There was movement toward the far end of the clear cut. It was a deer. A doe. She was browsing the edge between the woods and the cut over, and she was heading my way. There was another deer coming along behind her. It was a buck. Instantly my heart kicked into overdrive. I realized that if the deer kept coming, I would have a shot opportunity at a very good buck.
The buck was not feeding. He was walking along following the doe at a short distance, and he was focused on nothing else. They were coming closer with every step.
The binoculars showed me that he was a typical eight pointer with a very wide antler spread. He was one of the biggest bucks I had ever seen. I could hear my own breathing and feel the blood pounding in my ears. My face felt flushed. My hands were shaking, and I realized that I had to calm myself down. Slowly, I lowered the binoculars, lifted my rifle and propped my elbow on my knee to get steady. The deer kept coming.
When the doe got almost even with me across the cut over, she stopped, then turned into the woods. The buck had been trailing along behind her, and he stopped also. He was broadside at about 100 yards. I waited to see if he would walk on to where the doe turned into the timber. He did not, and turned around and started back down the edge of the woods. I got the crosshairs on him and pulled the trigger. At the shot he dropped, and I saw a small puff of dust where he fell. It was very quiet for a little while, then my phone rang.
This hunt unfolded a few years ago in late September on our lease near Pinewood. I was sitting in a tree stand on the edge of a cut over. The weather had just turned cool, and there had not yet been much buck activity. My brother Matt was on the phone.
"Did you get him?" he asked. "Well, I don't know, I can't see him, but I think he's down," I answered. Matt had arrived at the club after me and heard the shot. "I'll come help" he said. Now, I could see more dust getting kicked up where the buck went down. "Let me call you back," I answered.
The brush was about waist high, and I couldn't see the buck on the ground, but I could tell from the dust that he was thrashing around. After he kicked around some, I saw him roll over into the edge of the woods. Now I was worried. Would he stay down? I wondered "should I stay in the stand and watch, or get down and go over there?"
I sat for a few minutes but couldn't stand it and climbed down. When I got about half way across the cut over, I heard the buck go crashing through the thick woods. I was sick. I should have waited longer.
My phone rang. It was Matt, and I told him what had happened. He said that he would call a friend that had a good tracking dog. I turned away and headed to the truck. Matt came over, and we waited on his friend. It took him about an hour to get there, and it was dark now.
We took the Lab on a leash and went to the spot where the buck went down. There was some blood. I carried my shotgun in case a follow up shot was needed. The dog took the trail and lunged into the woods. It was an almost impenetrable thicket. Cat briars, vines and thick brush. We found some more drops of blood along the trail. After about 100 yards the blood stopped, but the dog pulled us on.
Shortly, we came up on the property line and stopped. It was state land, and I didn't want to go in there at night with a shotgun and flashlights. We backed out and decided to come back the next morning. I was worried about coyotes, but we had no other choice.
I searched for the buck the next day and the next several days, but found nothing. I drove the roads in that area and watched for buzzards. I was convinced that I had made a lethal shot. It was the first buck that I had hit and not recovered. Even now it is the only buck that I have ever lost. But there is one good note.
The next August I saw a bachelor group of four bucks walking down a powerline near where I had shot the big eight point. I stopped the truck and watched them with my binoculars. They were all in velvet, and I noticed one had very wide antlers. One side was typical with four points, and the other side was nontypical with a long drop tine. It is common for an injured buck to grow a nontypical side after an injury. I think it was my buck, and he had survived. I was relieved.
I never saw any of those bucks again.
Email Dan Geddings at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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