When the alarm clock rang at four in the morning, it took me a minute before I sprang from my bed like a bullfrog on a hot stove. My feet hit the floor and it was “game on.”
My pre-dawn routine is the same every time I am heading into the woods. Coffee, shower, food, camo, face paint, harness, binoculars, backpack, bow, spray it all down with scent blocker, and head out the door into the woods. The reason for each is very specific. Coffee and food are obvious, but yet I know a ton of people that skip breakfast every time they had out. One of the best ways to keep your body warm is to eat a good breakfast. The shower is the first step in scent prevention using special soaps and shampoos designed to not ad scent to your body. My camo pattern is always based on the terrain of the hunt. When I am heading out to hunt, and I know I will be in a tree stand, I never leave home without a safety harness. It helps my family to relax knowing that I am safe. My backpack has everything that I need to spend the day afield.
This hunt began like all others and success was on my mind. Every time I go into the woods, I expect to kill an animal. Today, that animal was going to be a deer. As I went through my pre-dawn routine, I kept thinking about the pictures I had seen on my trail camera of some of the monster bucks I had roaming through my woods by home that year. We were lucky enough to have a bumper crop of acorns on the ground, and the deer were holding tight and feeding in the woods near my house.
When I stepped outside, the early morning chill of the frosty October morning grizzled its way into my bones. The smell of last night’s deck fire still lingered in the air. Last night there was no visible moon and the first real hard frost of the year. This was a great sign; I knew the deer would be up and moving. As I headed down the trail in the darkness, I stepped carefully, trying to make as little noise as possible. My head lamp illuminated my way and the light glistened of the hard frost that seemed to make each leaf crackle and crunch loudly beneath my rubber boots. As I moved ever closer to my tree stand, I grew more excited with each step I took. When I finally reached the base of my tree, I hooked my bow and backpack into their cables and harnessed myself to my climbing line.
The ladder was cold, wet, and slippery because of the early morning frost, making my 20 foot climb to my perch more dangerous than usual. By the time I reached the top, my thin lightweight gloves were soaked through the fingers and palms, and no longer kept my hands warm and toasty. Luckily, I had packed an extra pair for such an occasion. Once safely perched high above the ground, I pulled up my back pack and secured it to the tree; next, I pulled up my bow, removed the arrow quiver, nocked my arrow and hung the bow on its hook. I sat down and pulled my back-up pair of gloves out of my backpack and attached my release to my wrist. Now I could finally relax, and watch the world around me come to life.
The forest is a magical place as it transforms from night to day. As the sun began to rise, the tops of the trees gradually brightened and the light slowly filtered its way to the dark forest floor below. As darkness gave way to light, I scanned the densely wooded forest for any signs of the monster bucks that I had seen on my trail cam the weeks before. I could hear the pings of acorns and dew as they crashed to the ground and popped on leaves that covered the forest floor. The wind blew gently into my face, a great sign that would help me stay undetected from those below. Patiently, I waited, watching the squirrels around me scurrying far and near as they continued their preparations for the cold winter ahead. Then unnoticeably, several does came towards my tree stand to feed on the acorns that lay at its base. Each step they took was with purpose and care. Cautiously, they would stop and smell the air and scan the horizon for danger. They would take a few steps and then repeat the whole process again.
I sat quiet and motionless looking down on the leaf- covered forest floor below as the deer came to feed. The deer used their hoofs to scratch the forest floor and uncover the acorns that were buried under the newly fallen leaves. I knew that if I spooked these does, I would never have an opportunity to shoot one of the big boys, as they would surely scare off any deer in the area. The bucks will typically hang back in the thick cover and wait for the does to go into an area to eat. Once they see the does eating comfortably, they then know it is safe to proceed to the area and feed. This is chivalry at its finest in the animal kingdom, and there is no better deer decoy than a live doe in your area.
I watched the does for nearly an hour before the first buck came into the picture. He was a young buck, maybe only a year or two. His antlers were small and missing a point, either from rubbing them on a tree or fighting with another buck that was obviously bigger than he. During the months of October and November, bucks will often lock horns and fight over does in heat, or a particular food source. Clearly, this guy should have run away from the fight.
