by Brett Gibson
One thing that keeps me busy during the summer, other than 3D archery and traveling to ASA shoots, is scouting and checking my many trail cameras I have in place, a tool that I, like most modern-day hunters have found to be essential prior to each hunting season.
A dear friend and my former college roommate, Richard York, is one of the best gate men in the world. I often joke during the season that the only reason I bring him along is to open the gates for me.
This past summer, we both were checking our cameras and getting more than 1,000 pictures per week at several different locations.
At one of my spots, I had two or three bucks coming in with two of them being “shooters” for me. One was an eight pointer just barely outside his ears and the other turned into a nine pointer, not as wide but taller than the eight point buck.
They had been running together all summer and we were getting some pretty nice daytime photos of both.
I had already told myself that I was going to take the nine pointer if given the opportunity once season opened.
Gearing up for opening day, we checked the cameras about a week and a half before season opened to allow our scent to get out of the area and give us one last look at what was coming into the corner of the field.
Opening morning I hunted in a different location that was in the next county over. It was opening day and a small group of friends like to hunt at least one day together, so on opening morning I hunted a huge field filled with round bales of hay. We had set the blind up the afternoon before and before the fog lifted on the creek that opening morning, I had two does within 15 yards of me. I was told to only kill a doe if she was by herself, so I let them walk.
Eager to get to my spot I had been scouting all summer, I broke away at lunch and geared up for the afternoon hunt in my hunting blind.
The hunting blind I have set up in my field is not a pop-up blind. A couple of seasons ago I built this blind out of some left over cattle gate and every season I cut new brush and attach it to the gates with zip tie fasteners. One of the reasons I think it works is because I’m not enclosed in a black hole. I’m out in the open and to the animals, it looks like part of the fence that I set it next to in the edge of the field.
I sat in my blind for hours with no luck. Nothing showed up on opening day, but I had seen deer that morning, so it was a decent day.
Day two of this still young deer hunting season came on September 8, 2013 and after deciding to skip hunting that morning, I sat in my blind that afternoon. Around 6:30 p.m., about an hour before dark, a doe and a fawn came in and fed in the field for several minutes until two more does came out of the woods and spooked the first two off. As I wrote in my hunting log on my phone, “I was looking for the Big 9, but he didn’t come in.”
Also on that day, another friend of mine, who was hunting across the road, killed a deer right at dark, so naturally I loaded up and went to help him drag his kill out of the field.
Day three, September 9, 2013, I hunted in the same spot. I did see several turkeys, but couldn’t get a clean shot that day.
Day four, September 10, 2013, was much like the previous day as I saw the same group of turkeys and no deer. It has been more than a week since I last checked my camera, and despite knowing I would be running the risk of walking into the area where the deer come, I decided to go ahead and made a check of that camera, pulling the memory card, replacing it, and getting out as quickly as I could without disturbing anything.
To my surprise, I didn’t have many photos of what I called the “Big 9” and zero photos of the eight pointer I had watched all season. I did, however, have photos of a new deer that first showed up on September 5, which was two days before hunting season.
I had hunted the same spot for four days in a row and not known this deer had shown up on my camera. He was huge. One of the biggest deer I’ve seen on my trail camera and he was also a nine pointer.
Still in velvet and massive! My friend Richard scored him from the photo at 135. For most experienced hunters that might not be a big deer, but he was the biggest deer I had on camera and I don’t have anything bigger hanging on my office wall.
Now with a new goal on my mind, I had my new sights set on this new big deer. Little did I know how much grief this monster buck would be causing me for the next month.
Day five was September 11, 2013, and all was slow until about 6:50 p.m. I was sitting in my blind with my PSE Evo rig at my side sitting on a bow pod, when I looked in the edge of the field at my 11 o’clock direction, and saw the new big deer I had captured on my trail cam just six days before.
I slowly reached for my bow, slipped my finger sling on and remained as still as I possibly could. He was standing just inside the field’s edge and as the daylight started fading away, I lost him several times. My eyes were dry, heart was pounding and I was as nervous as anyone could be.
I sat there until 7:22 p.m., which is when he felt safe enough to step out into the open.
I remember he put his head down to the ground, then raised it. The sun was setting fast and I knew this needed to happen quickly or I would run the risk of not getting an opportunity for a shot.
He took one step, which put him at 18 and a half yards, turned slightly to my right and now he was standing in a broadside position from my view. He put his head back down to feed and I drew back.
