Setbacks can keep a guy from hunting -- or they can help him savor the outcome all the more.
As I was growing up in the small town of Wabash, Indiana, my father often took me on hunting and fishing excursions.
My 2007 Indiana buck, taken on 30 acres in an urban zone, far exceeded my expectations.
I loved the outdoors, and my passion for hunting and fishing grew quickly. My dad and I hunted small game with a shotgun, and I enjoyed archery, but prior to high school, I never saw a whitetail deer in Indiana. So bowhunting for deer never entered my mind.
During high school and college, academics and sports consumed my time, limiting my outdoor adventures to brief outings during Christmas and summer breaks. On one of those outings, in 1980, while rabbit hunting with some friends, I was struck in the left eye with a shotgun pellet. The pellet ravaged the retina, and doctors eventually removed the eye and replaced it with a plastic prosthetic eye. I now have monocular vision.
While that was a turning point in my life, with God's help I moved on. I married my soul mate, Linda Dixon, in 1981; graduated from Butler University in 1983; and began coaching and teaching chemistry at Carmel High School in Carmel, Indiana. In 1983, our son, Isaiah, was born, and in 1990, our daughter, Maggie. My running and racing hobby also peaked during these years. In short, I did not have much time for hunting and fishing.
The truth is, after losing my eye, I was somewhat reluctant to hunt at all. However, in 1992, my friends Steve O'Connell and Terry Riesel invited me on a deer hunt in southern Indiana, and I was hooked and soon bought a compound bow and muzzleloader. As the years passed, I spent more time hunting with the bow and arrow and less with guns, and I finally quit gun hunting altogether and have hunted only with a bow for many years.
After losing my left eye, I questioned whether even to continue hunting. Fortunately my dreams were bigger than my handicap, and in 2004, I took this rewarding 10-pointer.
In 1997, Linda and I bought 40 wooded acres with great potential for deer hunting, and Linda's mother bought 160 acres adjoining ours. So, suddenly I was managing 200 acres primarily for whitetail hunting, and since those early days I have taken numerous deer with a bow, including several 125-class bucks. It's hard to imagine that I almost let my eye -- or lack of eye -- keep me from hunting.
Given some success, I began setting my sights and goals on taking a large buck, say in the 150-inch class or larger. Could a one-eyed bowhunter do that?
In 2004, I hung a new stand in an area where my hunting partners and I had seen several big bucks the previous fall. On October 2, I stayed home to help Linda prepare dinner for our daughter and her friends attending the homecoming dance.
After the kids had left for the dance, I headed for our farm with my good friend Rick Walsh. A cold front was settling in, and the forecast for the morning of October 3 was 31 degrees with light northwest winds -- unseasonably cold for early October, and perfect for my new stand.
I climbed into the stand well before sunup, and with the coming of daylight, the sky was clear and a cold breeze cut across the exposed portion of my face. Soon the woods began to come alive with squirrels and birds, and at 8 a.m., the sound of deer moving brought me to attention.
Two does and a 2 1/2-year-old 8-pointer soon came into view, and my pulse quickened as the deer passed within 15 yards of my perch. This gave me confidence that I had wisely chosen the right stand. At 8:50, another group of does browsed 20 yards from my stand, and I decided to harvest the largest. Moments later she was down within sight of my stand.
Managing 200 acres of family-owned land, I began to scout with trail cameras. Seeing sights like the buck above, I set my sights on taking a 150-class buck.
With the doe in sight and deer still moving about, I decided to stay put, hoping a buck would come along. By 10 a.m., however, the woods seemed very quiet, and I started gathering my gear to call it quits for the morning.
Just then I heard a deer approaching from a nearby swamp. Fully expecting to see another doe, I was taken aback when the sun's rays highlighted tall, wide antlers 60 yards away.
Watching the approaching buck through my rangefinder, I quickly determined he was in the 150 class. Would my dream of harvesting such a buck come to fruition on this day?
With no time to ponder that question, I grabbed my bow, searched for potential shooting lanes, took a deep breath in an attempt to slow my racing heart, and tried to focus on the deer's kill zone instead of the oncoming antlers.
As the buck walked behind a tree 30 yards away, I drew my bow, and as he came back into view, I grunted softly. The buck stopped in full view and looked up, but the arrow was already on track. The magnificent 10-pointer, fresh out of velvet, reared up and ran 60 yards. At the edge of thick cover, he stopped on wobbly legs and then staggered out of view into a ravine, breaking saplings as he tried to run. When the crashing ceased and turned into an eerie silence, I felt certain the monarch had expired. Then the shakes began.
Overwhelmed with emotion, I tried to calm myself, and 45 minutes later I climbed down and trailed the buck into the ravine. I green-scored him at 152, and three months later the buck officially netted 1416„8 Pope and Young. Finally, I had taken a truly magnificent deer with bow and arrow.
