In our world of archery hunting whitetails, it’s not often that we get to share the final moments when one of us decides to let an arrow fly. Yes, we plan and strategize together, hang tree stands together, cut trails & plant food plots together, check trail cameras together - but rarely do Emilie and I actually end up hunting together (as in sitting in the same treestand or blind) when we are chasing whitetails. This year was different though. We had the good fortune of being able to share the experience of my Pennsylvania whitetail buck harvest and what a hunt it was...
On Saturday October 27th, I hit the snooze button on my alarm after hearing the rain and wind pounding off of the metal roof two hours before sunrise. Staring out the window of the kitchen while eating a big breakfast that morning, I watched multiple young bucks chase does across the hillside behind the house. I knew I should be out there. It was still windy and raining, but the deer didn’t seem to care that the weather was awful. Off I went to a treestand around mid-morning for redemption.
I decided since it was raining to go to an aggressive stand location on the other side of a gulley from the main food plot on the farm. I wouldn’t normally make this trek in the daytime since I don’t like to risk disturbing the untouched woods, but the weather provided excellent cover noise so I pressed on with the bold decision. I’d planned to sit the rest of the day there knowing that when the deer were rutting, it was one of the best places to be.
I crept through the timber silently and snuck up into the treestand. Two hours went by, then four, then six - no sign of any deer… Just my luck…I guess that’s what I get for hitting the snooze button this morning.
As the rainy afternoon continued ever so slowly, I did what many hunters do when luck doesn’t appear to be on their side - I contemplated moving. It was about 3 pm. and I had yet to see a deer. If I was going to move locations, this was my last chance. Evening feeding patterns were bound to start at any time and I didn’t want to get busted moving stand locations.
I climbed down from the stand and began to sneak out of the woods the same way I’d come in. I entered the field, used the corn rows as cover, and made my way quickly but quietly to a new stand location by a deer trail that led into the corn a couple hundred yards away. I waived at Emilie as I was crossing the field. I had been observing a lot of movement in this general area recently - and the wind was ideal.
In Pennsylvania, each hunter is granted one buck tag and Emilie had already filled hers. She did however have a turkey tag - and we’d been seeing some toms near one of our stands. She climbed in for an evening archery turkey hunt. As luck would have it, I’d decided to hunt a stand directly across a field from her - about 300 yards away.
As the evening progressed, my luck didn’t get any better. Emilie had encounters with one group of giant toms (a tom is a male turkey), but was unable to get a shot with her bow. It was a group of about fifteen long beards. With fifteen sets of eyes scanning for movement, it’s not easy to draw on turkey with a bow! I watched through my binoculars as the group of birds narrowly avoided Emilie multiple times. Emilie and I texted back and forth - laughing to ourselves and silently sharing these serene hunting moments.
With about 30 minutes of daylight left, I stood up and grabbed my bow - resting the bottom cam gently on the corner of the treestand seat. This is normal practice for many whitetail hunters to ensure that we are ready for something unexpected to suddenly take place during the “prime time” final hour of the evening. I wanted to be ready.
I’d been used to seeing deer pour out of the surrounding farm woods and begin to enter the corn rows and food plots this time of day. It’s not uncommon to see 10 or more deer in an evening sit from this spot - although it is rare to see a shooter buck for more than a couple of seconds. This evening it didn’t seem like much movement was going to take place though; they should have been out by now. I was enjoying the final moments of my hunt having already succumbed to the notion that today just wasn’t my day.
Twenty minutes went by and only a couple of doe entered the field. They came out of the woods to my left and entered into a row of corn about 50 yards away.
Just then the field seemed to erupt with activity. I saw a buck run out of the woods about a minute later behind the does and enter into the same corn row. I didn’t get a very long look, but he seemed like a good buck at quick glance. Then a second smaller buck came out - following the first buck into that same row of corn.
Farther up the hill in between Emilie and I, another buck and some doe appeared. They were headed to the corn as well, but on a different trail. Then another rack appeared on top of the horizon at the ten o’clock position to my treestand. It was the buck I was after - a mainframe eight point that was exceptionally wide and clearly distinguishable from most of the other bucks we’d known were around.
With about 10 minutes of shooting light left and this shooter buck at about 150 yards, I pulled out the grunt tube. He ignored a grunt, then a doe bleat, then a grunt/bleat combo. I decided to try one final call and gave him a long drawn out snort wheeze.
Still no response...from that buck…
Just then, another buck blasts out of the corn at about 250 yards and begins charging in my direction at full speed - literally sprinting across the field. I get a good look at him while he runs in my direction and realize it’s a buck I’d never seen before - a 3.5 year old ten point. For that area and the family farm, he was a shooter - and he was headed right at me.
He spotted a doe that had come out to my right, and proceeded to run a full sprint right past me. He stopped behind that doe who he must have initially thought was a buck that had made the snort wheeze. He spun around in circles angrily searching for the intruder that had challenged him and was threatening to take his does from him. He was standing at about 80 yards and I could see the frustration growing as he was unable to locate his challenger. I snuck my grunt tube back out, angled it down below me and slightly toward the woods behind me, and gave him another snort wheeze.
“SH - SH - SHHHHHHHHH”
His head spun immediately toward me - and he took off again, full sprint, right at me! He screeched to a halt about ten yards in front of me next to a brush pile and sapling. He clearly thought the intruding buck was just behind my stand location in the woods. He began smashing his rack off of the sapling - racking it in a dominating/aggressive manner as if to say “I dare you to come out in this field!” My legs were shaking as this buck looked right through me, testosterone pumping, ready to fight. My release was locked on to my d-loop, a Montec G5 fixed blade dripping rainwater, ready for its mission.
Since another buck didn’t step forth from the woods, he turned around and began slowly, arrogantly, walking back toward the corn rows away from me. I drew my bow, locked onto his vitals, stopped him at 20 yards, and squeezed the trigger on my release. The buck kicked as the arrow connected and I knew I’d hit him hard. In all the commotion though, I was unable to tell whether my arrow had found its mark.
The rain began pouring down even harder…
I looked at my phone to see a message from Emilie a minute earlier that read “WHAT JUST HAPPENED.” I’d forgotten in the moment that she had been watching the whole thing from across the field through her binoculars! She saw the deer run in, kick, and run off. She’d just watched the whole thing happen!
We spoke on the phone and she agreed to get the UTV and come around to pick me up. It would take her about 30 minutes to get there and then we could try and locate the arrow together.
My nerves kicked in as I realized that it was going to be very difficult to track this deer in the rain - and that there may not be a blood trail.
How on earth were we going to track this deer in the pouring rain? What if the shot wasn’t as good as I thought?
Emilie arrived and after a big hug I told her how nervous I was about tracking this deer. I told her that we had a long night ahead and should probably go home, eat, get rain gear, get spot lights, blah..blah..blah.. As I droned on, Emilie began to smirk. She couldn’t hold a poker face any longer.
“He’s right over there on the other side of the hill. I passed him on my way over here,” she said.
A wave of relief rushed over me and we hugged again - elated at how this long day had turned out and how we’d been able to share in this experience.
No this buck isn’t a giant. In fact, by many whitetail hunters standard, it’s not even a big buck. However, this buck is a trophy to me, as are all animals that I harvest. I urge you to redefine what a “trophy” animal is to you and why we hunt in the first place.