"...I slowly turned to my right and saw a huge rack moving through the cover a mere 40 yards from me. It was him!"
When my beautiful wife, Allison, introduced me to bowhunting back in 1993 (see "From the Rubble" Jan/Feb 2003), I never would have imagined the joy and excitement the bow and arrow would bring to my life. And I certainly never dreamed I would ever apply the sports term "hat trick" to my bowhunting career.
This Illinois buck was my first Pope and Young-class deer in 2007 -- and only the second of my life.
My hopes were flying high for the 2007 season in my home state of New Jersey because my summer scouting had produced trail cam photos of an 8-point buck that had all the looks of a Pope and Young-class deer. I promised myself to hunt and harvest this particular deer or not fill my buck tag at all -- a promise I hoped would not come back to haunt me.
To make the challenge even tougher than normal, I had already booked hunts in Illinois and Maryland. I would not be able to hunt the New Jersey buck until late October or early November.
In mid-october, my buddy Frank Pazos and I packed our bows and arrows and headed out to Illinois to hunt with my good friend Jesse Moats. Jesse was with me when I took my very first Pope and Young buck in Colorado in 2003.
We arrived in Riverton, Illinois, on October 22. After we'd caught up on family, Jesse filled us in on the plan for the week. We would hunt near his home that evening and the next morning. If we had not tagged a buck by then, we would head south the following afternoon to his farm in the famous Pike County.
As the first evening's shadows fell over the woods, a doe came from my right. Following her were two bucks -- a 6-pointer and a very handsome 8-pointer -- and the two bucks sparred only 20 yards in front of me as the doe stood nearby. Once the bucks broke off, the 8-point stood perfectly broadside to me, tempting me to shoot him. He stood there for several minutes, and it took everything in me not to pull back on him. I told myself that even though this was a nice buck, tomorrow evening I would be in Pike County with a chance at a real monster.
When we arrived at Jesse's farm in Pike County, Jesse gave us a quick tour. My stand sat near a huge cut cornfield. Jesse said the deer probably would come from that direction.
I'd been on stand for no more than 20 minutes when a spike buck came from the cornfield and right under my stand. This would be the first of many bucks and does to come my way that evening.
About 6:15 p.m., I heard deer behind me. Turning to look, I saw a large-bodied buck sporting a heavy left main beam. Jesse had always told me that when you see a shooter, you just know it. Well, this was a shooter!
I tried to stop him with a mouth grunt, which did not work, but luckily the buck soon walked by a tree that I had ranged earlier at 23 yards.
After capturing this New Jersey buck on my trail camera during the summer, I gave myself two options for the season -- shoot either this particular buck or no buck at all. As you can see, I'm overjoyed with the option that occurred.
As the buck passed the tree, I settled my pin right behind his left shoulder and let my Taliban arrow fly. (Taliban arrows are my arrows fletched with the American flag; every time I release one, one of our terrorist enemies goes down.) As this Pike County giant kicked like a mule and ran over a small ridge, I immediately called Frank on his cell phone.
"I just shot a big buck," I hissed. "Come on over here as fast as you can!"
As soon as Frank arrived, we followed the blood trail, which led us 100 yards to a 10-point, Pike County monster. The buck weighed more than 300 pounds, and his antlers had seven-inch bases.
I was in Heaven, and after giving thanks and celebrating, Frank and I were on a plane back to New Jersey.
On November 7, I went out for an evening hunt for the big New Jersey 8-pointer I had caught on my trail camera. I had placed some estrous doe scent near my stand in hopes of luring the buck in -- if he was in the area. As I sat there, I hoped for as much success as I'd had back in Illinois 15 days prior.
At 3:20 p.m., two button bucks came into view and began to feed on acorns. The button bucks were enjoying their feast when they picked up their heads and stared very intently to my right. I knew something was coming, so I slowly turned to my right and saw a huge rack moving through the cover a mere 40 yards from me. It was him!
