Things don’t always go according to the book in the deer woods, but when they do, it can be a thing of beauty.
The buzz of the alarm came too early. I had been hunting four days a week since Oct. 1, and my motivation for early morning hunts was wearing thin.
I was invited to hunt with a couple of close friends that morning in the bustling suburbs, just minutes from our nation’s capitol in Fairfax County, Va. This is a bowhunting-only county with few large tracts of land left for hunting. But the deer population has exploded. The state has extended the hunting season in this county, giving hunters the opportunity to harvest as many deer as possible. The season starts in the middle of September and runs through the end of March. There is very little hunting pressure, though, and the deer have a good chance to mature.
The 300-acre parcel of private property we were hunting has a great balance of mature hardwoods, open fields and thick cover — all the right ingredients for bruiser bucks to feed, bed and scent-check for does without ever having to travel outside their comfort zone.
It was Nov. 9, and the bucks were breaking out of their bachelor groups and trying to establish dominance; the does were ridding themselves of pesky yearlings. I had seen several immature bucks sparring and chasing does. Even though they were young bucks, hearing those first grunts of the year got my heart pumping. I knew the rut was right around the corner.
I arrived at the property just before 5:30 and saw a small group of does feeding along the access road on the way to the parking area. It always raises my spirits when I see deer on my way to the woods. I met up with my friends, Scott Kestner and Curtis Guckert. We got ready and discussed who would hunt where before heading out.
With temperatures reaching into the 70s, I knew the deer wouldn’t be traveling far from their bedding areas. I set up in a patch of mountain laurel on a hardwood ridge overlooking the fields in the bottom. The ridges are littered with white oaks, and the acorn crop was as good as I have ever seen it. I was hoping to catch a buck feeding along the ridge on his way back to bed. The area had plenty of deer sign, including some nice rubs and fresh scrapes.
I was in the stand five minutes when I heard the unmistakable sound of deer crunching through the fall leaves. It was still too dark to make out exactly what they were, but they were heading up the ridge, just as I hoped. They hung up about 60 yards out, and I could hear the sound of acorns crunching. You have to love it when a plan comes together.
As the sky brightened and the shapes took form, I saw that there were a couple of does feeding contentedly my way. A few more does joined in. Surely there had to be some bucks close by. As I waited, does would come and go, replacing each other under the oaks like an acorn-eating assembly line. When they had their fill, they would pass under me on their way into the thicket.
The sun was bright and climbing higher into the clear sky, and I could feel the temperature rising. Deer movement slowed, except for two does that just kept on eating. I was surprised that I had seen 11 does and not a single buck.
I accepted the fact that my hunt was coming to an end and decided to harvest one of the does. I slowly reached for my bow and stood. My heart started to pound just like it always does when I decide to harvest an animal; it doesn’t matter whether it’s a buck or a doe. I hope that feeling never goes away.
“My” doe remained unaware of my presence, so I waited for a perfect quartering-away shot. I ranged her one last time at 28 yards, drew, settled my 20-yard pin just behind her shoulder and squeezed the trigger of my release.
It was a perfect shot; the doe ran 20 yards and went down. I was overcome with emotion, proud to take a mature doe to feed my family. I had forgotten all about not seeing a buck, as was evident from the big smile on my face. It was just about time to go meet the guys, so I started to gather up my things.
As I began to climb down, I caught movement off to my right. I turned to look; and there, standing 45 yards away, was the biggest buck I have ever seen while bowhunting. Like an apparition, he just appeared out of thin air. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen me or heard me packing up.
Then panic hit me like a ton of bricks. My bow was attached to my hoist line; my release was in my hunting bag; my facemask and hat were packed away; and, to top it all off, my heart was about to explode.
I decided not to move a muscle. The last thing I wanted to do was make a poor decision and spook this buck. I’m sure it was only a minute, but it seemed like he stood there motionless for an hour. I tried not to stare at his rack, because I knew I had enough challenges ahead of me without the pressure of knowing exactly how big he was. All I knew at that point was that he was big and a definite shooter.
Then the buck saw the doe I had shot.
He cautiously headed toward her, giving me a window of opportunity. Without taking my eyes off of him, I began to prioritize my moves. I knew the first thing I had to do was get my bow free of my hoist line and get an arrow nocked. I practice shooting my bow without my release for instances just like this. The whole time I was getting my bow ready, it felt like I had two left arms. Amazingly, I managed to do it without ever taking my eyes off of the buck.
He finally made his way over to the doe and was smelling her intently. I decided to try to get my release. The buck was between 45 and 50 yards out and was facing away. Let me tell you how hard it is to quietly unzip a hunting pack when you are juiced up on adrenaline. About the time I got my release, the buck stepped over the doe and relieved himself on her. Then he began to walk away.
I couldn’t believe that he could do that after all I had gone through to get ready. I grabbed my call and tried to give a quick grunt. The noise that came out sounded more like a goose. The buck stopped and turned to look before continuing on his way. By then he was about 65 yards out and getting farther by the second. I grabbed my can call and turned it over — what a relief to hear the sound it was supposed to make.
The buck stopped but didn’t turn, so I hit the call again. This time he turned around and started to come back. My panic turned into pure buck fever. If I didn’t do anything stupid, I was going to get a shot!
The buck began to circle to my left, where I had only two small shooting lanes. I had ranged them earlier at 28 and 36 yards. I figured my best chance was to stop him at the first one, which was where I had shot the doe.
As he approached the lane, I went to full draw. My bow never seemed harder to pull back than it did just then, not to mention I could hear my heart pounding. I focused through my peep and waited to see his shoulder. When his head entered the peep, I grunted to get him to stop. It was perfect. I put my 20-yard pin a little high behind his shoulder and hit the release.
It was like my arrow was in slow motion. I could actually see it spinning until it finally disappeared into the buck’s vitals. I knew I made a perfect shot as he tore off like a speeding bullet. He ran into a thick area, so I couldn’t see him. But after a second of silence, I heard him fall.
I had to sit down immediately or I was going to pass out or drop my bow. I sat there for about a half-hour and gathered my senses, thinking about what an amazing hunt I just had. I couldn’t wait to put my hands on that buck.
I climbed down, packed up my treestand and started to make my way over to the thicket. Then I noticed my friend walking down the path toward me. I shared the story with him, and we went and found my arrow. There was a great blood trail that led 40 yards and ended at the trophy of a lifetime.
He turned out to be a heavy 9-pointer with bases that measure just under 6 inches. He has a 19-inch inside spread with long, 22-inch main beams — not to mention his great brow tines. He weighed about 200 pounds and had some age to him, about 6 1/2 years.
I had to sit with him for a while and soak it all in. I still couldn’t believe it. I called another friend, John Jensen, and asked him to help me take some photos to capture this moment. I will remember this day for the rest of my life. I know there are a lot of bigger deer out there, but this one is mine and will be a part of me forever.
This article was published in the September 2007 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.