Over the next two bow seasons, I shot a couple of average bucks, passed on good opportunities to shoot 2 1/2-year-old bucks, and filled my freezer with several does. So I was content.
But when the 2007 season opened, I felt renewed excitement about the prospects of taking another big buck, and on November 2, I headed for my property for a weekend hunt with a couple friends. With only two hours to hunt Friday evening, I quickly dressed and went to a spot near a field edge where I could use my new buck decoy.
After I'd rattled and called aggressively, a 3 1/2-
year-old 10-pointer came right under my stand and started posturing toward the decoy. Finally, at 38 yards, the buck turned enough to give me a quartering-away shot, and my lighted nock disappeared through the buck's vitals. Seconds later, a loud crash rang through the woods, giving me the assurance of a quick, clean kill.
That was a great start to the season, but I still had an urban zone buck tag and the peak of the rut ahead of me. I had never killed a buck in an urban zone, but I had recently acquired permission to bowhunt a 30-acre urban parcel about 10 minutes from my home.
I had already shot a doe on the property, and the buck sign there gave me confidence about the potential for a big buck.
On November 8, I had a couple of hours to hunt after work, so I headed straight to my urban spot and by dark had arrowed two mature does and seen numerous other deer throughout the evening. By the time I had field-dressed and loaded the does into my truck, it was well after dark, and as I pulled out of the property, my headlights caught a buck chasing a doe very close to where I had just hunted. I couldn't make out the size of the buck's rack, but he had the body of a mature buck.
As a boy growing up in Indiana, I never even saw a whitetail deer, let alone hunted them. Times have changed, and deer, like my 2007 urban buck, have turned me into a whitetail bowhunting fanatic.
So early the next morning I was perched 25 feet up in my climber in the same spot. By noon, I had passed on numerous does and a couple of young bucks. Good deer movement throughout the morning kept my spirits high and my mind focused on waiting for a good buck.
I'd just finished eating lunch when a button buck came down the draw in front of me.
Watching him, I caught movement farther up the ravine and saw huge antlers emerging from the thick underbrush. Even with only one eye I had no problem immediately recognizing that this buck was larger than any I had ever seen during my 15 years of deer hunting.
Noticing the button buck in the draw, the big buck ran out of the thicket and chased the little buck into a bedding area 70 yards north of me. At that, two does burst out of their beds and passed through a shooting lane to my left. I felt sure the enormous buck would follow their trail.
Sure enough, he came trotting out of the bedding area on the same trail the does had taken. Seemingly in no hurry to close the distance, the buck stopped 40 yards out to freshen a scrape and leave his scent on an overhanging licking branch. Seconds later, as the buck resumed his pursuit, I came to full draw and stood ready for a 20-yard shot.
As he quartered-away through my shooting lane, I focused on the kill zone and touched off the release. My arrow hit just behind the last rib.
Appearing oblivious to the shot, the buck continued trotting toward the does as my arrow flapped loosely in his side. Had the arrow penetrated far enough into the vitals? As the buck disappeared into the woods beyond, I listened for the telltale crash. Instead, I heard only silence and found myself questioning the outcome.
An hour later I climbed down to check for blood near the spot of impact but found no sign. Knowing my arrow had at least penetrated liver, I gathered my gear and headed home to give the deer ample time to expire.
Four hours later I returned to take up the trail. Finding no blood, I soon resorted to zigzagging back and forth through the wooded draw. After moving a couple hundred yards, I started backtracking, staying closer to the creek, thinking maybe the wounded buck had headed toward water.
As I scanned a honeysuckle patch along the water's edge, antlers caught my eye. He had piled up no more than 90 yards from my stand tree. Walking up to this enormous buck, I was once again overcome with emotion. He far exceeded my dreams of taking a 150-class buck.
After thanking God for this experience, I called my wife and hunting friends, and then Rick Walsh came out to help me drag the buck out of the woods. My arrow had lodged between the brisket and shoulder, snapping the broadhead from the shaft as the buck ran, which accounted for the loosely hanging arrow I had observed.
On February 3, 2008, B&C scorer John Bogucki taped the urban buck at 1875„8 gross nontypical and 1742„8 B&C net, ranking him as the number one all-time bow kill from Hamilton County in the Hoosier Big Buck Record Book listings. As a typical, the buck grossed 1812„8 and netted 1614„8. As a bonus, my wife has suggested I hang this one on the family room wall. Even through only one eye, that will be a beautiful sight.
When he's not chasing whitetails, the author is teaching chemistry or coaching girl's track at Carmel High School in Carmel, Indiana.
Author's Notes: I killed my 2004 buck with a Mathews bow, Beman ICS 340 arrow, and two-blade Rage broadhead. I took the 2007 buck with a BowTech Allegiance set at 70 lbs. draw weight, Beman ICS 340 shaft, and two-blade Rage broadhead.