The Big Eight
Nov 3rd, 2008 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Nov 3rd, 2008 at 12:00 AM
I could hardly believe it…I had finally harvested the buck that I had been after all fall. There he lay, at the foot of the bluff, not 60 yards from my stand. I leaned back and whispered a thank you to the maker above in the cold crisp air. Closing my eyes, images of close encounters, near misses, and glimpses of the buck ran through my head, almost in a dreamlike movie. Eyes now open, I reloaded the 50 Cal. smoke-pole and gave the buck another glimpse. Yep, still there, he was down for good.
It wasn’t long before two other small bucks came within shooting distance, searching for the estrous doe that they knew was near. However, I already had two deer down, and my tags were filled for the year. I opted to sit it out and enjoy the show as long as the cold November wind would allow. The two bucks, a six pointer and a spike, knew I was there, but their rutting hormones clouded their judgment and they continued to stop and sniff the air, searching… The old estrous doe had been the first deer in my sights this cold November morning and lay not thirty yards up the steep ravine face amongst a bramble of prickly pear. The young bucks seemed confused…the wind was right and filled with her scent, but “where was she”? Only slightly curious towards the tall beamed eight-pointer that lay fallen in their midst, they continued their search in earnest, noses to the ground, oblivious to anything but her scent….
We first spotted the big buck one evening as he grazed in the soybean field up on the east side of the forty. My wife Carol and I had gone for a walk on that hot, muggy July evening. Upwind of us and only 60 yards away, I was able to shoot some fuzzy photos of him as he browsed tender soybean leaves. There was a fawn in the field with the buck and it spotted us. Running off, flag high, the fawn alerted him to our presence and he was off. Regardless, just the sight of the big buck got my juices flowing. I would eventually become obsessed with the thought of him living his days in the forty.
I did not see him again until early October. I was perched sixteen feet up a white oak on what I call the “maple ridge” area of the forty. The buck was not alone. Right at dark he came browsing through the woods following a fawn. I suspect that this was the same fawn that Carol and I had seen him with when we first spotted him on that warm, muggy, July evening. The pair eventually grazed to a fork in the trail, and as luck would have it, the fawn decided to take the trail furthest away with the big buck slowly following. Although the they were only 35 yards away, I just didn’t feel comfortable letting an arrow fly in the lowlight conditions. I let the pair feed off by themselves, not wanting to spook them. The three quarter moon was clearly above the treetops and casting long shadows when I finally felt sure that I could get down without alerting the duo to my presence. I circled to the west on my way back to the cabin that moonlit night, ecstatic at seeing the buck and that he had made a home in the forty.
I saw the buck two other times in October; once still following the fawn up a ravine, well out of range. The other time I was on my way back to the cabin and I saw him checking out a doe as she followed a bottom area below a ridge of white cedars. Not satisfied after checking out the doe, he went right back up the steep ridge to the cedars. I finally knew where he lived! I suspected that he was one of those shy bucks that had a very small home area. Unfortunately, the home area that he chose was very, very hard to approach. From then on I chose to avoid this ridge whenever possible, not wanting him to feel pressured in any way.
Opening morning of the 3A gun season was a bitter cold one. I had climbed into my stand an hour before dark that morning. My stand was located on a ridge adjacent to a 10 acre CRP field that I call the “back 10”. South of the 10 acre CRP field lay 80 acres of picked corn owned by the neighbors. My thinking was that any bucks’ following does into the corn at night to feed would be trailing does back across the CRP to bed on the ridges. “My buck’s” bedding area lay up on the cedar ridge opposite my location. I was hopeful that he would show himself. The dawn slowly turned to day…and it was a cold 10 degrees. Cackling pheasants and squirrels emerging from their nightly beds entertained me and kept me from thinking about the cold. But it was hard. A couple of times I found myself shivering uncontrollably. At about 8:15, motion caught my eye to the South in the CRP. It was three does. Straining to watch them through cold tearing eyes, I saw antlers flash briefly in the bright early morning sun. It was the buck that I had been waiting for. There was no question even at one hundred yards….”it was him”.
My cold fingers could hardly distinguish my grunt call from the other items in my pack, but I finally found it at the bottom. There was no wind, and with grunt call finally in position, I started with a low grunt. Even at 100 yards, his head shot up immediately and looked my way, antlers glistening in morning sun. He began to slowly walk towards the closest 6 foot red pine and forcefully racked his antlers up and down its trunk, branches flying. I couldn’t help but think at that moment..”hey, don’t wreck my trees!!”. I had to grunt harder to get his attention this time. Finished with the tree, he headed my way, completely forgetting about the does that he was with. Fully committed, he came across the CRP at a fast walk. I was sure that he would enter the woods and come past my stand. Heart racing, I carefully turned away from him behind the old oak and waited, ….hoping… that he would enter and take the trail below. Waiting for what seemed like a lifetime, I drew my bow as soon as I heard the first crackle of leaves…positive that he would walk beneath my perch and provide a perfect broadside shot. Bad move on my part.
