Whether in baseball or whitetail hunting, Yogi Berra had it right -- it ain't over till it's over.
Through the cedars, I could see a large group of deer moving toward my Pallet Stand. As they filtered out of the trees, the sound of grunting behind them got my blood pumping. As soon as I caught a glimpse of antlers, I switched on my video camera and gently lifted my bow from its hook. He was a great buck with good mass, width, and eight long tines.
This last-day Kansas whitetail was my highest-scoring buck ever.
With does feeding beneath my stand, I was ready, and as he stepped into the open, I drew my bow. Glancing down at my video camera one final time, I noticed that the buck wasn't centered in the viewfinder. Confident I could still shoot and tape, I let down the string, framed the buck in the camera, and drew again. The pin settled on his chest as I gently squeezed the release. The buck then chased a doe out into the field. I'd blown it.
For the next two hours, I mentally kicked myself. That buck was mere seconds from becoming my fifth P&Y buck from Kansas in as many years.
But all was not lost. At 10 a.m., he came back, and this time I was not going to blow it. After working a rubline to the north, just skirting the edge of my range, the buck moved into a plumb thicket and bedded down. I had two choices: stay on stand until he got up, or risk blowing him out of the country. On my cell phone, I text-messaged my friend and outfitter Kent Jarnagin and asked him not to pick me up at 11 as planned. Maybe, just maybe, I'd get a shot at redemption.
The hours ticked by until 5:30 p.m., when a doe raced by and the buck jumped up. A young buck was harassing the doe, and the big buck followed them. The last time I saw those three, they had disappeared west toward the setting sun. When Kent picked me up, I showed him the video, and he confirmed that this buck was the big boy in the area.
I would focus on him for the rest of the hunt. It was just a matter of waiting for the right wind to hunt the Pallet Stand again.
Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate. The temperature, soaring into the mid-80s, certainly didn't help, but the swirling winds were what really messed things up, and I wasn't going to chance it. This buck was a slam-dunk as long as he was undisturbed. But as my hunt drew to a close, I started to wonder if I'd get a crack at him -- or any deer for that matter.
My two friends were in the same boat. The heat was affecting everyone's hunt. Bill Gaunt, my longtime buddy from Connecticut, had no action at all, and Ron Baxley, a bowhunter friend from Arkansas, had small bucks in range but no shooters. Unless we pulled off a miracle, nobody was going to tag out this week, which would be a first for us -- and for the outfitter. Finally, with only one day left, the winds picked up overnight. A cold front had moved in, and morning temperatures hovered around freezing. The forecast called for a northwest wind, perfect for the Pallet Stand. We were cautiously hopeful for our last day afield.
Bill was hunting a new area, not far from my stand, and Ron hunted his favorite tree south of town. In the morning darkness, I wished my two friends good luck and headed to the Pallet Stand with Kent. As soon as we reached it, I noticed the wind would occasionally gust from the south. This was bad. A south wind carried my scent into the trees, right where the deer would come from in the morning.
We found Bill Gaunt's buck only 80 yards from Bill's stand. We were hitting home runs, as this, too, was Bill's biggest buck ever.
For 10 minutes we checked the wind. Kent was optimistic. He felt the wind would settle into a more consistent direction. He's always right about these things, but it still made me nervous. If a deer winded me, it would ruin the morning and afternoon hunts. I decided not to risk it, and we headed to a nearby stand called Round Bale. It was not my first choice, but we had spent too much time at the Pallet, and the skyline was getting pink.
I set up quickly. The wind was not ideal here either, but at least deer could approach from several directions. Just after sunrise, several does walking across a milo field to the east winded me and ran into the brush. That lowered my confidence even more. At least the weather was finally cold.
Thirty minutes later, a buck moved in front of the stand. I flipped on my video camera and zoomed in. His antlers were dark and appeared to be decent, although not as heavy or wide as the Pallet buck's. He never gave me a clear view of his rack, even though he was just 30 yards away. I had no idea if he was even a shooter.
For some time, I could hear him rubbing trees but couldn't see him anymore. Two big cedars blocked my view. When he stepped out of the trees to make another scrape, I immediately saw he was a good deer. If he came closer, I'd take him.
The buck worked that scrape and then walked east, out of sight. I sat back down and caught my breath. Thirty minutes later, he appeared again, this time walking back toward my stand. With the buck no more than 12 yards away, I pulled my bow off the hook, but still he offered me no shot and walked right on past the stand, heading west. He was looking for does and seemed to like this patch of woods.
Again, I lost sight of him in the brush, but a few minutes later he reappeared, walking across the milo field. He was now a quarter-mile away and gone for good... No sooner had the buck disappeared to the west than three mature does walked across the milo field to the east, heading in my direction. If the buck spotted them, he might follow them back.
