His Way Or The Highway
September 22, 2010
That Tom Pisarchick downed a record-book buck 30 minutes into the first-ever crossbow season in Pennsylvania is impressive. That the kill took place from the ground, on public land, only a few hundred yards from an interstate highway is the stuff of legends'¦
What are the odds that a giant whitetail could be harvested within an eighth of a mile of an interstate highway? On public land where many hunters pursued it? In a state known for small bucks? And with a crossbow in the first half-hour of the first season when crossbows were legal?
Two years after seeing the first trail photos of the buck, Tom Pisarchick connected on his first Boone & Crockett whitetail.
If you think those odds are slim to none, meet the hunter who beat them. Tom Pisarchick's two-foot-wide buck scored 170 5/8 typical Boone & Crockett inches. He took it within earshot of the trucks rattling by on Interstate 80, on land owned by the Pennsylvania Fish Commission, just 24 minutes after the moment crossbows became legal tools for harvesting whitetails in Pennsylvania.
In the fall of 2007, coworker Dave Steele showed Pisarchick a photo of a buck bedded in goldenrod in front of the setting sun, its wide antlers skylined above the flowers. Pisarchick suggested he keep the photo a secret.
It didn't matter, because the buck was living in a heavily traveled area around Kyle Lake in central Pennsylvania's Jefferson County, an area loaded with hunters and fishermen.
Soon everyone was talking about it. And the older this buck got, the more pressure hunters put on him.
In the 2008 season, Pisarchick didn't think much about targeting the buck until after he arrowed a nice 150-class 10-point in November. He took it to work and showed Dave Steele. "If you want to see a really big one, look at this," Steele said, handing Pisarchick a trail camera picture of the wide-racked buck. That's when Pisarchick decided this was a buck he had to hunt. A few days after the close of the firearms season, Paul Anderson, another coworker, showed him another photo, proof that the buck made it through the season.
In January 2009, Pisarchick began getting his own trail camera photos of the giant. The buck became a regular in front of Pisarchick's Stealth Cam, and he amassed hundreds of photos.
Based on Pisarchick's photos and others he had seen, the buck had a large core area that included more than 400 acres of Pennsylvania Fish Commission property around Kyle Lake, a public golf course, several posted tracts and two farms.
Like many hunters, Pisarchick dreamed of scoring on a Boone & Crockett buck, and he had hunted with outfitters in states known for big whitetails, including Tom Indrebo of Buffalo County, Wisconsin. He asked Indrebo's advice. "You have to find his bedding area," Indrebo said. "Big bucks will usually bed within 200 yards of where they are feeding. If someone bumps him once, he'll probably tolerate that. A second time, and he'll move out. Then you have to find his secondary bedding area."
Trail camera photos from the summer of 2009 gave Pisarchick plenty of views of the buck as he grew his unmistakable antlers. He was showing up even in the daytime, but in the last week of August, he disappeared. "I was afraid he had crossed I-80, Pisarchick recalled, "or worse, had been hit by a vehicle and was rotting somewhere off the highway." Pisarchick hoped he had moved to his secondary bedding area, and he needed to solve that mystery.
At about that time, Pisarchick sent a trail camera photo to Indrebo, asking him what he thought the buck might score. "170 inches," was Indrebo's expert reply. Pisarchick was antler-addicted but still at a loss about what happened to the buck.
When goose season rolled around in September, Pisarchick headed out to hunt and spotted a 140-class 9-point crossing Kyle Run Road in front of him. He knew this buck -- it had been with the big one in many of his photos. It went down into a brushy area below Kyle Lake. If the two bucks were still running together, Pisarchick now had a good idea where the big buck's secondary bedding area was -- and where to place his trail cameras.
This buck was smart. He found a secluded area between the spillway of Kyle Lake and Interstate 80 where Pisarchick discovered a natural funnel. The trail through it looked like a cowpath. Soon the buck was posing for the camera again, most often around 7 a.m. Pisarchick knew other hunters were after this buck, but now he knew what other hunters didn't.
Conventional wisdom says to set your blinds or treestands weeks ahead of the season, but Pisarchick didn't want to take a chance on another hunter seeing it, or on bumping the buck out of the area. In order to be ready for any wind direction, he chose two spots, then stayed out of the area until the morning of the archery opener. Not a single tree in shooting range of the trail was suitable for a stand, so he took his ground blind, went in early and set up to take advantage of the southeast wind.
Had Pisarchick been hunting from a tree stand, he would have carried his compound bow, but since he was going to be in a ground blind he took his Excalibur Vortex crossbow.
His blind was made from a scent-reducing material, and he wore scent blocking clothing and sprayed down with scent elimination spray, slipped into rubber boots and scent-blocking gloves. "I knew that hunting on the ground was going to mean an added risk of him scenting me, so besides playing the wind I took every possible precaution," Pisarchick said.
