September 20, 2023
On the afternoon of Halloween, a buck I call Scarface fed his way across my food plot toward my stand. As he reached the 20-yard mark, I aimed carefully, placing my pin behind his shoulder. I released my arrow and followed its illuminated nock to the mature buck. The shot felt great — until it hit the buck.
A loud crack and the lack of penetration made me doubt my shot. The buck ran a short distance before limping into the woods. After an exhaustive search the next day, the buck was not recovered.
I knew this buck well, as Scarface had been a resident of my Ohio farm since I purchased it in 2020. He was a seven-point in both 2020 and 2021, but in 2022, he had grown into an impressive eight-point. He was a fighter. I had several trail-camera pictures of him battling other mature bucks for dominance. In fact, I gave him the moniker, Scarface, after a particularly gruesome camera photo showed that he had lost his left eye in a fight, leaving a permanent scar on his face.
I also had a connection with Scarface, having encountered him on three separate occasions and passing him up in previous years. Although he was an impressive seven-point in 2021, I didn’t consider him a shooter until he was 5½.
In July 2022, I got a camera pic of Scarface in velvet and was astonished by how much he’d grown. If not for the distinct, vertical scar and missing eye, I would not have recognized him as the seven-point from the previous year. Despite having better-scoring bucks on my farm, Scarface went to the top of my list.
The hard reality that I lost him made me sick. It’s upsetting to wound any deer, but my previous encounters with this buck made it sting a little more. Regardless of experience, skill level, or accuracy with a bow, losing a deer happens to anyone who’s hunted long enough. If there was any consolation, it was that shoulder wounds often have a good chance of healing.
For the next 14 days, I checked my Moultrie Mobile app, hoping to confirm that he survived. Finally, on November 16, I had a pic of Scarface. Over the next few days, more photographs (and even a video) would follow. The video was hard to watch. Scarface’s right front leg wasn’t functional, which made walking slow and difficult for him. Knowing he was alive and seeing his condition, I committed all my efforts to hunting only him for the remainder of the season.
Hunting any individual buck is hard; hunting a previously wounded, mature whitetail buck is even harder. I accepted the fact that killing Scarface was going to be next to impossible, but I was determined to try.
I needed a starting point, and that usually begins with a movement pattern. Nothing is better for patterning an individual buck than trail cameras. So, I moved a bunch of mine to the kill plot where I was getting the nighttime pics. I hoped to find the trail that he using, and then work backwards to identify his general bedding location. It took 2,500 pics, but eventually I found a small group of trails on my northeast corner where he entered the plot at night. I hung a Summit stand there and spent several days hunting it. Nothing. Pics confirmed that he quickly stopped using those trails.
A week later, I got a few pics at a different location. His pattern had shifted. He was now entering the plot from the south, completely abandoning the northeast section of my kill plot. I had south stands in place, so I started hunting from them. Still nothing. A week later, he was back to the northeast trails and moving much later than usual. It was obvious that he was patterning me. But how?
My eastern border had been logged-off 10 years earlier. The successional growth was a mix of small trees and 15 acres of super-thick briars. Beyond that thicket was a woven-wire fence that separated my land from the neighbor’s. There was no way Scarface could jump that fence with his immobilized leg. And since the only access trail to my kill plot was a logging road through those thickets, it was obvious that’s where he was bedding. With a predominant southwest wind, Scarface was winding me every time I headed to my stand.
Knowing his precise bedding location was huge. I would need to avoid my northeast corner and stop hunting my kill plot. There was another spot where I had pics of him, and located there was a Redneck blind that sat on the main trail leading to my 14-acre soybean field. I never harvest my crops, so it becomes a late-season magnet once my kill plot gets wiped out.
Over the next several weeks, I hunted that blind exclusively. As expected, it was getting more activity with each passing week. By the time I had to leave Ohio for Thanksgiving weekend, I had spent 15 days hoping to see Scarface. I passed up several higher-scoring bucks that tested my resolve, but I stayed committed.
Between Thanksgiving week and Christmas, I spent another 17 days hunting Scarface. I was getting pics nearly every night, but from the day I screwed up until the week after Christmas, not one pic was during daylight.
Nothing was working. He was completely nocturnal. I was now 500 yards from his bedding area, but he was still patterning me far better than I was patterning him. I was constantly re-evaluating my strategy, asking questions like: Am I hunting him too hard? Should I push closer into his bedding sanctuary? Is it better to leave my property alone for two weeks, hoping he’ll start moving earlier?
I was running out of time. It was now late-January, and I was losing confidence that I would even see, let alone kill this smart buck. I had passed up four Pope and Young-caliber bucks to this point, yet I stayed committed to Scarface. Eighty percent of my camera pics were now being taken on that main soybean trail in front of the Redneck blind. So, I kept hunting that blind nonstop — no matter the wind direction. My strategy was risky, but I decided to play the odds. Late season drives mature bucks to food earlier than normal... I just needed to be there if that happened.
January 24 was my 42nd day hunting exclusively for Scarface. My good friend, Charlie Rehor, was hunting the other side of my farm. We had an east wind, which was rare. I had seen 30 deer from my blind, including a 140-class buck the neighbors called the “Broken Ear 10.” It was getting late, and I only had 10 minutes of legal shooting light. In the shadows, I could see a deer approaching and it was limping. Scarface!
I couldn’t believe it. I had spent a month and a half hoping to see this buck, and now he was heading within range. His limping was worse than ever and he had lost a lot of weight. It was sad, but I was confident things would end right here and now.
Scarface was now inside of 30 yards. I was ready and remarkably focused. It was cold, and a snowstorm was forecasted for 10 p.m., so my shot had to be perfect.
Scarface stopped at 25 yards to test those easterly winds for any hint of danger. I waited for a broadside shot and silently prayed I wouldn’t mess up a second time. I drew my Mathews Phase4, released, and watched as my arrow disappeared into the buck. In the waning minutes of legal shooting light, I could clearly see my lighted nock pass through him, but I was not 100-percent sure just where it had hit. Scarface ran into the thickets and out of sight.
I waited 30 minutes before quietly walking to the impact site where I found hair and blood. I was tempted to start following the blood trail in the snow but instead decided to play it safe and headed back to the house where Charlie and I discussed options.
Concerned about the snowstorm, Charlie and I quietly walked down to the blind and took a look around. We could see Scarface bedded in the brush with our flashlights, but we were unsure if he was dead.
Despite the impending snowstorm, we both agreed it was best to come back the following day, even though we were both pretty sure he was going to be dead right there where we left him. The next morning, as expected, we found him dead in a thicket less than 100 yards from where I’d shot him.
I’m grateful for the way this saga ended, because I doubt Scarface would have survived the winter. As I caped the buck, I noticed something was off — his shoulder blade was unscathed. Skinning a little further down his leg revealed that my shot placement was perfect. My arrow had centered his leg joint, splitting it open and stopping my arrow from penetrating his lungs. This explained why the buck couldn’t walk on that leg, and why he didn’t drop within sight.
Things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes things are out of our control. But what we can control is doing everything possible afterwards to reach the best outcome. I am proud to have spent 42 days seeking redemption and ultimately doing right by this magnificent buck.
I also hope it never happens again!
The author is a regular Contributor to this magazine and the founder of Bowsite.com.
Author’s Note: My equipment on this hunt included a Mathews Phase4 bow set at 72 pounds, Victory VAP Elite arrows, Slick Trick broadheads, Moultrie trail cameras, Swarovski EL 10x42 binoculars, and clothing from Sitka Gear.