As the rush of adrenaline poured through my body the shaking became uncontrollable. “No way that just happened” I quietly said to myself as I sat there staring at a buck that seemed to only exist on my trail cameras. This was that moment. The reason we, as hunters, do what we do. We spend 364 days a year just hoping for the feeling that comes on that one fateful day, and for me, this was it.
I couldn’t take my eyes off him as he lay there just a mere 50 yards away. I hadn’t seen this buck in person in nearly two years, but I knew him so well that I could pick him out even without his head gear. I knew this buck and as he stopped to look back at me just before the fall, I got the feeling that he knew me too.
It was a shot five seasons in the making as I was finally able to close the book on the most elusive deer I have ever hunted. I first took notice of the buck as a young, up and coming 2½ yr. old. A year later, with 12 points and having nearly 140 inches of antler, I decided to limit my presence into his home range to as little as possible, waiting for the buck to mature. With the use of several trail cameras I was able to keep track of him throughout the next two years, patterning his daily routine from bedding to feeding areas as well as his favorite places to water.
I strategically placed several ground blinds along these routes a year in advance so that he would have plenty of time to feel safe in their presence. I prefer to use more permanent, structured blinds that can be left set up for longer periods of time; although I do move them occasionally based on deer travel patterns. Having said that, I always keep a few pop up blinds on hand in case of emergencies.
I’ve found that on this particular ranch I was hunting the most dominant bucks will generally stay in the same home area most of their lives unless one of two things happen. They either get pushed out by human presence or an even more dominant buck moves into the area which is sometimes the case during the rut. Although they do travel great distances during this time, most of the deer return to their original home range at the end of January and remain there for the next 10 months. Fortunately for me, this buck had no reason to leave.
As 2011 rolled around the buck I had been patiently waiting to mature was turning 5 and my anticipation for the upcoming season was high. That was until, Texas entered into the worst drought in recorded history. With a record number of wildfires, almost zero rainfall and temperatures over 100 degrees for 3 months straight, our little west Texas oasis looked more like the face of the moon. Wildlife and vegetation were dying off at an alarming rate and some local deer estimates were showing near 65% death loss. My concerns for antler growth went out the window. At this point I just hoped the buck was going to survive. As I monitored my trail cameras throughout the year it was devastating to see so many deer literally starving to death. It wasn’t until September that I finally received confirmation the buck had made it through the summer. As did most bucks that survived he lost about 20 inches of antler from the previous year, not to mention 3 points, and although he was in poor shape, he was still alive.
I opted once again to let the buck go for another year in hopes that he would recover and was left second guessing myself most of the season knowing that this would also give him another year to grow wiser and more elusive. Things were looking up in the spring of 2012 as the rain began to wash away the dust. It was short lived however as temperatures soon soared and the drought continued throughout the next 5 months. Surprisingly, in spite of another harsh summer, the decrease in deer numbers and timing of the much needed rain during the spring proved to be the key ingredients for what looked to be a promising 2012 season. Bucks were looking as good if not better than they had in years. I was starting to get pictures of some really impressive antlers as summer came to a close. Some of which I knew would outscore my nemesis by leaps and bounds, but this year wasn’t about antler size. It was about a six year old buck I set my sights on five seasons ago.
A few days before the archery opener I began receiving photos of my buck traveling from his bedding area to one of his favorite eating places, a small live oak mot. The mot stands just a few hundred yards down a narrow line of trees from his hill top hideout and thanks to previous years of scouting I had already placed a blind along this trail for just such an occasion. All I could do now is keep practicing my shot and pray that the wind would stay as forecasted for opening morning. I was anxious to see how the new arrows would perform on such a mature whitetail. I was highly confident of a complete pass through as they showed unparalleled target penetration during my practice sessions. There’s a lot to be said for having complete confidence in your gear and having harvested several deer the past few seasons with Swhacker broadheads I knew all I needed now was the opportunity.
You know, although this wasn’t going to be the biggest buck I’ve ever hunted still didn’t make it any easier to sleep. I had been waiting for this day for years and I knew I wasn’t going to have very many chances at this deer before he would pattern me too and go completely nocturnal. I took a day off work before opening morning as I always do to get prepared, physically and mentally. Just 24 more hours until it was game on. Then it happened. Around noon the bottom fell out and it rained for the next 24 hours straight. A drought buster, as they say. Some areas of the county reported up to 13 inches. It was the first opening morning I had missed since I began bowhunting 20 years ago. For the next 7 days I woke up every morning at 3 a.m. in hopes that the wind would be in my favor, but to no avail. The conditions had to be perfect. No way was I going to take any chances, not after waiting this long.
A cold front pushed through the next weekend dropping temperatures to unseasonable lows and I knew I was going to have my chance. The wind stabilized to a steady northeast and I was in place early that afternoon. As the evening began to cool a few does made their way down the tree line in front of me and my confidence grew as I went undetected. Then, as I leaned forward to scan the opposite direction my eyes were drawn to a large bodied deer standing just 15 yards away behind the trees. I peered through the thick branches trying to make out the antlers and as the buck turned his head there was no denying, it was him. I’ve arrowed enough deer that I should have remained calm, but it was all I could do to suppress my nerves. As I slowly raised my bow in anticipation of his next move the unthinkable happened. The buck laid down. You’ve got to be kidding me!
As if I hadn’t waited long enough, and now this. The next 20 minutes seemed like hours as I sat there ready to draw at a moment’s notice. Then with daylight quickly fading the buck rose and began to walk away. Knowing it was now or never, I quickly came to full draw. When he crossed a clearing at 25 yards the arrow was on its way and I saw my yellow AAE fletching disappear behind his shoulder. The buck wheeled around and ran just 30 yards before stopping to look back at the blind. The Swhacker tipped arrow had blown through him so fast he didn’t even know he was hit. We stared at each other as he stood there broadside while the last 5 years flashed through my mind. What a roller coaster it had been. And with that, his legs gave way and the legend fell.
There’s an overwhelming peace that comes in knowing that everything is as it should be. A goal that I had set years before had finally come to fruition. I could have pushed the envelope and taken this buck before his prime and although the “score” would have been higher, the feeling of accomplishment would have been lacking. There was no one around for miles. No whoops and hollers, no high fives or pats on the back. It was just me and the legend. And to be honest, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.