Rack Magazine

Plan B

Plan B

By Mike Handley

That moment when you realize your blind smells like a Lynyrd Skynyrd song …

When Steve Whitelock got a whiff of the pop-up blind he’d planned to erect between two of his stationary bow stands, he changed his mind.

He’d hoped that by setting up between his regular stands, he’d be in a better position to intercept the Moby Dick of whitetails that had bewitched him the very first day he took to the woods in 2013. He thought about the strategy all day, while at the helm of his boat.

Steve captains The Happy Hooker, a 37-foot, pontoon-style charter (head) boat moored on the Chesapeake side of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. His customers are seeking flounder, croaker and rockfish — the latter known as striped bass or stripers farther south.

Steve managed to cancel his last trip of the day on Sept. 24, which meant he’d have time to squeeze in an afternoon hunt, or at least use it to erect the blind. When he went inside his garage to retrieve the popup, however, he abandoned the notion of using it.

“It had a funky, mildewy smell,” he said. “There was no way I could take that into the woods.”

Thus explains why he wound up going to an 18-foot-high, double ladder stand, a place he didn’t really expect to see the buck. He was aloft by 4:45, which gave him almost a couple of hours before sunset.

That marked the ninth time he’d been afield in 2013. The first time he’d bowhunted was three days into Maryland’s season. While he was leaving the woods that evening — early because there was less shooting light underneath the still-full canopy — he saw between 15 and 20 deer in the neighboring soybean field.

Rather than continue walking to his truck, he was content to watch them until it was too dark to see any longer.

He’d forgotten his binoculars, so he couldn’t scrutinize them carefully, but there was one buck at the edge of the tree line that was markedly larger than all the rest.

“I knew only that it was bigger than any other I’d ever seen,” he said.

Steve watched the deer until darkness fell, and then he walked out to his vehicle. He had no intention of telling anyone about the buck, not even his own father.

Steve is one of six guys who lease about 300 acres — mostly forested strips between agricultural fields — in Wicomico County. The other members hunt primarily with rifles and muzzleloaders, so he has a lot of ground to himself during the bow season, which is why he joined the little club about midway into the 2012 season.

He saw the buck a second time during his fourth trip. It was at 40 yards, walking away from him, but Steve couldn’t shoot. He did, however, get a slightly closer look at the captivating rack.

In eight hunts, Steve saw the buck twice, along with maybe a hundred other deer.

Plan BHis third encounter with Moby Buck was on that ninth trip, when he settled for hunting out of the double-wide, not even close to where he expected the massive whitetail to show.

At 6:30, close to sunset, a doe and a fawn passed his stand, followed by another fawn. Steve calls the little ones Bambis.

And then he saw antlers. Big antlers. Familiar antlers. He saw them before he even saw the head to which they were attached, even before he registered the deer’s body.

The buck of his dreams — Be still my heart, he thought —  was coming toward him from 52 yards. It came to within 40, and then did a 180.

“I about died,” Steve said. “I thought, Oh my god, I’m not going to get a shot! I was losing my mind.”

But the buck had no clue that it was being watched.

Panicking, Steve decided he would grunt and take the quartering-away shot when the deer reached the 50-yard mark. His crossbow was supposed to be able to handle that distance easily.

He couldn’t quite wait that long, however.

“I never even grunted, and I couldn’t wait for 50. I just took the shot when it was at 47 yards,” he said.

The deer — listing hard — ran for 70 yards.

Steve waited for 45 minutes. The trail from bloody bolt to deer was easy to follow. And he called his father, who didn’t know Steve was hunting such a beast, while counting the points.

The buck was never weighed, but its age was estimated at 6 1/2 years.

Steve found out later that a neighbor had been watching the deer for three years. The man had trail camera photographs of it, and he’d even found the buck’s sheds one year.

Neither he nor the other man had broadcast their discoveries. Steve told only his mother and a boat mate.    

Editor’s Note: If you’re looking to catch your own seafood while dealing with a fellow deer hunter, check out www.fishhappyhooker.com for a backbay flounder trip.

Hunter: Steve Whitelock
BTR Score: 215 7/8

– Photos Courtesy Capt. Steve Whitelock

This article was published in the September 2014 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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