By Mike Handley
Photos Courtesy of Donnie Herod
This 31-pointer is Donnie Herod's fifth buck by bow in 17 years. The 34-year-old hasn't hunted deer with a firearm since he was 18.
The new "buck growl" might've been the rage among would-be buck whisperers last season, but Donnie Herod's call of choice required neither reed nor O-ring. The 34-year-old Texan might be the first deer hunter ever to lure in a buck with a big wet smackaroo, and he was all by himself when he puckered up.
Donnie didn't set out to do it. He'd been sitting in his treestand since before dawn, leaning because the tree was crooked, holding his bow because he forgot his screw-in hanger, when he spotted a bobcat slipping through the small patch of woods at about 7:45.
Had this happened in Kansas, where he spent nearly a dozen days in a stand prior to Thanksgiving, he might've simply watched the cat go its merry way. But he was back home in Texas, and his expectations weren't high. Neither was his mood.
As soon as Donnie returned from Kansas, he faced the unpleasant task of admitting his 63-year-old father, who suffers from both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, into a nursing home. Thanksgiving followed, which allowed no time to grieve, and then it was time to say goodbye to his visiting daughter.
Truthfully, he didn't even want to go hunting that day. Donnie would've been very happy to allow the rain forecast to keep him in the house and out of the cold wind, but a buddy convinced him to at least be outdoors on Saturday morning. The rain wasn't supposed to arrive until later that day.
So there he was, staring at the bobcat. Of course he wanted to play with it.
"I squeaked it in," he said. "You know, making a kissing-the-back-of-my-hand sort of squeal. I stood up and had my bow ready, just in case it worked.
"The bobcat came straight in and glanced up at me before turning to look elsewhere," he added. "It heard me draw and took off running. I guess I kissed my hand a little too long, or at least long enough so that it figured out where I was."
After the bobcat left, Donnie began grunting to soothe the ruffled feathers of any whitetail that might've heard and been concerned about the commotion.
"I do that a lot ... grunting to cover up any noise I've made, like when I'm walking through the woods to my stand," he explained.
Ten to 15 minutes later, Donnie heard leaves rustling and turned to see a monstrous drop-tined buck headed toward him. Whether lured by the squeaky kissing noises, responding to the grunting, or just by plain chance, the deer was on a collision course with an arrow.
Donnie hadn't expected this when he made the hour-long drive to a friend's 130-acre farm in Grayson County. He'd hunted the place a little in October, only when the wind was perfect, but he had not visited the tract in November.
The temperature Friday night was in the upper 30s, but the mercury began falling steadily around 4 a.m., ahead of a stout cold front.
His stand was in a hackberry tree within a bottleneck. It wasn't the best of trees, but it was in the ideal place. He wound up having to sit at an angle. The crooked tree was in a hardwood creek bottom at the narrowest point within the 50-acre block of timber.
"I'd rather sacrifice comfort to be in the perfect place any day," he said.
And it was indeed the best possible place. The buck that wandered in around 8 a.m. was proof.
"I don't have any experience looking at real monsters like that," Donnie said.
"But I've always heard that you shouldn't stare at the antlers or you'll lose it. So I just took my eyes off the rack and told myself that I was going to make it happen. I perform better that way anyway. It was a dream deer. It was coming in. There was no need to size it up."
His bow was already in his lap, because he'd left his screw-in hanger in the cab of his truck.
The buck sauntered to within 15 yards and stopped to sniff a horse apple (also known as a mock or Osage orange and as a hedge apple).
"That's the first time I've ever seen a deer mess with a horse apple," he said.
"But a friend had just told me that he'd seen a deer eat the middle out of one earlier that year.
"I tried not to, but I couldn't help noticing those tines, and I almost choked," he continued. "I had to tell myself again, 'Make this happen,' and then I drew, dropped the pin on it and shot. The buck ran about 50 yards, started staggering and then fell right there. I'd double-lunged it."
Afterward, Donnie tried calling several buddies on his cell phone, but none of them answered.
"I just sat there and stared at it. It was a dream deer ... My heart rate was off the charts, and it got worse when I got closer to the buck," he said.
Eventually, he was able to contact a cousin, Evan Sumners, who agreed to meet him at the property's gate. After he hung up, Donnie realized that he wasn't eager to leave his buck in order to meet Evan. He tied one end of a rope to the massive rack and the other to a tree - his reasoning that it would keep the animal in a position to make better photographs. Or at least that's what he tried to tell everyone who has subsequently joked about his effort.
Within the hour, the clouds opened up and began spewing sleet and snow.
"I'd always had high hopes to get a big deer here in Texas, but I figured Kansas was going to be my best bet," he admitted.
His Lone Star trophy was aged at either 4 1⁄2 or 5 1⁄2 years old. While its rack was definitely better than most Donnie has seen in Kansas, the deer itself wasn't all that big. It might've weighed 190 pounds - a full 100 pounds lighter than a mature Sunflower State specimen.
"I didn't scale him," Donnie said. "I wasn't worried about that."
Hunter: Donnie Herod
Official Score 197 6/8"
Composite Score: 217 2/8"
-- Reprinted from the September 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine