The Pursuit of Hightower: Giant Buck Hits a Bump in the Road

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Hightower wasn’t the only buck that hit scrapes and licking branches freshened with Smokey’s Deer Lures by bowhunter Luke Fabian. The all-natural lures are key to real or mock scrapes because they stimulate a buck’s curiosity. 

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

The morning of Nov. 5 came cool and crisp. I was hunting in the blind overlooking the small food plot and scrape Hightower had been visiting. My uncle Randy was hunting just up the ridge and down the other side on an oak flat. As the morning progressed I saw a few smaller bucks and a couple of does, but nothing too exciting.

About 10:30 a.m. I received a text from my father, who was at his house preparing lunch. His text said Randy had shot what he was almost certain was Hightower. Excited and thrilled for my uncle, I told Dad I would wait until 11. If I didn’t see anything I would get out and head back to the house to wait to hear more from Randy. An hour passed and none of us had heard from Randy. By this time my father had driven to my house along with Chuck, who was hunting another property. Finally, my dad got the call. No luck.

For more than two-and-a-half hours, Randy had watched Hightower fend off several bucks from a hot doe he had pinned down. As the couple finally started to leave, Hightower presented Randy with his only shot opportunity, at 40 yards through a tight window. As the arrow hit Randy could see a lot of it still sticking out as the buck ran down the ridge.

He waited a half-hour before beginning to look for blood; he found quite a bit the first 100 yards or so. Then it abruptly piddled out to nothing and he began looking for a body. All signs pointed to a shoulder hit. Based off where he seen the arrow hit and how much was sticking out, it appeared to be exactly that which would not kill the buck.

Shortly after being shot with a broadhead on another part of the property, Hightower walked in front of this game camera positioned near Luke Fabian’s blind … where he had left just an hour before to go to lunch. Foiled again!

Our stomachs turned after hearing the news. The uncertainty of whether Hightower was still alive or would come back drove me insane. I felt terrible for Randy. It’s not often as a bow hunter to get an opportunity at a buck of that caliber. But he felt just as bad for me knowing I’d been watching and hunting this buck for more than a year. You can’t blame him though. Anyone of us at camp would’ve taken that shot, though it was by no means an easy shot to make. He merely missed his mark by an inch or two.

After lunch we all headed back out in the woods. Chuck went to hunt a stand about 3/4 of a mile from where Randy had shot Hightower, and on the opposite side from where I had been hunting that morning in the blind. The reason I’m telling you this and yes, I’ll save you the suspense, Chuck had an encounter with Hightower that evening. From 2:30 p.m. when Chuck pulled up his bow until 6:30 at last light, he watched Hightower follow that same hot doe all around him. But the buck never presented a shot. He had a nasty limp, though, from being smacked by the broadhead that morning.

A few days later I checked the trail camera overlooking the scrape where Hightower had visited every so often. I couldn’t believe my eyes. At 12:30 p.m., just an hour and a half after I had left the blind the morning of Nov. 5, Hightower had been in. With a hole in his shoulder, and blood dripping down his front right leg, Hightower passed right by where I had been hunting that morning before making his way over to the field where Chuck would see him that evening. Hightower had been lucky once again.

But his luck wouldn’t run out just yet.

WATCH: Understanding Whitetail Behavior During the Rut

As the rut continued, other bucks started to hit the ground. Chuck was fortunate to take a 130-class 11-point Nov. 9 while Randy tagged out with a 140-inch 10 on the evening of Nov. 15. That same evening I went back to the food plot blind. It was a Monday, so I slipped in after work around 3:30 p.m.. I pulled the trail camera card and checked the pics once I stepped in the blind. What I found would again upset my stomach. An hour before I got in, Hightower had checked the scrape and passed through the food plot. The tension between myself and this buck grew even more.

A short two days later I slipped in the blind just after work again, fighting a marginal wind. The temperature had climbed the past few days so I wasn’t extremely confident I’d see much that evening. But again, Hightower would prove me wrong.

At 4:10 p.m. the monarch stepped out from the standing corn into the food plot. Again, my eyes couldn’t believe it. He was merely passing through, scent checking the plot for a hot doe. I had to move fast. I flipped on the camera and hit record while panning over onto Hightower. As he walked up toward the scrape I grabbed my bow and clipped on my release. He put his nose to the licking branch for a second, turned, and began to leave. As he turned I came to full draw waiting for him to stop. He took a few steps, the camera still on him and came to a halt at 25 yards.

Everything I had been through with this deer was built up into this one moment. All the anticipation of waiting for an opportunity to kill this buck was released with the arrow … and I blew it.

Hightower was a regular at scrapes doctored with Smokey’s lures, which was a key to helping bowhunter Luke Fabian pattern the big buck during the 2016 season. Other bucks also visited the scrapes to work them and the licking branches, leaving their own gland secretions that serve as signposts.

With all of what had happened with Hightower to this point on my mind I completely rushed the shot. To make things worse, it wasn’t just a complete miss. As the arrow made its way to the 25-yard mark it connected with the top of the buck’s back and stuck in his hide for a few steps. He ran the first 20 yards before stopping, looking back, and then began to walk away.

I scrambled for another arrow but would never be granted another clean shot opportunity. Hightower walked out of range and out of my life for what I figured to be the last time. My shoulders sank as I finally realized what had just transpired.

The first four stages of grief came and went pretty fast that evening in the blind. In a matter of moments I worked through the denial of it even happening, the anger of knowing I’ve made that shot successfully again and again. I tried bargaining with the Lord for another opportunity, and then slipped into a mini-depression every bow hunter has either already been through or will someday. It happens to us all.

I knew as soon as I released it wasn’t a good shot. Then it was confirmed as the arrow skipped off a vertebra and sliced the buck’s back hide rather than passing through his vitals. There were no excuses.

I just plain missed my mark.

TOMORROW: The final outcome may surprise you.

 
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