It was October 5, 2013 and the morning sure started out foggy enough. Shooting light was definitely going to be delayed. All the condensation falling from the trees made it seem like it was lightly raining making hearing deer approach way tougher than normal. With this being my first time in the stand, as soon as it got light enough, I quickly began picking out objects and estimating distances, and familiarizing myself with possible shots so that I wouldn’t be caught off guard. It sure was peaceful, almost too peaceful. I had to fight hard not to get too comfortable and fall asleep. Sleep wasn’t an option today. My trail camera had been telling a story over the last month and HE could come by at any time without any warning.
3 years prior…
In 2011, I started giving trail cameras a try, and was pretty stoked to be out and about in July with Hutch (Daniel Hutchison) setting them up on the farm. We figured we’d just move them around until we got it right. It didn’t take long to set one up on the small apple tree just outside the orchard where my dad and uncle had already seen a big buck, a 10 point by everyone’s best calculations.
He soon showed up, helping himself to the summer’s crop of apples and sporting an impressive 11 point rack. “Tiny,” Hutch suggested the name for its irony, and that was that. Definitely a mature whitetail, Tiny had 11 scoreable points without question. His main beams wrapped around and almost touched over his nose. He had awesome G2’s and G3’s exceeding 8” with his G3’s being the tallest at approximately 9-10”. His brow tines weren’t real strong, but he had good mass and an inside spread of about 17” making him king in my book.
As the summer slowly turned to fall, Tiny was no stranger to our cameras. We were getting him not only at the orchard, but in the woods on top of the hill as well. It seemed as though he liked to pose for the pictures, making sure we had plenty of good looks at both sides of his trophy rack. As September passed and the Virginia’s opening day approached, Tiny was still showing up, sans velvet, just teasing us with almost a month until bow season. My treestand was in place, and food plots were doing well. September 22, Tiny. September 23, gone! He vanished!! No more photos, no more sightings, no more Tiny. Where did he go? Acorns were falling, and man, are they thick, which doesn’t bode well for hunting close to the fields like I had planned. Oh well, too late now. Maybe he’ll show up, but the season passed without Tiny. Not a trace.
In July, 2012, I set my trail cameras back out to see what prospects this year had to offer, but my heart and mind was focused on answering one question: Did Tiny make it through the year? Surely we would have heard about a buck that big getting killed. On July 10, 2012, a series of pictures reveals what is already a big 10 point and what has got to be Tiny!!!! But it looks like he’s got a lot of growing left to do if he’s going to pass the bar set last year.
We monitored the cameras closely that summer, and Hutch and I got quite the surprise on one trip up the hill to check cards. While riding on the 4-wheeler, I noticed what appeared to be a groundhog out in the hayfield. So I slow down, but before I even get stopped, a deer breaks out of the orchard across the field. Hutch didn’t yell “Buck,” “Big Buck,” or anything of the sorts. He yelled “TINY!!!” There was no question. There he was, in the flesh and he was huge!
Sure enough, as summer progressed, Tiny made himself very familiar with our cameras again. Like the previous year, he made sure we got good looks at his rack from all angles. He had definitely grown as his G2’s were longer than his G3’s now, and every bit of 12”, if not better. His G3’s were only an inch or two behind and he now sported 12 points! He was a perfect 12!!!! Unbelievable!! He was not much wider, still around the 17” inside, but heavier, taller, and perfect! Would this be the year??
By now, it wasn’t odd to actually see Tiny on trips to check the trail cameras or just riding around the farm. In his summer pattern, he’d regularly venture out in the open hayfield around the orchard. He had also taken a likin’ to a spot beside the road on the way to our food plots. He’d made a bedding area about 15 yards inside the woods behind an old trash pile, a sneaky spot too. He was hard to see if you weren’t looking for him, and he wasn’t much to jump and run. He’d rather you just drive on by, but stop, and he was gone!
August 22, Tiny. August 23, gone! Here we go again. A month earlier than last year. This really had me worried as I wondered what happened to him. Had he been poached? Hit by a car? As September came and passed, still no Tiny. Then on the Thursday before bow season, my dad gets a call from his brother who told him that he had just seen Tiny while checking fence. He was still there! But why wasn’t he on my cameras? No matter, 2 days until bow season and maybe we’d see him in person! First day of bow season and I had spotted a small 6 pointer, a couple fawns, and enjoyed a sore and wet butt from an all-day sit during which Tiny did not reveal himself. Finally, on October 13 at midnight, Tiny showed up on my trail camera overlooking one of our food plots. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he posed, perfectly centered in the picture, broadside, looking in the camera’s direction. This would be the last time we saw him that season.