He stopped as soon as he entered the ridge behind me and stared, apparently looking for the buck that would dare challenge him. Heart pounding, frozen bow at full draw, I was sure that he would hear my heart beating and see my breath! A million things racing through my mind, I envisioned a well placed arrow hitting just behind the front leg…it was not to be. As I have found so many times in the past, these older bucks seem to have all the patience in the world. Barely inside the ridge, he was apparently waiting for the other buck to make the first move. Muscles starting to shake, I could hold the bow no longer, I had to let down. Well, a cold bow and cold muscles do not let down smoothly and this extra movement caught his eye. With a snort, he bounded away and stopped just twelve yards off my right side, smack dab in the middle of some tall prickly pears. All I could do was stare at him, eye to eye. This was the first time that I could get a really good look at his rack. Although his brow tines were only 4 inches, he was beautiful tall main frame eight, with an extra 3 inch point on his right side. It had been several years since I had seen a buck like that on the farm. He was absolutely gorgeous!
We locked eyes for what seemed an eternity, our steamy breathes rising in the cold morning air. After a long minute, ears back, he turned and slowly walked away stiff legged. He was at full alert, tail at half mast, never giving me another chance. At thirty yards away, he reached some cedars along the ridge. He gave a loud snort and bounded away, brush crashing as he ran down through the bottoms and up the other side to the white cedar thicket above. He was home…
I bow hunted several other times in the next few days to no avail. I never did see him…until the morning of the 3B gun opener. All the boys were down and Grandpa G had again joined the group this year to help with kitchen detail. I had told the boys of a big buck on the farm and we all headed out that morning to our respected stands, all with the excitement that opening morning always brings.
I had set up a stand in the NW corner of the forty about 200 yards to the east of my earlier encounter with the big eight-point. My brother was on the opposite ridge, sitting in a ground blind that we had built earlier for him. I got an occasional glimpse of his hunter orange as I sat high on top of the ridge. This particular location afforded me 80 yards shots all around me, covering the woods behind, as well as the ravines to my left, right, and front. I felt good having Todd within sight. I had been reluctant to let him hunt due to his seizure condition, but I felt that he was safe on the ground. My son Jonathan was in his usual spot 300 yards to the west. It was a cold, grey morning with an occasional snowflake. The wind was brisk out of the NW blowing directly into my face. I still had hopes of seeing the “big guy”, but had decided on the way to the stand that I would settle for less if the opportunity presented itself. The morning slowly gave way to day and just as I thought that it was going to be a very quiet opener, an enormous old gray nosed doe slowly made her way through the bottoms below. Lips curled back, and stopping frequently to look back, she was obviously in estrous. In one automatic motion, I settled the cross-hairs on her chest just behind the shoulder. Before I knew it, a 50 cal. bullet was on its way and found its mark. Up the steep face she ran, crashing through brush and limbs. I heard her fall not 30-40 yards behind Todd’s location. I turned and then saw a small six point come up the dead doe’s trail as I loaded the muzzle loader. As I sat back down, watching the six-point, a spike buck also appeared on the trail below, both searching for the doe. I watched them for some time, and honestly thought about taking the six point several times. But I just could not do it. I had vowed to start taking only mature bucks. Letting the little guys grow up only made sense. I had seemed to grow out of the “gotta get a deer” attitude over the years. Hunting for me had grown into more of the hunting experience than the shooting of deer.
Not twenty minutes after I had shot the doe, I saw the big eight for the first time in days. Instead of walking the trail, he was slowly making his way up the bottoms; actually walking in the rocky washout area. He was very cautious, and seemed more curious as to what the other smaller bucks were up to. He was sixty yards away to the left and below me. I got into position and waited for him to give me a clear shot. On full alert, he was quartering slightly to me when I squeezed the shot off. His right front leg was momentarily paralyzed by the impact as he jumped back and up a good four feet up the side of the wash out. Hell bent for election, he toppled not 35 yards from where the bullet had first pierced his heart. He had been heading back to the cedar ridge that was his home.
On approaching the big deer, I could see that the battles of the rut had reduced his battered rack to a seven point. One of his brow tines had been broken off, as well as the three inch “ninth point” that had been on his right main beam. Jonathan and I retrieved the buck on the ATV and after pictures in the shed; I gave the boys the story over a welcome breakfast of sausage and eggs. It was a real treat for me to celebrate the buck with all the boys
I still have to give the big eight point a glance every time I walk through the cabin, where his mount now hangs. However, it is not to admire the tall antlers that are atop his head. It is the memories that I have of this animal that I think about when I look at him. Of the wonderful fall that I had pursuing him, and the memories that I share with the boys that I hunted with when he finally fell. I am enjoying this period of my life. It is a time of building memories…where the actual hunt is more important than the shot…