By Rod Phillips
I had been in my stand for about 10 minutes when I saw a deer, a good one, making his way toward me. It was the biggest buck I had ever encountered.
This is going to be good, I thought. The wind is right, I’m above him, and the cover is adequate. If he continues on his course, I’ll have a quartering-away shot at 12 yards.
I got ready. At 15 yards, he was facing me, about to make the turn in the bend of the logging road. And then he stopped dead in his tracks.
A quick mental check. The wind was okay, I had not moved… I was good.
Then, for no apparent reason except big buck sixth sense, he looked straight up at me! He did not spook or even look alarmed. He just stared at me.
Come on. Take two more steps!
He put his head down, but then it came up again, and those inquisitive eyes seemed to bore a hole right through me.
I got a good look at his headgear. It was massive, with several stickers and a unique point sprouting from the base of his left antler. He was a brute. However, I was beginning to get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that this hunt was about to go south.
I thought, “Could I still salvage a shot?” The next time he lowered his head, I would draw, then shoot when he turned.
Ah, the best-laid plans of the bowhunter ... Instead of turning, the buck craftily walked backwards then whirled in an instant — no panic, no alarm or fright, just a deliberate escape.
Now he stood broadside at 20 yards, but a branch covered his vitals. At 30 yards, he was walking dead away, right out of my life.
I had a marginal shot at 18 yards, but he was just too nice a deer to risk a bad shot. I relaxed my draw, sat down, and began to shake. It was the beginning of the rut; surely I would see him again before the season ended.
I did not.
A year passed after my encounter with what I now called “the unicorn buck.” Walking by the tree I was in, I wondered, is he still alive? Will I see him again? Little did I know.
Earlier that year, while scouting a bench just above the logging road I had hunted, I hung a stand in a different tree. I had taken a nice 8 point at the extreme west end of this same bench. I liked my new setup.
I climbed into the stand at 2:30 p.m. and within 20 minutes, I had action. A nice doe came off the ridge above me onto the bench. She picked at some acorns while browsing on leaves. I had a doe tag, but it was early in the season. I decided to let her walk and enjoy the show.
An hour later, a small deer followed the trail the doe had used. After milling around for a few minutes, he laid down. As he chewed his cud, I could see small bumps on his head. I thought to myself, “This is so cool!
It was about 4:30 when I noticed the little button buck become alert. He was looking downhill, his ears pointing in the direction of his concern. It wasn’t long before I saw what had gotten his attention. A nice 6 point was headed my way.
The little buck evidently didn’t want anything to do with this deer and disappeared behind a screen of brush. The 6 point passed within 10 yards of the little guy, either not knowing he was there or not caring. As I prepared for the shot, I paused and thought to myself, “You can’t kill a big one if you keep shooting small ones.” I let him walk as well.
I began to pack my stuff. Within 15 minutes, the evening hunt would be finished. As I closed the pack, I heard footsteps. Grabbing my bow, I got ready.
I saw him as he turned his rack to get through some brush. This buck was a shooter, and all too soon he broadside at 15 yards.
My Mathews Rival Pro was at full draw, and a split second later, the Rage broadhead tipped Carbon Express arrow was on its way. The arrow hit and the buck fled, crashing through brush and trees. I heard one more loud crash, then silence.
I began to question myself, “Did I make a good hit? Maybe a bit low, too far forward. No, I heard him fall, or did I? Yes, go get him. No! I’ll sneak out of here and get some help. Give him time.”
I brought my father and son back with me, and an hour later, I picked up the blood trail. The tracking was fairly easy. After a hundred yards, I began to get concerned, and then we found half of the arrow. It had been broken in the middle and only a little blood was on the fletching. I made a decision. If we did not find the buck on the little flat ahead, we would leave and take up the search in the morning.
I saw something white in the woods. I ask dad to shine his light there. My heart sank. It was just a rock.
We continued down the hill. Lying next to that rock was my deer.
The buck was a mainframe eight with seven little stickers. The broadhead had penetrated his near shoulder, sliced the bottom of his heart, continued through the far shoulder and stopped just under the hide on the off side.
What a deer! As I looked him over, there was something familiar about him. Wide heavy horns, strikers all over and a smaller point protruding out of the base of the left antler. No doubt, this was the unicorn buck or his brother.
After field dressing, we began the arduous task of dragging the buck out of the woods. Over deadfalls and gullies, across streams, fences and cutovers, we finally got him out more than an hour later.
We measured the girth in front of the forelegs and used a chart to estimate his weight. The live weight was between 275-285 pounds, and the field dressed weight was 205-215 pounds.
The buck’s official gross score was 154 2/8; the net was 144 2/8.
I am very pleased with my unicorn buck and the thrills he gave me. You will hear no complaints from this happy Ohio bowhunter.