As bowhunters, we enter every season with the hope that fate will smile on us, that this will be the year that we finally put an arrow in the "big one." We spend hours watching "celebrity" hunters kill mature bucks, wishing that, one day, we'll have the chance to drop the hammer on a giant buck.
On the evening of Oct. 19, 2010, that dream became reality for myself and two of my good friends, Ryan Grandel and Vince Kraft. The three of us set out each year to harvest a mature Pennsylvania trophy buck and to catch all of the action on video. We've been filming our hunts for about five years now, and we spend countless hours scouting, monitoring trail cameras and practicing with our bows during the off-season. We spend as much time in the woods as we can.
But as any serious bowhunter knows, not everything goes according to plan. In February 2008, I lost parts of two fingers in an accident at work. The fingers I lost happened to be the third and fourth on my right hand, my shooting hand. Despite the accident and the loss I faced, I was fortunate not to have lost my trigger finger.
To make matters worse, in March 2010, my wife, Fawna, and I were closing in on the purchase of what we hoped would be our dream home, a log cabin nestled in a beautiful Pennsylvania country setting, when the deal went south. We missed out on our dream house.
Instead, Fawna and I found a nice split-level home and were able to get settled just in time for the 2010 Pennsylvania hunting season.
The day before the season opener, Vince and I decided to scout a ridge close to my new home. Our hope was that we'd locate a good spot with easy access for times when we could only accommodate a quick hunt.
Opening day and the rest of the first week of the season found me in another spot dominated with big rubs that looked like they had been made by a mature deer — and possibly a giant. Several days passed and, without even a sighting of a mature buck, I decided to give the spot a break. The following week, Ryan knocked down a serious 142-inch Ohio bruiser while I was filming him.
Vince and I continued hunting hard for the following week with no luck. Having not spotted a single shooter buck yet, we were both beginning to get frustrated.
On the night of October 18, I drove to work at the Enlow Fork Mine, where I was scheduled for a midnight shift. As I was driving, my mind was going through my hunting options for the following day. When my shift ended, I raced home, hoping to catch a few hours of sleep so that I could be back in the woods by afternoon.
My alarm went off at 2:30 p.m., but as anyone who has worked the midnight shift will appreciate, I told myself, Just five more minutes€¦
I opened my eyes 45 minutes later, immediately angry with myself for oversleeping. I realized that I wouldn't have enough time to get to the spot where I had seen the huge rubs. I'd have to resort to "Plan B" — hunting the ridge behind my house that Vince and I had scouted for exactly this kind of situation.
I jumped in the shower and washed down with scent eliminating soap, dressed quickly, grabbed my gear out of the garage and hit the road. When I arrived at the spot, I put on my ScentLok camouflage and my rubber boots, sprayed down with scent eliminator and headed into the woods. On the way in, I stopped to check a trail camera I had hung over a few good scrapes earlier in the week. I found photos of a few does and a nice, 125-class 10-pointer.
Maybe I'll see that 10-pointer tonight, I thought, as I continued toward my stand setup.
As I approached my setup, I sprayed some Tink's Power Scrape on a different scrape that appeared to have being used more than the others in the area, and then I hooked my climber up to a nearby tree and began climbing.
Once I got settled in, I attached my video camera to the bow mount that we had been testing and let the woods settle down. Around 4:30 p.m., I decided to do a rattling sequence with some grunts mixed in, knowing that the season was approaching the height of the pre-rut. Not long after I rattled, a 5-pointer appeared to my left. He browsed around my tree for a few minutes and walked off into the thicket.
After letting the woods calm down again, I repeated the same rattling and grunting sequence and immediately saw movement in the same thicket. I was expecting to see the same 5-pointer walk out, but to my surprise, a nice 2 1/2-year-old 9-pointer busted out of the thicket, aggressively thrashing saplings as he walked past my stand and down the hill.
Things were finally starting to heat up, and I looked to the sky and thought, Lord, please let me see a giant buck tonight.
I sat down and took a drink of water, trying to relax after my encounter with the 9-pointer. With the sun fading to my back, I knew the evening was coming to a close. Around 6 p.m., I decided to hit the rattle bag one more time.
Not long after the calling sequence, I scanned the woods and caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked up and immediately saw antler.
I grabbed my bow, turned on the video camera and stood up. I gave the deer a few minutes to see how he was behaving. Being that he seemed calm, I softly grunted a few times and watched as his left ear twitched. He turned toward me and began to move in my direction.
The buck was directly downwind of me, and the first thing I thought was that he would bust me. As he closed the distance, I knew that my attention to scent elimination was paying off. I began to get ready for the shot, not knowing what he might do next.
Suddenly, he locked onto the scrape where I had sprayed the Tink's Power Scrape before getting into my stand. He stood over the scrape, smelling and licking the overhanging branches and urinating down his back legs. He was pawing and scraping at the dirt, and I had to keep looking down to make sure I was still standing on the tree stand platform.
After what seemed like an eternity, the buck turned and began walking past a big oak tree. I drew my bow as he stepped into the clearing, and I softly grunted with my mouth to stop him.
I released the arrow from my Mathews bow and heard a soft thump as the broadhead made impact and sliced through the buck's vitals. He did a mule kick and ran about 20 yards down the hill before stopping in a small opening. He looked back up the hill and began to do the drunken two-step that bowhunters love to see. With a crash, he hit the dirt, and I knew I had just killed my biggest buck ever!
I turned my bow around and tried to talk into the camera, but I was so choked up I could barely talk. After I calmed down, I described the shot and the feeling I had when the buck went down. Then I turned off the camera, picked up my phone and began burning up the phone lines.
Thinking I had just shot a 150-inch 10-pointer, I climbed down the tree and started to film the recovery. As I got closer to the buck, there was definitely no ground shrinkage. In fact, he seemed to get bigger as I approached. I knew this was definitely bigger than a 160-class buck. He was not only a 10-pointer, but he also sported double brow tines, a kicker off the right G-2 and a G-5 on the right antler. After checking the buck out and tagging him, I waited for Ryan and Fawna to arrive to help me get him back to the house. After Vince arrived, we got out the measuring tape to see exactly how big this buck was. We couldn't believe our eyes; this buck was potentially a new state record.
Following the 60-day drying period, my buck was scored by Pope & Young measurer George Block at his house on video. After George was done measuring the buck and adding up the final score, he congratulated me on having shot the new No. 3 typical bowkill in Pennsylvania!
George said that my buck was the biggest typical he had measured in the last 14 years, and that he believed it was the biggest typical to be shot on film with a gun or a bow in Pennsylvania history.
My buck's rack had astonishing numbers, with 26- and 27-inch main beams, matching 12 1/2-inch G2s and matching 11 6/8-inch G3s, along with a 20 1/2-inch inside spread. My buck's score came to 189 2/8 inches gross and 175 3/8 inches net. If not for the buck's abnormal points, as a 11-point main frame he would net a final score around 186 and would have surpassed the No. 1 spot by 8 inches, which goes to show how magnificent this true giant is.
(Editor's Note: For information on purchasing a replica of Barry Kern's No. 2 typical Pennsylvania bowkill, email email@example.com.)