A Trophy Deer Legacy
September 22, 2010
The author proudly holds up his massive buck. With 23 points, the giant from southeastern Iowa tallied an official gross score of 227 3/8 non-typical. "I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw him," Andy said. "He had so much horn that I was absolutely stunned. He had drop tines, kickers and points seemingly everywhere!"
My grandfather passed away when I was eight years old. The legacy he left me amounted to two boxes of outdoor magazines. I pored over these until they were a dog-eared mess, dreaming that someday I would be a hunter. I grew up in a family of seven, but no one else in the family was interested in hunting or fishing. When I was 19, I borrowed my uncle's 16-gauge shotgun and started hunting squirrels by myself. This led to a deep love for hunting and the outdoors.
I enrolled in a gunsmithing school, where I met Ted Rankin, an outdoorsman who would become a good friend. We shared a love for the outdoors, and Ted was completely addicted to bowhunting. Apparently, he sneezed on me one day, because I've had the same affliction ever since. Sadly, Ted was diagnosed with cancer and passed away a couple of years after that, at the age of 22. Now, I'm 45, and all these years later, I still often think of my friend when I am climbing into a tree stand.
Planning an afternoon hunt on Oct. 5, 2009, I went outside to send a few arrows and build my confidence. My Hellrazor broadheads were flying out of my brand-new Mathews Drenalin the way I wanted them to, grouping a little over an inch at 20 yards. I had been practicing every day throughout the summer with my good friend, Jamie Fuller, working hard on extending my maximum range from 30 to 35 yards. Even though the longest shot I had ever taken at a whitetail was 22 yards, I knew extending my range was important.
I had just retired my old Mathews Legacy, with which I had been hunting for the last seven years. I had taken a total of 21 deer with that special bow and it was with a real sense of loss that I decided to upgrade to a new one.
A DATE WITH DESTINY
I was excited to get into my tree stand that afternoon. It had been rainy and windy for the previous three days, but this afternoon was beautiful and sunny, with high pressure returning. After a quick scent-free shower, I started the process of transferring all of my bowhunting gear to the truck. I had filled up the back of my pickup with cedar branches to eliminate any chance of scent transfer.
As I was pulling out of the driveway, my wife came out on the front porch with our 1-year-old twins. My son was waving goodbye, and my daughter was blowing kisses to me.
I thought of the luck they had brought me on other hunts and wondered what today would bring.
Stopping at the first gravel road on my way to the woods, I jumped out of my truck to check the wind direction. It was straight from the south! The NOAA weather radio had said it was from the east.
Based on this info, I canceled my plan to hunt a 17-pointer I had chased for a couple of years. The stand I hoped to hunt him from required a different wind from the one we now had. Fortunately, the south wind triggered a thought in the back of my brain. The "happy fat tree" now would be my stand for the afternoon.
Several years ago, my friend, Lee, and I had picked this spot for an evening hunt with our climbing stands. We sneaked in there feeling as stealthy as two ghosts, but we were immediately picked off by a group of four does! They snorted and blew like steam engines. We felt so stupid that Lee said it was like we were sitting in a "happy fat tree."
The name stuck.
I knew this farm held at least one big buck, a bruiser with a split G-3 tine and some non-typical points. I had seen him once chasing does the previous year. And my brother-in-law, Marc Powell, had passed on him two years before that. That was no small feat, because at the time he'd been a 150-inch 11-pointer!
GETTING IN UNDETECTED
When I arrived at the farm, I started unpacking my gear. (I never wear any of the clothes I actually hunt in until I'm at the property.) I headed toward the stand with my wind checker in hand. This particular stand always makes me a little nervous. It is located about 100 yards from a bedding area. About 15 yards from my stand, I put 10 drops of "Mrs. Doe Pee's Ultimate Scrape" in a mock scrape in a shooting lane I had cut with my friend Jamie. Then I headed to the stand.
I glanced over my shoulder as I was climbing the tree and noticed an enormous rub on a cedar. I climbed into my stand 26 feet off the ground and attached my safety harness to the tree, then tested the stand to make sure that it would not pop or ping. It made no sound, so I started unpacking my gear. I hung a few calls on the tree, pulled my bow up, and proceeded to get my video camera arm attached to the tree.
The timber was absolutely beautiful. I was sitting in the October woods, surrounded by yellow and green oak leaves. Acorns were falling into a nearby pond every couple of minutes, and I noticed a few catfish poking along the edges. I pulled my harness tight so I could sit and relax for a bit. I dosed off a couple of times, trying to tell if any of the monster squirrels around me were of Pope & Young size.
At about 5 o'clock, I reached for my sandwich. I broke off a piece, rolled it into a ball, and got ready to throw it to the catfish rummaging in the pond. But I just knew that if I didn't hit the pond, a spooky doe would smell it from miles away and proceed with the steam engine routine again. Luckily, all five of the dough balls I threw made it into the water.
NOT A GOOD START
At about 6 o'clock, I heard the sound of an ATV approaching. So far in 2009, I'd had to deal with four-wheelers in my area on two out of the three hunts. As I watched the neighbor drive by 100 yards away, I said to myself, He cuts wood all fall long, and if I know it, then the deer know it as well. Right?
About five minutes after I saw the four-wheeler go by, the neighbor's chainsaw started up. Perfect! I thought. I sank farther into my camo, but at least I knew the deer had heard the noise before.
The chainsaw ran for about 15 minutes and then stopped. There goes the first tank of gas. Hopefully, he is done, I thought. Another five minutes passed . . . then 10 . . . then 20 . . . with no more sawing.
A half-hour later, I decided to do some calling. Hoping the deer would be on their feet by now, I used an estrus can call three times over the next couple of minutes. Then I switched to my new call, a Hunter's Specialties Kruncher. Th
e acorns were raining out of the trees, and hopefully this call, which mimics the sound of crunching acorns, would calm the deer after the chainsaw's departure.
Once, between sequences, I thought I heard a deer up on the hill behind me. But when I looked, I saw nothing. I sat for a few minutes, and then I heard a deer again.
The first time I think I hear a deer, I know my ears might be playing tricks on me. But the second time, it's usually a deer! I scanned again, but the majority of the leaves were still on the trees, making it difficult to see. All at once I heard a deer cough, a sound I had heard only a few times. The first one was hard to identify, but the second one confirmed it. Without a doubt, there was a deer up on the hill.
AM I SEEING THINGS?
I scanned again with my binoculars and finally caught a glimpse of a front leg. Waiting, I thought I saw antlers but was not sure. Then the animal swung its head toward me.
I couldn't believe my eyes! There was so much horn that I was absolutely stunned! He had drop tines, kickers, and points seemingly everywhere! I dropped my binoculars to my chest and stared into the sky in utter disbelief.
The buck started to come in my direction, and I heard the classic "shook . . . shook . . . shook" of a mature buck walking in the leaves. I had just one thought as the buck approached: Get an arrow into his lungs!
When the giant was still 30 yards away, I pondered turning on my video camera. I'd already had this discussion with myself a thousand times, so I knew the answer: If he's really big, you have to forget the video camera! But I really felt I had time, so I unclipped my release and turned on the camera.
I couldn't see well through the thick yellow and green oak leaves, but I could hear the slow cadence of the deer's footsteps. The video camera came on, and I pressed the record button (something I have forgotten to do in the past).
As the deer appeared on the screen, he was coming clear of the oak at only 15 yards. He was going to walk straight under my stand! What's more, I now realized that there was more on top of this buck's head than I could comprehend. As he closed inside 10 yards and started to walk beneath me, I let go of the video camera and clipped my release back on the string. I drew my bow as quickly and smoothly as I could, swinging straight down.
He came to a stop underneath me and I realized I couldn't get both of his lungs. He seemed totally calm, and I thought, Just maybe I can get away with it.
SHOT OF A LIFETIME
He started to walk again in the direction of the mock scrape. I let him get 7 to 8 yards away. I grunted to stop him and he slowed. I grunted again and he paused and took another step. I ended up grunting a total of seven times (I know from the videotape) before he finally stopped for good. At this point, I virtually had no shot. He was only 9 yards away, but three oak branches hung between us. I started to scan for a clear path to his vitals. Crouching down, I could see a baseball-size hole through the branches!
I checked three times on the position of his front leg and then sent the arrow. I watched my arrow pass through the deer right behind the shoulder and knew it was perfect. He took off full steam down the entrance path that I had used coming in. I swung the video camera up onto my face to try to record my psychotic reactions. About nine or 10 seconds after the shot, I heard a tremendous crash followed by what sounded like some slow kicking for another 10 seconds, and I knew this deer was mine. At that moment, I was completely overcome with the shakes. I had to turn around and face the tree because I was sure that I was going to fall to the ground.
I held onto the tree for about 3 minutes, until I felt like I could call my wife, Jessica. I was so excited to tell her about the buck. She is the one who I share everything with, the highs, the lows, the craziness. To say that she was excited for me is an understatement.
Once I got off the phone with her, I thought to myself, How on earth am I going to get out of this tree? I can't possibly spend the 10 minutes it will take to put everything back in my pack and climb down!
