"After a frantic 10-second search through my binoculars, I saw tines -- big buck!"
Montana had called for a long time, and I was already eight wonderful days into my adventure when Peter Iacavazzi and I rolled up the driveway of his buddy's ranch. Until now, the elk hadn't cooperated and antelope had managed to keep their distance. Peter figured it was time to have some fun with the riverbottom bucks that call this place home. He assured me I'd love the place he had in mind, and we would definitely be "into some deer." Little did I know what lay ahead.
Pete Iacavazzi, left, fulfilled a dream for me when he invited Ol' Painless and me for a Montana home-going.
After greeting the rancher and visiting a bit, we got our gear together and used the last hour of the day to get familiar with the beautiful piece of ground. I'd read about and watched plenty of videos about hunting the riverbottoms of Montana, so I felt prepared for the magic that these ribbons of water and timber held. The alfalfa field was the magnet, and the deer were drawn to it like pieces of steel. Whitetails filtered out of the riverbottom, and muleys poured down off the hills. Tomorrow morning we would scout for a stand site or two. Sleep would be tough.
With the maze of trails, it was difficult to choose a single location. After a while, we narrowed it down to a heavily used trail on the inside corner of a winding field edge, and we found several fresh rubs nearby. It wasn't exactly a perfect stand tree -- it was rather crooked, and we could get only 9-10 feet off the ground. But we had adequate cover and good shooting to our targeted area. Besides, I'll take a bad tree in a good spot over a good tree in a bad spot any time.
Before I go any further, let me back up a bit and share how this dream started. I've recognized the name Peter Iacavazzi for a long time. Since the late 1980s, I can remember hearing about his association with the "Montana Boys" -- Gene and Barry Wensel, Paul Brunner, Wayne "Biggie" Hoffman, and Paul Schafer.
But I remember the name most for his incredible writing skills. Peter is truly gifted when it comes to writing about his hunts. His ability to translate feelings and emotions into words can easily leave a reader in tears. So when he invited me to join him on a hunt after I'd helped him out with something on Tradgang.com, I didn't hesitate a second.
So far, the day had been cold and damp. Heavy, low clouds hung seemingly within arm's reach above our heads -- a perfect day for hunting. Whitetails would be our primary focus, and soon after I'd climbed up and strapped into my stand, a doe approached from the west. I prepared to let Ol' Painless do what she seemed destined for€¦
Ol' Painless is my Schafer Silvertip recurve, which the late Paul Schafer built for me in 1986. This awesome bow served me very successfully until I decided to put her into semi-retirement after hearing of Paul's tragic, premature death. I'm not sure why -- it just felt like the right thing to do.
This doe reinforced my philosophy that I will take a bad tree in a good spot over a good tree in a bad spot any time. Once again, Ol' Painless had done her work.
But after finalizing plans for this hunt, I realized Ol' Painless was my only choice. After all, Peter had been a close friend and hunting partner of Paul's, and Paul lived and built his bows in Montana. Only one bow would do for this trip. Ol' Painless was going home.
The doe was edgy, but still she grazed to about 15 yards, quartering away. It was time. I remember picking a spot to allow for the angle, and then the string slipped away. In a blur, she wheeled, lowered her front end, and quartered even harder before the Snuffer-tipped carbon arrow flashed through her. As she raced off, I knew Ol' Painless had once again done her work.
With the bloody arrow lying before me at an awkward angle, I nocked another arrow and tried to settle down. The excitement of the moment had grabbed me, and I could hardly wait to share this with Peter. I knew he would be excited for me. His enthusiasm, confidence, and smile are very contagious. But it would have to wait -- it was early and I still had a buck tag in my pack€¦
A light but steady rain was falling now, but with the leafy canopy above me and my clothing shedding water very well, it didn't bother me. Even with a crisp chill hanging in the heavy air, I was comfortable and certainly warm inside from the previous excitement and my surroundings. Not a second passed in the stand now that I couldn't at least see deer and turkeys.
Suddenly, from the west, I saw four deer about 300 yards away running toward me. A quick look through my binoculars revealed that all of them were bucks -- and one was a dandy! They were following the same route a doe with twin fawns had followed past my stand earlier. Would the bucks follow suit? As they went into the woodline 200 yards away in the same general area where the others had gone, I couldn't help but think, Just maybe.
After about 10 minutes of hoping and looking, I finally caught some movement through the willows. After a frantic 10-second search through my binoculars, I saw tines -- big buck! With the deer still 100 yards away, I couldn't tell which direction he was headed.
And then he was gone again.
Within minutes, one of the smaller bucks, a velvet spike, came out at about 80 yards and looked toward the alfalfa. Soon two other small bucks, hard-horned 6-pointers, joined the spike, and my heart rate increased each time they looked back. Then something moved behind them. He was coming! The three young bucks turned to follow him. His body was heavily muscled and much bigger than his followers. He's just another deer, I thought. Calm down. Pick a hair.
He kept closing, very deliberate, very cautious, just as would be expected from a mature deer. At 20 yards, he stopped, turned broadside, and looked toward the alfalfa field. The Dacron string was almost to its destination when he turned back and quartered toward me. I had to let down.
After waiting overnight, I was worried about finding my buck, but a flock of Merriam turkeys led me right to him. This was a beautiful sight!
Within a few steps, he cut to my r
ight on a trail that went across a shallow ditch back toward the timber. As only feet remained in my window to shoot, I drew slowly, and when Cordovan leather touched my lips, another big Snuffer was on its way. I knew instantly that it wasn't perfect, but not bad. It was one of those shots that appeared to be "a little back."
He stopped after 30 yards, looked around, and eventually walked slowly out of sight.
With the rain falling harder now, I knew better than to push him. This tracking job would have to wait for the morning. Checking the arrow and finding what I expected confirmed my decision to wait until morning.
Thankfully, the doe had run in the opposite direction. With a few minutes of good tracking light remaining, I packed up and descended, and after a short walk I actually smelled the doe and followed my nose right to her. She was a mature doe with a beautiful early-season cape. I bowed my head and gave thanks, took some pictures, and waited in the darkness for Peter. Reliving what had just happened, I tried hard to stay positive about what might await us in the morning.
When Peter showed up and saw the doe, he shook my hand and hugged me. Then I told him we had a little job to do in the morning. With his always-positive nature and overflowing confidence, he said, "If you put one of those big Snuffers through him, we have nothing to worry about!" His confidence was just what I needed.
The next morning, our plan was to get close to where I had last seen the buck and glass the area. I was filled with emotion and anticipation. We glassed for some time but could not see the deer. Peter then noticed a flock of Merriam turkeys off to our right in a small clearing about 50 yards behind the stand. I turned, but from my position I could barely see them. Then I heard it.
"There he is. There's your buck, Buddy!" Peter exclaimed. And, indeed, right among the turkeys lay my buck. As all my doubt flushed out, the relief was almost overwhelming. We smiled, hugged, gave thanks, and shared a moment that only true friends and hunters can fully understand.
I will never be able to thank Peter enough for all he did for me and for enriching my life with his personality, humor, and friendship. I'm truly a better person for knowing him. Three days later, I tearfully left Montana feeling as if I'd found the brother I never had.
Thank you, my friend. And thank you, Ol' Painless. It was quite a home-going.
The author is a diehard traditionalist from Marlboro, New York.