By Floyd Patterson
Using one eye, I peeked out from behind the old wooden shed. My quarry for the past 24 days, the non-typical monster buck that had occupied all my recent dreams, had just appeared and was on a trail leading to me.
Its body was angled slightly toward me at just over 30 yards. I eased back out of sight to draw my bow. I found my anchor point, and leaned forward to take the shot.
The old buck caught my movement, stopped and stared at me while I concentrated on releasing the arrow as soon as my 30-yard pin came mid-level on its chest and a couple of inches behind the shoulder blade.
I released, and the arrow penetrated its ribs slightly back from my point of aim and failed to pass through.
The buck immediately spun and bounded down a hill toward a thicket with the fletching visibly protruding from its left side.
My 24-day quest for a very special white-tailed deer had led me to this moment of exhilaration, this moment that was now turning into anxiety, because this was not a typical hunt, nor was this a garden-variety buck.
I have been hunting bucks for 47 years, using every method imaginable, mostly with a firearm. But I've also bowhunted occasionally with some success, taking a few does and small-racked bucks in my career.
In 2009, I was inspired by watching hunting shows to upgrade my archery outfit and start getting serious.
I took a nice 8-pointer in 2010 and gained valuable experience hunting does. These experiences and getting familiar with my new weapon helped prepare me for the shot of a lifetime.
Earlier in the Mississippi gun season, I ran into my friend Ben. He lived in a residential neighborhood that adjoined a wooded area. Deer had been getting in his garden, and he asked if I'd like to come arrow one. I agreed to help thin the herd, but I hadn't set a plan into action.
Then Ben emailed me a picture and asked if I would like to hunt for "this deer."
At first, I didn't see anything except trees, but I looked closer and barely made out a deer. I zoomed in closer and closer until I could see all kinds of points, stickers and antlers going everywhere!
I immediately called Ben and told him I'd be over tomorrow. And, please, I asked him, please don't tell anyone about this buck.
I knew I'd invest the remaining seven weeks of the season hunting this one deer if that's what it took.
A buck this big is a rarity, especially for this part of Mississippi, and it was well worth changing my plans for the season.
I met Ben the next afternoon and scouted his property. He showed me plenty of deer sign and tracks beating down three trails through his place.
I placed one trail camera and set up a climber and a ground blind in a promising location.
My second bow season began December 5, and I felt confident in making a shot up to 47 yards.
The game camera caught the old monster buck several times during the next two weeks, both night and day, obviously when I wasn't there.
The last snapshot was taken the afternoon of the 17th while I was out of town. The old buck was following a doe, and I smiled, knowing the rut was just beginning.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
I continued hunting for the monster every chance I had and soon realized sitting in the woods near a residential area is definitely not a typical hunting experience.
More than half the time was wasted because of disturbances of all types-dogs spooking deer, loud voices, music, banging doors, kids yelling, construction projects or folks just wandering through the woods.
The quiet times were sparse, primarily at dawn, dusk and when it was raining or really cold and windy. I saw plenty of deer movement at these times, but never caught sight of my monster.
On December 28, after 15 days of sitting on Ben's property, I headed out early to hunt for an hour or so, arriving just before dawn.
About a half mile from Ben's, the headlights of my truck fell on a buck crossing the road, but I couldn't make out detail at first. It stopped just off the road behind some low tree limbs.
I stopped, too, but still couldn't clearly see. Then, after a short pause, it continued walking and passed through an open area. I saw the left side of the rack and knew it was the monster I was after.
This was the first time I had laid eyes on the deer since my vigil began more than three weeks earlier.
I watched it turn into a strip of woods that led to Ben's property, so I wasted no time getting there, scrambling to gather my gear and rush to the ground blind.
It was still dark when I zipped myself in, and I soon heard sounds of deer passing through the property a scant 30 or 40 yards away, but it was still too dark to see.
Dawn arrived and I neither heard nor saw anything other than squirrels and birds.
After sitting in the blind for a couple of hours, I peeked out at Ben's house on the hilltop and saw him in his kitchen. I figured the buck had gone into the thickets to snooze after running around all night.
I had to leave to pick up materials for a project, but dropped by to tell Ben the good news about seeing the buck.
He was excited to hear the buck was still alive and back in his neighborhood, but he also had some news to tell me.
One of his neighbors had seen evidence of another hunter on a vacant property nearby. I decided to walk over and see if I had competition for this buck.
I placed my bow and gear in my truck and walked over to the vacant property, but my phone vibrated with a call from Ben.
I was about 75 yards from my truck when he said he'd just seen a deer in the woods on his neighbor's property.
"I think it's him," Ben said. "You'd better get back there right now!"
I ran back to my truck, grabbed my gear, stalked back to the garden area and peeked around the corner of the old wooden shed.
Replaying the shot
After my shot hit the buck, I played it over in my head, and I felt sure the arrow had pierced at least one lung. I theorized the arrow had also hit the paunch, which likely prevented a pass-through.
I went inside Ben's house and told him everything. He was also excited. We decided to wait 30 minutes and then search for the blood trail.
After a long, anxious half-hour, we found and followed sporadic bright red blood droplets that were flung off as the bounding buck's feet hit the ground.
The blood trail increased slightly after 40 yards, and at 60 yards, we found the nock end of the arrow covered in blood.
At 70 yards the blood trail crossed a shallow creek. I had on rubber boots so I crossed, but Ben went farther down to find a footbridge.
The trail went up the creek bank to the edge of a pasture and turned left, then stopped about five yards from of a cane thicket.
The buck had blown out a grapefruit-sized, thick puddle of bright red blood there, but after that, nothing.
Ben and I quietly discussed the bubbles in the blood, the likely damage and our options.
After we'd stood there whispering for about three or four minutes, the buck suddenly jumped up in the cane and moved back into the pasture. All it could manage was an awkward trot.
We could tell it was badly hurt after it stopped in brush 60 yards away, visibly swaying. I told Ben we should leave him alone for several hours. Surely, it couldn't go far.
If it had been close to a neighbor's house, we wouldn't have had the luxury of waiting that long. Thankfully, it was near the brushy creek instead. We left the area and agreed to meet at his house in three hours.
I drove home and picked up my 4-wheeler and managed to wait as long as I could - almost three hours.
Then I went alone to the spot where the buck was last seen and followed the blood trail about eight yards to the edge of a field of sage grass.
As I looked out into the grass, I saw a stalk move slightly against the wind. I eased to the right and there was the buck, lying on its side.
Its head moved slightly but it appeared to be done for. Still, I released another arrow into its heart, just to be sure.
What elation! My quest was over! I held the rack to make sure it was real and enjoyed my moment. It was an exceptional buck, a trophy anyone would be proud to have taken.
But there's more to this old buck's history.
It had a large protrusion on the left side of his jawbone. When I caped out the head, I noticed the jawbone was missing some teeth, so I removed and saved it.
Later, a friend offered to x-ray the jawbone. The x-rays revealed of a tiny metal fragment. This buck had probably been shot in the jaw, resulting in the fracture and loss of teeth.
A reliable witness claims to have seen the buck during the previous four winters, and said its rack had not changed much except to get heavier, indicating it was 5 to 7-years-old.
The old, gray monster's mount is currently on display in a sporting goods store in Starkville, Miss., for other deer hunters to enjoy. I know that many will dream about taking an old monster like this one during the upcoming season.
Looking back, it sure is a blessing to have friends like Ben. I thank him every time that I see him!