When Jim Castro Jr. of West Virginia traveled
to North Dakota last December to do some serious bowhunting with two good friends, he never imagined that he'd return home with a new state record!
Jim was about to take a shot at a buck standing with three other bucks when suddenly all four deer tensed up and left the area. Then this bad boy suddenly appeared. The buck disappeared and reappeared at 15 yards!
On the evening of Dec. 2, 2006, three avid bowhunters met at the airport in Bismarck, North Dakota, to embark on a much-anticipated deer hunt in the Badlands. Jim Casto Jr. of Evans, West Virginia, has been an avid bowhunter for some 45 years, ever since his father presented him with his first lemonwood recurve at the age of 8. Jim would be hunting with lifelong friend and fellow avid bowhunter Frank Boggess of Ripley, West Virginia. Jim's cousin Dale Casto of Bentonville, Arkansas, was the third member of the team. The group would be hunting both whitetails and mulies.
For Jim, bowhunting is not just a pastime; it's part of who he is. He tries to shoot at least a few arrows every day. He loves to hunt with a recurve, but like a lot of avid shooters he suffers from bouts of target panic from time to time, so he always carries a compound bow as a backup.
Jim has said on many occasions, "I don't use firearms, I don't fish, and I don't golf. . . . I'm a bowhunter."
Frank has bowhunted for over 40 years, as well, but this would be Dale's first Western hunt. He has only been bowhunting a few years, mostly for whitetails. This trip would be his first outside his native Arkansas, except for a couple of trips to West Virginia to hunt whitetails with Jim. All three men were filled with anticipation and excitement about their upcoming hunt, but no one could possibly imagine what lay in store during this five-day hunt.
AN ENDLESS ADVENTURE
Both Jim and Frank had hunted in the Badlands before and they'd fallen in love with its rugged beauty. This would be their fourth trip to the area hunting with Jerry Defoe, a licensed guide and outfitter who owns and operates Dakota Adventures out of Watford City, North Dakota. On previous trips, Jim had been fortunate enough to arrow two mule deer and a whitetail. Frank, while seeing many bucks, had not yet scored, but he knew it was only a matter of time.
The group's destination was the Trail End Ranch in Dunn County, North Dakota, owned by Ernie Hellickson. The three men had booked the hunt a year in advance and planned to hunt the week of Dec. 4-8. They arrived in camp on the afternoon of Dec. 3, 2006. After stowing their gear, it was time to share some familiar hunting tales and then settle in and prepare for the big adventure that was coming.
Monday, the first day of the hunt, was a very good day. The morning temperature was in the mid-20s and things were unusually calm for this area. There was quite a "stir" in camp that night as the three hunters related their day's experiences. Jim had seen 15 whitetails from his stand during the afternoon. One was an exceptional 4x4 that he estimated would score in the mid-140s. The buck was at least 20 inches wide, with 11-inch G-2s and 10-inch G-3s. The main beams would go near 22 inches.
Jim drew his recurve and sent an arrow on its way, but no damage was done except to Jim's ego. Frank had seen 25 mule deer, including six bucks. One was a big, heavy 8x8. All Frank would say was, "What happens on stand, stays on stand . . . end of story."
As "beginner's" luck would have it, Dale made a perfect double-lung shot on a nice 3x3 mulie -- his first "big country" hunt, and his first mule deer.
A DIFFERENT BALL GAME
The second day of the hunt, on Tuesday, Dec. 5, began much differently. The weather wasn't as cooperative. The skies were overcast, the temperature stood at near zero, and the typical North Dakota winds were blowing at 30 miles per hour. Jim and Frank decided to endure the elements and go hunting, knowing that their chances were 100 percent better in a stand than in camp.
Surprisingly, it turned out to be an exceptional day. Jim saw 56 deer, eight of which were bucks. He took a shot at a 150-class 5x5 mule deer at 22 yards, but the arrow flew a foot under its target. A little buck fever, perhaps, or that dreaded "target panic"?