After setting up his blind, he sat down to wait. "At 6:55 a.m., I looked at my watch, and a few minutes later saw a deer coming. He was right on schedule," Pisarchick recalled. The buck strolled to about 30 yards from the blind, but didn't give Pisarchick the shot he wanted. "He looked right at the blind and was burning a hole through me, then turned to walk away. I thought I had blown the only chance I was likely to get." The buck was 45 yards away when his 9-point companion showed up. "That buck walked right by my blind at 20 yards. In any other season I would have shot him!"
The big one looked back over his shoulder at the 9-point and watched the buck safely pass. Just then, an empty trailer rumbled by on Interstate 80 and made a loud clanking noise. The buck tilted his ears and looked toward the sound. "I don't know whether he was distracted by the noise on I-80 or he relaxed because of the safe passage of the other buck, but he dismissed any danger. He flicked his tail, put his head down and turned to walk toward the blind."
As Pisarchick told me the story, he sat in a chair under the buck's mount and shook with excitement. "I was doing my best not to make eye contact with him and not to look at his antlers," he said. At 20 yards, the hunter fired his crossbow. The buck clamped his tail between his legs and took off on the same path the 9-point had traveled.
"I wanted to stay in the blind, but I couldn't help myself," Pisarchick said. "I had to go look for blood.
"I couldn't find a drop, but I knew I hit him. I was afraid I had made a bad shot. I looked for a long time and finally found the bolt. The entire length was smeared with blood.
"I kept telling myself, 'Calm down! Calm down!' I couldn't think straight, so I left the woods." Pisarchick knew that tracking a wounded deer, especially one that makes you so nervous, is not an exercise for an addled mind.
After waiting back at his truck, he returned at 10:30 a.m. and still couldn't find blood. "I followed the trail for 40 yards, but found nothing," Pisarchick said. He believed it was a real possibility that the buck was still alive. To push him without any information to go on would be a big mistake.
He went home, ate lunch, and dressed in lighter clothes. At 1:30 p.m., he jumped into his truck and drove around the lake, noticing where other hunters' vehicles were parked. If he was going to track the buck, he needed to know where other hunters were set up for the evening hunt.
Pisarchick went back into the woods and this time followed the tracks a little farther into some swamp grass. Still no blood, until he noticed something maroon on the tip of a stalk of high grass. He felt it, rubbed his fingers in some water and it dissolved. "Bingo -- I had blood," Pisarchick said. It has been seven hours since the shot, and the first wave of optimism washed over him.
Suddenly he could see blood everywhere. Instead of bleeding on the ground, the buck had sprayed blood on the vegetation higher than Pisarchick had been looking. The buck was hit, and hit good. He followed the sign for 80 yards. Then, no more blood.
"I didn't believe the deer could quit bleeding so quickly, so I began looking off the sides of the trail and found where he turned. I followed the blood about 10-15 yards and there he was, 25 yards off the trail. But I couldn't tell if he was dead."
Pisarchick froze, and began to study the buck. Seeing it from behind, the rack was a real distraction. He forced himself to take his eyes off it and observed the buck's position.
With both hind legs tucked underneath, his left front leg doubled under him and his right leg outstretched, he was in a perfect position to bolt -- if he was alive.
Pisarchick doesn't know how long he stared. He felt helpless, afraid to move. He couldn't take a shot because he hadn't brought his crossbow. Finally, Pisarchick's ears picked up a buzzing sound and he saw green bottle flies around the buck's head. He was dead, and had been for hours.
Pisarchick's taxidermist is his good friend, John Felczak, and he agreed to mount the buck right away. Pisarchick had the buck scored as soon as he could after the 60-day drying period. He grossed 181 6/8 inches and netted 170 5/8 inches. Indrebo's estimate was right on the money.
The rack is deceiving because the brow tines look like they don't match. Actually, there's only a half-inch of difference between the G1 tines -- the left one angles back so it appears much shorter. And, unlike most whitetail racks, the right G2 was the shortest tine of all and accounts for half of the rack's 11 inches of deductions. If it had matched the other G2 like it did the previous year, this buck would have netted over 180 inches.
The chapter on Pennsylvania as a state with small bucks is closing. But the truth is that Pennsylvania's small bucks were simply young bucks. Previous to the state's antler restriction policy (adopted in 2002), the majority of bucks were killed when sporting their first set of antlers at 1 1/2 years old. Now, more bucks are surviving longer, learning how to escape hunters and beginning to show their potential. Pisarchick's buck is a case in point. At 5 1/2 years old, it would be impressive anywhere.
And if you think public land in Pennsylvania is over-hunted, just talk to Pisarchick. He's hunted the famous whitetail states, but his trophy whitetail came from Pennsylvania's public land.
Tom Pisarchick used the following equipment to harvest his Pennsylvania trophy.
- CROSSBOW: Excalibur Vortex
- BOLTS: Excalibur Firebolts (by Easton Carbon)
- BROADHEAD: Rage (three-blade)
- SHOOTING AID: Primos Trigger Stick
- BLIND: SCENTite Magnum
- CAMOUFLAGE: ScentLok Climaflex
- BOOTS: Wolverine Whitetail ScentLok
- SCENT ELIMINATION: Dead Down Wind
- TRAIL CAMERA: Stealth Cam I230IR and Bushnell Trail Sentry