Rack Magazine

Deer in the Drink

Deer in the Drink

By Ed Waite

Don’t listen to people who say scrape hunting is overrated. Even if you have to build it, they will come.

Three days into his state’s 2016 archery season, Arthur Zerbe of Denver, Pennsylvania, refused to let the thermometer keep him from deer hunting.

He’d decided to spend the afternoon of Sept. 20 on a 500-acre estate in deer-rich Chester County, and his urge to be in the woods was stronger than his aversion to hot weather. The noontime temperature hit the mid-80s.

Arthur persuaded his son, Andy, to join him.

The lane from the main road to the farmhouse is 200 yards long. A cornfield was on one side and a swampy area on the other.

“Andy asked where I was going to go, and I told him I was going to hunt along the front of the farm,” Arthur said. “I had never hunted that section.

“I gathered up my gear bag, threw an old hang-on stand over my back and started following the edge of the cornfield. I walked between a swampy wooded area and the corn, which was absolutely destroyed — as in consumed — along the edge.

“When I got to some drier ground inside the woods, I saw that it was riddled with buck sign.

“I have hunted for more than 50 years, and I’ve never seen as much buck sign: scrapes that looked like elk wallows 5 or 6 feet in diameter, black mud, trampled and strewn. I knew that had to be the place,” he continued.

“I walked about 30 yards along the edge of the corn, and then went about 20 yards into the woods. I could see all the way to the other side of the woods and another 60 yards into the field. The whole place was literally worn out!” he said.

Big pin oak trees were everywhere. Most had drooping dead branches that couldn’t be sawed or broken without alerting every deer within hundreds of yards.

“I looked around and found a spindly little tree about 8 or 9 inches across. I figured I couldn’t get up very high, but it was better than nothing,” Arthur said. “The deer sign was just too plentiful not to hunt there.

“I set my bag down, screwed in some steps, and made my way 12 feet up the skinny tree. But when I tried to cinch my stand on it, it wouldn’t hold; it slid back down to my knees. I raised it back up and cinched even tighter, took the remaining strap and wrapped it tightly around the tree and stand, and then tied a knot in it.

“It seemed to be holding, so I moved up to get on it,” he continued. “When I put my weight on it, the stand suddenly dropped 6 or 8 inches before it grabbed hold and stopped.

“Feeling comfortable it wasn’t going to move any more, I strapped myself in and hauled up my crossbow,” Arthur said.

After he’d settled in, Arthur surveyed his surroundings. He noticed a small stream running parallel to the corn. A short distance down the hill was a thick tangle of what he calls “mile-a-minute” vines. It was obvious the deer were using a trail that wound near his tree. The path was worn and rutted all the way to the stream crossing.

He couldn’t have been happier with the setup.

About 20 minutes later, Arthur saw a small 6-pointer approaching on the trail from his left. It actually stopped and smelled the place where Arthur had set his bag and gear before ascending.

The buck seemed more curious than alarmed, and Arthur stood frozen in place.

“It was only about 9 feet from where I stood on the stand to its back. It was that close. I wasn’t expecting company that time of day, not that soon, so I was kind of unprepared.

“While the small buck continued to nose around the base of my tree, I saw more movement from the corner of my eye, also to my left. Another deer was coming,” he continued.

The new arrival was 30 yards away on the opposite side of the creek, but moving. It was in a thick tangle of briars.

“It came through a tunnel of vines, and I soon saw it was an incredible buck, at least 10 or 12 points, unlike anything I’d ever seen in the wilds of Pennsylvania,” Arthur said. “As it cleared the vines and came into full view, I was amazed it had not made a sound.”

The young 6-pointer was still under Arthur’s stand. When it suddenly jumped a few feet, the bigger buck took notice. Instead of running, however, it began sneaking forward.

“It was looking at the younger buck. I was afraid to even breathe,” Arthur said. “It was only 20 yards away, coming straight to me.

“I knew if I spooked that buck, it would be gone, never to be seen in those parts again. It was approaching very slowly, and I had no idea what the 6-pointer was doing because I couldn’t take my eyes off the big boy.

Deer in the Drink“I very carefully raised my ancient crossbow. I didn’t have to worry about range or elevation. I aligned the string of sight pins along its back and fired a bolt right between the antlers and smack between its shoulders.”

Just as the buck took off running from directly under him, Arthur saw the glowing nock down inside the wound channel.

“After I resumed breathing, I listened as the deer ran away. I could hear it in the corn. It circled around to my left, and then all noise ceased. I did not hear a crash, just a sound I couldn’t distinguish at the time.

“I called Andrew to let him know I had stuck a true monster. Then I called the farmer to share the news. He said he was just sitting down for dinner, and he would come out to help track as soon as he could,” Arthur continued. “My son arrived as daylight was fading. I told him the story while we waited for the farmer.”

When the farmer arrived a few minutes later, the men began following a sparse blood trail into the corn. They eventually exited the field, went back into the woods, and wound up at a pond. The last sign they could decipher indicated the deer had circled the pond.

Even after losing the trail, the guys continued searching for several hours. They threw in the towel around midnight.

“I was dog tired, but I could not sleep,” Arthur said. “I roused myself and went to the bookshelf to retrieve a book I had on tracking wounded deer. I read it through and then slept for a bit.

“Andrew had to work a few hours the next morning, so I called my youngest son, Adam, who offered to bring a friend. I also called two men I knew who are good trackers. We all agreed to meet at the farm a little later.

“Adam was confident we’d find the animal,” he added.

As they were driving down the lane to the farmhouse, Adam yelled, “There’s your deer right over there. I can see it!”

Arthur couldn’t, at first. His son had to direct his gaze to the pond, where a hint of white belly and legs were floating.

Arthur, Andrew and the landowner had circled the pond a dozen times that night. They’d shone their flashlights over the body of water, but the beams couldn’t penetrate the gathering fog.

Adam wasted no time in wading out to grab the deer and pull it by the antlers to the shore. Arthur filled out his tag before they finished dragging it from the water. Everyone gawked at the buck lying on the bank. It was almost too big for their brains to process.

After the celebration, Arthur turned the animal over and grabbed a leg to begin the task of field-dressing. In doing so, he cut his hand on the barely protruding broadhead, which almost resulted in a better blood trail than the one left in the buck’s wake.

Editor’s Note: Ed Waite is a master scorer and regional director for Buckmasters Whitetail Trophy Records. A longtime contributor to Rack magazine, he has also published three volumes of big deer tales, “Wallhangers” I, II and III, which are available at book stores, on Amazon and through WallhangersUSA.com.

This article was published in the October 2017 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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