Smalltown Bucks



By Shawn Stephenson

Thank goodness for dogs that have more sense than their human companions.

I had the great pleasure of hunting in Central Ohio during Halloween week in 2011. It was one of the best hunting experiences in my life, and I was able to call in several deer within bow range. I ended up shooting a nice 8-pointer that weighed over 250 pounds.

Over the next year, I lost several nights’ sleep dreaming about returning to Ohio. I upgraded to a new bow with carbon arrows, purchased a rangefinder and brand new expandable broadheads.

On Oct. 26 of 2012, it was 85 degrees at my home in Lake Wales, Florida. That’s when my buddies and I began the 18 hour drive back to Ohio. We agreed to target only mature trophy bucks and to pass on younger deer.

Our Weather Channel apps were reporting changing forecasts every couple hours, and we didn’t know what to expect. We rolled in to Don’s house in Fulton, Ohio, at about noon on Saturday.

Everyone in this small town calls us the Florida Boys, and they’re some of the best people I have ever met. They told us to get ready because Hurricane Sandy was headed toward the Northeast and it was going to be wet, cold and very windy.

We spent the next four days sitting in ground blinds and treestands from daylight to dark in rain, snow and wind up to 50 mph. I saw a pair of yearlings feeding within 10 yards but that was it.

We were cold, wet and becoming very discouraged. On Wednesday morning, we all agreed to harvest any deer we wanted, regardless of trophy status.

We took a break after the morning hunt, and when we headed out that afternoon, I decided to go back to the stand where I harvested my buck the year before.

The wind continued to blow the rain sideways. The small block of woods was bordered by a cow pasture, and the cattle owner decided to move his electric fence to give the cows access to fresh grazing. He was within 50 yards for 20 minutes or so, and I was glad when he headed back to his ATV and left for the night. Then the rain subsided and even the wind seemed to calm down for a bit. Something was about to happen.

I was startled and not prepared when the first adult deer of the trip trotted to within 30 yards. He threw his head up into a turkey oak with a few leaves still on it, and I was able to stand up, retrieve my bow and secure the release on the loop. I didn’t count points or measure mass; the buck was outside his ears, and his body was big so I didn’t think twice.

I drew my bow, and the buck walked to within 8 yards and stopped broadside. I have seven pins on my sight and practice out to 90 yards. This buck was so close that all seven pins were on his vitals as I looked through the peep.

I placed the bottom pin at the center of his heart and released. There was a loud crask as the arrow hit home and passed clean through.

The buck trotted about 30 yards and stopped to look around for the source of the sound. He never felt the arrow. I wanted to shoot again, but trees and bushes obscured the buck’s body. I tried grunting and using a doe bleat, but he would only stop for a few seconds and then continue to walk.

I could see my arrow less than 15 yards away. The florescent orange wrap and fletching were bright and lacked any trace of blood. My binoculars were fogged and I couldn’t get a good view, so 20 minutes after the shot, I climbed down and retrieved the arrow.

It was coated in fat mixed with white hair, and there was a small trace of blood on one of the fletchings. Doubt began to set in when I found only a drop of blood every few steps. I walked to where the buck stood after the shot and found a better amount of blood. Then I got back in the stand and sent text messages to my two buddies, who have years more archery experience than I do.

When I hadn’t heard back 30 minutes later, the rain returned. Fearing it would wash away the blood, I made the mistake common to many new bowhunters and began following the trail.

After about 50 yards, it went from drops to a 6-inch wide solid red swath. I was sure I was going to find the buck any second, so I kept going. About 200 yards later, the blood all but stopped. I could tell it was heading across the road to a harvested soybean field. I wantet to kick myself and I realized I had jumped the deer and pushed him onto the neighboring property.

My hunting buddy Stan had once said, “These deer in Ohio have fix-a-flat in ’em.” Now I know what he meant. I really didn’t want this story end with one that got away.

I retrieved my equipment and got permission to track the deer. About the same time, Stan returned my call and told me to stay put — he and his dog Lucky were on the way.

Lucky is a 9-year-old Black Mouth Cur. He is primarily used to track, bay, and catch the feral hogs that destroy our hay fields in Florida. I had brought an old neoprene duck dog jacket for him since his hair is short and he gets cold in Ohio. The wetlands camouflage jacket was a little big, and when we first put it on him Lucky looked at Stan as if to ask why he was being punished. Later it was obvious he was proud of his new jacket.

Age has taken a good bit of Lucky’s hearing and muted the powerful spring in his step, but you could see the excitement in him as we got ready to let him do what he loves. Lucky had found my buck the year before, but that deer was only 80 yards from the stand. I had doubts even this wonderful dog could locate a buck that had gone so far and left so little sign.

Stan cut a 20-foot piece of 1/4-inch nylon rope, tied it to Lucky’s collar and pointed to the blood on the ground. He told Lucky to find the deer, and the dog tiptoed across the short, pointy bean stems that obviously hurt his paws. He continued toward the tree line more than 500 yards away.

By then the rain had returned and was coming down hard. The wind was out of the west-northwest at 15 to 25 mph with gusts up to 50 mph. My heart sank as there was absolutely no blood anywhere along the track. As we crested the first small hill, two deer ran across the track. I thought for sure that would throw him off, but Lucky circled a couple times and, with Stan’s encouragement, locked back on the correct track.

We reached the tree line at the top of the second hill, and as Lucky continued down into the woods, I found a small puddle of blood. It lifted my spirits to know the dog was on the trail.

We came to a small creek about 45 minutes later. Lucky worked back and forth along the edge of the creek to find a narrow spot he could jump without getting wet. I laughed, thinking that dog is smarter than we are and would have had more sense than to spend four days sitting out in the rain like we had.

He started working slowly downwind when his head came up and all the speed and power from his youth returned as he headed toward something on the creek bank. As lucky closed in, I saw the deer stand up and the dog caught it by the ear as he had done with hundreds of wild hogs in the past.

That buck hooked Lucky behind the rib cage and tossed him at least 20 feet through the air. Stan pulled Lucky back to him to check for injuries as I focused on the 8-pointer.

We stood quietly for a few minutes contemplating our options before Stan asked me if I wanted to bumrush the buck. “That’s a whole lot angry deer to grab!” I replied.

Not all of the best or brightest ideas are formulated in the heat of battle, but we lacked weapons. So we used the only tools we had available: a 20-foot piece of 1/4-inch nylon and a pocket knife.

Stan took the lead off Lucky and made a lariat. I held Lucky, who was trying to get back in the mix and catch his prey. There was no quit in this dog.

The deer started to get up as Stan got within a few feet and tossed the loop. The full moon illuminated the action as Stan jerked the deer back down. Together, we jumped on his neck to hold him. One well-placed knife cut and the fight was over almost immediately.

Stan immediately left me with the deer to care for Lucky. These dogs are very tough and don’t show signs of pain. It wasn’t until we returned home that we found the puncture wound in Lucky’s flank just behind his rib cage. It was mixed in with other scars obtained throughout his adventure-filled life.

We cooked steak that night, and Lucky ate his share of mine (and everyone else’s at the table). He was a little sore the next morning but was up and ready for the morning hunt.

Did I mention he sleeps at the base of the treestand while Stan hunts? That dog will not move, even with deer only a few feet away.

Stan has hundreds of antlers and mounts on his trophy wall, many trophy-class, but I gave Lucky this set of antlers since he did more to harvest this buck than I did. I’m sure they will be among the top of the trophies Stan has displayed in his home and will be a constant reminder of the friendship, loyalty, drive, determination and ability of that old Black Mouth Cur named Lucky!

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Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd