July 03, 2023
As the New Jersey 2021 archery season began, I was excited to begin another season of chasing a good whitetail buck with my bow. But it seemed the ugly cloud of 2020 that brought us some really difficult times was still lingering when it came to my hunting area and the NJ deer herd.
Unfortunately, Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) had struck in southern New Jersey and was making its way toward northern New Jersey, where I live and hunt. As August approached, the sad and ugly news began to spread of deer being found dead everywhere — from woodlots to golf courses and beyond. This was something of concern, as many of my fellow bowhunters were describing how they were finding dead deer, especially bucks — many in velvet, and some out of velvet.
Opening day arrived on September 11, 2021, and not only was EHD rampant and taking a toll on the herd, but it was warm, which only helped EHD continue its rampage of death. This was certainly going to be a challenging season, and my Tactacam cellular cameras confirmed my fear that EHD had arrived in my area. I was only seeing a few deer compared to previous years when deer were plentiful. As for shooter bucks? Well, they were nonexistent.
September and October came and went, and the heat persisted, which had me and other Jersey bowhunters praying for a frost to arrive in hopes of ending the EHD outbreak and possibly saving the herd and some of the mature bucks that we’d been keeping tabs on.
As I waited and watched, I took the opportunity to hunt out of state, which gave me time to catch up and spend time with good friends in both Maryland and Missouri. I even arrowed a nice Missouri buck in the “Show Me State” with my Mathews compound, while also keeping an eye on my hunting areas back in NJ via my Tactacam cell app. Still, there were no mature bucks to be seen.
My prayers were answered after Halloween, when the first frost came. The change from warm to cold weather was such a welcome relief, and with it came the potential for seeing a good buck that hopefully survived the terrible EHD outbreak.
In November, I was visiting my youngest daughter, Olivia, at Auburn University during Military Appreciation Week. She works for the Veterans Resource Center on campus, where she helps returning veterans achieve their education. She does this all while being a full-time student, which I’m so proud of… War Eagle!
While there, my phone received a notification at 10:45 p.m. on Friday, November 12. As I opened my camera’s app, I was excited to see a great mainframe eight-pointer that had a branch going through his antlers. Finally, there was a buck in my area worth going after with my bow! Yet something inside told me I needed to challenge myself with this buck.
That challenge was to hunt that buck with my Black Widow recurve, with which I’d only taken one deer in the past. I love shooting my recurve, but my confidence with it is something I have always struggled with. I know those of you who have tried it will understand what I mean.
However, this buck was one I felt strongly about taking with my recurve…if I could pull it off. First and foremost, I would need to see more daylight pics of him in my area. Unfortunately, I only received photos of him on November 12 at 10:45 p.m. and November 13 at 6:50 p.m. — and nothing after that.
I took this time to practice with my Black Widow and felt comfortable, but I chose to limit myself to about 10 yards. My short effective range only further compounded my challenge of killing this buck. Still, I stayed focused on the goal.
I anxiously awaited another photo of this buck, which came four days later, on November 17, at 2:47 a.m. When I saw this pic, my gut told me it was time to get serious. Worst-case scenario, I’d spend some quality time in the woods with my recurve.
I arrived at my spot early afternoon on November 17. It was a slightly warm day for that time of year, and besides that, the moon was full, which made me feel my chances of seeing the buck were not be as good as I’d hoped.
As I walked to my blind, I was startled by a young eight-pointer that suddenly jumped from his bed and stood broadside 15 yards away, looking at me with curiosity. Then, as I looked toward my blind about 70 yards away, I saw a mature eight-pointer in front of my blind. This has to be a good sign, I thought to myself, as I stood statue-still until both bucks eventually walked off.
I decided to put some Signal 11 Tramp Stamp doe-in-estrous lure on some bushes to the left of my blind in hopes of luring-in the buck. I then settled into my blind and nocked my arrow with great anticipation.
The afternoon was quiet. The first deer finally showing up at 4:45 p.m. There were two medium-sized does only eight paces from my blind. I took this opportunity to draw back on one of them, which gave me more confidence that I could draw without being noticed at such close range. As I let down, I felt an overwhelming sense of confidence.
