Out Of The Cattails
September 22, 2010
Her experience in the harvesting of numerous does in the past helped pave the way for this avid Minnesota bowhunter to make a perfect shot on a once-in-a-lifetime non-typical giant!
When Deb Luzinski heard the cattails rustling from her tree stand on the afternoon of Oct. 27, 2006, she suspected that it might be a buck. But never in her wildest dreams did she expect to see a 222 2/8-inch monster like this!
Photo courtesy of Deb Luzinski.
"You set up where? I thought you were going to the end of the field, not all the way out there. You are going to miss the deer. They will cut past you and head to the field."
Those were the words I heard from my husband, Mark, upon meeting back at our truck after we had gone our separate ways and set up our stands. I began to explain how I had come to choose that particular spot.
"One main trail runs down the center of the finger of woods and into the cattails. Minor trails crisscross in all directions, and there's plenty of deer sign. I found a great tree -- a big poplar surrounded by smaller trees. Also, I noticed a few rubs and scrapes from my stand."
I stopped trying to explain and simply added, "I really like this spot. It looks and feels good."
It was Friday, Oct. 27, 2006, and our discussion took place at about 12:30 p.m. At 3:30 we readied for the evening hunt and gave each other a "good luck" smooch before parting company to head to our different hunting areas. By 3:50 p.m. I was in my stand, my safety harness securely attached.
A DAY LIKE NO OTHER
It was a beautiful late fall afternoon. The temperature was cool, and the wind was blowing lightly but steadily out of the southeast. As usual, I sprayed the foliage and tree branches downwind of me with deer scent. After the woods had settled down around me, I began making a series of doe bleats with my Primos Original can call.
I always stand whenever I hunt for whitetails. I sit when bear hunting, but I stand and hold my bow for deer. Sometimes this gets a little tiring, but to me, it's all about movement, or lack thereof. I had been on stand for less than half an hour when I heard the cattails rustling. I immediately looked to the right. About 50 yards out, a beautiful, mature 10-point buck was slowly making his way toward the higher ground where I was located. He would take a few steps and then rake his antlers in the brush, and I would call again. Sizing him up with my binoculars, I watched this fantastic animal and wondered if I would be lucky enough to get a shot.
IS HE REALLY THAT BIG?
He was definitely a "shooter" buck, with more mass and tine length than the 131-inch buck that I had taken a few years back. I called again. He took another few steps and stopped, looking straight east. The next sound I heard was loud movement in the cattails. Then he appeared: a giant non-typical whitetail aggressively striding out of the cattails and then stopping right at the edge and looking toward the higher ground.
I believe he's looking for his new girlfriend, the can call that I have in my pocket, I thought.
He was the largest antlered buck I had ever seen. He literally had cattails hanging off his massive antlers. He had mass, tine length, palmation, kickers, stickers and several drop tines. What a monster! He looked at the 10-point buck and walked directly toward him.
Wow, I'm going to see a brawl! I thought. Two big boys looking for the same date! Fantastic!
A FATEFUL ENCOUNTER
When they finally met, the two bucks went nose-to-nose, but the 10-pointer dropped his head and backed away in total submission. Knowing there was no question of whether or not this giant was a shooter, I now focused totally on the larger buck's ears, nose and eyes, carefully observing his body language. I never took my eyes off his facial expressions, and I didn't look at his antlers again. I tipped the can, and he began to casually head in my direction.
Even though he was now almost completely downwind of me at about 30 yards, I was not overly concerned because I felt very confident in the Scentblocker clothing I had on. Suddenly he turned and began to walk away, staying on the fringe of the cattails and the timber where I did not have a clean shot. Keeping to the edge and now heading south, he was slowly walking out of my life! I bleated again with the can call and just about fell out of my stand when in response to my bleat just yards from my stand I heard a loud phewww!
The 10-pointer hadn't left, as I had thought. He was now almost directly under me and he had caught my movement. He blew so hard and he was so close that I can't believe I didn't shriek in response.
The gig is up, I thought.
But to my astonishment, the big buck actually stopped and turned back toward me. I tipped the can again. The 10-pointer blew, stomped, blew again and then vacated the area. But the big buck continued to head back in my direction, retracing his previous steps. This time, however, he came closer and I prayed that I would have a shot opportunity. I had one window, one small opening about the size of a basketball, at about 17 yards.
I drew back my Hoyt. As he entered the window, I gave him a grunt with my voice, and then another. He stopped. With my pin already on his vitals, I released my arrow. The buck ran about 20 yards and stopped, looking back. Then he turned to one side and dove headlong into the cattails with everything he had. It was the most awesome scene that I have ever experienced. Every cattail he hit seemed to explode like a display of fireworks. He disappeared. All I could do was watch the movement of the cattails and hope that my aim had been true. He began to j-hook back around. Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, all movement stopped.
TENSE MOMENTS AND DOUBT
Now came the questions: Had I hit him or had I missed? Lord, what just happened? How could I have been blessed with a buck like this? I must have missed him; after all, it's just me. But I know I hit him. I watched him run...arrrrgh!
