By Lisa L. Price
Tanner Wolff poses with his Sheridan County, N.D., 18-pointer, which ranks No. 7 among velvet-clad Irregulars harvested by compound bow. Photo Courtesy of Tanner Wolff
Tanner Wolff was at full draw in a ground blind with the monster buck he'd seen in trail camera photos just 10 yards away. There was just one problem.
His arrow was in his lap.
"I must not have had it clicked all the way onto the string, or maybe I did, and it popped off ... I don't know," Tanner said. "Regardless, the arrow clanked when it fell.
"The buck turned to look at the blind, and we were at a standstill for what seemed like forever," he added.
Tanner, his family and a couple of close friends make it a point to hunt together during opening week of North Dakota's archery season, which begins Sept. 1.
His dad, Randy, brothers Scott and Mike, and friends Jesse and Bob have made it a tradition to hunt a private farm a few miles east of Goodrich.
The hunters had seen a huge buck after the previous year's rifle season, and everyone was eager to see it again, hopefully with a bow in hand. During the preseason, each person picked an area of the farm to hunt and set up trail cameras to help them scout.
"We're always busy with the cattle and making hay that time of year," Tanner said. "But we always find time to scout, and the cameras help a lot."
Tanner had picked a spot and set up a trail camera, but although he got pictures of deer, he wasn't seeing bucks that would measure up to the group's high standard. Almost all of them have harvested record-book whitetails.
Tanner moved his camera just three days before the 2007 season's opening bell. He returned to collect it 48 hours later, hooked it up to his computer and began scrolling through the photographs. "More of the same," he thought. Doe ... doe ... doe ... 4-pointer ... doe ... spike ... Whoa! He was looking at a monstrous buck, its rack still covered in velvet.
There was no doubt where he'd spend most of his time, but he knew the area would be tough to hunt.
"The deer were using a rush slough that ran into the middle of a soybean field," Tanner said. "I was not sure where they were coming from to get there, and I wasn't sure if the breeze would cooperate. I'd have to have a northeast wind."
The first afternoon Tanner spent in his ground blind, he saw only a 4-pointer.
Tanner's trail camera snapped this photo just a few days before man and deer faced off at 10 yards.
Photo Courtesy of Tanner Wolff
He saw the big buck the next afternoon, but it was well out of bow range. And it didn't get any closer, thanks to a doe that winded Tanner.
"She busted me and blew, and the buck ran out of the field," he said. "I figured a big buck like that might not come back, so I gave that spot two nights off."
When he returned to hunt from the blind, Tanner couldn't shake a feeling of anticipation so strong it nearly made him sick. When deer started moving early, despite the strong wind that was whipping across the field, the this-is-going-to-be-the-night feeling grew stronger.
To help cope with the accompanying jitters, Tanner used his cell phone to send a text message to his brother, Mike, telling him about the early deer sightings.
"I'm feeling nearly sick. I know it's coming," Tanner texted to his brother, who replied, facetiously ... "It just stood and stretched, and it's coming your way."
The message made Tanner smile, and he looked up from the message to see deer actually moving through the rushes.
"More does went into the field. One stopped to stare at the blind," Tanner said.
"Then she got nervous, and I could see a bigger deer coming through the rushes. It was the buck."
Tanner drew his bow, and the arrow clattered to his lap.
"Somehow - even with the buck standing there at 10 yards - I got another arrow on and pulled back again," he said. "I shot as soon as I got to full draw.
I stuck my head out of the blind and watched the buck run and jump a fence, until I couldn't see it anymore," he added. "I went to the arrow, and there was lots of blood."
Mike thought Tanner was joking.
"I wouldn't be calling you during prime time if it wasn't true," Tanner insisted.
Soon, the entire gang of family and friends was headed to the farm where Tanner waited. Everyone wanted to help him recover the buck.
"I waited until we were all together to go look for the buck," Tanner said. "They were out in front of me on the blood trail, and I just kept hoping to hear somebody say, 'There it is!'"
Soon, somebody did. Tanner thought the buck had disappeared over a knoll, but it had fallen shortly after jumping the fence. Even though he'd seen the buck in the trail camera pictures and at full draw - twice - he was shocked at the size of the velvet-clad antlers.
"If the wind hadn't covered the noise of the arrow coming off, I think it would have bolted," Tanner said. "The way that buck turned and looked at me, standing there 10 yards away ... I wish everybody could see that."
Hunter: Tanner Wolff
Official Score: 193 1/8"
Composite Score: 211 3/8"
-- Reprinted from the November 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.