April 01, 2020
Checking trail camera cards on the computer is always suspenseful, and never more so than on that first pull of the year. It was summer 2018, and though I was at the time only a second-year hunter, I was going through the year’s first card frame by frame, looking for a big buck to hunt that fall.
I didn’t find him right away. But there was enough deer action at that camera setup to keep me interested. Then, a few pulls later, there he was! The buck had many non-typical points, and it was exciting to see him on camera. My partner Beau Knutson and I talked about him often after that, as he continued to be photographed.
Then, one day we made another card pull . . . and just like that, he was off my list. He’d broken off a lot of points. I shot a nice 4x4 with my rifle that fall, but the non-typical was still on my mind.
I’m a city girl and new to the hunting life. My dad hunted to put food on the table when I was growing up, and I’m sure it also was so he could get out of a house filled with five daughters and a wife. I’ve always had an interest in hunting, but it wasn’t until I had a daughter of my own that I wanted to take that curiosity to the next level. So I picked up a bow in summer ’17. Now I don’t plan on ever putting it down.
After the ’19 spring bear season we had an itch to get the cameras out and see if that buck had made it through winter. So Beau, my 4-year-old daughter Scarlett and I jumped into the truck, and off we went.
After the cards were pulled, Beau didn’t even have the key back in the ignition before I had a card in the computer. Click . . . click . . . click.
My jaw dropped, and I turned the screen toward Beau. My eyes were as wide as they could get as I waited for him to look at the picture. He looked down, then looked up at me, then looked back down at the computer. With eyes as big as mine he said, “That’s him!”
Visible behind another buck in the photo was a blob of nubby velvet. It was the non-typical, no doubt — but now way bigger. Based on his scruffy, patchwork coat, I nicknamed him “Hobo.”
Gearing Up for the Quest
At that point, the work began. Weekend after weekend, rain or shine, our little trio loaded up to check the cameras and keep the baits going. And each card pull was better than the last; Hobo was there almost every single day, and at all times of day: 6:00, 9:00, 11:30 a.m. . . . and then 1:00, 4:00, 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. Ridiculous, right? It was wild.
Even writing about those trail camera photos and videos still gets my heart pumping here months after the hunt. From the time he reappeared on camera last summer, I dreamed about him every night. I visualized every second of the hunt and in my mind tried to map out every angle he could come in from, so nothing would surprise me when my chance finally came. I found myself daydreaming at work and even when stopped at red lights. I kept checking photos of Hobo over and over. I wanted to have every inch of that deer memorized, so I wouldn’t freeze up if he came in. I could think of nothing else.
The Time Is Here . . . or Is it?
I was especially eager to leave work on Friday, Sept. 13. That’s because two days later, our bow season finally would open.
Beau had headed to the farm solo on Thursday to do the last card pull before opening day. Just like clockwork, Hobo was there with plenty of daylight to spare, both morning and afternoon.
I’d taken all opening week off work. Or so I’d intended. Only hours after I left work on Friday, I learned I had to work on Monday.
My heart sank. The wind direction wasn’t supposed to be right for that blind on Sunday, and I’d planned not to sit if it wasn’t — but now that might be my only day to go. My long-awaited hunt was falling apart before even starting.
Long before dawn Sunday morning we could tell the wind was still all wrong — but by then I’d decided that with only one day to sit, I was going to do it. I might not get Hobo, but I didn’t want to regret it for the rest of my life. So off we went.
Well, Beau and I weren’t even two steps away from the truck with our gear when a doe winded us and made sure every other deer in the area knew we were there. We had quite a walk in, though, so we pressed on.
We didn’t see much of anything that morning and went back home to wait for the evening hunt. Our fingers were crossed that the wind would change. After what happened in the morning, it was obvious that it wasn’t a good idea to sit that spot in the morning any more; in the darkness we couldn’t be sure if we were pushing any deer off. And besides, we had to walk right through where they came back from a nearby field into cover.
That afternoon the wind still wasn’t right, but as it might be my last chance to see Hobo in person, we went back to the blind. I did everything I could to sit like a statue and not make a noise, though the mosquitos were awful.