Before I had time to think, he was 22 yards from me, broadside. Settling my pin behind his right shoulder, I released my second Taliban arrow of the season, which flew true. The buck ran 50 yards and stopped, seemingly trying to figure out what had just occurred. I asked myself, Did I miss? Within moments, the buck answered my question as he swayed and then fell to the forest floor. I placed my hands on my head in disbelief. So many emotions ran through me I had to sit down.
I descended from my stand and walked over to the huge buck. Kneeling beside him, I gave thanks to God and my wife, who had reminded me all season to hold out for this buck. Thankfully I did, because I was now holding my second Pope and Young-class buck of 2007!
On November 11, my father-in-law, Paul Guardiano, and I left for a seven-day hunt with my good friend and outfitter Joe Taylor of Cherry Blossom Farm in Church Hill, Maryland. As we began our three-hour drive, Paul and I both knew we would be hunting these Maryland bucks in the midst of the rut, and we were excited.
"Will, it would be something if you took another Pope and Young buck on this trip," Paul said. "You would pull off a hat trick."
I took this Maryland 9-pointer in mid-November, on the last night of my hunt. As the third P&Y-class whitetail I'd taken in four weeks, he completed my whitetail hat trick!
I laughed and said, "That would never happen -- the deer gods wouldn't look down on any hunter that much, at least not this one." I was just looking forward to
a good hunt with some great people, not a hat trick.
As the week progressed, it appeared the deer gods weren't looking down on any of the hunters in camp. The week produced some close encounters but no shots. If no one took a buck, it would be the first time in 30-plus years that Cherry Blossom Farm saw hunters go an entire week without success.
On the last evening, I settled into my stand, hoping things would change. At 2:50 p.m., does began filtering out of the woods and into the field. As nearly 20 does fed 40 to 50 yards to my left, I had a good feeling a buck would show soon.
At 4:30 p.m., with my attention still on the does, I caught movement out of the corner of my right eye and turned to see a small doe walking toward the deer in the field -- and a huge 9-point buck right behind her! With so many eyes surrounding me, I could not stand and turn for a shot. The buck now stood only 33 yards from me, and all I could do was hope and pray he would walk toward the does and not out into the field, away from me.
After several minutes, the buck began walking toward the does. As he walked into my shooting lane, I settled my 30-yard pin behind his left shoulder and released my third Taliban arrow, which once again hit its mark. The buck bolted at top speed in a semicircle out into the field and fell within 100 yards!
I was at a loss for words, but my emotions ran rampant. I had just taken my third Pope and Young-class animal within four weeks! As I called Allison and told her the good news, tears began to fall from my eyes. I then called Joe Taylor and told him not to worry about his 30-year record -- it was safe.
After Joe arrived with his son-in-law Bruce, grandson Britin, and longtime friend Rowlin, we took photos. I again took the time to thank God, my wife, and the entire Cherry Blossom Farm crew for their support and hard work.
Once back at camp, my father-in-law shouted, "Will, you did it -- you pulled off a hat trick!"
I sure had.
Author's Notes: For my hunts in Illinois and Maryland, I used a Parker Phoenix 34 bow set at 60 pounds, Beman Matrix arrows, and Rage 2-blade broadheads. In New Jersey, I used a Mathews Q2 bow set at 60 pounds, Beman Matrix arrows, and 100-grain Wasp SST Hammer broadheads. On all the hunts, I wore ScentBlocker's Outfitter Series clothing in Mossy Oak camo and Lacrosse's Alpha Sport boots. For calls, I used Primos' Buck Roar and The Original Can.
My Illinois 10-point had a gross antler measurement of 137 6/8 inches; the New Jersey 8-point 132 6/8; and the Maryland 9-point 142 4/8For a great bowhunt for whitetails with some of the best people and great accommodations, give Joe Taylor a call at (410) 758-2353 or check him out online at www.cherryblossomfarmhunting.com.