Nontypical Deer - Archery Record

1. Alex MacCulloch 213-2/8 2008

Hunting was not on my agenda that day, but a few late afternoon cancellations and I was gone! Bow season was more than half over and I had yet to draw my new “Diamond Black Ice”; the warm fall we were experiencing had not been kind to us hunters. Always a hunting optimist, I felt that perhaps today would be better. It was November 20th with a cold north wind and a few inches of new snow on the ground. Now, that’s better hunting weather!

As a firm believer in scent control, I showered, changed into my under layers, grabbed my equipment and headed to my nearest stand suitable for a north wind. I had checked this stand a number of times with minimal sign but today it beat out the office, which had absolutely no sign! I sprayed my outers with scent control and began the 400-yard walk to my stand. This stand was located on the south fringe of a beautiful ten-acre hardwood stand surrounded by recently harvested soy on three sides and a road to the west. Stashing my bow case a safe distance from the stand I generously sprayed “Hot Stuff” doe-in-estrous my last forty yards. I was comfortably settled and surveying the situation by four o’clock. No scrapes, no rubs and no tracks, I guess that explains why I had yet to sit this stand! We had baited this stand regularly up until recently but it appeared dry today.

I gave a quick rattle with my “Knight & Hale” rattle bag and followed shortly with three tending grunts. Fifteen minutes later I gave three estrous bleats on the “EZ” gravity bleat can. There you have it. That was my performance and now all I needed was an audience! Time passed and the cold air was making me drowsy, all in all, it had been an enjoyable but uneventful hour. The movement first caught my eye. I automatically removed my bow from the hanger, the coldness of the grip felt good in my left hand. From drowsy to fully alert in seconds, why can’t we wake up like that on a workday? I now focused my attention seventy-five yards to the north. Slowly nosing its way towards me was a large buck. The first thought that went through my mind was “What is wrong with this guy's antlers?” As the buck continued on I figured it out, they were too large for a deer’s head! I could tell by the spread that this was a keeper. I made no attempt to count points since math was never my strong suit. In the infamous words of Kenny Rogers, there would be “time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done!”

At this point the wind had died off, leaving that kind of cold, clear silence that bow hunters don’t like. Every noise appeared amplified; my breathing, the pounding of my heart and the rustling of frozen leaves and snow as this big ole guy slowly nosed and stepped his way into range. The majestic beauty of that site will be etched in my mind forever! At thirty-five yards I ran my final approach; armguard secure, release snug to the hand, arrow properly nocked and rested, peep and pins clear … Houston all systems go!

Excitement is something most of us experience when we climb into our stand. It does not adequately describe the way I felt as I watched this magnificent animal move into range. After a twenty-five year hunting hiatus this was only my third season with a bow. I was fortunate to be introduced to the sport by two very experienced archers and bow hunters, John Logeman and Brian Lavis. They are both excellent teachers and I am a willing student. Together they have poured a combined 50 years of bow hunting knowledge into a mostly empty but receptive vessel. Now that I think about it, they put up the very stand I was sitting in that day. What are hunting buddies for? At twenty-five yards, I used the cover of some large maples to draw my bow, I must confess I shoot from the seated position and on this occasion, I am not sure my legs would have supported me! Thank heavens for “let-off” as the last five yards seemed like an eternity! This marvelous specimen presented its right front half to me, slightly angled towards me as it nosed the ground where apples once lay. I place the green pin of my Tru-Glo extra tight to his front shoulder; I could see some tiny saplings but nothing of concern. I released, and as every archer will attest, you develop a feel for each shot taken. I did not like the way this arrow left the bow but there are no re-takes in the hunting world!

The sound told me it was a solid hit. The speed of my Carbon Express was blazing and my best guess led me to believe I was forward of my intended target. This was the point in all hunts where everything that was previously in slow motion switches to fast-forward. Answers to the simplest questions blur and elude you; I now understand why many people make lousy witnesses! The buck bolted past me to the right and was now standing in the plowed field. I looked over my right shoulder and watched intently; it made some awkward movements, but appeared to move fairly normal as it retraced its steps back toward the stand. As he passed by me at forty yards, exposing his left side, I could see no signs of a pass thru nor was there an arrow visible on the ground at the point of impact. As he strutted off he didn’t blow or appear alarmed, but interestingly enough he stopped every twenty to thirty yards as if to rest and look around. Elation was beginning to transform into guilt and remorse. Had I only wounded this beautiful animal?

I cannot describe the feeling as I watched that giant rack disappear at 100 yards. I sat in the tree stand for twenty minutes with a million thoughts swirling around in my head. I could take it no longer; I had to start the process! I carefully packed up my gear and climbed down from my Gorilla. Blessed with two inches of fresh snow and a flashlight I scoured the forest floor for an arrow, there was none to be found. Five yards from the point of impact was the first blood sign, six-maybe seven drops of bright red blood on the new snow. I methodically made my way out to the field where the buck had stood for thirty seconds; I was excited to see a patch of blood, perhaps an ounce coming from the deer’s right side. I began the tracking process and the first one hundred and fifty yards provided minimal blood sign and little reason for optimism.

