Following the 2008 hunting season, I saw a great 9x7 whitetail that left me counting the days until the next one. All I could do was hope the buck survived the winter.
Immediately prior to the 2009 season, I went back to the area where I’d spotted the 16-pointer and discovered a perfect funnel – a creek bottom connecting bedding areas to the fields. I also picked out a tree that would accommodate the steel ladder stand I was building.
Fearful that hunting pressure might hurt my chances, I was determined to hunt at the first opportunity. I couldn’t wait to see what sorts of deer were using the funnel.
It wasn’t easy maneuvering the 12-foot ladder into place by myself on Sunday, Sept. 20. Since I couldn’t lift it, I used my quad’s winch cable.
When the ladder was finally upright and leaning against the tree, I climbed up and strapped it into place. I then added the hand rails around the 4x4-foot platform and wrapped camouflage cloth around the outside.
All I needed at that point were the opportunity to sit in it and a bow. I didn’t have one, but I knew my father-in-law, Clif, would be thrilled to let me use his. I really liked shooting his bow. I’d wanted to get one for myself, but I’d just never got around to it.
I gave the deer a couple of days to get used to the stand before I returned on Wednesday, Sept. 23, after work. It was a beautiful calm evening. I was anxious to start hunting.
Sometime between 6:30 and 7 p.m., I happened to look over my shoulder and saw an awesome deer coming toward me. I crouched down to get my bow, but then it occurred to me that I might not be ready to end my season so soon. I slowly stood and gave it a second glance, just to be sure it wasn’t a mirage, and that’s when my heart began pounding.
The rack had points everywhere! Its wearer had to be the same deer I’d spotted in 2008, and it had grown tremendously.
It came to within 25 yards of my tree and was in no hurry. I carefully steadied myself and drew the bow, got the buck in my sights and released.
I knew my shot was a little high and back, so I gave the deer about half an hour, which felt like forever, before I started down the tree to go looking for it. I found the arrow drenched in dark red blood.
I also found a blood trail, but the sky was growing darker. I followed the trail for as long as I could until I could not go any farther. I had no flashlight, and I was feeling very sick to my stomach that I had just arrowed – and couldn’t find – one of the biggest deer I’d ever seen.
I had no choice but to call it quits. I followed a trail that circled back to where my truck was parked, and then I drove back home.
I called my wife, Crystal, who was out of town.
“You won’t believe it ... I just arrowed what I’m sure is a 200-inch non-typical, and I can’t find it!” I said.
She told me to have a few beers, to calm down and to go to bed.
“I’m sure someone will go out with you in the morning, if you need help,” she soothed.
So that’s what I did.
Bright and early the next morning, her Uncle Dean and my friend, Nick, went out with me to try and track down my deer.
We went back to the blood trail I’d followed the night before, but it was even tougher to discern now that the red drops had dried black and were beginning to flake off the leaves.
The trail lasted about 200 yards before it disappeared.
Not knowing which direction to take, I suggested Nick go down and check the creek bottom for any sign of the buck’s crossing the creek.
He hadn’t been gone long when I heard him yell, “Clay … got him over here!”
Thinking that it was just blood he had picked up again, I took my time walking over to him, still scanning the forest floor. As soon as I crested a ridge, I saw my buck lying there and a big grin on my buddy’s face.
The deer – every bit as big as I’d calculated – had died within 10 feet of the trail I had taken back to my truck.
We soaked up the moment and took a few field pictures. Luckily, Dean had a disposable camera stashed in his truck. So anxious to pick up the trail, I’d left my digital camera at home that morning.
I will always keep a disposable camera in my vehicle from now on, just in case. Even though they are cheap, they do the trick and capture those moments you don’t want to forget.
In my 15 years of hunting, I’ve shot a few bucks that make book with a rifle. This was my first buck with a bow, and I must say: Shooting a deer of any kind with a bow is much more exciting.
Editor’s Note: Clay’s wife, Crystal, bought him a bow for Christmas.