A single trail camera photo fueled a two-year odyssey for Travis Byrd that concluded with a shot at the buck of a lifetime.
Travis Byrd's Kentucky trophy sported a typical 10-point rack that scored 161 7/8.
Who knew a picture on a trail camera would cause a hunter to change the way he has hunted all of his life? Certainly not me.
I never dreamed a buck I now call "Hook" would get inside my head and challenge me to elevate my hunting strategies to the next level. I wish I could say I got up the morning after seeing that first trail camera picture of Hook and harvested him, but I can't. Actually, I did not even see Hook during the 2008 deer season, besides in photos. The season ended with "tag soup" for me. I had my heart so set on this buck with the long main beams, tall tines and his characteristic hooking right G3 that I even carried the first trail camera picture I got of him around in my pocket every time I went to the stand that year.
The farm on which I was hunting was small, and I was really only able to use one stand. So the following season, I hung the stand on an inside corner of the field, overlooking the field edge on one side and a deep valley running through the woods on the other. I placed the stand facing north, so the sun would not be in my eyes, no matter if I hunted it in the morning or afternoon. After clearing a few shooting lanes, I put a trail camera facing a trail intersection a little deeper in the wood line. I then sprayed the stand, steps and my camera with some scent eliminating spray. I even sprayed myself and the camera every time I changed out the memory cards in the camera. I did my best to make the area look and smell as if I had never been there.
I would only check the camera once a week and always during midday hours, hoping this would cut down my chances of bumping any deer. It took a couple of weeks but I finally got a picture of Hook, and I was very excited to see he had made it through the winter months. From the pictures I was getting, I could tell he was using the area quite frequently and mainly passing by the camera later in the afternoon. Armed with this knowledge, I decided afternoon hunts during the early part of the season would give me the greatest chance of seeing -- and possibly getting a shot at -- this buck.
The first two days of the season did not end with any sightings of Hook, but I did, however, see a few other bucks pass by, which made for a couple of great afternoon hunts. One of those bucks was a very nice deer, but I had already made my mind up that I was after Hook, and I knew I would never get a shot at him if I did not let all the other bucks pass. On the third day of my three-day weekend I made it to the farm around 3 p.m. I got dressed in the bed of my truck, just like the previous two days, after taking a scent-free shower at the house.
On my walk into the stand, I began thinking of how lucky I was to have a north wind for the past three days. Once at the stand, I attached my safety harness to the tree, climbed up, put my coat on, sprayed down one last time and settled in. As time went on, the clouds began rolling in and it started raining. It was not a hard rain and looked as if it was not going to last all that long, so I decided to sit it out and see if this would cause the deer to move a little earlier.
The rain lasted only 25 to 30 minutes, and as it stopped, the temperature slowly began to drop. I knew with the temperature dropping, deer would begin to move. Not long after this, I started hearing some noise out in front of me. It was one of the smaller bucks I had seen the previous two days. He was walking a trail that would bring him right by my stand. There was another buck following not far behind him. I watched as both of the deer came browsing around in front of my stand. Then the bigger of the two turned around and began walking directly away from me. I could not see him well because of a large tree blocking my view, not to mention it was slowly turning dark.
The first trail camera photo of Travis Byrd's Kentucky 10-point, captured on Nov. 3, 2008. Photo courtesy of Travis Byrd.
As my attention turned to the other buck that was still close by, I suddenly saw a flash of antler stick out from the large tree that had blocked my view earlier. As the antler became more visible, I saw a hooking G3. It was him! It was "Hook!"
The buck that I had day-dreamed about the past two seasons was walking straight towards me. My heart began beating so hard I thought it was going to jump out of my chest or stop beating altogether. I tried to gather myself the best that I could, and I slowly reached for my bow.
With the bow in hand, I began to ease my way up to a standing position. The fading daylight and the large tree in front of me were both aiding in the concealment of my movements. Once standing, I hooked my release to the bow and awaited my opportunity. I could see his rack turning from side to side around the tree. He acted as if he was going to the left, so as quietly and slowly as I could, I drew my bow back.
I waited on him to make his move. By this time, darkness was falling fast, so I began trying to lean to the left as much as I could, to be able to shoot around the tree. When I was over as far as I could go, he took one last step to the left, affording me an open shot. As my pin settled behind his front shoulder, he froze and looked directly up at me. I squeezed off the trigger and with a loud smack he leaped into the air and took off running in the direction from which he had come. The other two bucks scattered as well. Once the sound of the buck crashing through the woods died, I sat down and began replaying the events of what had just happened in my mind. Many emotions and thoughts ran through my head, and I started praying that I had made a good shot.
After waiting for about 10 minutes, my excitement finally got the best of me and I had to climb down to check out the area where he was standing when I shot. By this time it was dark, so I pulled a flashlight from my gear bag and walked over to see if my arrow was there. I looked around on the ground but could not find my arrow or blood anywhere. Maybe I missed him and my arrow glanced off the side the tree, I thought.
As I shined the
light off the ground and onto a nearby sapling, I saw three big, bright, red drops of blood on one of the leaves. An ear-to-ear grin came over my face because I knew then that I had at least gotten an arrow in him. Instead of pressing on to find the buck, I decided to go back to the house, change out of my hunting clothes and get a bigger flashlight. When I got back to the house, I quickly ran inside, where my wife was waiting to greet me. "Did you have any luck this afternoon?" she asked. "Well, I don't know yet," I replied. She immediately jumped up from the chair and ran to the front door, where I was standing. "Which one was it?" she asked. "I'm pretty sure it was 'Hook,' the buck I have been after," I told her.
After one giant hug, she grabbed a flashlight and we both traveled back to recover the buck together. By this time, an hour had passed since I had shot the buck. We quickly found the blood trail and my arrow, which was covered in blood. Not far beyond the spot where we found the arrow we discovered the buck, only 75 yards from where I shot him. Once we actually found him, it was all I could do to fight back the tears. This was the biggest buck I had ever had my hands on, and it truly was the buck of my dreams. But the best part of all was that my wife was there with me, to celebrate and help drag out this awesome whitetail that will forever hang proudly on my wall.