Sure enough, here he came, walking behind my stand. Now, in the sunlight, I got a really clear look at his rack for the first time, and I lost count at 15 points. This buck was far more impressive than I had thought.
Ron Baxley completed our triple play when he downed the Pallet Buck in the bottom of the ninth.
For the third time, he disappeared in the trees, but I remained vigilant. Just as my hopes began to fade, I spotted him on the edge of the field, again walking toward my stand. He was now just 30 yards away and closing. I drew my bow and tracked him
with the sight pin.
When he reached 10 yards, I released. The shot was good and the buck went down within sight! He was a beauty -- a mainframe 12 with three kickers and split brow tines. He was a tremendous buck, and my highest gross-scoring deer ever.
Kent came out to help, and as we loaded my buck onto his flatbed, we were excited by the surprising turn of events. And things got even better as we drove to pick up Bill and found him grinning ear to ear. He told us he had arrowed a great buck too. We took up the blood trail together and found Bill's buck just 80 yards from his stand. This was Bill's largest buck as well, and it was hard to keep that boy from levitating off the ground.
Back at the farmhouse, we learned that Ron's morning was uneventful. After listening to our stories, he asked where we thought he should spend his last afternoon. I encouraged him to hunt the Pallet Stand. It had sat quietly for several days, and I was confident the big buck would still be around.
"Do you want me to videotape you?" I suggested. "Remember, I could mess things up, but I also could get your kill on tape." Not wanting to pressure him, I left it at that. Ron decided to go for it. At first I was happy, but after thinking about it, I got nervous.
After lunch, we headed to the Pallet Stand, and I hung a second stand directly above Ron's. I still had second thoughts. It was Ron's last chance, and I would feel terrible if I fouled an opportunity. But it was too late now. The second stand was in place, and Kent had driven away. We settled in for the afternoon.
At 4 p.m., two does fed across the wheatfield. As we watched them through binoculars, our buck showed up within a few minutes -- just like clockwork. Ron looked up at me and whispered, "He's huge!" He didn't need to tell me that -- I was pretty familiar with this deer.
The buck harassed the two does until they ran away in frustration and headed in our direction. I was 28 feet up in the tree and had a great vantage point. I could see eight more deer coming out of the brush. As soon as the two does spotted them, they ran to join the party. The buck stood in the wheatfield and watched, but I was sure he'd come in at any moment.
Now, with 10 does feeding underneath us, Ron gently lifted his BowTech and turned to face the does, and at the same time the buck started in our direction. At the last minute, he veered off into the brush and disappeared. Ron looked up at me in disbelief. We were both disappointed.
For another 10 minutes, I kept watch over the brush to my right, hoping the buck would reappear, and he did! He was moving through the plum thicket in our direction, and I was confident Ron had seen him, too. I was nervous that his course would put him downwind of our tree, but so far he just skirted our scent.
The buck was now broadside, a mere 10 yards away. With my camera rolling, I waited for Ron's arrow to pass through the great buck. But nothing happened. Easing forward, I looked down to see what was wrong. Ron was facing the does. He had no idea the buck was there!
Now the buck turned and headed downwind. His nose definitely had caught something, but he never spooked. All I can guess is that he was so close that our scent was blowing over him.
Thinking the deer would detect us, I had never moved my camera. Now I had a dilemma: Ron was going to get a close shot, but my camera was facing the wrong direction. To get the kill on tape, I'd need to turn it 180 degrees. With 10 does and a big buck less than 20 yards away, that could be risky.
I decided to risk it. With painfully slow movement, I turned the video camera toward the buck that had now walked out of the trees. Ron spotted the deer and drew his bow. Five seconds later, his broadhead passed through the buck's chest, and we watched the deer run out into the wheatfield and go down.
We were so pumped, neither of us remembered getting out of the tree. We may have just jumped out! To top it off, Kent and Bill drove out to pick us up, and they shared the moment with us. It was hard to keep our excitement contained. A day like this comes around once in a lifetime. We had pulled out a miracle in the ninth. And this time it was a triple! Author's Notes: For this hunt, I used a 72-lb. BowTech Guardian, Muzzy MX-3 broadhead, and King of the Mountain Wool Clothing. Bill Gaunt used a 60-lb. BowTech Extreme VFT, Slick Trick broadhead, and King of the Mountain Wool. Ron Baxley used a 70-lb. BowTech Allegiance, Wasp Jackhammer head, and Predator Camouflage. Watch both Ron's and my kills on Bowsite.com's new Bowhunting.TV video showcase. Pat Lefemine is the founder of Bowsite.com and a regular Bowhunter Contributor. He lives with his family in Union, Connecticut.