Soon after, a button buck came in with a large, mature doe. The first two does moved off to my left, and things were beginning to fall into place. I figured if the buck was anywhere in the vicinity, he would smell the scent I’d put out and see the big doe…and maybe, just maybe, that would be enough to entice him to show up and hopefully give me the close shot I’d been praying for.
As I watched the large doe, something caught my attention to my left where I had placed the Signal 11 lure. I could see one side of a large set of antlers, but as the buck continued to my left and eventually out of sight, I still wasn’t sure whether it was the buck I was after.
All I could do was stay positive and keep my fingers crossed that the buck was off scent-checking the two does that were previously in front of my blind. Hopefully, the buck would circle back to check out the mature doe that was still standing in front me. So I sat there with all my senses at high alert and praying for an opportunity.
Ten minutes later, I heard footsteps in the leaves and headed my way, followed by two deep and authoritative buck grunts. Glancing out the window on the left side of my blind, I immediately identified the maker of the footsteps — it was the buck!
I gripped my recurve and mentally prepared myself for the task at hand. Once the buck was in front of me, all I could do to stay in my zone was to keep telling myself to pick a definitive spot and follow-through like I’d been doing during my backyard practice sessions.
The buck was quartering toward me, and I was only pulling 43 pounds, so I knew I needed him to turn broadside, but the button buck and doe were in the way and the buck wasn’t turning!
After what seemed like an eternity, the button buck and doe eventually turned to my right and walked away. Meanwhile, the buck had moved slightly farther away but was now broadside and starting to follow the doe. As he slowly walked through my intended shooting window, I quickly readjusted my position to shoot him out of the window on the right side of my blind. Light was beginning to fade, and I knew this was going to be my only opportunity at this buck!
As the buck appeared in the window of my blind, I picked my spot right behind his shoulder, drew back, and let my arrow fly. Everything happened so fast, I wasn’t sure where my arrow had impacted — or if it did at all! I sprang to my knees and watched the buck and the other deer run off at breakneck speed, and then I listened for any telltale sounds of the buck crashing to its death. Hearing nothing, my heart was suddenly filled with doubt and I became deeply concerned about the shot.
I only made it 10 minutes before gathering up my bow and pack to get out of the blind and head over to the spot where the buck had been standing 12 steps away. There was no sign of blood, so I started looking for my arrow — to no avail. Something within me said, “You did everything right; you just need to believe.” So, I slowed down and gathered my thoughts before doing anything foolish.
I knew the area very well, so once I’d calmed down, I decided my best option was to start searching for sign in the direction in which the buck had headed after my shot. About 30 yards out, I finally came across blood. It was only a tiny drop of blood, but that drop soon turned into more and bigger drops!
As I followed the blood in the dark, my angst started to creep back in, but then I looked up and saw my buck lying dead 40 yards in front of me. As I approached the beautiful eight-point, I was in awe of my shot, which was perfectly placed right behind the shoulder!
The buck had only gone approximately 70 yards, and I was overwhelmed with joy and pride after achieving my goal — not to mention a rekindled love affair with bowhunting!
The first person I called was my wife, Allison, who was the person who first introduced me to bowhunting along with my father-in-law, Paul, who we lost in 2016. Allison was so happy for me, and I knew Paul was looking down on my accomplishment with a smile.
I knelt next to this buck and gave thanks to the Lord and all those who have helped me on my journey as a bowhunter. I also gave thanks to all our military men and women for their sacrifices, which allow me — and you — to be free to pursue our passions.
In the end, challenges — no matter how difficult — bring with them great rewards, and I’m grateful for the fact that I accepted my own personal bowhunting challenge and was ultimately rewarded with a great stickbow whitetail buck!
Readers may recognize the author as one of just two survivors rescued from the rubble of the Twin Towers after the terrorist attack on 9/11/2001.
My equipment on this hunt included a 60-inch, 43-pound Black Widow PSA X Bacote recurve, Carbon Express Heritage Traditional 150 carbon arrows, 150-grain Grim Reaper Hades Pro broadheads, Signal 11 scents, a Primos Double Bull blind, Ozonics unit, LaCrosse boots, and Mossy Oak camo.