun ready the whole time.
With more patience than most hunters, he waited until the deer was a mere 21 yards away before shooting.
Steadying himself, Clark took one last deep breath, centered the sights and squeezed the trigger. What happened next shook the veteran hunter. At the report of the shotgun, the buck just rippled its skin and stood in place.
After a few seconds, thoughts of the buck getting away took over, and Clark ejected the spent cartridge. At that sound, the buck leapt into the air and took off over the ridge and out of sight.
Clark was amazed and more than a little concerned. Had he missed at such close range?
Curiosity turned into fear when Clark began to look for sign. He found nothing.
He called his hunting partner of 20 years, Mike Hardwick, who was hunting the same piece of property. Together, they scoured every inch of the surrounding area. There was no sign of the buck anywhere. After three hours of looking, Clark told Mike that he might as well go back and hunt the remainder of the afternoon.
Right after Mike left, Clark returned to his tree and climbed back into his stand to reassess the stage from on high. Staring where the buck had been standing, Clark eventually saw something out of place: a small sapling with a little nick out of its side.
That didn't help his frame of mind, but he wasn't ready to throw in the towel. That little nick shouldn't have affected the shotgun slug's trajectory enough to miss the deer entirely.
Back on the ground, Clark walked to the last place he'd seen the deer. Beyond it was a small patch of multiflora rose. Although he'd eyeballed that thicket numerous times already during the previous three hours, he decided to crawl through it on hands and knees.
Clark pushed his way into the thorns. He had to look.
After going only a few feet, he crawled right up to his deer, which hadn't gone 40 yards after the shot.
Elated, Clark quickly got back on the radio and called Mike, who hurried back to help.
After field-dressing the behemoth, the two men tried their best to drag it to a spot accessible by four-wheeler. But it was a struggle they abandoned. Instead, they went to the landowner's home and asked if he would offer a third set of arms.
The buck's dressed weight was 263 pounds.
When Clark and Mike were en route to the check station, several cars and trucks fell in behind them. Everyone wanted to snap photographs and to hear the story.
The buck was estimated to be 6 1/2 years old. This would have put it at 3 1/2 when Clark first spotted it in 1996.
Hunter: Clark Dirden
Official Score: 173 4/8"
Composite Score: 194 6/8"
-- Reprinted from the July 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.