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Mounting Up the Memories

By Gary Bellis

Kyle Bellis
Kyle Bellis took his first buck, a 5-pointer, about a week after his father arrowed a trophy from almost the same location.

I started hunting deer when I was about 35 years old and immediately got hooked on bowhunting. I took my first deer, a 5-pointer, with a used PSE compound I bought for $50. I thought there was no better kind of hunting.

That was before I took my son, Kyle.

After Kyle took his hunter safety course, he began to hunt with me. I love hunting, but it’s even better having Kyle along. November of 2005 was one of those times.

On Nov. 12, after an unsuccessful morning bowhunt on state land, Kyle and I decided to try another area I had scouted in Ashland County, Ohio. We arrived around 1:30 p.m. and decided to walk down a tree line adjacent to a hay field to look for trails. After selecting two spots, we headed back to the truck to get our gear.

I chose a spot about 250 yards down the tree line where several trails came out. Kyle decided to set up near a trail along a utility easement about 100 yards away.

It was a cool, clear day with a slight breeze blowing toward the field. I set up my stand about 10 yards inside the tree line. Nearby were two thick areas of fallen trees and brush, with a trail between them. There were also trails on both sides of the thick areas. The pine tree I had my stand in was right along the center trail.

Setting up a treestand in a new location is a challenge. Just because it looks like a good position from the ground doesn’t mean it will still look good when you get up into the tree. The tops of smaller trees often block otherwise good shooting lanes. This time, however, I was pleased with the setup.

Buckmasters member Gary Bellis and his son Kyle
Buckmasters member Gary Bellis took this 11-pointer with a bow on public land in Ohio. His son, Kyle, was hunting just 100 yards away.

My stand faced the field. Any deer would be approaching from the woods behind me, but I would have the tree to hide behind and block my movement. I stood up, facing the woods, for all but about 30 minutes of my time in the stand.

With my back to the field, I had good shooting lanes in several directions. The only spot where I had no shot was on the left side of the tree and the center trail.

I was in position and hunting by 2:45. I hoped we would have the area to ourselves, and I was disappointed when I saw three hunters walking into the woods along a trail about 100 yards away. That’s what happens on public land.

I saw and heard nothing but a few chipmunks and squirrels for the next few hours. During that time, I reviewed the shooting lanes, drew my bow back toward each lane, checking for any interference and recalculating yardage. I did this several times.

I also did my regular mental exercise. All deer hunters know about buck fever. We all get it, and it can come on hard and heavy — especially when we see a big buck approaching. We also know that the bigger the buck, the stronger the symptoms. Your adrenaline kicks in, your heart rate goes up, your palms get sweaty, and you forget everything you’re supposed to do. Hopefully, we’ve spent enough time at the range that the mechanical stuff is second-nature. It’s the mental stuff that we have to control.

My method to control this is to remove the deer’s head from my mind. Once I decide I want to harvest an approaching deer, I mentally take off the deer’s head. As the deer approaches, my eyes glance from upcoming shooting lanes to the targeted vital spot on the deer. I avoid looking at anything else. From that point on — whether it’s a doe, a spike or the buck of a lifetime — the mechanics are the same.

Around 5:15, I caught movement in the woods just to the right of the pine tree about 60 yards away. The first thing I noticed was light-colored antlers. I knew this was a nice buck — a shooter. He was approaching rather quickly, and I thought he was going to go to the right side of the thickets, but he angled back toward the center. This put him approaching one of my shooting lanes just to the right of the tree at about 30 yards. I would have to draw and release quickly if I wanted to attempt a shot there. I decided to hold off.

Then the buck headed toward the middle trail — not where I wanted him to go. Not only would this be a difficult shot, but there was also the possibility that the buck would pick up my scent or hear me draw. As I pondered these not-so-pleasant possibilities, he turned to his right.

At that point, the buck was parallel to the tree line, angling away from me to my left. I slowly pulled out my grunt tube to get the deer to turn back. Fortunately, he made the turn up the left trail.

Knowing I had several shooting lanes along that section of trail, I immediately attached my release and, when the buck went behind some brush, drew my bow. As the buck approached, I followed him in my sights. Then he stepped into one of the lanes and stopped, giving me a full view of his left side. I estimated the distance at 22 yards, so I put my 20-yard pin just behind the shoulder and released. I heard the thump and saw the arrow hit the target just behind the animal’s leg, although slightly lower than I’d intended.

