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Second Time's A Charm

By Bill Costin

-- Oct. 4, 2007, signaled the start of my first archery season in Oklahoma. The south wind had been blowing hard all day and the temperature was well in the 80s - certainly not ideal for deer movement. The time was closing in on 4 p.m., and I could hardly sit in the stand. However, I was pumped to be deer hunting even though the sun would not set until 7:30.

My hunting buddy, Corey Thomas, and I hung this stand in August. I spent the day shimmying up and down one of the largest pecan trees I've ever laid eyes on. Little did I know that the tree was covered in poison oak until the following day when my wife broke out with bumps all over her body. Here's your tip of the day: clean everything you have touched with rubbing alcohol, wash your clothes in hot soapy water, take a hot shower and repeat these steps at least a half a dozen times before you kiss your wife hello.

If your wife is highly allergic to poison oak or ivy you might be better off by staying in a hotel for a few weeks to make sure you do not bring home even the tiniest trace of this nasty little plant.

Back to the story, I realized a lifelong dream of mine when I bought a 350-acre ranch in southern Oklahoma, 60 miles away from my home in Texas. This was the first time I had ever hunted this property. While I had purchased the ranch just a few months earlier, we had already seen many deer. With the help of several game cameras, we also had proof that there were some good bucks in the area.

One buck in particular was rather fond of having its picture taken. The buck seemed to show up wherever I moved the camera. I thought this deer had a skin disease because it was missing a lot of its hair (probably caused by poison oak). Regardless, the cameras helped us determine that the buck was using a dry creek bed close to my stand as a travel corridor.

It is a heavily wooded area and has 10- to 12-foot banks that concealed it movements. Back in the stand, I spent at least 45 minutes trying to attach a homemade contraption to hold my video camera to the stand. I was confident that this buck was going to show up shortly, and I desperately wanted to have my camera rolling when it did. I eventually put the camera away after realizing it was highly probable that it might crash to the ground due to a squeaky, ill-fitting bracket.

By now it was a little past 6 p.m. I sat perched high in the pecan tree and thought about my failed career as an outdoors videographer, while I swatted the dive-bombing mosquitoes. Suddenly, I saw movement. I could see the legs of a deer moving very slowly toward me. It was hard to see through the heavy foliage and underbrush, but I finally got a glimpse of antlers as the buck moved quietly up the creek bed.

As the buck closed in on 20 yards, I grabbed my Mathews bow and waited for it to enter a small shooting lane, which would give me a 15-yard shot. I knew it was a buck but with the heavy cover that was all I knew until it stepped into the clearing and I saw the split P2s and P3s. It was the buck I had seen so many times on camera and now it was 10 yards away and closing. When the buck hit the opening, I was at full draw and grunted to make it stop. The buck kept coming, so I made another grunt, which finally stopped it only a few feet from the base of my tree.

The buck looked straight up at me as I steadied my pin on what little vitals I could see. I have practiced many shots over the years but never a shot straight down. I remember thinking that I should pass on the shot as the buck stared up at me for what seemed like an eternity. If the buck took one more step, it would be behind me. In an instant, I squeezed on my release.

The next thing I remember was hearing what sounded like Barry Bonds hitting a baseball. The deafening crack was from a direct hit in the buck's antler from my broadhead. I looked down at the buck. We were both in shock trying to figure out what just happened. I could see my arrow lying on the ground near the buck. Several seconds went by before the buck jumped up the opposite creek bank and headed for the cedar trees.

He stood in the brush just 15 yards away for the next few minutes and attempted to shake off what must have been one heck of a headache. I was able to nock another arrow and wait for it to make the next move. I noticed there was no sign of its previous skin problems, and that he had a perfectly normal hide. Finally, the buck decided it was time to get out of there and began walking toward a large opening about 25 yards away. Unsure of how far away the deer was, I drew back again and put the 40-yard pin high on the deer's back as it offered me a quick quartering away shot.

Without time to talk myself out of making such a risky shot, I released my second arrow when I felt the time was right. I remember watching the arrow arch through the air in slow motion as the buck continued to walk away from me. Then, I heard the arrow slam into the buck's body just as it disappeared into the cover. The last thing I saw was my fletching sticking out of the buck's left hip just to the side of its tail. Suddenly, everything was back in real time as I realized I had just made a terrible shot on a good buck.

It was going to be bad enough telling Corey that I had shot a big buck in its antlers but to also admit to shooting it in the rump was going to be even worse. I was confident that I would be ridiculed the rest of my hunting days.

I looked at my watch and it was only 6:20. I sat in that tree for the next hour and a half, trying to figure out how such a well-planned hunt could have gone so wrong, so quickly. If only I had been able to get all of this on video, I would have a way to retrace my steps and mistakes to see what I could have done differently. I pulled out my rangefinder and found that my second shot was actually between 48-50 yards, and I really felt bad about taking the shot.

When I finally climbed down, I found my first arrow in the creek bed with about 2 inches of the arrow and the broadhead missing. I looked all over the creek bed and up in the brush where he had stood but there was no signs. I made it to the spot of my second shot and found a few signs. I followed it for about 15 yards and decided to turn back, knowing that I made a bad hit and my best choice was to back out. I don't know much about the anatomy of a deer's hind end, but I was hoping that its lungs stretched back into its pelvis.

After Corey showed up, I went through the whole event, and surprisingly, he went easy on the jokes and wise remarks about my archery skills. He agreed we should come back later, so we quietly retreated to camp. After eating dinner and cleaning up, I could not wait any longer. We got in the truck and went back to look for him a little after midnight.

Around 3 a.m. our flashlights were about gone, and I went back to the truck for more batteries. When I returned with new light, he quickly found the trail again. Corey then discovered the middle section of my arrow, about 12 inches long. Eventually, I turned and saw the deer lying about 5 feet behind Corey. He had walked right past the buck in the darkness as he focused on the trail. It was all handshakes and hugs as I bent down to look at this beautiful buck.

I noticed the large hole in its left hip. Somehow my arrow had torn a 3-inch diameter hole with not a single drop of blood around it. I rolled the buck over to find an exit wound in its chest, and my broadhead with about 4 inches of the arrow stuck in the buck's right front leg.

The next thing I saw as I counted his points was my first broadhead embedded about an inch deep into the buck's left beam. We loaded him into the truck and headed back to camp to finally close out a long but memorable opening day in the woods of southern Oklahoma.

The 13-point buck had a 144 2/8 Pope and Young net score. I love every minute I spend in the woods, whether it is working hanging stands, plowing and planting food plots or just sitting quietly in the stand admiring all God has created (except the poison oak and ivy).

There are no words to describe the calming silence of the deer woods mixed with the anticipation and intense anxiety of a monster buck magically appearing at any moment. Only those who have experienced this incredible rush can understand this obsession that draws me to the woods each fall. Lastly, I want to give a long overdue thanks to my wife and two daughters who reluctantly let me hunt way more than I should.

Bill Costin
Aubrey, Texas

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