This time it was Dad’s turn to be told where to hunt.
The 2006 Ohio archery season started quickly when my son, Cody, was able to arrow a big buck on opening day. Cody was home from college and didn’t have much time to hunt, so I placed him over the trail camera that was getting regular pictures of that deer. I’ve placed Cody in my favorite spots for years and don’t mind a bit that he has many beautiful mounts on his wall. I get as much satisfaction out of him taking a buck as I do when I get one.
However, I had to admit that I was tickled pink that Cody had shot the second-biggest buck I had scouted during the summer. That left the big one, a buck I had named Cowboy, for me.
I was in a slump and hadn’t taken a nice buck for several years. To make matters worse, I was trying to erase a bad memory that was haunting me. My bow was stolen during the 2004 season, and I still wasn’t 100 percent comfortable with my new one when a 176-inch deer we named Tank gave me a shot. It didn’t work out so well.
A neighbor found Tank’s skull and antlers more than a year later not far from where I shot him. I’d never felt as bad as when I watched that beautiful buck run off with a badly placed arrow. I had hung up my bow for the rest of the season and replayed that shot in my mind a million times. I needed to get my confidence back.
As the season progressed, all the big bucks I had scouted during the summer were slowly being harvested on neighboring properties. It seemed like I’d hear of another nice one being taken about once each week. Finally, I received the news I dreaded most. A big buck with multiple stickers was shot not far from my place. I never saw the pictures of the big buck but was sure it was Cowboy. I couldn’t figure out why he only scored in the 130s when I thought he was much bigger.
With the two deer on my most-wanted list dead, I began to spend many hours in my treestand shooting squirrels with my bow. Shooting squirrels not only provided some tasty meat, but it really honed my archery skills. I always saved one good arrow in case something nice would walk by. It was an arrow with sharp new blades, a flawless shaft, and the words “El Diablo” written on the fletching. I forget what my son said it meant when he wrote it; but considering how my season was going, I was beginning to think it was Spanish for “arrow that will never see a deer.”
On Dec. 9, 2006, I was at work when Cody called to see if I wanted to get in an evening hunt. I said, “Sure, no problem. We’ll take some does for the freezer.” I didn’t expect much since it was the week after the Ohio gun season and every deer that didn’t learn how to climb a tree was either hanging in a locker or had crawled under a rock.
We arrived at our property around 3:45 p.m., and while stepping out of the truck, Cody began to tell me where I should hang my stand. I appreciated his suggestion, but having spent so much time scouting and learning the wind patterns and deer movement, I figured I was good on my own. But for some reason, Cody demanded I sit at a particular spot. I didn’t want to sit there, but I didn’t feel like arguing.
It felt strange that after 12 years of me telling him where to sit that suddenly he was telling me where I should sit. Then I realized Cody had sent me to be the same tree I shot Tank from. Great.
I shimmied up the tree, hung my bow and sat down for a short hour-and-a-half hunt. I saw two does bedded about 75 yards away that seemed oblivious to my climber going up the tree. I nocked El Diablo and sat back to wait. A half hour later, the does made their way toward my perch. The first doe skirted just out of range, but the second headed directly toward me.
I knew the second rut was starting and that both does were mature, with dark spots inside the back legs; they were perfect buck attractors. The doe was 20 yards out, but I needed a slightly better angle. Just before I drew back, I saw movement behind her.
A large buck was headed toward me, walking on the same trail and in the same direction as Tank had two years earlier. Just like when I first saw Tank, I had a difficult time believing how big the rack was. The day I relived in my mind a million times was now being replayed in real life. The buck was quartering toward me, closing in at a steady pace — just like Tank.
I couldn’t help noticing the stickers coming off the P2s and P3s. It was Cowboy! Now I knew why the buck with stickers taken earlier was only a 130-class deer.
After the doe passed, I drew El Diablo against my face. Suddenly I heard the doe snort and stomp. I was busted. The forest was dead silent. My 20-yard pin rested on Cowboy’s lungs, but there was a small twig the size of my finger stretched across his vitals. I could have shot over or even under the twig or had taken him with a shot a little farther back, but I remembered the promise I made to myself. I was not going to create another Tank-like memory.
The doe blew again and ran about 15 yards.
I remained at full draw with my sight on Cowboy ... holding, holding, holding. Everything was dead silent. With my eye on the 20-yard pin and the pin in place for a perfect double-lung shot, my mind began to race. “I’ll miss that little twig,” I said. I floated the pin above the twig, below the twig and to the liver. “I can make this shot.” Moments like this define temptation. “I shot a squirrel between the ears at this distance the day before. I know I can do it.”
Finally, the strain was unbearable. I had to let the arrow fly or let my bow down. The biggest deer I had ever seen was standing in front of me at 20 yards, but I had no choice. The memory of Tank was still fresh in my mind, so I let my bow down and dropped it against my leg to rest.
Staring only at the giant buck, I didn’t realize how many deer there were around me as I turned my head to watch the explosion of white tails. At that moment, I had a strange feeling. All the demons I had carried for two years vanished. Cowboy tested my promise, and I had passed. I had paid my dues for taking the bad shot at Tank.
I moved my head back to where the giant buck was standing; he was still there! After all the commotion, he just stood there looking at me. I took my eye off him for a second to watch the other deer run off and figured he would follow.
When I looked back, he was still there 20 yards away, but he had stepped away from the twig into a full, open broadside view. He watched me as I drew El Diablo again. Instinct took over.
The years of practice played its role and, without even thinking, I made a perfect shot. The buck trotted off 30 yards, turned around to look at me, flicked its tail and then softly, almost as if he was just resting, lay down in the leaves for the last time.
I ran to my son’s stand to thank him for putting me in the right spot, and I knew he was happier than if he’d had shot the deer himself.
This article was published in the October 2007 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.