Finally, there was some action on the bait: a doe with her fawn, then a couple more does. But again we got busted. I now was almost in tears. There were only a few minutes left till last light, but Beau and I knew it wasn’t worth it to stay. We left so we wouldn’t spook any more deer. The drive back from the blind was silent and seemed to take forever.
So Now What?
Beau wanted to go in the next day and freshen the bait, as that hadn’t been done since Thursday. An empty bait would only make this harder. But we talked it over, and I convinced him to let the area rest for the day. We’d already stirred everything up so much.
Monday morning came, and that hour and a half drive back to work gave me time to get agitated that I wasn’t hunting. Fortunately, I had enough time to cool off before I got there. I sat down with my manager, and we came up with a plan that would let me leave at 2:00 p.m. the remaining days of the week. I’d work in the mornings, then drive down for each day’s afternoon sit.
Monday was such a long day at work, but I got through it and drove back to the farm. I washed all my hunting stuff with Scent Blocker and had it ready to go. The plan was for me to drive back to work in the morning, then just meet Beau on the highway and change clothes on the way to the blind that afternoon.
And so, on Tuesday the real chaos began. I drove back to work, trying to spot mule deer on my way in to help myself feel better about going in at all. At this point, I hadn’t even seen Scarlett since Saturday. My mom did bring her to my work for a 20-minute visit, which was awesome. Then I worked till 2:00 and headed out again.
En route, my low-fuel light came on. I wasn’t yet even close to the farm, so I called Beau and asked him to grab a can of gas and come farther north on the highway, just so we didn’t waste any time. Fortunately, I made it without running out of gas. I parked my SUV in an approach, jumped into Beau’s truck and changed into my camo on the drive to the blind. We made it to our parking spot with enough time to shoot our usual quick video clip and walk in.
The wind was different than it had been on Sunday: still not ideal, but better. From the blind we saw more does early, which was calming. We also saw one buck that was often seen on camera before Hobo would come in. I was starting to get my hopes up. Then . . . a doe started stomping and blowing behind us. I was fuming. We had to do something to seal up the blind. There were just too many windows with a marginal wind.
Wednesday was wild and rushed. I overslept for my drive to work and showed up late. Talk about stressful. The night before we’d decided that the openings on the ground blind needed to be taped up and the spot baited. I texted Beau, questioning if we should sit that afternoon at all. We finally agreed that if the wind was better than on the previous two sits, the hunt would be on.
An Unexpected Encounter
At 2:00, the madness started all over. I drove my hour and a half back toward the farm, met Beau on the highway, jumped into his truck and changed into my camo on the way. We pulled up to where we’d been parking, gathered our gear and videotaped our hunt intro.
Beau then sprayed me down, and I sprayed him. Then he turned around so I could get his back. As I was spraying him, he lifted his head . . . then swatted me a couple times to get my attention and grabbed the video camera.
I wouldn’t believe this if I hadn’t been there. At 3:45 p.m., and 85 yards up the side of a coulee, standing in the field, was the biggest deer I’d ever seen. My target buck was just looking at me!
Like a dummy, I ducked behind the tailgate of the truck. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Then, as I slowly stood again, I watched Hobo for what felt like forever before he turned and casually ran away.
Ahhhhh! What a stupid, awesome, gut-twisting moment. He’d been right in front of me, but there was nothing to do about it. It took Beau and me a few moments to be able to speak and strategize. We loaded everything back into the truck and figured things out on the fly.
As we drove, we could see Hobo hadn’t gone far. In fact, he was still in the same field and not out of the question for another encounter. So we found a new spot to park in and talked about how we’d probably been walking past him every evening on the way to the blind.
We got set up and saw quite a few deer, including some familiar bucks that came in with over an hour of shooting light left. But though we sat till dark, never getting busted, Hobo never showed.
