By Tim McCall
After five unsuccessful years of eating Missouri archery tags, I was anxious to return there for my annual week of Midwest madness. That's what my three hunting buddies and I call our seven days of bowhunting at a good friend's property.
Being South Carolina natives, we were used to hunting the Blue Ridge Mountains without seeing a decent buck for weeks. You can imagine our anticipation for this trip every year, knowing a white-horned-freak-nasty - as Michael Waddell might say - could step out at any moment.
I was feeling years of pressure, but had prepared diligently and was ready to hunt hard this trip. You could say I'd practically over-analyzed the hunt, probably because I'd come so close, so many times before but went home empty-handed.
In previous years, I'd hunted with a busted knee, in 40 mph winds and in minus 25-degree temperatures, only to be bested by Midwest bucks. I prayed this time was going to be different.
After arriving and spending two cold days in the stand, I realized we'd finally timed it perfectly. It was November 8 and the bucks were cruising hard.
To pass time in the stand, I recalled the numerous moments over the past five years when I'd had a close call with a shooter buck, but for one reason or another, not closed the deal.
On the second morning of an all-day sit, bad luck struck again. I'd spotted a bruiser buck pushing a doe slowly up a ridge, within 70 yards.
I watched it for 10 minutes, but it was just too far away. It continued to drift away, and my gentle grunts did nothing to sway it away from the doe.
That night I tossed and turned, debating the best way to pursue this buck. I decided a stand we had hung nearby three years earlier would place me close enough for a shot if it returned.
It was a risky setup in a hardwood bottom, because I would be within easy earshot of the buck's bedding area.
That morning I'd passed the stand I'd hunted the day before, wondering if pushing forward was a mistake. But, unbelievably, I made it to the other stand like a ghost.
I got into the stand without a single ping of metal or spooking deer. I whispered to myself, "It's on like Donkey Kong."
At 7 a.m., an 8- and 9-pointer walked within 10 yards, but neither was the buck I'd seen the day before. It was tempting to shoot, to say the least, but I let both decent bucks walk past unharmed, like so many in years past.
Another 45 minutes later, I heard something coming. Suddenly, the most beautiful set of white antlers I'd ever seen were headed my way, very quickly. As the buck came into bow range and abruptly turned to cut across the bottom, and I knew I had to act fast.
I don't know if it was from the hours of shooting practice, but instinct overtook emotion and, with no time to range the buck, I judged it at just over 25 yards.
As it scooted toward a shooting lane, I used my voice to stop the buck with a grunting noise that sounded something like I was saying, "ma'am."
It halted in an opening, so I drew the arrow and let it fly.
On impact, I knew it was a good shot because I could see an entry wound forming directly behind the shoulder.
The next 30 minutes felt like an eternity, but when the landowner and my good friend Paul arrived, we recovered my deer 75 yards away.
With a perfect shot, my arrow had centered the buck's heart, and it wasn't difficult to find.
Suddenly, countless hours of imagining and dreaming ended and were replaced with 10 seconds of reality and sheer joy.
I thanked God for the privilege to hunt these unbelievable animals and spend time with my buddies.
And, I won't lie; my eyes watered up at that moment. It would be difficult to count the number of hugs and high fives we exchanged.
It was a special day, especially when I found out one of my friends had taken a stud buck only a couple of hours after I had.
A few days later, we loaded up the truck, said goodbye to Paul and his family and returned home to South Carolina.
As I drove, I relishing the years of friendships, including the mischievous pranks we've played on each other, and the brotherhood shared as fellow hunters.
I thought about the blessings God has placed in my life, like being born in this great country, my unbelievable wife, who listens to my endless hunting stories, and my family, too.
But I think my favorite part of the trip was the twelve hours I spent peeking through the rearview mirror, admiring the set of white tines rising slightly above the tailgate.