My mental exercise had worked well — not that I’ve had many opportunities to test it out on a buck of this size. However, I was amazingly calm the whole time and I felt confident in my shot. The arrow did not pass through, but I was sure it was a fatal shot.

The buck ran out into the field and stopped at about 40 yards. I thought he was going to drop right then. For the next few agonizing minutes, I watched him stand there. I saw the wound, but the arrow was gone. I could see him laboring to breathe, and a couple times he staggered as he turned. That’s when I got a good look.

At one point, he was facing directly away and I could see how wide the rack was. As time went on, I kept saying, “Drop!” as if saying it and willing it was going to make it happen. I began to wonder if I had hit him too low and it wasn’t a fatal shot. I also wondered if I should try another shot.

The minutes seemed like hours. Then the buck lifted his head, looked around and slowly began to walk away. I couldn’t believe it.

The field crested about 60 yards out and sloped down to a valley. My last sight was of the buck’s antlers slowly disappearing over the crest. I stayed in the tree for about 15 minutes before I got down, gathered up my gear and headed to get Kyle.

By then, it was about 5:45 and getting dark. Kyle had gathered his things and was walking toward me. His first question to me was, “Did you get it?” He said he heard something running and crashing through the woods but was not able to see the deer in the field.

I told him the story as we walked back and began to look for blood or hair. We didn’t find anything. I didn’t want to look out in the field yet, so we grabbed our gear and walked back to the truck.

While we waited, I called my wife and told her I had shot a nice buck and that Kyle and I would be late getting home. Her comment was something like, “Yeah, right. I’ve heard that story before. You’ll be pulling into the driveway any minute now.” Well, I don’t remember ever using that particular story before, but I told her this time it was true.

We hadn’t brought along a lot of food on this trip, which is troublesome for a 15-year-old. It was about 6:45, and I wanted to wait at least another hour before going after the buck, so we drove into town and got some fast food and ate it on the way back.

The night was clear, and the moon was nearly full. We checked the field where the buck had stood and found a good blood trail. After only 10 yards, though, we lost all sign.

Since we were in a freshly cut field, we decided to spread 30 yards apart and walk. We marked the end of the blood trail and began our search. As we came over the crest of the hill, we saw three white flags pop up and head across the field away from us. We continued on, and I saw a shadow about 60 yards away. As we came closer, I could see the white antlers in the moonlight and knew we had found the buck. He had walked about 100 yards before falling.

When Kyle got his first look at this buck — and I my first close-up look — we were amazed. I had just harvested an 11-pointer with a 20-inch inside spread and a weight of more than 200 pounds. I was thrilled to have my son there with me.

The following weekend, Nov. 19, there was a youth hunt in Ohio. Kyle and I went back to the area where I had taken my buck the previous week.

We arrived at the same parking area along with a few other father-son teams. After determining where each group was going, we headed into the woods. About 30 minutes after we settled in, another father and son set up 120 yards to our right along the utility easement.

Around 8 a.m., we heard three shots to the right. I leaned over to Kyle and told him to get ready in case any deer were spooked by the shots.

Sure enough, a 5-pointer came up the hill toward us. It saw us and stopped about 35 yards away. I whispered to Kyle that if he wanted to take it, now would be the time.

That’s when Kyle shot. The buck went down immediately. He tried to get back up, but Kyle leveled his shotgun and fired again. That time, the buck didn’t move.

Subscribe Today!We approached the buck and began the high-fives and hugs over his first deer.

He had helped me field-dress a couple of deer before, including the one just a week earlier, so I told him it was his turn. Without hesitation, he went at it as I coached him through the process. After dragging the buck back and loading him in the truck, we talked with another hunter whose son took his first deer that morning. It was easy to see he was feeling the same pride and excitement I was.

Later on, I had the pleasure of working with my son as we mounted his trophy. He decided he wanted a European mount, so we downloaded instructions and went at it from scratch. Again, I was proud to see how hard he worked, because it’s not a simple task. It is time consuming and takes patience. In the end, he had a work of art he proudly shows friends and visitors.

I really enjoyed harvesting that huge Ohio buck and sharing the experience with my son. However, that simply didn’t compare to being there when he harvested his first trophy.

After those two incredible weekends, it really sank in how blessed I am to be able to spend time in the woods with my favorite hunting partner. I want to be there when he takes his next trophy, no matter what size it is.

-- Reprinted from the July 2008 issue of Buckmasters Magazine

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