The draw was smooth and I got anchored. The deer hadn’t moved. He didn’t see me draw, so I immediately felt good. I put my top pin on him and all of a sudden the bow went off.
As I watched the lighted red nock travel through the air, I remember it making a small loop at the tail end of it’s flight … about the time it should have reached the deer.
I heard the arrow hit and the deer bolted into a run in the opposite direction. I sat my bow down and the adrenalin was flowing through my kidneys and pounding with every beat of my heart.
As I sat there and gathered myself a little, or as much as anyone could in that situation, I texted Richard and told him “My kidneys are hurting.”
He immediately knew what had happened without any further explanation. We have been hunting together many times before through the years and he has seen first-hand the reaction I have when I successfully bag an animal on a hunt.
He texted back and asked if it was the “Big One” and I answered “Yes.”
“I’m on my way,” his next message read.
I waited about an hour before the search party of hunting friends I had called arrived on the scene and as a team, we began the task of trying to track this deer.
With six of us in the woods following the blood trail, we didn’t travel but about 200 yards before suddenly we lost the trail in a small field on the adjoining piece of property.
Almost 10 p.m. that night, I decided to call it quits and check the next morning when it was daylight. I went home – no longer with that pain in my kidneys from excitement of a kill, but this itme with a feeling of disgust in my stomach.
I didn’t get much sleep that night as an experienced hunter might expect, so I was back in my truck early the next morning with hopes of finding the trail and finding the deer at the end of it.
A massive fog was on the ground that morning and I couldn’t see five feet in front of me. I looked along the edges of the field until time to go to work.
That afternoon, I went back to the area where we last found blood the night before. It had just poured the rain and now the sun was out and shining hard on the countryside.
I received permission from the land owner of the adjacent property to do whatever I needed to in order to recover this deer. As I looked in the field where we last saw the blood, there he stood right out in the open.
I quickly grabbed my camera from the back seat and snapped a couple of photos. Once I enlarged the photos on the screen of my camera, there was no denying it … it was him.
I didn’t know what caused it at the time, but in the photo, I could clearly see that he had a huge, gashing wound in his neck. At the time I assumed he cut himself running through the woods or my arrow grazed him just enough for a blood trail. Either way, I was thankful he wasn’t in a ditch somewhere suffering.
I called Richard to tell him what I was seeing. He talked me into stalking the deer, so I pulled to the gate, grabbed my bow and walked down the road.
The deer was standing in an area that was particularly hard to get to. I had to walk down the dirt road, cross a small creek and then come back to him. Trees were down everywhere in the area as the landowner had been having logging work done, making it difficult to see the deer once I was on foot.
As I was slowly walking back to where I saw him, I lost track of where I was. I had my release on the bow and an arrow nocked.
I wasn’t familiar with the land as it wasn’t my property and I had never been on this side of my wife’s grandfather’s farm.
All of a sudden he bolted from the tree line right in front of me. He had to be closer than 25 yards and through the weeds he went. I didn’t have much of a chance to even get my bow drawn back.
As he ran through the field he jumped a five-foot fence and scaled a bank that was roughly 12 feet high, like it was nothing, hitting the wood line and disappearing into the timber.
At that moment, I was extremely disheartened, but I told myself that the second best outcome of the situation had come true. The deer wasn’t mortaly wounded and he will more than likely survive his wound, but I couldn’t put my hands on him and it was unlikely I ever would.
I assumed at the time, I ran him out of the country and would never see him again.
Of course the best possible outcome that I had hoped for was that he would end up on the ground and eventually in the back of my pickup truck – headed for my freezer and a local taxidermist.
Letting that spot rest a day, I opted to hunt Richard’s stand behind his house. This was going to turn out to be one of the worst hunting weeks a hunter could have.
With not being able to recover a Pope & Young Whitetail, my confidence was going downhill in a rapid tailspin.
Around 6:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon of that week, a gobbler came walking through. He stopped at 18 yards and I drew back and settled the pin on him. The shot connected and the arrow stuck in the ground behind the turkey, but the shot didn’t hit a wing and the turkey flew off.
Richard and I searched for more than an hour looking for any sign of the bird, but no luck recovering it.
In three days I had wounded a deer that would have been a kill of a lifetime, but never harvested, and had also taken – and missed a decent chance at a really nice gobbler… animals two, me zero.
Day eight of my hunting season started on a nice cool Saturday morning, September 14, 2013.