GIVING IT SOME TIME
I climbed down carefully, thinking of my kids and not wanting to fall. When I hit the ground, I took my pack off and got out a flashlight. I moved slowly toward my arrow. It was stuck in the ground and I shined a light on it. It was completely red and there was a large splash of blood on the ground 4 or 5 feet past it. I picked up my arrow, turned off the Lumenok, and put it in my quiver.
Luckily, I still had the puffer bottle in my pocket and I began to circle downwind of the deer. I checked the puffer bottle every 20 seconds or so and made a big circle around the buck. Even though I was 99.99 percent sure he was already dead, I never even turned on my flashlight. I don't like to take chances with a deer until I'm certain it's dead.
When I got back to the truck, I was really suffering; I just wanted to put my hands on my buck! I jumped in and used a Maglite for headlights until I was on the gravel road. I called my buddy, Jamie, and asked if he could help me with the blood trailing. I called my brother-in-law, Marc, to get his help as well. They both said that they'd be at my house shortly, and when I arrived, they were already there. I walked in feeling like I was returning from a long journey, with Marc, Jamie and Jessica expecting to hear all of the details.
I put on regular coveralls and grabbed my blood-trailing pack and three good flashlights.
I always keep a blood-trailing pack in the house so the batteries in the flashlights stay warm, and it also has everything I need for a blood trail: a drag rope, reflective marking tape, flashlights, head lamp, gloves and heat packs. Marc and Jamie were anxious to get going, but I just couldn't seem to engage my brain. I think I was still in shock. Finally, we were in the truck and driving, with Jessica waving goodbye and good luck.
Upon arriving back at the farm, we grabbed our lights and gear and started retracing my steps downwind of the deer. When we arrived at the shot site, we picked up good blood immediately. We started poking along a pretty good trail, going only three or four steps before finding more blood. I was so excited it was all I could do to move slowly along that trail.
As we approached where I had heard the buck crash, it seemed I could feel him just ahead. The hair on the back of my neck was up, and my ears were ringing. Suddenly, I could see the giant lying on the ground 10 feet in front of me. I couldn't believe what I was looking at; the buck had so many points I couldn't even begin to count them.
We all stood virtually speechless for over a minute. To be standing over this beautiful creature that roamed the same woods as us, the feeling was simply overwhelming. We finally started talking and shaking hands as my friends congratulated me.
A MOMENT IN TIME
I then knelt down for the first time and put my hands on my deer. As always, it felt a little odd because whitetails are so amazing and wild.
There is always a moment when I put my hands on a deer -- buck or doe -- that feels odd and unnatural. As I picked up this amazing animal's head, I marveled at all the things he had: 23 points, including split G-3s, drop tines, quadruple brow tines and plenty of kickers and stickers. He even had cedar imbedded in his huge bases.
Jamie called my wife and told her we had him. Then we started trying to figure out how to get the buck out of the creek bottom. Even with three of us dragging, it was all we could do to move him 15 or 20 feet. We would drag and then take a break, drag and take a break.
When we were about halfway out of the creek bottom, Marc and Jamie suggested I walk out to get the truck. This sounded like a good idea until I realized that meant leaving my buck. Suddenly, that seemed like a strange thing to do. Nevertheless, I walked out and got the truck and trailer and drove back close to where my friends were still dragging. I headed down to help them with one last pull, and we heaved the deer up onto the trailer. I will never forget the sight of that buck lying on it! We tied the deer down with ropes, adding a few extra knots as we did so for good measure.
I didn't want this buck going anywhere, so I asked Jamie if he would sit in the back of the truck and watch him. Thankfully, he agreed and hopped into the bed. Once back at the house, the feeling I had when we drove into my driveway was indescribable.
As we pulled up to the patio, I told Marc and Jamie to watch Jessica's face. Sure enough, when she saw the buck, her jaw dropped. We were all so excited we just stood around the trailer and marveled at this awesome animal.
After we had celebrated for a while, Marc and Jamie left. I thanked them sincerely for their help. Jessica and I sat down together next to the buck and talked about him until 1:30 a.m. My wife has been very understanding about my bowhunting disease. With 11 points on the left side and 12 on the right, my buck tallied an official gross score of 227 3/8.
I got maybe one hour of fitful sleep that night. When Jessica and I woke up, we were anxious to take photos of the buck.
Luckily, my in-laws agreed to come over and watch our twins. We took at least 200 photos of the buck. The following few days were a whirlwind of phone calls and friends stopping by to see the buck.
Everyone kept asking me the same question: "What are you going to do now that you have killed a big buck and it's only October 5th?"
My answer: "I'm going to hunt does like crazy for the freezer and try to help my friends, Jamie and Marc, get their bucks!"