To harvest such an impressive buck, although exciting, is always tempered with a tinge of remorse borne out of respect for the animal, wounding it would be unforgivable. As I pressed on I found what appeared to be a bloodless bed, not five yards away, my arrow lay on the trail. I ran to inspect it, penetration was good, blood covered the shaft right up to the fletching, and my G5 Montec broadhead was missing! Had this wily old veteran actually lay on his good side and removed the arrow? It could be possible! Twenty yards further on the trail and I found the first blood soaked bed. It was time to call in reinforcements! I went back to my truck and called my two faithful hunting buddies. Logie and Brian were in my neck of the woods and were there within minutes. Their arrival and assessment of the situation gave me a sense of comfort; if I was a deer these are the last guys I would want on my trail!

We made the decision to stay on the trail and headed north out of the hardwood across a recently harvested large soy field. There was minimal blood, but at times, we could tell the buck was favoring his left front leg. At the edge of the field, we found another bed with significant blood sign. Logie and Brian made the call; they felt we were pushing the deer. It would be easier and more ethical to let it bed down and bleed out. They had always provided good advice, but I must state I left the woods very reluctantly that night, a large part of me stayed there on the trail with the buck.

I tossed and turned in my bed, please don’t let it snow. I checked the weather several times during the night. At 3am, I contemplated striking out to find the old boy but common sense prevailed. I laid there full of guilt, anticipation and excitement; there was no rest to be had! Friday finally arrived cold and sunny, as early as possible the three of us returned to the woods. My buddies were upbeat and optimistic; I wasn’t so confident! Forty yards from where we left off the night before we found three beds within 20 yards, all with significant blood sign. This is where the buck had spent the night and all evidence pointed to the fact he had expired in this immediate area! The swamp grass was head high and we searched the area to no avail. Tracking was harder now due to the long grass but we followed his print out of the last bed and around a corner. Standing in front of us on all fours, not ten yards away was the largest, most impressive and majestic buck imaginable! Our eyes met briefly and then he stepped into the brook, clambered up the bank and ambled awkwardly eastbound, down the brook valley.

What I would pay to have a video of the three of us! Armed with only a field dressing kit, our jaws hanging open, babbling like idiots and bumping into each other, it must have looked like a scene from the Three Stooges. Exit stage left, we all headed for our trucks and home for our bows, I was probably in no state to drive! It was the better part of an hour before we reassembled. We knew the lay of the land; a brook valley maybe one hundred and fifty yards wide with steep fifty yard banks on both sides. We assumed the buck would stay to the flat ground. We strategized as to how we should attempt to pull this off. The deer was obviously badly wounded and it was just a matter of time. We had to act quickly but safely. My two buddies were emphatic; I was to be worked in for the final shot! The strategy was as follows: Brian would go to the west end of the valley where we had last seen the buck and wait twenty minutes. Logie and I would go cross-country and enter from the east end. We would then begin to walk the old logging road and slowly close the quarter mile separating us. We prayed we would find him already in his final resting place.

Forty yards into the valley, Brian jumped him from behind a mess of windfall! The old fella was at a trot but labored as he crossed the brook. Brian did not attempt to draw or pursue; he simply stayed on the road and moved forward only when necessary to keep the beast in view. At a hundred yards, he once again bedded down. Logie and I were quietly continuing up the valley oblivious to all the action. We rounded a slight bend to see Brian on his knees. He began waving frantically and pointing north across the brook. In a stooped walk/half crawl, we closed the distance between us while looking in the direction Brian was pointing. In hushed tones, Brian described and pointed out the location of the buck. It was bedded approximately forty yards to the north behind a large log. I could now see the antlers and most of its head! I took the lead and began to work on an angle that would provide an unobstructed shot at twenty yards. As I straightened to draw, I couldn’t help but smile at Logie’s whispered comment “Don’t hit those antlers!” The arrow was true, in one final display of strength this machine of a buck once again rose, and charged twenty yards crashing everything in its path before coming to his final resting place by the brook. The momentary silence of respect soon gave way to high fives, back slaps, and handshakes. Our plan had come together!

In hindsight, the effort put forth to bring down that monster was a fitting tribute to his life. Nothing that has ruled the woods, as I am sure this guy did, should come easy. He didn’t; he fought to the very end. The memories of that hunt are permanently etched in our minds and it may be known as my buck but I am forever indebted to Logie and Brian, there are no better friends or hunting partners! On that day we realized that this buck was special, we just didn’t know how special! Despite the massive rack, the deer was not large bodied and perhaps weighed in the 250-300 lbs range. I often find myself closing my eyes and reflecting back to the events of that November day, thanks to James and the crew at Advanced Taxidermy I’m not going to have to close my eyes any more! This was not your perfect textbook hunting experience; in hindsight, mistakes were probably made. As good and ethical hunters, we learn from our mistakes and by telling the story as it happened, we hope you too can learn from our mistakes. Special thanks to Don, Moxy and Kubota for providing transportation out of the woods!

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