I went back to my hunting blind where I had shot the big buck four days before.
Around 6:41 a.m., a small four pointer I had been seeing on a camera all summer came in and licked my salt blocks a few times and went on about his business.
Later that morning, a large group of hens showed up. Looking for redemption, I grabbed my bow and waited. One hen got to within eight yards of my blind. I couldn’t shoot her sitting down and I knew if I stood then drew my bow back she would take off, so I drew my bow while sitting and when she turned her head I stood up and thumped her. She took a few steps and fell in the field belly up.
I celebrated for a moment and noticed the flock she was with was coming back in after I scattered them with my shot.
About the time another turkey got to the hen I had shot, the wounded bird – apparently just temporarily stunned from my arrow hit, jumped up and ran off into the woods, taking all the other turkeys with her.
Yet another tracking job ended in a failed attempt to recover an animal.
That was the final straw! I had lost all confidence in my hunting abilities. If I was missing the animals I was shooting at then I would know where the problem is and I could work on that, but I was hitting everything I shot at.
This was turning out to be one of the worst hunting seasons I had ever had.
Day 10 of my hunting season came four days later. During the first two weeks of the season, I had hunted 10 days, taking only four days off.
Day 11 came and it had been a week since I had been in the woods. I had spent the week off shooting my bow and making sure my pins where true. Nothing had changed since I shot my broad heads at the beginning of the season, but I did notice a difference in the flight of the regular two inch, two blade Rage broad heads and the Rage Extreme which has a 2.3 inch cut.
On day 12, September 28, 2013, I hunted from my blind again. I was hoping one of the other two bucks I had at the beginning of the season might show back up
I had all but convinced myself that it was almost certain that the “Big One” was more than likely somewhere else.
I didn’t see anything that day, so on my way out I decided to pull the card in my camera and put a fresh one in.
I was extremely surprised and pumped to see that two days before, on September 26, the deer I had shot two week’s prior was once again standing in my field. The entry hole in his neck was visible in this set of photos, a view of the opposite side of the buck from the previous trail cam photos. With these latest photos, I now had, with complete certainty, evidence that my first shot had not only wounded the deer, but had actually traveled completely through his neck. . . a complete pass through.
Never in a million years would I have thought a deer shot in the neck would have lived to see another day, but there he was. The camera doesn’t lie.
Now, with the three non-recovered animals working their way out of my mind, I have new life in the woods and the next time he shows up, hopefully the ending will be a different, but happier for me, story.
I hunted four days straight in my blind and nothing came in. On day 17 and day 18 I hunted two other spots with no luck. On the 18th day of my season, I stopped by my blind to check the camera. As it turned out, the “Big One” had entered the camera view again at 6:15 p.m., which is still early enough in the evening to provide plenty of daylight for a shot. Just my luck I told myself.
I decided right then I wouldn’t give him another opportunity to step out without me being there, so I hunted morning and night for the next four days. My biggest challenge was to get him before the first youth gun season came in. I was afraid the gun shots along with the added pressure of more hunters in the woods and the fields would drive him to a more nocturnal set of habits, thinking about the most unpleasant possibility, killed by another hunter.
On day 22, Thursday, October 10, 2013, I sat in my blind not expecting much to happen. I went over all of the trail camera pictures I had since the “Big One” first showed back up at my blind. From those pictures, I determined he would either show up that day or the following day and I was going to be there.
In the most recent trail camera photos, he had already lost his velvet and appeared to be very healthy.
As I sat in my homemade blind, made of cattle gate, zip tied cedar branches and two round bales of hay, nothing in the field in front of me was stirring much.
I had everything I needed sitting within easy reach and time seemed to go by very slowly. Reflecting in my mind how the past 22 days in the woods had gone, I determined that regardless of what happens from here out I had in reality enjoyed a successful year.
I had seen a ton of animals, most of which were fairly close to whereever I was hunting. That’s one thing I can pride myself on is getting close to the prey I’m after.
It was around 6:15 p.m. and I had just lost a game of Candy Crush on my phone, so I looked up and scanned the edge of the woods. Just like before, there he was. There was no mistaking the deer standing before me – it was without a doubt the same one I had shot at before, almost a month to the day.
My heart immediately started to beat faster, lower back pain hit and I knew I didn’t have long before this day was going to get much better.
The reason I knew … because I’ve done this before.
