Mostly, Bowhunting A Legendary Deer Becomes A Privilege
It began as heavy footsteps on the thick, frost-covered layer of late October leaves. The steps were unlike those of a prancing lady. They were steady and purposeful. I wondered if it could possibly be him. This was the third day I had hunted this particular stand. The past two mornings a couple of immature bucks visited me. Maybe the footsteps were from one of these youngsters, or so I hoped, because it was still too early to loose an arrow.
As the footsteps approached, I began to make out a large dark body moving toward the thick cover just north of my stand. His course would put him in this thicket 40 yards away.
Tennessee hunter Bobby Worthington studies a rub he guessed the enormous buck he was trying to pattern had made.
With nothing to compare to the deer's size, I remained uncertain how large the form might be. It was too early to see a rack at this distance--if there was one to be seen. Everything indicated he was a buck thus far, but I could not be sure.
Then came the confirmation I needed. I heard what I believed to be horns hitting the limbs of a tree, or perhaps a sapling. The noise confused me. These woods were fairly open and I assumed a buck could pass through without catching his headgear on vegetation.
Maybe his rack was too tall, too wide or both to clear the brush. That turned out to be the understatement (or thought) of the year! I had decided on this game plan. I would wait until the buck entered his bedding cover, and after I gained the few minutes of light I desperately needed, I would attempt to call him within bow range. While the plan was not foolproof, I was confident in my calling ability. All in all, this seemed the only game in town.
Something else was happening. From about the time I first heard the heavy footsteps, I also heard a second deer coming in from farther out. This deer seemed to be on a course that would put him under my stand. However, from about the time I first saw the large, dark shape, I had heard nothing of this second deer. My attention was totally focused on the dark image moving toward the cover in front of me. Just as he was reaching the thick cover, the footsteps from the second deer again began to approach. I thought to myself, maybe this will help the situation. The buck in front of me also heard the second deer and stopped to wait on the approaching steps. When the second deer stepped within 30 yards, the first deer turned toward him and did a snorting wheeze. I knew at that moment I was dealing with two bucks. I also felt strongly that the dark image in front of me was the more dominant and possibly the older buck; the one I was hunting. After completing his warning, the buck began to make his way toward the second deer, moving past my location at 30 yards.
By now it was legal shooting light, but still somewhat dark in the cover. There were two reasons I did not take the 30-yard shot. First, I had a fear that in the low light my broadhead might touch an unseen limb. Second, while I could now make out a rack towering high over his head, I still wasn't sure if this was the buck I hoped to see. As a result, I held up on the shot. After all, the situation was beginning to get interesting. I believed I would have a better opportunity as things unfolded.
The two bucks met about 30 yards west of my stand. Although relatively thick cover separated us, I could make out the two bodies fairly well. This was the last confirmation I needed. The large, darker buck was every bit as big as I had thought! As the second buck shied away and cowered from the larger buck, he looked as small as a fawn running around the big fellow's feet.
After a few minutes of standing still, the big buck started moving off in the opposite direction from his secure bedding thicket. He was paralleling my stand about 30 yards out in the cover. I did not really know why he decided it was now not important to be in his sanctuary before good light. Maybe the young buck's actions got him worked up. Whatever the reason, it was apparent he was heading out to look for does.
The situation was perfect. The big fellow had traveled in a half-circle around my stand without being alerted and there was another buck in the immediate area. I knew I could call him in.
I did not call right away; I feared at 30 yards he could tell the sound came from above. If he looked up I might be caught because the tree I was in had little cover.
I waited until the monster was about 40 yards away and walking. I then gave a doe bleat on a mouth call. He stopped at once. I waited. After 10 to 15 seconds he started to move off again. As soon as he did, I baited him again with the doe bleat. He stopped again. This time he remained still for 25 or 30 seconds. As soon as he started to move again I repeated the doe bleat then followed quickly with two-buck grunts. That did it. He came running straight toward me! He approached to within 21 yards before stopping. He was now facing head on to my location, looking all around the area of the tree I was perched in. This was the first time I got a good look at his rack. It was hard for me to believe my eyes. His beams swept upward high over his head then turned outward, making his spread incredibly wide for a Virginia whitetail, or any subspecies of whitetail for that matter. I would have been amazed to see this class of buck in the Midwest where I do my serious trophy hunting. So you can imagine how unbelievable it was for me to be face to face with this huge-racked buck less than seven miles from my Tennessee home.
