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The Worst of Times, the Best of Bucks

HoffmanBy Bill Hoffman

-- Oct. 26, 2008, was a very blustery day in the middle of the South Dakota archery season. With wind gusts of up to 50 mph, I was very hesitant to go out that evening. My wife commented on how crazy I was, but I justified it by saying, “I just want to hang a new stand, and the wind will mask the noise.”

As I was gassing up my truck at the station, the wind almost blew the door off the hinges. Questioning my sanity the whole way, the wind jerking my truck all over the road, I drove the 45 minutes to the farm I hunt.

It didn’t help my frame of mind that I had seen only does and fawns to that point the season. “Is this really going to be worth it?” I wondered.

The thing that kept me going was I’d visualized the perfect spot for a stand the previous morning. Four years earlier, I saw the biggest buck I’d ever seen while standing in the crotch of a tree. He was a real monster in the 170-plus category, and he was at least that many yards away all evening. I thought about that encounter often, but I’d never bothered acting on it.

I pulled into my usual parking spot about 3:40 p.m. and began gathering my gear. As I hiked to the location, I noticed lots of deer tracks the 40-yard-wide opening along the old fence line. All those trails would be within bow range.

It took about 40 minutes for me to hang the stand and trim a few branches for shooting lanes. I settled in afterward and looked at my watch. It was 4:20, and the wind was still screaming. The temperature was in the mid-30s, so the wind cut right through my clothing.

Half an hour later, I realized that I hadn’t checked to see if I had a shooting lane behind me. I stood and looked over my shoulder and there, at 40 yards, stood what South Dakota is known for: a big beautiful rooster pheasant. I cleared some branches and drew my bow just to see if I had room to shoot.

I thought about trying for it. It would’ve been legal. But I opted to pass.

As I sat back down, I flashed back four years to the big buck I’d seen. It was almost like déjà vu. When I peered down the row of trees where I’d seen the monster, I saw a huge bodied deer and quickly grabbed my binoculars.

The deer was about 200 yards distant, working a scrape. I could tell he was not the monster from before, but he was definitely a shooter. Unfortunately, however, he turned and walked the other way.

As that one disappeared, a spike emerged from the corn 80 yards from me and walked into the trees. I then looked to my left and saw another spike. I then noticed a doe behind me. I couldn’t believe the deer were on the move with the wind blowing so hard.

There was a lull in the action for about 15 minutes, and then I spotted three more bucks moving around where I’d seen the first one. As I raised my glasses, I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be two more shooter bucks walking into the corn. All the action was several yards in front of me, which had me plotting where I should move my stand the next weekend.

Just then, a beautiful pearly white rack materialized atop a buck headed my way. Through binoculars, I saw it was a mainframe 5x5 with a kicker off the left P-2.

My heart sank when it veered off into the woodlot.

I thought for sure that I’d never see that buck again. But moments later, four does appeared in the same place he’d first appeared. They followed the same route, too.

The next deer I saw were farther down the tree row. I was watching the pair of young 4x4s when I happened to glance left ... and forgot all about them.

The buck with the white rack was only 20 yards away. I slowly reached for my bow.

My fingers were numb from cold, and I was shivering so bad I couldn’t attach my release to the loop until after several attempts. Just as I started to put tension to my string, my finger accidentally pushed the trigger, and the release came free. I was surprised the arrow was still on the rest, to tell the truth.

The shakes had subsided by the time I finally drew my bow. I bleated and stopped the deer at 30 yards. After I released, he bolted.
While waiting for Brenda to answer the telephone, I looked over my shoulder and saw a deer run into some trees about 200 yards away.

“What’s Up?” my wife answered.

Shivering, I said, “I’m standing in my stand, freezing my butt off, and I just stuck a 6x5!” She whooped, and I could hear our 6-year-old daughter, Brianna, adding to the chorus in the background

“I think it was a good shot, but I just saw a deer run into the trees 200 yards away,” I told her. “I hope it wasn’t him.”

It was 7:00 by then, and dark was fast approaching. I was surprised to find the arrow so quickly because the grass was about waste-deep. It was covered tip to nock in dark red blood. I knew then it was a good hit.

Otherwise, there was no blood. I began circling, but I had my doubts. I figured I would have to come back the next morning to resume looking in the daylight.

I looked for about 20 more minutes before, in a last ditch effort, I headed for where I’d seen the deer long after the shot. As I walked into the grove of trees, I noticed a feed bucket tipped over for cattle and I began the search. I looked for another 20 minutes before deciding to quit for the night.

As I was heading out of the grove, my flashlight beam bounced off something white. I thought it was just the feed bucket, but then something told me I’d better take a closer look.

The bucket transformed into a glorious set of antlers that wound up scoring 142 5/8 inches – my biggest archery buck to date!

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