By Jason J. Venti
5:00 a.m. — My alarm goes off. I can’t believe I put myself through this. I wake up each morning to get dressed and go into the woods to freeze for 4 hours. Then I come out of the woods to go home relax for an hour or so and get ready to go out again.
I am really tired this morning. But this is the last time other than weekends I will be able to go out. I better get some food in me.
I head to the kitchen pour a bowl of cereal and milk. By 5:15, I am watching R-News to see what the weather is going to be like. This morning is going to be 42 degrees and should warm up to be a high of 55 degrees.
5:45 a.m. — My truck is loaded and I am headed to my brother’s house. Mike and I are a little obsessed with hunting. We’ve actually set up 34 stands on five different pieces of property.
At Mike’s, we decide to hunt a property we grew up hunting on, with 11 treestands to choose from as well as three spots for a climber.
All morning, I have been thinking of hunting the Scrub Apple stand for some reason. Mike was there on Tuesday and saw a basket-rack 8 point. I would be happy that buck. I decide to hunt from this stand.
6:10 a.m. — We’re loaded in Mike’s truck and heading to our hunting spot. I keep going over how slow my hunting season has been. I have only seen a few bucks, and all of them have been small. I probably won’t see anything today, either.
6:25 a.m. — We arrive and head out to our stands. We cross the bridge to our hunting property and split as the trail forks. We look at each other, give each other a thumb’s up and say, “Good luck.”
I begin to walk as quietly as possible. Mike warned me not to kick up anything that might be bedded in that area. It takes me 15 minutes to reach the stand. This is the first time I’ve been here since we set up the stand almost 6 weeks ago. I pull the four spikes from my bag and start to remove the sticks Mike had put in the pre-bored holes.
“Ouch! Thanks a lot, Mike, for putting prickers in the holes last time you were here.” I couldn’t wait to call him and yell at him for that.
7:10 a.m. — I climb into the stand and get everything set. My Bowtec Tribute is hanging on the hook right in front of me. It is just getting light. Right now I can see detail about 2 yards in front of me, but no farther.
7:20 a.m. — A Stick cracks out to my left. I look out and can make out a small 3- pointer walking towards me. But there is movement behind him. As I look closer, I see an 8-point basket rack. He is about 20 yards out and headed to walk straight under my stand.
My phone begins to vibrate. I know the call is from Mike, so I ignore it. The 3-pointer walks directly under my stand. The 8-pointer is just 5 yards behind him.
I get my bow ready and pull back on the string. The sun is at my back. The buck sees my shadow and jumps, moving into some thick vegetation nearby. Slowly, I lower my bow.
The buck walks straight away from me at 30 yards. But it is not quite light enough to get a clean shot out that far. I can’t recall how clear the shooting lanes were when we set up the stand. I decide to wait to see if I can get a better shot.
As I am waiting, the 8-pointer follows the 3-pointer and walks through some thick stuff to my right. He circles around and stops behind me at 20 yards. I think I can squeeze off a shot. I pull back and aim. I look down my peep sight at the vital area I want to hit.
I slowly squeeze the release, and the arrow is in the air. I open my left eye, and see a single twig in the path of my arrow. It hits the twig and flies right under the belly of the deer.
The buck runs 10 yards, stops and walks away from me. The 3-pointer follows.
I blew it. I can’t believe I missed that shot. I sit down and pull another arrow out of my quiver. I begin to watch the deer in case he comes back. The 3-pointer circles and walks up to my arrow sticking out of the ground. He lowers his head and actually smells the shaft. He walks off after the 8-pointer and they are gone.
In the meantime, my brother has called three times and is beginning to worry that I have gotten lost or fallen out of my stand. It is now about 7:30 a.m. I call him back and tell him the story. He says relax, it is still early and the buck may still come back. I hang up and agonize about the fact that I missed.
8:00 a.m. — I get down from my stand to retrieve my arrow. I walk up to it, hoping to see some blood or hair on the arrow. As I get closer, I see it is completely clean. I pull it from the ground and climb back into my tree stand.