Frank saw over 20 mule deer. Since Dale had filled his deer tag, he spent the day chasing Merriam's turkeys but had no luck. In camp that night, Jim decided to make a change in equipment. Because he had missed two nice bucks with his recurve, his confidence had understandably taken a hit. On the third day of the hunt, he planned to use his backup compound.
The morning of Wednesday, Dec. 6, found the temperature hovering at minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit. Jim had been in his stand for about 3 1/2 hours and had seen a number of deer, including four bucks. He was actually debating about whether or not to shoot one of the bucks when suddenly all four deer went on high alert and looked to their left. Jim sat quietly to see what had caused the stir. There at 50 yards was a magnificent non-typical buck, the largest whitetail he had ever seen in his life!
A TRUE BADLANDS BAD BOY
Suddenly it began . . . the worst case of buck fever Jim had ever experienced in his 52 years. When he turned to survey the area, he discovered that the other deer had simply vanished and the woods were quiet. He later said, "It was so quiet, you could hear what the coyotes were thinking."
When he turned back toward the big non-typical, his heart sank. This buck, too, had vanished. What seemed like an eternity passed, but it was probably no more than 15 minutes. Then the Badlands bad boy suddenly appeared to Jim's right. The buck was standing at 15 yards at a sharp quartering-away angle. As Jim began to draw, he realized that he was shaking uncontrollably. He remembers talking to himself when he reached full draw and asking the Lord to help him with his shakes.
He later recalled that he calmed down almost instantly, and the bow felt like it was locked in a vise. Jim settled the pin just in front of the deer's left rear flank and squeezed the trigger of his release. The arrow was off to a perfect impact. It sailed through the liver, into the right lung, and buried in the right shoulder. The "buck of several lifetimes" was his!
With darkness closing fast and knowing he had made a mortal shot, Jim took up the trail immediately. As he followed the easy trail, he soon found his buck lying motionless near the backwaters of the Little Missouri River. Since the shot had missed the left lung, the deer had traveled about 350 yards before going down.
Suddenly a strange, bittersweet feeling came over Jim. He felt greatly humbled at being blessed with such a magnificent animal. When Jerry arrived to pick up the elated hunter, Jim was just returning to his stand. Jerry knew he had been successful and asked him what he had shot. Jim told him he had killed a main-frame 5x5 with some stickers. With flashlights in hand, they followed Jim's tracks to the deer. When Jerry's light hit the antlers, he couldn't believe the sight that his eyes were feasting upon!
"Unbelievable!" he said. "Absolutely unbelievable!"
For the next few days, people came from all over Dunn and McKenzie counties to see this buck. Jerry's telephone rang continuously. It was a circus atmosphere. After the story was published in the Bismarck Tribune, Jerry received a call from another outfitter, Bill Jorgenson of Deep Creek Outfitters.
Bill's operation is several miles from Jerry's property. Bill informed Jerry that four of his hunters had been trying to kill Jim's buck for six weeks. On the evening of Dec. 2, 2006, just four days before Jim let his arrow fly, one of Bill's hunters became ill and left his stand at 3:50 p.m. A game camera had been mounted to the stand, and at 4:15 p.m. it took a picture of Jim's buck. Then it took a second picture at 7:30 a.m. the following morning!
Prior to the 2006 season, the current North Dakota state record non-typical by bow had been taken by William Cruff in Barnes County in 1961. It scored 188 1/8 P&Y. Jim's incredible 34-point buck from Dunn County scored a whopping 216 1/8, almost 20 points higher!
During late summer in 2006, Jerry's brother had found a shed from a large non-typical about a quarter-mile from where Jim's buck was later taken. That shed had been the only indication that a huge non-typical buck lived in the area.
What about Frank? Well, he spent three full days waiting in his stand for that monster 8x8 mule deer to come back. The buck didn't cooperate, however, so on the last day of the hunt Frank's patience was rewarded with a good shot on a very nice 4x4 mulie. Three bowhunters and three deer, with one being a Badlands bad boy that will always be the buck of several lifetimes for Jim Castro Jr.!
(Editor's Note: For information about hunting with Jerry Defoe and North Dakota Adventures, call 701-842-3415 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)