Anticipating the Big One

A few years back, I was fortunate enough to watch a buck grow into the epitome of what the Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett scoring systems revolve around: long beams, wide spread, mass, and 12 tines. This was the buck of a hunter’s dreams. He was in a class of his own. Each year, he put on antler like no other buck in the area. He was one of those animals that had the genes to become a true giant. I knew I had to devote all of my attention toward this spectacular whitetail.

With my high expectations and to be proficient in the art of hunting mature animals, I had a lot of work ahead of me. I moved four of my trail cameras to the property where I first saw this awesome buck. I focused my efforts on him and him alone.

Unfortunately, my cameras proved that he was a transient buck who lived elsewhere, visiting my property occasionally. In the first two years, I collected only a few a photos throughout the seasons.

If I wanted a chance at him, I really had to spend all of my time concentrating on the following year’s rut. The next spring, I replaced stands and cut and raked trails in order to stealthily enter and leave those locations. The repeated raking also kept the animals in the area used to the on-going process.

The next fall, the scenario almost repeated itself. I received only a few pictures of him during the preseason, and not very good ones at that. I hunted the area with a vengeance, daylight to dark, for seven days straight using the wind to my advantage.

Then, on the 6th of November at 1:30 in the afternoon, my luck turned in a positive direction. I was in the stand looking to the north, when I heard a twig snap so close that I didn’t dare move in that direction, knowing that, if I did, the buck behind me would surely pick up on it.

The 20 minutes he stood there seemed like an hour. Finally, the buck made a move. He cut behind me to the east of the tree I was perched in. Thankfully, the buck’s decision put him upwind of me. I had to stand with my back to the tree for another 20 minutes while he stood there motionless, only his ears moved as he scanned the area. I could see the amber rack through the corner of my eye. Words could not explain what was going through my mind at that point. The whitetail was by far the biggest I had ever encountered in my hunting career.

I was pinned. He was on the top side of a ridge looking through me, assessing his next move. I’m right-handed and didn’t have a chance of getting off a shot. I had to watch as the buck I’d been waiting for, for the last two years, simply walk into the tangled thickets heading down the ridge another 30 yards. He remained there for another 45 minutes, motionless, eventually fading into the grey underworld he called home.

After the fact, I realized how stealthy mature bucks can be, wondering how many times in the past I had been caught without even knowing it. I looked at my watch and realized that well over an hour had passed and the buck had only traveled 50 yards. Call it what you will, mature whitetails can be extremely elusive!

I sat in my stand wondering if I should have made a move, knowing full well that I didn’t have a chance. I could not believe that the buck simply walked by, perfectly broadside in the open hardwoods. I was devastated!

The season passed without another picture or sighting, leaving me with an empty feeling that would not go away for another two years. The following season left me without any proof that the colossal buck was still alive.

I spent the next few months looking for his sheds to no avail. I hung cameras surrounding the only good cover, a 40-acre marsh, in which I believed he was holed up in. My friends gave me grief, telling me I had no chance.

On January 10th, I pulled the SD cards from my cameras and took them home, not expecting much because I was still feeling sorry for myself. Amazingly, one of my cameras took a picture of a rather large buck traveling a trail leading out of the marsh, although the photo angle couldn’t confirm that it was truly him.

As soon as the marsh froze up enough, I worked my way through the twisted maze of deer trails looking for any sign of the monarch. After an hour of walking in circles, I came across a small island in which all the cattails had been uprooted within a 15-yard radius around the island. After examining the area, I noticed the rather large tracks that littered the island. It had to be my buck! For some reason, the buck had spent more time in that small hidden haunt than I would have ever thought.

I backed out for fear of chasing him out of the area. I continued to run the cameras surrounding the marsh throughout the winter, picking up one more picture of a large slim-bodied buck without his headgear. Was that my buck? Of course, my hunting buddies refused to think so.

The next summer, I practiced over and over again, every shot circumstance the blind had to offer. I was not going to miss another opportunity. I had been mentally preparing for our next standoff for three years now.

The next season came without any sign, yet I refused to give up. I banked time from work in order to spend the rut in my favorite stand on the trail leading to the marsh. I stayed out of the area and let my cameras work through mid-October, and still nothing!

November finally rolled around. On the 8th, while in my stand, I replayed every scenario over and over again. If I had another opportunity, I knew I had to make it happen! Almost like dejavu, at 1:00 in the afternoon, I heard a twig snap down the ridge. Quickly, I positioned myself for the approaching animal. Glaring into the underbrush, I saw the buck I had been hunting for last four years. He was still alive!

Again, the buck stood motionless, almost like he knew that he had given his position away. Forty-five minutes passed and still the buck had not moved anything but his ears, moving them like radar toward any sound the forest made. By this time, my legs were about to give out when all of a sudden he must have felt comfortable and closed the gap to 40 yards.

I refused to look at the crown on his head and envisioned the shots that he could possibly present. Another 15 minutes passed without him moving an inch. The woods were so quiet I didn’t even think to use any tricks in my bag for fear of scaring him away.

The wind was in my favor and the buck lifted his head as if his sixth sense kicked in and he started to move away from me. My heart started to sink. Was I going to miss another opportunity? As this thought was clouding my head, a small gust of wind picked up and blew the doe-in-heat scent I had placed to the right of his position. The buck took three steps to investigate the scent, ultimately putting him right into an opening I had cleared for a 40-yard shot.

I had mentally and physically prepared for this single moment. The buck took one more step, exposing his vitals as I exhaled and released the arrow. The razor-tipped arrow flew through the air as if in slow motion, piercing the buck directly where I placed the pin! I couldn’t believe my eyes. Four years of anticipation and the massive buck bounded two times and collapsed. He was finally mine!

An hour later, after the shock of the event had settled down, I discovered that the buck’s back right leg had been broken severely, as if hit by a vehicle and fused together backwards, explaining why he holed up in the marsh. I truly believe that, while he was healing, he survived by eating the cattails around the island he called home. Whitetails are truly amazing animals. This seven-year old was the most challenging buck I have ever encountered.