By Ty Dilbeck
I have hunted with a bow since I was 13 and always dreamed of taking a buck. I had taken many does, but until 2006, I had not drawn on a deer with antlers. I began to pray for the opportunity to shoot my first buck with a bow. I wasn’t praying for a record-book buck — a cow-horned spike would be okay with me. Instead, God blessed me with the buck of a lifetime.
Tuesday, Dec. 26, was a rough day to hunt. The weather had been in the low 70s for the past two weeks, and a big cold front had just moved through. The wind was blowing 15-20 mph, and the temperature was dropping. I decided not to hunt the morning since the front was bringing light rain and heavy winds. The weather was supposed to stabilize in the afternoon, and I figured the deer would get up and move.
I called my best friend and roommate, Bee Frederick, to see if he wanted to hunt. We picked up some friends and arrived in Fort Deposit, Ala., at 2:45 p.m. We waited to pick stands until we could test the wind direction. Bee elected to go to a large greenfield and suggested that I go to a stand that had not yet been hunted. I dropped him and our friends off and drove to the field to check the wind and deer sign. I was unimpressed, but knew I needed to go ahead and pick a place to set up.
Ty Dilbeck and his best friend, Bee Frederck (left), display Ty’s awesome first bow buck.
I decided to go to a small food plot, where I hoped to get my second doe of the season. The field was perfect for bowhunting, aside from the fact the smart old does knew exactly where the stand was. They would enter the field and stare straight at it, looking for movement.
Finding another tree in the area was difficult, but two weeks earlier, I had sawed some limbs off a white oak 15 yards from the original stand. I didn’t see a deer on that hunt, but I still had faith in the location. I hung my climbing stand and settled against the white oak.
The wind direction was perfect, and the temperature was 45 degrees and dropping. I set up facing away from the field, hoping the deer wouldn’t immediately pick me out when scanning the tree line. I had to turn my head sharply to scan the field and the planted pines behind it. As I looked around, there was one branch that kept bugging me. I decided to take advantage of the wind noise and saw it off. Then I practiced drawing my bow. There was so much heavy cover that I would have to wait until the deer fed into one of my two shooting lanes to get a shot.
At 4 o’clock, I turned once again to scan the field. When I looked over my left shoulder, I saw antlers. I looked below a limb and beheld the biggest deer I had ever seen. My heart felt like it was going to pop out of my chest. I had been waiting for this moment since I had first picked up a bow. I said a prayer and asked God to help me stop shaking.
The buck was facing me and looking down the field. He stood like a statue for five minutes, which gave me time to calm down and make a plan. I decided to wait for the next wind gust to stand up and turn to face the field. Right when he put his head down, the wind blew and I had an opportunity to move. I stared at the buck, still unable to believe my eyes. I hid behind the tree and waited for another gust of wind before I drew my bow.
This was not the first time I had been in this situation. Just last season, a huge 8-pointer had been in my sights when the wind changed direction and spooked him. Memories of that hunt flashed through my mind, and I was pretty sure something would happen to mess up this chance as well. But I continued to pray. When I was finally able to draw, the buck was quartering toward me at 30 yards. Not wanting to force an arrow through bone, I put my pin behind his shoulder in the lung/liver area. I took a deep breath, picked the spot and released.
The arrow passed through the buck, and I watched him turn and run through the pines. The Lord had answered my prayers.
I was calm and my thoughts were clear as I marked where I had last seen the buck in the brush. As I began to think about tracking him, an adrenaline rush almost knocked me out of the stand. I muttered under my breath, “I just put an arrow in the biggest deer I have ever seen.” My heart rate soared. I knew I hadn’t hit him as far forward as I intended, but I was encouraged by the pass-through. I could hardly breathe as I raced down the tree and ran to my truck.
I drove around until my cell phone picked up a signal and immediately called my father. He told me to calm down and tell him the story. I told him I hit the buck farther far back than I wanted and really didn’t know why. He reminded me about my pins. I hadn’t practiced for five days and had forgotten my bow was shooting more than three inches to the left. My lack of compensation cost me a good shot on the buck of a lifetime.
I made myself wait 30 minutes before entering the pines. The blood was good at first, but I lost it just 20 yards into tracking. I felt nauseous as I looked down the trail. Then I heard the deer move. I nocked an arrow and took two steps forward before the buck turned and ran. I panicked. I knew that if the buck hit the hardwoods on the other side of the pines, I would never find him. I hoped that he had either not run far or that he had gotten stuck in the creek that separated the hardwoods and planted pines.
I circled where I thought the buck had stopped and checked the creek. There was no sign. I took a deep breath and prayed for the best. I entered the pines again and hoped I would hear the deer. Ten yards in, I saw him move his head. I waited a few minutes before deciding to take another shot. All I could see was his neck, but I didn’t want him to get away. I took a 20-yard shot and the arrow found its target. I walked up to the deer and put one more arrow through his lungs.
Two hours later, we pulled the deer back into the food plot. As we loaded him into my truck, I took a deep breath and realized my emotional rollercoaster was finally over. None of us realized the size of the trophy until later that night. More than 30 of our friends and their families stopped by to see the buck. Russell Thornberry scored him for the BTR the next day. The buck grossed 173 inches and has an official BTR score of 156, which made him the number one semi-irregular buck taken with a compound bow in Alabama. I only wanted a doe that day, but God blessed me with the buck of a lifetime.
-- Reprinted from the July 2008 issue of Buckmasters Magazine