Off in the distance, I could see another deer moving down the hillside in my direction. I could not yet see if it was a buck or a doe, so I used my binoculars and glassed in that direction. It was a buck, a big bodied one that appeared to be four or five years old. As he approached, I could not believe my eyes: it was a jet black two pointer. This buck was different; he had two giant brow tines that were at least fourteen inches high sticking straight up. His fur was not brown like most deer, but rather it was a dark jet black in color. It was the most bizarre thing I had ever seen. The brow tines were not only tall, but were also extremely thick like a piece of two inch conduit. It was as if Satan had created a buck in his own image. He snorted and grunted his way towards the does. I knew that if I had a shot, I would unleash my Helix broadhead into him. This guy may not have been what I came for, but there was no doubt he was the true definition of a trophy of a lifetime.
I watched closely as this buck moved around and interacted with the others feeding below my stand. There was just something a little off about this guy that I just could not figure it out. The other deer seemed spooked by him. They would step aside and give up their feeding spot to him. I was just waiting for him to step into my shooting lane.
I had cut away just enough branches from the trees around me to give me three small shooting lanes out to forty yards. Each lane was about three to four feet wide, plenty wide enough to easily let me shoot, yet not so wide that I would expose myself to the deer below. As each second ticked by, I grew more anxious about the opportunity to harvest this unusual animal.
Patiently, I waited until finally he made the mistake of stepping into the shooting lane to my left and stood still at 28 yards. Ever so slowly, I moved to my left to remove my bow from its hanger, slid my hand under the wrist guard, and wrapped my fingers loosely around the grip. As the deer put his head down to eat, I locked my release and waited for the perfect opportunity to draw my arrow. As he sniffed the ground below, he scratched the forest floor and he moved his head away from me behind a tree to eat, giving me the perfect opportunity to draw. As I stared through my peep sight and connected it to my sight pin, I concentrated on one tiny gray hair just behind his left leg, and released the arrow. I buried the arrow exactly where I had aimed. I did not move until the arrow had passed through the deer and stuck in the ground on the other side of him. The Carbon Express Pile Driver tipped and the Helix Broadhead bore straight through the deer. The deer bucked his hind legs skyward, like an angry rodeo bull and ran off into the distance. I followed him with my eyes for as long as I could before losing visual contact with him, just over a small mound off in the distance. I could see blood coming out both sides of the deer.
I sat in my tree stand with my heart pounding and my pulse racing. I knew that I had made a great shot. and just needed to wait for the deer to expire before climbing down and finding him. After sitting in the stand for 30 minutes, I reversed the process I had gone through getting into the tree stand hours earlier. I attached my backpack and bow to their hoisting lines and slowly lowered them back down to the ground. I removed my release from around my wrist and began my descent down the ladder. Once firmly on the ground, I untethered myself from the tree, put on my backpack, and nocked another arrow. Now it was time to get down to the business of following the blood trail and finding my trophy.
When I picked up the arrow that I had just unleashed through the deer, it was covered in bright, red, frothy blood. It was confirmation of what I already knew: a perfect shot. About ten yards from where I shot Satan’s buck, I began to see drops of blood. I carefully followed each drop, connecting the river of blood that dotted the ground below. Every ten yards or so, I would stop and glass the area ahead looking for the buck, making sure that when I saw him, he was dead. As I crested the top of the mound where he seemed to disappear, I paused again and scanned the area. Nothing. I continued to follow the blood trail and stopped 20 yards down the trail and scanned the area in the direction of the blood trail. This time, jackpot! There laid Satan’s buck; big, black and beautiful. He was only about twenty more yards ahead of me alongside of an old fallen oak tree. What a magnificent deer this truly was. I grabbed his big brow tines and was amazed that I could not even get my full hands around them because they were so thick. I knew instantly that he was going to look magnificent hanging on the wall above the fireplace.
Unfortunately, now came the hard part: dragging this big monster out of the woods to the truck. The only down side to hunting alone is that you have no one to help you drag a deer out. Even after he was field dressed, he still weighed a whopping 205 pounds. I came up with a plan to pace myself, and slowly and carefully began the arduous task of dragging this deer two miles out to the truck. Time was on my side, as it was only now just 11:00 am, so I had plenty of time before dark. When I was going downhill, I would drag him 20 yards or so at a time and take a break, but when going uphill, I would stop after ten yards. It took a while, but finally. I got him to the truck. I was covered in sweat, despite removing most of my garments, and even though the air temperature was in the mid 50’s, it felt much colder as stiff breeze blew out of the north. I dropped the tailgate on the truck and made quick work of loading the deer. I wiped my hands down with baby wipes and used hand sanitizer to try and freshen up before taking off the t-shirt that was now covered in sweat. I put on a clean tee and sweatshirt and just admired my deer one more time before heading to the butcher shop.
Man, what a great day.