By Rick Baron
-- Every time I turn on the television it seems that another professional hunter has just passed up a 150-class deer or better to wait for a bigger one. Later in the show, that same hunter jubilantly turns to the camera and mouths, "He's down, he's down," as the camera pans out to the bruiser lying on the ground. I must live in the other universe where the only bucks I see snort a few times, turn tail and take off.
I have been a life-long deer hunter who has certainly logged hours scouting, setting up stands, practicing my shot and reading anything that could help me harvest my "deer of a lifetime."
A few years ago, at the urging of my hunting buddy, I took up archery to increase my time in the woods and really try to get up close with a big whitetail. I joined a winter league, shot 3-D courses and practiced an average of four days a week in the off-season. I felt really good at distances up to 30 yards.
Finally, the opening day of archery arrived and to my total amazement, the first evening a magnificent 8-point buck came in and started working a scrape broadside to me at 37 yards! The wind was perfect and the buck slowly worked its way down a trail toward my perch.
At 17 yards, the buck stepped out of some thick brush and started to walk into a shooting lane. My heart was drumming louder than a grouse, and I couldn't have spit if my life depended on it. I just had to slowly turn and draw. Then . . . CLANK! My arrow fell off the rest and smacked the treestand. The buck gave me the tail salute and disappeared back into the woodlot.
Undaunted, I hunted the remainder of the archery season without seeing so much as a flash of white until the last evening. On television, as daylight time is fading on the final day, the trophy always steps into view and offers a perfect broadside shot. Somehow my buck must have read the right script as it stepped out 27 yards away and turned broadside.
As I drew and steadied my nerves, I waited for the buck to move its shoulder forward. One more step and it was mine. Suddenly, an ATV whirled down a trail (which was closed to motorized vehicles) and once again I received the white flag salute.
I have a cousin who lives in North Carolina that had heard of my plight several years ago and invited me to hunt with him at his club. It has been a wonderful experience to see the various methods used in the South compared with the Pennsylvania-style hunting I had grown up with.
Unfortunately, I usually end up being his personal deer dragger as somehow the "hot" stand I am put on usually reeks of perfume, old socks,WD-40 or some other pungent odor while his "I'll probably just sit in the woods somewhere stand" miraculously produces another trophy. That however is another chapter for another day.
One hot afternoon in November (of course on television, it's always the rut but it wasn't happening yet in North Carolina) as I perched on a stand on the edge of a swamp, a nice doe came out at exactly 20 yards right on a trail I had been watching. My cousin was new to bowhunting, and he and I were poised to take ANY whitetail.
I stood on the stand, which I believe had the smallest platform in the history of treestands, and tried to steady both my nerves and the swaying of the stand. I truly believe I invented a new sport called sky surfing as I drew back the bow and focused the pin on the doe's vitals. I gently released the arrow and heard a resounding THWACK.
I anxiously watched the deer as it picked up its head and meandered off. It was at this point that I saw my fluorescent orange fletching vibrating in the trunk of a 2-inch thick oak tree! I had to laugh (what else could I do?) and at least be thankful that I had attempted a shot. At the clubhouse I dutifully reported my adventure and paid my "missed shot fine."
I knew that I would always have that adventure etched in my brain. Two weeks later, a package arrived that assured me it would be permanent. I curiously opened the box and found the section of tree with my arrow still in place mounted and a warning notice from the North Carolina DNR that I had taken an illegal tree (too small ), it was out of season and that no further violations would be tolerated!
The next Pennsylvania archery season, I pursued "my" buck throughout the season but never caught a glimpse of it during the day. Rifle season arrived, and I decided to continue hunting with my bow. On one cool afternoon, I snuck out of work for a quick evening hunt. As I approached my stand, I thought I caught a flash of antlers on the edge of the field. I could actually make out the buck's body but it was in an odd position. Was it bedded?
At that point, I saw a young boy dressed in orange making his way down the field to the deer. He had just come home from "upstate" and decided to hunt his grandfather's farm that abutted the land I was hunting. He had been in the woods for less than five minutes when the buck jumped out and he shot. He had trailed the buck to within 35 yards of my stand. The youngster had no idea how to field-dress the deer, so I wound up giving him a lesson (I did let him drag it though!). Then I called his dad to help give this lucky hunter a lift home.
Figuring that my fortunes had to change for the better, I headed out for the last day of the season. With about one hour to go, three does browsed single-file by my stand. This was it! My moment had come! The biggest doe stopped at 28 yards, and I let the arrow go. All three bolted out of the creek bottom and along the edge of the field. I watched for about 200 yards, and they disappeared back into another section of woods.
Slowly, I climbed down out of my stand and walked over to the spot. My arrow was sticking straight up out of the ground just under where the doe had stood. The mangled mechanical broadhead showed no fur or sign. However, the thick grapevine that was just above the broadhead had a large (probably lethal) gash on its bottom part!
To be absolutely sure, I walked up out of the bottom and placed my arrow right where the does had started to run along the edge. I then followed their trail all the way into the next woodlot without finding any sign. Just before entering the woodlot, an ATV came buzzing along (again, on a trail closed to motorized vehicles) and I absent-mindedly waved at the riders.
I figured that if the deer had cut down into the woods, they might be spooked by the riders, so I just watched for any movement. It was not meant to be, and as I started to return to my stand I pulled out my cell phone and called my hunting buddy.
As I neared my stand, I looked for my arrow as a souvenir. It was gone! After a thorough search, I realized that the guys on the ATV that I waved to had ridden right by my arrow and picked it up!
Again, I went through the process of preparing for this deer season. For the past nine months I have practiced, scouted, set up stands and watched the pros on television. The only thing left is for me to hope that "my" buck and I have the same script that the pros use.
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