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The Briar Patch Bruiser

PhotoBy Kyle Schwabenbauer

-- On Oct. 27, 2007, I headed to northwest Pennsylvania for my last archery hunt of the season. Although the season didn't end until mid-November, I had plans to leave for Colorado for an elk hunt the first week of the month, so I would miss the last part of the season. It's always a tough decision to leave the state during the peak of the rut, but I've always believed that I should never pass up a chance to hunt the Western states if the opportunity arises. I had a harder time dealing with my upcoming departure this year due to several nice bucks that I had spotted in my hunting areas. Still, I realized that a shot opportunity could come at anytime, so I was optimistic about my last day in the treestand.
I knew that a lot of hunters would be in the woods for the opening of turkey season, so I got to my stand early, wanting to be well ahead of them. The stand I chose was situated along a thick funnel of briars between two bedding areas. I assumed that turkey hunters would be hunting the adjacent oak ridges, and I hoped that they might push deer into the thicket below. Plus, I thought the colder weather might get the bucks moving and figured they would travel through the funnel in search of does.

Despite my initial optimism, the gusting wind and steady rain dampened my spirits as I sat in the darkness, pondering whether I could actually endure an entire day in the tree if the conditions didn't improve. Not willing to give up my final chance at the nice bucks I'd been seeing, I pulled my collar up around my ears and waited for the sun to rise.

Shortly after 8 o'clock, the wind died down and the rain ended. I decided the calm period might be the perfect time to do some calling. I began with a few soft grunts, keeping a close eye on the thicket to my downwind side. After the grunts yielded no results, I pulled out my rattle bag. I rolled the synthetic tines together for about 30 seconds and followed up with more grunts. Then I picked up my bow and continued scanning the underbrush for movement.
I hadn't finished searching the entire perimeter around my tree when I heard what I thought were several grunts behind me. I wasn't positive, so I decided to grunt back to verify the sounds. I let out a short grunt and was immediately answered by an unmistakable series of loud grunts. I mimicked the buck with several louder grunts of my own and slid the call back in my pocket.

The buck began grunting continuously, and I could hear brush crashing as he approached. I finally caught sight of his huge grayish body bounding through the briars toward my stand. I could make out several thick, heavy tines smacking the brush as he closed the distance to about 40 yards. I came to full draw and waited for him to enter my shooting lane.
At a little over 30 yards, he stopped broadside in the opening, and I released the arrow. It entered high above the buck's front shoulder and he bolted, trying to circle back the direction he had come. He staggered badly and after about 50 yards, he vanished in a dense patch of briars. I was convinced the hit was solid, but I wasn't sure the buck was down for good.

When I finally got out of the tree, I was delighted to find plenty of bright red blood on the ground where the buck had been standing when I shot. I also recovered my arrow about 10 yards into the blood trail. It had passed completely through the buck, but the back of the arrow didn't make it out of the opposite shoulder, and the shaft had snapped right in front of the fletching. Knowing I had a low exit wound gave me added confidence, and I slowly crept toward the thick briar patch where the buck had disappeared.

I kept my bow at the ready just in case the buck hadn't expired, but as I neared the dense green thicket, I caught sight of two tall tines and a heavy beam sticking up from the forest floor. The buck was down for good! I was overcome with joy and relief that I'd made a good shot despite having to shoot so quickly. 

As I finally stood over the buck, I was amazed at his body size. He was easily twice as big as any deer I'd harvested before. The smell of his pungent tarsal glands was heavy in the humid air. I wrestled him from the tangle of briars to get a better look at his thick antlers. The right beam contained a unique triple fork that was palmated at the base. I was ecstatic, and it was an awesome ending to one of my most memorable seasons!

Kyle Schwabenbauer
Baden, Pennsylvania

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