From DDH: This is the third of four parts to Ohio bowhunter Luke Fabian’s pursuit of a buck he named Hightower. Follow along with his story and photos this week.
Read Part One: The Bowhunting Journey Begins
Read Part Two: One Year, Big Difference for Awesome Buck
Read Part Three: Giant Buck Hits a Bump in the Road
I don’t think I ever really made it to the acceptance part of grief. There wasn’t time to. What I needed to do was forget about it completely and focus on how I could get another crack at this buck. Obviously he wasn’t too spooked, as now he’s been shot twice and still just walked away opposed to running.
I shot Hightower on a Wednesday. The following weekend was the youth gun season for Ohio where you can still legally hunt with archery tackle as long as you wear the required amount of hunter orange. I let the area settle down until Sunday. Saturday of the youth season had been awful, with 40 mph winds and pouring rain. A front was moving in. That evening we received about an inch of snow, too, the first of the season.
Late Sunday morning I checked the trail cameras in the area and replenished the scrape in the food plot with hot doe pee and tarsal glad secretions from Smokey. After checking the pictures, Hightower was still in the area. He had moved back to his old routine on the opposite ridge from the food plot. He was there Friday and Saturday nights, but at midnight. So while it wasn’t ideal, at least he was still around and hadn’t fled the area completely.
With temps in the mid 30’s and snow on the ground I decided to head to the food plot yet again Sunday evening. The wind was again very marginal, almost to the point where I questioned going at all. Wind trumps everything when it comes to how and where I hunt. But something kept telling me to get in the blind and see what happened. So a little after 2 p.m. I snuck in the blind, the snow masking the sound of my boots. With my hunter orange vest on, I sat and waited to see what the evening would bring.
The first several hours were steady. A few younger bucks and several does made their way into the plot, digging through the snow to get to the sweet turnips and brassica underneath. A few of the bucks stopped at the scrape to add their own scents to the mix, then began to spar above the top side of the plot just 40 yards away. I always enjoy watching these rituals, as they are quite a spectacle and help the time pass.
At a quarter ’til 5 with about 45 minutes of legal shooting light left the plot was empty. I hadn’t seen any action for the last half hour or so. That’s when a huge horse-head doe stepped into my window of sight, taking up almost the entire thing. She was only five yards away. She had entered the plot quietly from the corn. As she finally stepped out of sight from right to left I leaned to my left to see if anything was following her.
If I didn’t have proof of video, it would be hard for anyone to believe who was on her trail but Hightower.
For probably the hundredth time over the last two years this buck made me question my eyesight. He began to feed in the plot just a stone’s throw away. By this time he would’ve been dead without my quest of getting the hunt on film. I again flipped on the camera, hit record, and panned over to him grazing on brassica just 15 yards away.
I clenched my bow and clipped on my release. With him in the camera’s view and his head down I came to full draw. Just as I broke over the buck lifted his head, turned, and began to walk swiftly towards the doe. The doe was almost behind me at this point so he was quartering hard to me, giving me no shot. Once the buck cleared the window I let my bow down.
He chased the doe down into a dip just 20 yards to my left but well out of my shooting window. With the other windows taped shut to help with scent, I could do nothing but pray Hightower would somehow chase the doe back into the plot. Finally after what seemed like hours, he did what I had thought. The doe scurried up the bank back into the plot, this time at the far end, walking through the scrape as she made her way back to feeding.
A few moments later Hightower followed suit. He walked back up the small bank and circled around the right side of the doe. He was now standing in the same spot where I had shot him just a few days prior. But he was facing me with his head down, eliminating any sort of shot opportunity. I would have to wait until he turned.
With the camera already on him and recording, the wind began to swirl. A hunter’s worst nightmare, especially with a buck of this caliber just 25 yards away. As the wind continued, Hightower became nervous, lifting his head and stomping the ground. He was leaving. He turned to leave and I came to full draw once again, waiting patiently this time for my shot, not his. The buck circled around at 30 yards and stopped at a quartering away angle.
It was then or never. This time as the arrow left my bow it felt good. I watched the arrow’s flight as it finally smacked into buck’s shoulder. Hightower’s front legs dropped as he pushed his body like a sled with his back legs down the bank to the left and out of sight with the doe following.
I couldn’t tell if I had hit the front facing shoulder or the opposite side shoulder. There was a lot of arrow sticking out when I reviewed the footage but I shoot long arrows. It was too close to tell. I immediately called my father to tell him what had happened. As I was talking to him I heard about a five second noise that sounded like a groan. I told dad and wondered what it could have been? Somewhere in my brain I thought maybe it was Hightower releasing the last breath from his lungs. But my realistic bowhunter mind told me it was probably just a tree creaking from the wind. At this point in my journey towards Hightower I wasn’t exactly the most optimistic hunter.
After talking it over with Dad we decided I would wait for him in the blind. He was coming from his place along with a camera light and a flashlight since it was going to be dark when we’d begin to track him. By the time we hit the trailhead it had been a good 45 minutes since I had shot Hightower. The arrow had broken off just a few yards from where I had shot him. As I compared it with arrows in my quiver I got a glimmer of hope. The arrow went in about 10 inches, plenty far enough to kill him.
We followed his tracks in the snow and referenced where I had seen him run down the steep bank. We found first blood 10 yards from arrow impact. It wasn’t much but was enough to go on. We followed the trail into a small, dry creek bed. The buck had gone under some fallen trees and tiny drops of blood were showing up on the snow-covered ground. We came out the other side of the trees still just 25 yards from where I had shot Hightower. The trail now ran into some tall iron weeds that spread across the open timber ridge side.
Heading up the trail with dad running the camera behind me, my eyes had one last surprise. Just 15 yards into the iron weeds laid a body, long and brown with Hightower’s rack visible. With all the twists and turns this buck had given me, it took a good 10 seconds before my brain processed what I was seeing.
My journey towards Hightower was over. The buck didn’t make it 40 yards from arrow impact and laid only 25 yards to the left of the blind. It was in fact his final breath I had heard earlier while talking with my father. I was in complete and total shock. I turned to my dad for a celebratory hug.
With tears in our eyes, we basked in the glory of Hightower. His beauty and awesomeness was even more powerful up close and personal. Unbelievably, he hadn’t broke a single point off in all his adventures of the rut. When the tape was stretched, he scored 160 0/8 inches gross B&C.
Everything I had been through with this deer came full circle and began to run through my head. This deer was tough and smart, but his long streak of luck had just run out. He sent me on one heck of a roller coaster these past two years, and I thank him for every twist and turn because I’m a better bow hunter for it now.
Bow hunting is a learning process that never stops. When you have a deep passion for it such as myself, my father, my uncle, our friend Chuck, and the Wensel brothers, “it becomes more than simply what you do.” It becomes who you are.