The author's majestic 4x5 whitetail possessed a rack that towered over his head, with an inside spread of more than 26 inches.
I was now sure this deer was the old buck I was hunting. I felt as if I knew this huge old monarch even though this was the first time I had laid eyes on him. For the past few years I had heard rumors from local hunters and residents that such a buck lived in the ridges and gulfs which surround my work place. I doubted the rumors. Even considering the remoteness of some of these gulfs, the chances of any one buck living for seven or eight years in this area was unlikely. This region receives heavy hunting pressure during the long four months of deer season. To make matters even more unlikely, there are a few thieves who work the area over hard. These poachers are constantly, night and day, out looking for deer to steel from sportsmen. So I dismissed the rumors as perhaps different middle-aged bucks with similar rack formations seen over the past few years.
That all changed in the spring of 2001 when I held, in my hands, a massive shed which a co-worker of mine found. It w
as difficult to judge his spread from the single shed. Also a whistler, which had developed during velvet, had stopped his main beam's growth. However, one thing was obvious; the buck that dropped this huge shed was something special.
I decided to hunt this buck next deer season. Without being too inquisitive I listened to every comment made concerning the big fellow. Tales were really floating around. Finding the shed had started the stories going in earnest.
A few weeks later, I dug out some maps of the area. As I studied the maps and walked the woods it became apparent where I should begin my hunt. There was a long, narrow flattop ridge, which ran through the area. One side of this ridge dropped off to a blacktop road. The other side dropped off steeply into a large gulf. Big buck sign was scattered about along this ridge. The shed was also found on a wide spot on this same ridge in a green field. Around the field were several large productive white oaks. I decided on a stand about 300 yards from the green field. At this point the ridge narrowed because of a drainage that cut into its backbone. This drainage funneled any deer movement.
After several trips from the green field to the spot where the drainage dropped off, I decided I was losing little, if any, deer movement to the gulf. The first trail that dropped off the ridge worked down the side of the drainage at my stand. Everything looked good. I added some cover to the tree I picked to hunt and trimmed a few shooting lanes. I then left the area, not to return until the second week of October.
Around the middle of October I revisited the area. On this trip I made a large scrape, which could be seen from anywhere on the ridge and from the trail that dropped off. The next day I returned to check the scrape. In it was large prints. They were three inches long, exceptionally wide, flat, and rounded. By all indications they were the tracks of an old buck. I assumed they were from the old buck that dropped the shed. I again tore the ground up in the scrape and the same big tracks were present the next day. That was all I needed to see to confirm that I was set up right. I would not return again until it was time to hunt.
I decided not to hunt the buck before the fourth week of October and only then if we had a cold snap. The cold front came in on the 24th. On that evening I began hunting my stand. I saw only does and a young buck the first and second day I hunted the stand. However, the big footprints were still showing up in my scrape. It was obviously dark before he made his way to my stand location. I felt I was hunting him outside the borders of his core area. If that were the case, it probably would be another week or more before I would have a chance to arrow him where I now hunted.
About noon on October 26, through a friend, I became aware of some large rubs about a mile and a half from my stand. From what I heard about the rubs, and considering the direction of the gulf that bordered the ridge, I felt this could be sign from the old buck.
That evening I entered the area to look around. There was a grown-over strip pit in this location with open hardwoods surrounding it. The area was indeed torn up with large rubs. Three of the rubs were as large as my calf and showed signs of being rubbed for several years. As I studied the rubs it became apparent they were not all made at the same time. I came to this conclusion from the age of the rub marks on the trees and from the number of rubs in the area. That was encouraging news. Two other things were also obvious: First, from looking at which side the trees were rubbed, I could see that the buck came through this area in the morning heading to the thick cover to bed. Second, the way the rubs were scattered, I knew I was close to his bedding location. Judging from everything I saw, I knew I should place a tree from which to hunt and hang a stand before leaving.
The next morning at the break of day, I was sitting in the stand. However, the big boy did not show, although two 11?2-year-old bucks did. The next morning I again saw the two young bucks plus a doe with her fawn. I was not discouraged, I knew I was set up right and I would continue to pay my dues. I would hunt this stand one more morning; a day predicted to be very cold for this time of year. After tomorrow's hunt I would give both stands a five-day break before alternating between stands again. As it turned out, planning beyond tomorrow's hunt (October 29) was not necessary.