It Finally Comes Together
Early the next morning the rodeo began again, as I drove the 90 minutes into the city to work. I’d seen my daughter for only 20 minutes since Saturday, and that was really starting to weigh on me emotionally. Plus, I knew my boss was getting annoyed, as the harvest season was going strong, and work wasn’t slowing down. (I work for a company that sells and services farm equipment.) Of course, I also was running on almost zero sleep. Worrying about my daughter and my work was exhausting, but I wanted that buck so bad.
At 2:00 p.m., I again was on my way south to the farm. And again, the low-fuel light came on. As it happened at about the same place as the time before, and I’d made it that time without running dry, I cranked up the tunes and put my foot to the floor. I wanted to just drive and keep all the noise from my day-to-day life out of my head, letting me focus on my hunt.
Once I met up with Beau, I jumped into the truck and again changed on the way. We parked in our new spot, this time with no Hobo sightings, so things already were off to a good start.
Just before leaving the truck, I looked at my daughter’s car seat and thought of how much I wished she was with us. I grabbed her toy Slinky and slid it into my pocket for good luck.
At this point, I was so tired and feeling defeated. I’d already put myself through so much, but I needed to get my head in the game and shake that feeling. I got settled in the blind, bow on my lap, arrow nocked and prepared for another long sit. This could be the day . . . or not. While we hadn’t sat this wind yet, I figured it couldn’t be any worse than any other we’d had.
At 5:30, Beau was sleeping. Thankfully, his snoring was just at a soft wheeze, not his normal sawing of logs. By then there had been a few deer in and out of view, but not Hobo. Starting to feel tense and anxious, I pushed back on my heels, leaned my chair back and rested my head on my shoulder for a few minutes. I was so tired and really jealous listening to Beau sleep.
Then, out of the corner of my right eye, I caught movement and glanced over. I saw just the end of Hobo’s right main beam, and my heart skipped a beat. I didn’t wait for him to take another step; I hit Beau to wake him up and whispered, “He’s here.”
I turned on my Tactacam and looked again. It was Hobo, all right: walking perfectly broadside. Having ranged that shooting lane 1,000 or more times, I had no need to check it again. I knew he was just inside 25 yards.
I can’t find the words for how intense that moment was. Before raising my bow off my lap, I turned my head away and took a big breath to relax my body. Everything was happening so fast now.
Hobo looked in my direction but not at me. I paused and waited, reminding myself that I already knew what he looked like and that I’d prepared myself the best I could for this moment: my moment. I took another big, slow, deep breath, and the deer looked down and then away. I came to full draw, took one more breath and held steady on my mark: a dark spot on the crease behind the shoulder.
I released my arrow and watched as it buried itself into that beautiful animal. He leaped into the air, kicking his front and back legs, and took off. I lowered my bow and inhaled, as it felt I’d been holding my breath for hours. I started laughing and crying, with the tears just rolling down my cheeks and a smile stretching from ear to ear.
“I got him,” I said to Beau. “I got an arrow in him.”
My body started to shake. Between crying and laughing I managed to get a few words out, but I was mostly just trying to catch my breath.
The shot placement appeared it might have been a little high, as Hobo had jumped my string. From the blind I’d had a bit of a height advantage shooting down at him, but he’d been ever so slightly quartered toward me. So we gave him an hour before checking for sign. I couldn’t wait to get out of that blind and find some blood. I was full of so many different feelings. One second I was so unsure of my single arrow . . . but the next, I knew in my gut I’d killed him.
It's Not Over Yet
When we went down to where my arrow had connected, there was blood: bright, and bubbly. Whoop — I got a lung! Thank you, lucky Slinky!
Only about 15 yards down the trail lay half my arrow. At this point, I was still excited but nervous. I just needed to find this guy. When I’d shot him it had been bright and sunny, but now the sun was starting to set.
We had skimpy blood for 150-200 yards. Beau kept throwing his hands up and saying, “I don’t know, Kass. I just don’t know.” He seemed to be walking in circles and then veering off on a whim, as if trying to make me feel better.
I lost the trail, but not hope. There was an arrow in the dirt at the last spot I’d seen blood, so I went back to it and started again. I zoned out everything around me. Finally, crawling through the tall grass on my hands and knees, I found it: another pin drop of fresh blood. Then more and more.
