In the cold darkness of a November 2005 morning, I climbed out of my truck at one of my favorite hunting spots. Taking in the perfect morning as the steam from my breath filled the cold air, I watched as another vehicle pulled into the drive, and headed in my direction.
My initial anger at having to share what I thought was to be my exclusive farm to hunt changed to relief as Andy Self introduced himself and told me he'd be hunting the farm next door.
As the years passed, Self and I got to know each other, and I realized he and I shared similar hunting techniques and manners. Both of us knew the importance of letting bucks reach their full potential before harvesting them.
A few years later, I asked Self if he would be interested in hunting a new property with me as there was plenty of room there for two people to hunt.
Since bow season had already begun, we decided to just hunt the edges to keep from pressuring the property too much and to better familiarize ourselves with the land.
That first year we spotted several 2 ½- and 3½-year-old bucks, and we looked forward to the hunt the following fall.
In the spring, we scouted the property every chance we had and began to zero in on some key spots we'd identified during our fall and spring scouting. We prepared by putting up Summit Bucksteps and SwifTree Climbing Sticks after doing some trimming so that we could hang the stands in the fall.
When July came, we put up trail cameras that caught some of the bucks we'd seen the previous fall. With another year of age, some of those bucks were now reaching "shooter" status.
The season opener came, and although Self and I saw several bucks, the bigger ones we'd seen on the cameras slipped by us just out of bow range. We shot some does to help manage the herd, and with another year of knowledge of the property, we once again felt good about the following year.
Before that hunt could happen, Self called me to tell me he had been diagnosed with third stage nasal cancer. That was in May, and that entire summer Self would undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments with little hope of being strong enough to hunt in the fall.
The doctors kept telling him there would be no way he could hunt that year. Self was a very physically fit person. He also had a great can-do attitude, and if someone could beat the cancer, it would be Self. He always said, "If life throws you a curveball, don't back away. Step into it and take a big swing."
As the summer progressed, Self got weaker and weaker, and every time I talked to him he seemed worse and worse, which is exactly what the doctors had predicted would happen before he would begin to recover and start feeling better.
In late August, I told Self I would have my good friend and Bowhunter TV cameraman Bob Theim help me put up the stands and do the final trimming. Hopefully, Self would be strong enough by fall so that he could just show up and hunt.
In September, Self called me with more depressing news that the treatments had made him so weak that even with his bow set at the lowest poundage, he could not begin to pull it back. Still, he remained determined to hunt that fall, and he began to regain his strength by using his son's bow.
By late October, Self was finally able to pull his own Hoyt bow back once again. This was a huge emotional lift for Self as he was still receiving all of his nutrition through a stomach tube, and he knew the full return of his strength would take a long time.
Following a strict regimen of bike riding, climbing stairs and ladders, walking and running combined with strength training, by the second week of November Self was once again shooting one bull's-eye after another. Self felt a bit stronger, yet he was still concerned about his endurance.
He believed if he could just get up in the stands he would finally be able to hunt. All of the stands were equipped with Summit Climbing Systems so he would be secured at all times.
Self had one more hurdle yet to overcome, and that was to get a CT scan to be sure the tumor had been eradicated. Otherwise, he would have to begin more treatments. After receiving the good news from the doctor, Self's text to me read, "Cancer free and on my way."
The next morning in the stand, Self sent me a text telling me how good it felt to finally be in a tree after all he had been through. He said he thought he would have to put facepaint on his teeth to cover up his smile.
A couple of hours later, Self shot a nice 4½-year-old buck. When I read his text telling me the news, I thought I was going to have to put face paint on my teeth to cover up my smile. All of his hard work had paid off.
The way Self told it, the buck had stopped at 22 yards in a pinch point just like we had hoped would happen. Self said he was pretty sure he had made a good shot, but he had lost sight of the buck at about 75 yards as it ran away.
By the time I joined Self an hour had passed, so we immediately began to track the buck. After a few yards of tracking, I commented that the buck should not have gone much farther the way the sign looked. Just a few yards more and I looked up and saw the buck lying dead on the creek bank.
I congratulated Self. Then we realized this was one of the bucks we had trail camera pictures of from the past two years. Self had also videotaped this buck a year earlier from the same stand he had just shot it from.
"What a great ending to a hunt," I said.
Self once again said, "If you face a hard curveball in life, don't back away. Just step into it and take a big swing."
That's exactly what my friend did.
Andy's nasal cancer put him through a year of treatments that made him so weak he couldn't
pull back his son's bow. Here he is taking chemotherapy.
My friend Bob Theim (right) and I (middle) helped Andy get back into his treestand. According to Andy, at no other time in his life had he ever felt so much love and support from friends and family.
Here I am putting up Bucksteps and prepping Andy's stand for his November 2012 bowhunt.
This is a trail cam image of Andy's buck that was taken in August 2012.
This scouting camera took a picture of Andy's buck in November 2011.