Like many of us hunters, it was my dad that got me interested in hunting. Tagging along on rabbit and pheasant hunts, and anxiously awaiting his return from a morning in the deer stand. It was at a young age that my love for hunting began and my imagination ran wild with thoughts of the big bucks that I was going to one day hunt.
My dad and indeed the rest of my family were not trophy hunters. Whitetails were just a cheap and well-earned meal that offered fun for November Saturdays. But when my dad, uncle, or cousin was lucky enough to bag a big one, my eyes would be as big as saucer plates and I loved the feel of the deer’s rack in my hands. Unfortunately, deer like that are hard to come by in Maryland as tags are plentiful and size didn’t matter.
As the years went by, I was known for having great luck in the deer stand. My first deer was a buck although I didn’t know it at the time. It had broken its antlers off at the hairline. I quickly followed it with my first antlered buck the following week. A nice basket racked 7 point that still makes me pause when I walk by it today. Many does and smaller bucks filled our families freezer winter after winter, but what I sought, what I desired, what I craved was the opportunity for a shot at a big mature whitetail. In the fall of 1999, I would finally get my chance.
Back when Maryland Novembers were cold, this evening had the mercury dropping fast. The grey overcast sky gave little indication of the time of day. It was about four o’clock, I think, when the first deer entered the 50 acre hayfield over which I kept watch. A doe followed by another and her two fawns. They fed casually, sneaking a glance back into the creek bottom occasionally and raising their nose to the wind to make sure everything was alright. I patiently watched from my perch in an ancient white oak that commanded all of the surrounding fields.
Bow season had been tough that year and our freezer, usually full by rifle season, remained empty. Needless to say, these does were beginning to look mighty tempting. But as the light began to fade, more deer began to fill the field. A small non-typical buck emerged from the far treeline about 300 yards away. He had his nose to the ground and began trotting around, obviously excited, and checking each of the does in the field.
My stand was made of pine 2×4’s and a half sheet of 3/4″ plywood that my dad and I had nailed on a forked limb several years prior. The limb had a larger diameter than most trees and so the setup offered plenty of room for maneuvering around. Despite the area, the buck was not in a position to get a good solid rest. So I left the stand and crawled out onto one of the limbs. Where I laid in the prone position with my model 700 resting on the next branch. As I continued to watch this buck, I could count 8 points with a bunch of “trash” (kicker points) around his bases. He was a young buck, probably only a 2 1/2-year-old and the spread was not more than 14 maybe 15″. Either way it was bigger than anything that I had at home and I was salivating but we was constantly on the move and would stop long enough for a shot.
Finally he stopped on top of a little knoll in the field and was watching intently towards the creek bottom. I steadied the crosshairs on his chest, and tried to control my breathing. But before I could squeeze the trigger, I saw through the scope a wide rack come bounding up out of the creek bottom towards the other buck. The young buck quickly gave way to this wide racked 9 point who immediately began checking the same does. There was no doubt that this was the dominant buck in the area. When he pushed a doe out of the field, I knew he was going to follow her. I whistled as loud as I could and the buck paused for a moment and turned his neck to me. The steam from his breath was clearly visible through my scope as he seemed to stare right into my eyes. It was the only shot I had and so I centered the crosshairs and squeezed!
After the shot, the deer cleared the field but I didn’t see the big buck amongst them. My heart sunk, thinking that maybe I had missed my chance. But I climbed down and went to look for blood. I was almost across the field when a heavy 6 point walked right up in front me. He stood there at 30 yards looking and sniffing at something and paying no attention to me. When he finally saw me he snorted and was gone in a flash! When I crested the top of the knoll, I could see what the buck was so curious about. The big nine dropped in his tracks and was hidden by the tall grass and sloping ground. At last, I had a great buck!
My adrenaline was pumping so hard that I dragged the deer the 300 yards uphill back to my stand in only about 15 minutes. Then I set off to find my dad. He was in a stand at the other end of the farm. He had heard my shot and was on his way too me. We met up and with a smile on his face he asked ‘Ok, how big is he?” I raised my hands to show him the size of the rack and he shook his head in disbelief. As we walked back t the stand, he could see the buck’s antlers sticking above the grass. “Holy cow!’ he said. “You weren’t kidding!” Seeing my father get as excited as I was made this night even more memorable.
We got the tractor and brought the deer home and then to the check in station. I have to admit that I was busting with pride as I retold the story to dozens of other hunters waiting in line to check their kills. The only downside, was that the following saturday, I had four poachers on the farm. One was in my treestand! I had to remind them that they did not have permission to be there and that the game warden was only a phone call away.
I am proud of all the deer, does and bucks, that I have had the privledge of harvesting over the years. But this deer will always be special. Not only is it still the largest buck that I have ever harvested, but I got to share the experience with my father and that is what is most important to me.