November 7th, 2019, I headed down to the boat ramp for the third time this season. The first two times I never even left the dock. Once, it was windier than forecasted and the lake was too rough for boat travel, along with the wind being the wrong direction. The second time, I realized when unloading the boat, that I had no power to start the motor. After some investigating, I found that my battery cable had corroded and broke off. I had the perfect light NW wind for the stand I wanted to hunt. This stand produced for my buddy Antoine in 2018 on November 8th. In 2016 this stand produced a lot of bucks chasing a hot doe on November 7th. This would be the first time the stand would be sat this season and I was planning an all-day sit. I hit the water about an hour and a half before shooting light. Rounding the corner of the bluff into the wide-open water, all you can see is the stars in the night sky and the glow of the chalk bluffs. This is one of my favorite parts of taking the boat to this hunting location.
Upon landing the boat, I gathered my gear and headed up the path to my tree. After a 20-minute boat ride, I have about another 30-minute hike to get to this tree. As I got all my gear up and I settled into the tree, I had about 30 minutes until shooting light. This is the time of the day, you can’t help but feel the anticipation build as shooting light approaches. This stand sits on a bench with a saddle in the ridge nearby, creating a great location to catch rutting bucks. It took my 3 seasons, moving the stand maybe 20 yards at a time, to find the right tree that would give the highest percentage chance of a shot. This stand usually doesn’t have action first thing in the morning, it is a long way from a food source and is just some doe bedding around, making it ideal for an all-day sit to catch cruising bucks. In fact, it is usually an hour to hour and a half after sunrise, before the does and fawns work through themselves. Shortly after 8am I could hear some leaves rustling up on the hillside. Soon that rustling turned into chasing. I could never get a good look through the timber, but I knew there was at least one doe, a fawn and a buck. I could not tell how big that buck was. They chased back and forth for 10-15 minutes, never having a good look, before they worked their way off. All was quiet again. About 930 I could hear a deer walking my way from the west, when suddenly the timber exploded! A flash of a buck weaving through some cedars right on that does tail. They again worked their way back where they had come from, after a short chase. It was obvious this doe was in heat. After they worked their way off and everything settled down, I reached into the pack, grabbed a drink, snack and my book. I figured I would do a little reading to pass the time before the next round of action. The sun was now in a position that it was shining on me from around the tree. This was a welcome feeling for we had a good cold front and the temperatures were in the low 20’s that morning. As I was sitting there reading a chapter in my book, I again heard the sound of a deer making its way through the timber. I scanned and found a doe and fawn coming again from the west. I was sure a buck would be in tow, so I grabbed my bow to be sure I was ready! They both passed by at less than 20 yards. Although a cool experience, there was no buck that followed suit, unfortunately. After they passed, I looked at the time and it was just after 11am. I settled back in, grabbed my sandwich for a quick lunch.
As I sat there I was answering a few emails and texting a few buddies and my brother Geoff, who wanted to know how the hunt was going. In the middle of texting a friend, about where to dump a load of rock on a client’s farm, I heard “crunch, crunch” in the leaves! As I turned to look over my left shoulder, all I saw was tines standing 25 yards right in my shooting lane! Sure, enough I had been caught with my phone in my hand. As I kept an eye on the buck, I scrambled with trying to put my phone away. It was incredibly difficult to find my pocket in that instance. I let the buck walk off to the north, and once he got behind some brush and began to head away, I reached for my bow. Once the Hoyt was in hand, I reached for my grunt tube. I grunted once with no response, a second time stopped him and I had his attention. One more grunt and he turned on a dime and headed right for the tree. As he was behind the brush, I clipped on my release and as he cleared the brush I prepared myself for a shot. This buck had my tree pegged, he knew exactly where that grunt came from and he was looking for a buck. He held up right behind a tree with no shot. As curiosity got him he took a step and again his vitals were blocked. One more step was all I needed and I could feel my heart pumping through my throat! As he took that step I was already settled in for the shot. Before his foot ever hit the ground, the Spitfire tipped Maxima Red was already on its way! As the arrow disappeared and buried into the ground on his off side. I could tell the shot was back slightly yet it should get the job done. My heart was again racing sending adrenaline through my body. The buck ran about 15 yards stopped and stood there looking around. I grabbed the binoculars and could see the entry hole, I expected to watch the buck fall over quickly. However, he started walking toward the fence, stopped and then jumped it. It was at the moment, excitement went away and a slight worry set in. Was the shot where I thought it was? How is this deer still on his feet after an arrow passed through both lungs? As the deer walked I tried to keep tabs on him with my ears. By this time, he had walked out of sight and soon I couldn’t hear him walking anymore. I thought to myself, had he walked far enough that I can’t hear him anymore or did he just stop? Shortly thereafter, I heard him fall. The way he fell I could now see him lying in some brush. I watched through the Nikons, waiting for him to lay his head down. As he finally did I sat back in relief, and just decided to give him 30 minutes and keep an eye on him. Shortly into the wait some turkeys began to walk through, right past the buck, no movement from him told me he was likely done for. I began to gather my gear and started lowering it all to the ground. Feeling pretty confident, it was at this time I let a few people know that I had just punched my East River tag!
Once on the ground I walked over to the arrow to examine it. I quickly found out why the buck didn’t go down like a double lunged buck should. There was trace of gut matter on the arrow and what appeared to be liver blood. Although I didn’t need to track him, I did, just to stay fresh on tracking a blood trail. It was a great feeling reaching down and grabbing him by the antlers to pull him from the brush to get a better look. This is always a bitter sweet moment. It was sweet because this was the first buck I harvested with my bow since 2008! I had been hunting hard that whole time trying for that right buck. Although during that time I had many chances at bucks, I just never had the right buck come by, this one got my adrenaline going like no other in recent past. The bitter part was for a few reasons. First, it hit me that the hunt was now over. It was November 7th and my tag was filled. Having not harvested a buck since 2008, I have been used to hunting right down to the last day. Second, I had just taken the life of this buck. I always feel a slight bit of remorse when taking down an animal. It is something most will not ever understand, but I think about these animals nearly every day of the year. My job involves me making the best habitat possible to give them the best life possible. I greatly respect these animals. Sitting alongside the buck, I thank God for blessing me with the opportunity to take the animal, and the buck for providing some great meat for my family and his head gear that will always be cherished by me and stories be told to my kids from that day. I pulled out my tag, notched it and wrapped it around his back leg. I then proceeded to field dress the deer. It was here that I found I had hit liver and only one lobe of both lungs. Once completed, I gathered a few items and started the drag back to the boat. I had my camera and tri-pod on the boat, and knew right where I wanted to take some photos with him. Overlooking the lake, a grass meadow meets the cliffs of the lake. It was here I had dreamed of taking pics of a buck since the day I started hunting here back in 2016. Once I had my photos taken, I got the buck down and loaded on the boat, this was one of the best feelings I have had! This was the third deer taking a ride home with me on that boat. The first was a doe. The second was my friend Antoine’s buck in 2018. Finally, it was my buck taking a ride back home on the boat. I don’t know why, but this was one of the most rewarding experiences for me. Maybe it was because of the process, it often is with hunting. It is the process and the adventure that tell the story, that shot is just a split second. The extra early mornings to take the boat ride, driving the boat in the complete darkness, and getting to the stand all adds to that experience. That boat ride back, I couldn’t help but smile and thank God for giving me the ability to hunt this style. Although I have a few pieces of private ground I also hunt, this public land boat hunt will always be a special one for me.