I call Mike back and tell him about the arrow. I tell him the buck is gone and I had definitely missed. I kick myself a few more times saying, “I can’t believe I missed!”
8:10 a.m. — No sooner than I hang up the phone, I hear something walking where the two deer had been. I slowly turn to my left and see the legs of a deer. I begin to think it might be the 8-pointer returning. When the deer is directly to my left, I can see its entire body and half of its rack through holes in the branches.
This is not the 8 pointer from earlier. This is a BIG BUCK!
The path he is following goes all the way across our property and has two turn-offs that would bring the deer in range. He passes by the first turn that would take him beneath my stand. He reaches the second, and I begin to shake I am so nervous. He passes that turn-off, and I begin to think I won’t get a shot.
But then he swings his head and smells down the path I need him to follow. He turns and takes the path that leads directly in front of me, the same one the 8-pointer took earlier. I now can see that this lane is completely open. I draw my Tribute bow for the 30-yard shot. My nose touches the string, and my peep sight is lined up with my eye. All he needs to do is walk 5 yards farther.
I start to concentrate and tell myself to make a clean shot. “Line everything up and be patient. You are not going to miss this one!” I keep repeating in my head.
The buck continues to walk straight and is almost there. But wait. He is still moving. I grunt once and take aim. I find the vitals with my red Truglo sight pin. He stops, and I let my arrow fly.
His back legs kick up, and I see a dark spot where his lungs are. I lower my bow and watch him run off. I count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 CRASH! I got him! I just shot a big buck. He crashed, so I know he is down. I grab my phone and call Mike.
“Mike, I just shot a big buck!”
“Did the 8-pointer come back?”
“No! This is a BIG BUCK.”
“Are you kidding? I just got off the phone with you!”
“I know, and he came in right after that!”
“I don’t know, but he is big, and he is definitely down. I think I got him double lungs! I heard him crash.”
“Nice. Congratulations! Do you want me to get down and come over?”
“No. Hunt for a little longer. I will get down in a little while and check the blood on the ground and the arrow.”
“Wait for me to come over, and we will check together. I will hunt utill 9 and then come over.”
The wait lasts for more than an hour and is excruciating. Meanwhile, six more bucks, four does and a red fox pass the stand.
I replay the hunt over and over in my head. I start wondering how big the buck is. From the time I saw him to the time I shot was less than a minute. I never did get a look at the other side of the rack.
Was the dark spot I saw only a spot of darker fur or even a shadow? I search for the arrow with my binocular and don’t see it anywhere. Did I really hit him? I am second-guessing every move I made.
9:30 a.m. — Mike walks over, and I point from the tree stand where the buck was when I shot. I gather my stuff and climb down. When I walk up to the area, Mike says, “He is definitely dead.”
“How do you know?”
“There is your arrow!”
I look down and see my arrow covered in blood. I can tell from 5 yards away there is a decent blood trail. I am starting to get very excited. I nock another arrow, just in case the buck is not dead.
The blood trail begins. It is an easy one to follow. I definitely got a lung shot. We follow the blood for about 15 yards and see where the buck plowed right through rather than jumped over some thick branches. Was this the crash I heard?
We follow the trail for 30 more yards and see where the deer had weaved around a little. Then we lose the trail.
I am now really starting to second-guess myself. Should we have waited longer?
Wait. No, there it is again. We pick up the trail again. This deer is turning left and right a lot. We begin to look around and find ourselves right under another one of our tree stands.
Right as I lower my eyes from the tree stand, I spot the buck 10 yards from it. The deer had traveled 60 yards.
The buck is as big as I’d hoped. The adrenaline is starting to leave, and now I begin to start thinking about how I am going to get the deer out of the woods. I start picturing him hanging on my wall, and I just can’t stop smiling.
I think to myself, “If I would have shot that little basket-rack 8-pointer, I would have never even seen this buck. Everything truly does happen for a reason.”
The buck scored 122 Pope and Young and weighed just over 200 pounds All it took was less than a minute to turn a bad hunting season into a successful one!