The time, situation, type of day and the direction the Big One was moving toward was almost exactly the way it happened on September 11.
The entire chain of events from that previous day I had shot at this buck went through my mind in a split second and I was determined not to make the same mistake I made before.
I can remember trying to focus in on him standing in the edge of the woods. My eyes grew tired of staring in one spot and combined with my heart racing, it was the longest 30 minutes I’ve ever had to experience. It seemed longer than the first time I sat and waited on him.
While looking into the woods, at one point he disappeared. I didn’t fret … and for good reason. My grandfather always said that big deer didn’t get to be old by being stupid and there is more truth to that than you know. Anyone who has hunted big whitetails knows this to be true.
About 15 minutes after I first saw him in the woods, he popped back out into sight, only this time he was standing straight in front of me. How he got to be directly in front of me without me seeing him move, I’ll never know, but I was confident there was no way he knew I was sitting in that covered blind, even though he kept staring my way.
He stood there for a good solid 10 minutes then he made a step. Slowly he made another step. As I looked at where his feet were, I judged in my head he was 19 yards. Another step toward me and a slight turn to my right put him at 18 and a half yards with a slight quartering-to-me shot.
The front shoulder was all I was looking at. I could see clearly the scar he had from the first time I shot him and that gave me an aiming point of where not to shoot with this new opportunity.
As he put his head down, he shifted a little more to my right, exposing more of his front shoulder. When his head went down, I hit the LP light hooked into my sight and grabbed my Carter Hammer release and back I went. I immediately felt relieved when I settled into the wall of my draw cycle and the deer didn’t raise his head or see me move… just like a month ago. I set my top pin on his front shoulder and started my pull.
What seemed like a lot faster than in my practice session, the bow went off and the lighted nock flared up and I could see the path of the arrow was as straight as a string.
As the arrow hit, the lighted nock turned off and he spun and hit the woods on the same path he did before. I lost sight of him about 30 yards in the woods and I closed my eyes and listened. I couldn’t hear much, but in the distance, just a few seconds later, I thought I heard him crash to the ground.
Still weary of him getting away a second time, I looked at my phone to establish a time of shot … 6:48 p.m.
As I sit there in my hunting chair, adrenalin still pumping, I sent Richard a text that said “kidneys hurting.”
Several minutes passed and I was finally able to get up out of my chair. I nocked another arrow, went to check for blood and try to recover my arrow. After several minutes of searching and finding some blood, I recovered the back half of my arrow.
I was still worried and didn’t want to get my hopes up until I physically saw him laying on the ground. There was no way I needed to put myself through another restless night … it was too horrible the first time.
I backed out, called Richard and told him to get dressed, we had a deer to track …
On the way back to town, the experiences of the past 30 days continued to flash through my mind, including the 30 minutes just before my second shot toward the “Big One.”
I drove to Richard’s house and picked him up as well as another friend of mine, Josh Oesterreicher.
When we arrived at the hunting blind, we hopped out of the truck and turned our flashlights on and our eyes focused the ground. I explained to them how it all went down in order to give us a sense of direction as to the path the wounded animal took.
“Blood,” Josh said. “More blood.”
Josh took off like a beagle hound chasing a rabbit and he wasn’t giving us anytime to look ahead for the next spot.
Walking and looking toward the ground with limited light is hard enough, but we were moving pretty fast on this trail.
About 40 yards into the woods, Josh shines the light up ahead and he yelled back to Richard and myself “there he is.”
Plowed up on the ground, the “Big One” was down.
For the first 33 days of the 2013-2014 season, I hunted 22 of them and shot the biggest buck I’ve ever shot … twice!
As we approach this new hunting season for those of us who go after whitetail as our prized prey – I wish you luck, and a safe and successful hunt. Hopefully, your memories will include a “never to forget” experience. I hope mine does as well, but I don’t expect it to ever be one that will top my “Big One” experience of last year.
A special thanks goes to my grandfather, David Upchurch, who passed away in 2006. He taught me the love for the outdoors and it’s something I will pass on because he passed it on to me …
A photo he made of the deer showing the wound the pass through shot caused.
After giving the deer time to expire on October 10, by the time the animal was recovered, it was discovered either coyotes or opossums had taken chunks out of the deer’s nose rendering the cape unusable. Later that season, Ethan Cook took a nice deer and offered his cape as he wasn’t going to do a mount of his harvest. The top photo shows the scar made from the first shot taken in September.