“Beau, I got it. Come here and help me. Beau, come here. I need some light.” We were losing daylight by the second, and relying on two cellphones and a headlamp to look for little drops of blood on grass that was turning red and brown wasn’t helping.
I could tell Hobo’s direction of travel by some of the larger blood sprays, and this was helpful when following pin drops. By 10:30, I’d crawled inch by inch for about 350 yards, following spotty blood. Now I could find no more. But oddly, in the last spot I found any, there was a lot of it. It didn’t seem Hobo had bedded down, but he was hurting. I then covered a 20-yard radius, hoping he’d just fallen over.
Beau sat down where the trail was lost. I tried to convince him to get up and keep looking; we didn’t want to push the deer if I’d only gotten one lung. But then, stopping felt like giving up — and well, that’s just not how I roll. We weaved in and out and around that last spot once or twice more, just in case I’d missed something, but we found not a drop more. Had the wound clotted over? Was Hobo fine? Was this how it was going to end?
As we sat for almost another 30 minutes, I begged Beau for us to spend the night there. It was warm enough, and I didn’t want coyotes to get to Hobo and chew him up. I couldn’t bring myself to walk away. But I was eventually convinced to go home and get some rest — as if that was going to happen.
We’d texted good friend Chad Morris from the blind after the shot, as he’s always down for a skinning party. When he later heard we’d walked out empty-handed, he was full of encouragement and support and insisted on going back out at first light alongside Beau and me.
I slept maybe 45 minutes that night. I couldn’t will the sunup to come any faster, or I would have. Finally it was light, and off we went. I’d left a few markers, a glove and a hat where we’d walked out, so we knew where we needed to start. Beau immediately followed some magpies he’d seen when we were driving in. Chad had a fresh set of eyes and started from last blood. I kind of stood there like a deer in the headlights.
Just 10 yards away from last blood, and after a hard left off the fairly straight line we’d followed the night before, Chad found a couple new drops. He pointed them out to me and kept walking. I used this as my new starting point but couldn’t see any more blood after that, so I decided to walk in the same direction we’d gone the night before.
I took 10, maybe 15 steps. Then tears started rolling down my face, and I couldn’t wipe them fast enough to be sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. I yelled for Chad, who was 50 yards away.
“What?” he answered.
I just yelled, “Chad!” again. He took one look at me and knew by my expression what was going on, but he again asked, “What? You find him? Did you find him?”
With my hands covering my face, I was crying uncontrollably and nodding my head. I yelled for Beau as loud as I could, as did Chad.
I just stood looking at the dead deer from five yards away, waiting for Beau to arrive before walking up to him. Hunting this deer with Beau hadn’t always been smooth sailing, but he’d supported me, followed my lead on the hunt, was my cameraman, offered encouragement when I was feeling defeated and put in a lot of his time to be beside me on my quest.
Walking up to that buck felt exactly as I’d dreamed it would: the morning sun on my face, a cool breeze blowing and a beautiful animal lying in front of me. It was absolutely perfect. Recalling the moment even now brings tears to my eyes. I’ll take it with me to my grave.
After the 60-day drying period, Hobo was officially measured at a gross score of 239 7/8 and a net of 233 2/8. This net score makes him a potential archery world record for a female hunter. According to current listings, the Pope & Young record is 222 2/8, held by Deb Luzinski’s 2006 buck from Ramsey County, Minnesota. So if everything holds up through the verification process, my first bow buck will also be a historic one.
A giant thank you is in order to my parents, for spending the week with Scarlett and keeping her happy. I’m especially grateful to my dad for driving out to give me a big hug when it was all over and for bringing my daughter for a short visit when I had to rush back to work. And Beau was great, helping me grow as a hunter these past two years. Also, thanks to Chad for being Chad and driving many hours in the middle of the night to help us. Same with Dean Patridge of Canadian Whitetail TV, who assisted with photos and so much else before, during and after the season.
Oh — and thanks, Scarlett, for Momma’s lucky Slinky.