I called Mark's cell phone. It went to his voicemail. He was supposed to have his phone on, but he didn't. This was the emotion-filled voice message I left for him: Friday, Oct. 27, 4:54 p.m.: "Mark, you wouldn't believe the buck I just shot! It's 5 o'clock. I told you to bring your cell phone with you. I'm not kidding ya -- he's huge...he's everything...he's palmated...he looks like a mule deer...he's got drop tines. My dream the other night...I told you I had a dream about mule deer. I called him back in and spooked a big 10 that was under me...unbelievable. I'll see you later. Good luck."
I cannot describe the raw emotion in that voicemail. When I replay it, it brings me back to that moment every time. You can actually hear my pulse in my voice, and in the breathy pauses as I tried not to cry or throw up. The range of emotions that I experienced was phenomenal.
I tried to find my arrow by way of my binoculars. Clearly, I didn't want to get down from my stand. After all, what if I actually had missed him and what if he was standing in the cattails just waiting to be called back? I couldn't find my arrow. I called my friend Ron Cormier. With more than 40 P&Y-class bucks to his credit, Ron knows deer like no one else. I told him that I had just shot the biggest buck I had ever seen. At least, I thought I had shot it.
Ron asked, "What do you mean 'you think'? I'm on my way!"
"No," I said. "I want to find my arrow first. Then I'll call you back."
AN ANSWERED PRAYER
I knew I had to get down to find my arrow. I quietly walked to where the buck had been standing upon impact. No arrow, no blood. I bent over and looked up at my stand. To my horror, I had no window. What did I do?
It took me all of two seconds to realize I was standing in the wrong spot. I moved four feet to the right and looked at my stand again. Then I looked at the ground: blood! Thank You, Lord! I didn't walk but I looked ahead. More blood. I climbed back into stand and phoned Ron.
"I have blood!" I told him.
I explained where I was and that I would wait in my stand for him. I nocked another arrow (you never know when a doe will happen by) and waited for Ron. Upon his arrival, I climbed down and the tracking began. We found blood, more blood, and then my beautiful crimson-covered arrow about 10 yards from where I had connected with the buck. We followed the blood trail into the cattails. When we were about 65 yards from the point of impact, Ron stopped. All that I heard from him was "Oh, my gosh, Deb...he's huge. Oh, my..."
Ron then picked up the buck's left antler, exposing the right side of his rack as well. He dropped to his knees in astonishment and awe of this magnificent animal. Quite honestly, I thought he was going to cry. His face turned red, and then he turned and gave me a hug. The buck was huge. More importantly, my shot had been as true as I had hoped and prayed for. My broadhead not only found its mark, but it also put that animal down in less than a minute. To me, it's not enough to simply get an arrow into a whitetail. It has to be done as humanely as possible. I know in my heart that if I hadn't had a clean shot at this deer, I wouldn't have taken it.
My good friend Keith Edberg had been the one to set up my very first bow some 15 years ago when he worked at the local archery pro shop. The morning after I shot my great buck, he and his son Hunter drove up to our home in Woodbury, Minnesota (a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul), from Cannon Falls to green-score it for me. Keith did the measuring and Ron recorded the figures. The rack is a 24-point non-typical with three drop tines. The green score was 227 2/8 gross and 220 7/8 net.
PRACTICE PAYS OFF!
I have said many times that I am not a trophy hunter, per se. However, I do believe in quality deer management. I've been bowhunting for 15 years and I've harvested 70 whitetails. Of those 70 deer, 65 were does. In 2003 I was blessed with a 10-point typical that scored 131 3/8 net. I am a huge believer in shooting does. If you shoot a buck, you've taken one deer. Shoot a doe, however, and you've potentially removed dozens of future deer from the herd. What a fantastic role to play in helping to maintain a healthy deer population!
I can also say with confidence that all of the deer I have taken previously helped prepare me for this once-in-a-lifetime encounter. Everything I'd done prior to Oct. 27 -- setting up stands, applying scent control, properly utilizing attractants, using game calls, and most importantly, exercising patience and being very precise with shot placement -- played a part in helping me take this wonderful buck. Once again, if I hadn't had a clean shot at this great whitetail, I wouldn't have attempted to shoot, and I certainly would have been no less a hunter for it.
I know how incredibly blessed I was to have seen this deer in the woods. Let's be honest. You can't shoot what isn't there. You have to be in the right place at the right time. Fifteen years of trial-and-error, being busted and being successful, growing as a hunter, and trying to be a good example for my two little people and the next generation of hunters helped immensely. Fifteen years of good advice from great friends also helped. But mostly, being able to hunt with my best friend and husband, Mark, has been a special blessing.
In one way or another, all of these important things contributed to the end result that stemmed from the incredible opportunity that God saw fit to send my way. The awesome beauty of this once-in-a-lifetime buck humbles me!