We got a jump start on setting out the cameras in 2013, and on May 15, a huge deer gets captured. Wow! Look at that buck already! That has to be Tiny! No other deer would be that big, that early in the year!
I set my trail cameras on a 3 shot burst to be sure I don’t miss an opportunity on a passing deer. On July 10, 2013, this tactic pays off as a picture of big-bodied deer with its head behind a big oak appears as I review the photos. The second picture in the burst confirmed that it was Tiny. He had 10 points for sure and towering as ever. Good mass, he’s definitely heavier than the previous years, and thus started the summer pictures of Tiny again. As always he was no stranger and we got lots of great pictures, of which soon confirmed that he would be an eleven point this year, not the 12 from 2012. NO complaints whatsoever as he continued to impress us with his monster rack. Sightings by my uncle (who had taken to calling him the “Trashpile buck” as he still loved bedding below the trash on the way to the foodplots), by my dad, and myself kept up the excitement, as did the opportunity to capture some video footage of him towards the end of July as well. The big news came as Tiny lost velvet (started on camera and was all off in one night) and continued showing up on camera through September and into October…he might actually slip up this year!!!!!
Back to that foggy October morning.
As I sat there with high hopes, something started to materialize in the haze. Deer! Tiny!! Suddenly, there he was, 50 yards out, just inside the fence line in the woods. No mistaking him for any other deer. As I commence shaking, it was lucky that I already had my crossbow in my lap, resting on the shooting rail pointing in that direction. It was like time had stopped. There he stood, head straight up, horns towering over him, looking truly magnificent standing in the mist. It was obvious that he was nervous, very nervous. His head on a swivel, full alert, he was staring out into the field but all I could see was fog. He took one step, stop, stare, and look around. He was slowly approaching, but one false move, he would be gone in a hurry. A sudden jolt went through him like he was going to bolt, but he stopped, and continued to stare into the fog. The huge buck takes a few more steps in my direction, still on full alert, and my heart is pounding. There is no way he’s going to make it into range and broadside. Is there a coyote out there? Someone? I know my uncle was hunting on the ground some 300 yards to Tiny’s rear….did he get up to move? Tiny eventually makes it to 35 yards. Still unbelievably nervous, another jolt runs through him like he’s going to spin and run. I can barely breathe, three years waiting for this moment. He takes a few more steps then jerks his head back quickly towards the field. I need to get a shot off or he’s going to run. But he’s almost fully facing me now. His head and neck are turned over his shoulder, exposing his chest. I raise my crossbow to my shoulder, ease the crosshairs onto his chest. I remind myself that I’ve made this shot before with a compound bow, on the very first buck I had killed so there’s no reason to think I can’t do it with a crossbow. Tiny was still staring off in the field when I squeezed the trigger. He started to spin and drop then THWACK!!!!!! Not the sound I wanted hear. As he spun around, almost hitting the ground, I could see the vanes on the bolt sticking out and a sick feeling came over me as he tore down through the brush. Maybe it went in far enough, maybe it didn’t. My nerves were shot. I tried to calm myself down as I listened as the sound of a running deer softened and disappeared without a crash. Oh God…
Before I even had a chance to contemplate reloading the crossbow I hear calk, calk, calk.TURKEYS!!!! It was turkeys! Sure enough, out of the fog in the field came a gang of turkeys. They are what had him on edge! Now I’m wondering would he have come closer instead of running like I had thought? Too late to know now, I’ll just have to wait, feeling sick with uncertainty. What happened after that was a blur. I’m not even sure how long it was until I heard dad’s truck start up. I think I may have hooted for him. I don’t really remember due to the state I was in at this point.
