It took only a few seconds last fall for Calvin Gustus to decide he both loves and loathes bowhunting.
The 2012 archery season was the 55-year-old volunteer fireman’s first, though he actually paid $50 for a bow in the mid-1980s. After shooting it a few times, he hung it up, forgot about it and, eventually, loaned it to his wife’s brother. It took years for his son, Chad (now 31), to convince him that having more than 100 days to hunt is better than the few afforded riflemen in Kansas.
On Nov. 17, just about the time Calvin was having serious doubts about his chances of seeing a decent deer within bow range, the biggest buck he’d ever seen strolled within 15 yards of his ladder stand. If it had been rifle season, he’d have smoked it. But squeezing a trigger requires far less movement than drawing a bow, and the deer was staring at him.
Unable to draw, the hunter from Geneseo, Kan., could only appraise the antlers and watch the animal walk out of his life. Afterward, he called Chad, who was hunting the (diagonally) adjacent quarter-section that Saturday morning.
“I just seen a 20-point buck!” he stammered.
“Twenty points, huh?” his son replied.
“I couldn’t draw with him looking at me, so I just counted points,” Calvin explained.
Thirty minutes later, Chad came to collect his father and to pull the card from a nearby trail camera. There was indeed a photo of what could very well be a 20-point buck.
“I decided right then that I was going to live in that treestand, though Chad told me I’d probably never see that buck again,” Calvin said.
To up the odds, Chad and Calvin moved the stand that same afternoon. They found a tree closer to the deer’s trail, but the only way they could put it there was to leave off a section of ladder, which meant the stand would be only about 8 feet high. Chad didn’t like the setup, but Calvin was overjoyed.
Calvin had been bowhunting for a whole month at that point.
He was diagnosed with colon cancer about five years ago, which put him in the hospital for five months. He went from an already lean 160 to 118 pounds. The former plumber has been cancer-free since 2011, though his digestive tract was re-plumbed and he now wears a colostomy bag.
Chad had been trying to persuade his father to take up bowhunting ever since he was diagnosed with cancer. When Calvin relented last October, Chad cranked down his Mathews Switchback from 73 to 60 pounds, but even that was a struggle for Calvin.
Not one to throw in the towel without a fight, however, Calvin thought of his old Browning Bantam that he’d loaned his wife’s brother. He got it back, added a Whisker Biscuit rest, new tubing for his peep, and he bought four new arrows to go along with the two he had. In short order, he was drilling hay bales in the back yard.
“I could shoot only one arrow a session. That was it,” he said. “I’d have to go in the house and rest before I could draw again. It took me three weeks, but I got to where I could do it 10 times in a row.”
“I kept trying to tell him it took only one time to shoot at a deer, but he was determined,” Chad added.
Eager to see his dad arrow a deer, Chad set up half a dozen stands and a ground blind for them in two diagonally connected quarter-sections. One of those stands, a 15 1/2-foot-high ladder, overlooked a creek that looped into their ground, and that became Calvin’s favorite, even before he saw the 20-pointer from it. He hunted there almost every morning and evening beginning the third week of October.
“I really wore a path into the woods to that stand,” he said. “But I was getting discouraged. By mid-November, I was asking myself why I was wasting my time.”
Chad took Thanksgiving week off from work.
On a cold Nov. 21, Calvin, Chad and Chad’s son, Caleb, returned to the property. The plan was to sit until 8:30 or so, but Calvin spotted the familiar buck of his dreams in the adjacent pasture and wanted to stay all day. He called his son and asked him to pick up some root beer and doughnuts and to leave them at the road for him.
Soon after Chad arrived at the store, he missed a telephone call. When he’d finished shopping and the store was half a mile in his rearview mirror, the phone rang again.
Calvin was on the other end, hyperventilating. He’d shot the 20-pointer.
“I told him to get down from the stand before he fell out,” Chad grinned.
Calvin had decided to take a poke at a nice 8-pointer, one of two that came in from the neighboring tract. When it was at 40 yards, he flipped his doe bleat canister. Before the deer could react to or ignore the call, a third buck — THE buck — scared away the 4x4.
By the time Calvin drew and peered at the 20-pointer through his peep, his vision was starting to blur. He had only the vaguest idea where the arrow hit it.
Rather than return to the woods alone, Chad picked up Caleb (who he’d dropped off before going on the doughnut run) and two other boys.
“My son said, ‘Dad, just because Grandpa shot a monster buck, you don’t have to drive so fast!’” Chad said.
When they arrived, Calvin was pacing up and down the road. Chad found blood on both sides of the trail, indicating both a good shot and a complete pass-through.
They all backed out and drove back to town with the intention of giving the deer more time. But the wait was short.
When they returned and picked up the trail, they found Grandpa’s buck 120 yards from where the arrow carved a perfect X into its heart.
Hunter: Calvin Gustus
BTR Score: 197 7/8
– Photos by Chad Gustus and Mike Handley
This article was published in the November 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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