In life, there are just some “firsts” you never forget—your first kiss, your first job, your first car. For those of us who hunt, I think it’s pretty safe to assume your first really big buck is somewhere on that life list of unforgettable moments.
My big-buck moment came in September 2009 during an early-season bowhunt outside Kirksville, Mo. At the time, it had been less than a year since I assumed the editor’s role at Petersen’s BOWHUNTING, so the 2009 season marked the first time I was able to take advantage of newfound opportunities to chase big, Midwestern whitetails. Prior to that, the vast majority of my deer hunting had occurred in my home state of Pennsylvania, and while I had put plenty of whitetails on the ground, there wasn’t a whopper in the bunch.
Needless to say, I carried sky-high expectations for what the Show-Me State would show me. During the first two days of the hunt, however, every archer in camp saw a shooter except me! And after a slow morning on day three, I was getting antsy.
That’s when I caught my big break. One of the other hunters in camp – someone who had several close encounters with shooter bucks but was unable to get a shot – had to head home early to deal with some work commitments. Call me an opportunist, but I graciously “volunteered” to occupy that hunter’s stand that afternoon!
Around 3:00 p.m., I climbed into a ladder stand set along the edge of a large clover plot where some big bucks had been making regular evening appearances. In addition to the clover, the large white oak where the stand was set was dropping bushels of acorns, making the setup absolutely ideal. I wasn’t surprised when I saw a steady stream of deer and turkeys visit the plot that afternoon. It was clearly a great spot, and with any luck, one of the big boys would show up before nightfall.
A little after 7:00 p.m., I was watching a medium-sized 8-pointer to my left when the buck suddenly stopped feeding, raised his head high and stared past me at something coming from the bottom end of the plot. I slowly turning my head and was awed by the sight of the largest buck I had ever seen from a stand to that point in my life. My body was instantly supercharged by a rush of adrenaline, and I reached for my rangefinder as the big buck made his way steadily toward the smaller 8-pointer; a path that would take him directly past my stand.
With the buck now standing at 25 yards, I drew my bow, gapped the 20- and 30-yard pins and released a perfect shot that sucked right into the crease behind his front shoulder. The buck sprinted across the food plot, crashed into the woods on the opposite side and then…silence.
I radioed back to camp for some tracking assistance, and as I sat there waiting for the others to arrive, I realized my perspective on deer hunting had changed forever. If there was a big-buck club, I had just joined it; the bar had been forever raised.
We found my heart-shot prize 120 yards from the stand. The majestic buck sported 14 points, tipped the scales at 210 pounds (live weight) and scored 157 2/8 gross—easily my best ever.
In the three-plus years since that hunt, I’ve had many more opportunities to chase big bucks and even killed a few. But there’s just something special about the first time you can never duplicate.
- Nothing in the outdoors compares to the scream of a rutting bull elk as it echoes through the high country on a calm morning. There’s something ethereal, almost intimidating about such a raw, wild sound. It can strip you, at least in part, of whatever significance you may have assigned to yourself.
My son, Jason, and I were getting a double dose of that exhilaration as two bulls bugled their way toward my seductive cow calls. Their pace through the Arizona timber was deliberate and committed. Each feared the other would get to the cow first.
Jason lay in wait; arrow nocked, just 30 yards in front of me, with videographer, Larry D. Jones, rolling camera over his shoulder. Though our experience levels ranged from greenhorn to veteran, the three of us trembled with equal excitement. Screaming bulls, at close range, will do that to you.
I simultaneously called and watched through binoculars as the larger bull strolled into our ambush. Then, as if he’d walked into a sinkhole, the bull instantly dropped out of my field of view. Jason’s arrow had struck the bull a bit high and severed its spinal cord, dropping him in his tracks.
I rushed to a scene filled with hugs, handshakes and maybe a touch of prideful tears. Jason seemed somewhat stunned at first, as though the moment hadn’t really happened, but it was real. He’d taken a beautiful bull elk with his bow and I was thankful to be there to share the experience with him. Father and son moments don’t get much better that that one.
Jason is a serious, dedicated hunter/angler. It’s in his nature. And I’m proud of that.
—Curt Wells - Bowhunter Magazine