Two weeks of heartache after shooting Tiny with my crossbow passed without recovering him, during which I had a solid 130” 10 point get within bow range without ever presenting a shot. Then hope is restored when Tiny suddenly shows back up on my trail camera. He’s still alive! He was definitely borderline nocturnal now though as most pictures were either after dark or right at the edge of darkness with little to no shooting light. That was, until I decided to check my camera just a couple days before muzzleloader season. On October 29th, Tiny had passed through at 11:51am! This encounter answered all I needed to know and confirmed that it was going to be a full day on the stand on the following Saturday! The only thing that had me nervous was that my uncle had seen Tiny on the 25th while checking fence again, and he and his son had decided to join us on the farm on the first day of muzzleloader season. Now normally, this wouldn’t bother me, except where my uncle had chosen to sit was not more than 150 yards from my position and he would be watching one of the approaching trails. Regardless, I was sticking to my plan. Be in the ladder stand before daylight, and not leave it until dark!
I looked back at a raccoon passing through the evening of that opening day. He was frozen in place, staring down and slightly out the ridge below me. There had to be something coming. There was barely enough light left to see through the woods, but the raccoon kept staring, and I so did I. Finally, I thought I heard something coming from that direction, and no sooner than that, there was a big bodied deer emerging from the mountain ivies. I eased the gun up and found the deer in the scope. It raised its head to lick a limb above it and I saw long main beams. That was good enough to know it was a shooter and a big deer. Almost as a repeat of the first day of bow season, the buck was facing directly at me. With its head up in a bush, and my muzzleloader ready, I took aim dead center of its exposed chest. BOOM! Smoke erupted from the barrel and clouded everything for a few seconds. The deer bounded out the ridge, and I managed to follow it with the scope. There was no point in trying to reload, by that time, there wouldn’t be enough light left for a second shot. Not 40 yards from where it was standing when I shot, the deer stopped! Had I missed? A feeling of dread was coursing its way through my body. But the deer was weaving a bit. A step back, then two more. The deer’s legs buckled and it went down. It attempted to get back up quickly, but fell again. And all was silent.
I decided to reload my gun but I was shaking so bad that I about dropped my entire reloading pouch out of the tree. Finally, after several minutes of fumbling around, and dropping miscellaneous objects to the ground, I finally had the gun reloaded.
I wanted to go first to see the deer, to see if I had really pulled off a second chance at Tiny, but my legs wouldn’t let me. Over 12 hours in the ladder stand, I could barely stand holding onto the ladder when I got to the ground. Dad took off in the direction I pointed him, not having but about 70 yards to go to where the deer lay. It seemed to take him forever to get there though, but then, in the silence of the dark, I hear him shout back “It’s him! It’s Tiny! You got him!” I thought I was going pass out. In all the jumble in my brain, one thought stood out, well a quote really, from my friend Eric not a week or so before. We had been talking about Tiny after he showed back up after my crossbow mishap and said that if I got a second shot at Tiny, he was scheduling me a colonoscopy to find the horseshoe I had up my…. well, you get the idea. I chuckled a bit, though he’s right, I never thought a second shot would happen, even though this wasn’t the first big buck that I had two opportunities at….but that’s a different story.
In September of 2014, I entered Tiny into the 75th Annual Virginia State Big Game Trophy Show in Harrisonburg. I didn’t think I could win, I just wanted to get an official Virginia score and have the experience of having a deer hang in a room full of other great whitetails. We dropped him off on Friday, September 26 on our way to visit our friends Eric and Ashlee for the weekend who would come back to the show with us on Sunday. Tiny was entry number 50, and was in the 9, 10, 11 point – Blackpowder category. It was a pretty awesome feeling knowing I had a deer worthy of putting in the show with deer from all over the state.
On Sunday, September 28th, we returned to the show. When you walked into the deer room, it was just amazing the amount of antler that could be seen, rows of fantastic bucks of all shapes and sizes. Up the first row and down the second, there was Tiny and a blue ribbon!! I couldn’t believe it! The feeling was indescribable. As we walked up to him, we saw that he was first in the Western Division in his category, and first in the state in his category as well, with a Virginia score of 201 10/16! My raw score on him was 12” under that so I was in shock, ecstatic though. The rest of the show was kind of a blur. I ended up taking home plaques and certificates for Tiny’s 1st place finishes and some great memories. What a fantastic weekend!
A side note: going through Dairy Queen drive-thru with a deer head in the passenger seat and your wife and son in the back will warrant all DQ employees coming to the window for a gander.