Pennsylvania ranks high in hunter enthusiasm, with more than 750,000 deer hunters in the woods during firearms season alone. Arthur Zerbe, a 68-year-old native of the Keystone State, is one of those fanatic deer hunters, but for the past 50 years he has mostly slipped into the woods near his Lancaster County home armed with a bow.
At the age of 11, Zerbe purchased a longbow made of hickory for $1.75. He moved on to recurves and compounds, and today relies on a Parker Tornado crossbow to get the job done.
Zerbe has worked in the trapping and construction industries, and most recently retired from the roadmaster position of a local township. That gives him even more time afield hunting and he completed a huge feat on Sept. 20, 2016. Zerbe shot a massive buck in nearby Chester County that scored more than 208 inches. It’s a trophy of a lifetime anywhere, but particularly in Pennsylvania.
Zerbe has relied mainly on word of mouth to get him on hunting property. Area landowners know he is an ethical hunter who’s willing to help manage local whitetail herds that are causing damage to crops and landscape shrubbery. This opens up opportunities to the point where he has to hunt only one particular property every two to three weeks. With so many options, he makes it a point to hunt with his crossbow every day of the season.
The Fateful Day
Pennsylvania’s early archery season had only been open three days when Zerbe and his son Andy split up on a property with woods bordering standing corn. Dropping down to the cornfield edge, Zerbe was stunned by the amount of sign he found, including rubs, scrapes and droppings. He moved up the field edge and put up a treestand. He credits much of his 50-year archery success to putting stands up just prior to hunting and believes permanent stands are routinely avoided by mature bucks.
Twenty minutes after climbing into his stand, Zerbe watched a legal buck approach and stop right under him, obviously smelling where he had just stood. Slowly scanning around, Zerbe was shocked to see an even bigger buck twisting and turning its head to silently move through a maze of briars and brush. The buck came straight toward him and Zerbe’s only chance for a shot was to swivel toward the buck.
The smaller buck caught the movement above and spooked, but stopped. The giant stopped as it attempted to evaluate any possible danger. Zerbe lined up his crossbow sights between the buck’s brow points to shoot down into the vital zone. The shot was true, but the bruiser bolted and cut through the corner of the cornfield and out of sight. Two minutes later, Zerbe heard the strangest sound of rustling brush, but no telltale sound of a dropping deer.
A Tense Search
By the time Zerbe rendezvoused with his son and the landowner, the search required flashlights. The blood trail was easy to follow, but ended at the bank of a pond on the far side of the cornfield. It was dark by then, and instead of running the risk of bumping the buck, they backed out to return the next day.
By morning Zerbe had acquired two of the best trackers he knew, his other son Adam and one of Adam’s buddies. As they descended to the field, the tracking job stopped abruptly when they spotted the buck floating dead in the pond! Darkness and a water-level fog had shrouded the dead buck the night before.
Zerbe entered the famed “200 Club” with a true Keystone State giant, and he leaves Deer & Deer Hunting readers with this sage advice: “If you ever see a big one, you better try and get him right then and there. If he knows you are around or you spook him, you may never see him again.”