Bobby Worthington repaired the tip of the Monarch's main beam, adding a symmetrical six inches to what was believed to be missing. The deer survived many seasons in this mountainous terrain of eastern Tennessee despite long seasons and heavy hunting pressure.
And so there I was, face to face with the old monarch. I didn't dare blink an eye as he stood 21 yards away scanning the woods for the deer he had heard. He stood there for about 40 or 50 seconds, then he turned his head to the left to check out a mock scrape I had made the evening I had hung my stand. As soon as he started to move I drew my bow. He was moving from my left to my right. By the time he had taken two steps I was drawn and settled in on his chest just behind his shoulder. As he paused for one last glance at the scrape my arrow was on its way.
At the shot the buck bolted. I did not see my arrow in flight. However, from all indications, the shot was true. First of all I knew I was on him when I released. Second, when the arrow hit the sound I heard was that familiar thump of a chest-hit deer. Also, when the buck went out of sight I heard him stop and then I heard a crashing sound. All were indications of a fatal hit. Without having seen where the arrow hit, I decided to stay in my stand for one hour. After all it was a clear, frosty morning and another six hours before I had to be at work. So I sat back and enjoyed the excitement of this cold October morning.
After a full hour's wait, I descended from my tree stand and walked over to where the buck stood when I shot. After a few minutes of looking around, I began to become concerned. I could find no blood sign at all. I started working back and forth in the direction the buck had fled. I had walked about 25 yards from the spot where I found half of the fletching-end of my shaft. There was blood and brown hair at the break. That somewhat increased my confidence, but I still could not find a blood trail. I followed, kicking up leaves to a dim road, then that sign stopped too. I searched the road, still no blood.
I stood in the road and thought the situation over. Many of my bow-killed deer that were chest shot close to the shoulder or just behind the shoulder left no blood sign for the first one hundred yards or so. This was especially true if there was no exit wound. In the case of a hit like this, the working back and forth of the shoulder might keep the entry hole closed, not allowing
blood to escape. As I thought over the situation I came to believe this conclusion. Because there was no tree at the location of the broken shaft, the working of the shoulder had to have broken the arrow. The more I thought it over the more my confidence returned. I finally said to myself, "I know the shot was true; I know I heard him go down; and I am going to find my buck."
I walked right up on the fallen monarch. It was hard to believe how far off the ground the right beam extended. It reminded me of a mature fallow deer's high and wide rack. As I grabbed the beam and lifted the deer's head I was somewhat disappointed to see approximately six inches of his left beam broken. Even considering this, his headgear was spectacular.
The rack was a 4x5 with two three-quarter-inch matching stickers points on each massive base. If his left beam had matched the right side he was a basic five-by-five before the break. The height and spread of the old monarch's rack was overwhelming. His main beams swept upward extending high over his head. I do not believe I have ever seen a whitetail buck with beams that set this high over his head. The spread is what was most impressive. He had an inside spread of 262?8 inches, and an outside spread just short of 28 inches. It was obvious from the way his beams continually widened that his spread would have been even wider if not for the broken left beam.
After quite a bit of pondering and talking to other hunters, I decided to rebuild the missing section of the left beam. Because it was impossible to know for sure what the end of the left beam looked like, I rebuilt it to match his right side. Now, after the repair, his inside spread measures 28 inches and his outside spread measures 296?8 inches. Because there was only about six inches of horn to replace, I feel this is very close to the spread he carried before he broke his beam.
When I pried his jaw open to check his teeth, I found his jaw teeth worn to the bone. The old monarch had run these ridges and gulfs for many years.
Several things make this deer one of my most cherished trophies. First, very few whitetails will grow a rack this impressive. The spread, height, and mass are a rare combination that makes him one in a million whitetails. Also the fact that I was hunting this particular buck means a lot to me. It only takes a glance at the shed to know it was from the same buck. The shed has the same two sticker points on the base that the buck I killed has on both bases.
The deer is also a special trophy because of his age and the fact that he was able to live to old age while being constantly pursued by a large number of hunters and thieves. Very few bucks will live over five-and-a-half years, especially where there is a long firearms season. If a buck does make it to old age he will nearly always die from natural causes.
Last, but not least, I harvested him in my home state of Tennessee. It means a lot to me to harvest any mature buck in my home state. Very few bucks this impressive have ever been taken in Tennessee or anywhere in the South for that matter. His inside spread is one of the widest, if not the widest, of any whitetail ever harvested in the Volunteer State. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to hunt such a magnificent whitetail.