Hunting success and I meet up so seldom that I hardly know what to do when he stops to shake my hand.
The fact is, there was nothing particularly dramatic about the encounter in which I killed my buck. (Incidentally, I cannot abide the word “harvest.” A whitetail is not a tomato. Taking the life of a game animal is no small thing, and I fail to see the merit in glossing over that fact.)
I was 22 feet up in a tree and looking down a ridge at about 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning. It was mid-December, a notoriously difficult time to see bucks, and I had no higher hope than a shot at a doe. Then came the shuffling in the leaves behind me. I turned to see, 20 yards out and closing, a buck: big shoulders and curved tines.
There was no time for counting points or guessing his spread. The binary switch in my head just flipped to “shoot” and I clipped release to string. I’d never seen him before, but he was obviously familiar with the area and knew exactly where he wanted to go. And his path would take him right behind me. Five seconds later, he passed within 10 feet of my tree. Five seconds more and he was quartering away at 15 yards. I drew, let him make it to an opening in the brush, and gave him my best bleat.
You should understand that my best bleat sounds like a goat choking to death on a fan belt. But it did the trick. He stopped. I shot. The divot from his leap was a shovel’s worth of black dirt lying atop the wet leaves. The blood trail was continuous, six inches wide, and a full 120 yards long. I have no idea how he made it that far missing that much blood, but he did. I am incapable of aging deer once they appear to have reached the age of 3 1/2, but he looked every bit of that and maybe more. That’s a trophy in my book.
Now that I’ve tagged a good buck, I feel entitled to offer my expert advice on hunting wily old bucks:
1. Spend more hours on stand than you can possibly justify; and
2. Hope that he offers a clean shot before you have time to fully realize exactly what’s going on.