February 16, 2023
By Jim Bouchard
My friends have always made fun of me because I never get rid of pictures on my phone. It’s true, I have thousands of photos saved; however, they aren’t just sitting there idle, since I view them quite often. It always warms my heart to see a picture of my children after being born, the vacations my wife and I have enjoyed or the last Christmas I spent with my grandmother.
I also have a tremendous number of outdoor pictures, ranging from fish I’ve caught to the animals I’ve trapped and deer I’ve pursued and killed. What has always intrigued me about these images is that I'm the only one who knows the whole story that goes with them. That’s why I love looking at other people’s photos. I always wonder, What’s the whole story? What led up to the moment being captured? Is there more to the story that can’t be seen?
This concept is what led to this article. Two years ago, I had an extraordinary morning in the woods and capitalized on one of the best bucks of my life. The deer’s picture is what takes up the home screen on my computer and helps inspire me on a daily basis to continue to practice shooting and perfect my plans for fall. There's more to the picture than a random chunk of woods, a bow and a whitetail — much, much more!
Worth a Thousand Words
The woods where this deer is lying is a farm I've had access to since 2015. The farm was established in 1876 and has been in the family for four generations.
The family was great friends with one of my greatest mentors, my grandfather James Chandler, who my son and I are named after. I have had the opportunity to teach and coach the current owner’s four children at different times of my career, and I've also had the opportunity to teach the exchange students they've hosted throughout the years.
This farm is the location where I killed my first turkey and helped the farmer with his irrigation problems by trapping a colony of five super-efficient beavers. It’s also the location where I have been able to share more than one laughing fit with my daughter, Grace, in the shadows of our popup blind. The property is one on which I have had the good fortune of harvesting some of my best whitetails over the years. It is one of my favorite places on the planet, and I've made more memories on this piece of ground than any other location my boots have ever touched.
The bow that lies across this deer is one that I've had since November of 2015. Hours and hours of practice have been completed with this particular bow. It has been tuned and tweaked to my liking through countless tinkering sessions. It has been rained on, snowed on, sweat on and bled on. It has slammed off tree steps more often than I would like to admit, and it has been a perch for many chickadees and nuthatches.
This bow has gone seasons without even being drawn on an animal, and other years where it seemed the bowstring came back to the corner of my mouth every time I entered the woods. It has been unwillingly forced to hear my complaints about hunting conditions and lack of activity. It has been forced to hear my not-so-appropriate language on less than stellar shots on the range, but it also has been kissed a time or two after success.
The arrows in the quiver were fletched in the basement during a winter snowstorm while I dreamt of what was in their future. They also had to withstand my preseason backyard ritual of “starting lineup tryouts,” where each arrow had to compete for the leadoff spot in the quiver. This bow is one that has become such a part of my hunting life that it will never leave my possession. If or when I ever upgrade to another bow, it will always remain with me. It has been through too much to be in someone else’s hands!
The Rest of the Story
The other things that cannot be seen in this picture are the countless hours of reading, scouting, trimming, shed hunting, etc. Hunting season, after all, is only a short portion of the year.
It also cannot show the years of dreaming of a chance at a buck like this. After all, it isn’t like I just started hunting yesterday; I'm 43 years old and have been dreaming of big bucks since I was in the single digits. Millions of hours (OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration) have been spent staring into the woods and swamps that seem completely void of life, even after my best calculations for what seemed to be the perfect location.
The obvious star of the photo is the deer. The layout of this particular picture is one of my favorite shots that I take whenever I successfully harvest an animal. It's just my bow, the woods and the animal, set up as if I’ve just come upon them.
This particular deer is truly special to me. It’s from Alcona County in northern Michigan, and bucks such as this are not around every corner in this area. To be honest, most hunters go their whole life and never even see a whitetail like this. In this part of the world, there is an ongoing concern over bovine tuberculosis in deer and an increasing concern about CWD. Our state’s rifle season goes for multiple weeks during the prime rut, and in recent years it has turned into an almost multiple-month endeavor with youth season, a late doe hunt and other special hunts. All this, along with Michigan’s hunter numbers, among the highest in the country, makes bowhunting success extremely tough.
What I’m saying is that deer don’t often grow old here. If a buck gets to the age of 3½, it is a bona fide miracle. A deer of 4½ has encountered enough hunters in its lifetime to the point of being ridiculous.
This particular buck was one I had no trail-camera pictures of or knowledge of until Halloween morning, when I got a fleeting glimpse of him hitting a scrape and wandering right by and into a marsh with no interest in my grunts. He also mysteriously appeared a couple of days later at 50 yards, raking a tree at last light during a brutal windstorm. My morning of success came following a close encounter with another buck that I'd pulled an aggressive move on two days prior.
I had moved into a tight corner of thick cover leading to a pasture, and an hour before dark I had the buck at 15 yards working a scrape. I came to full draw unnoticed, only to have the buck — in a sixth-sense move — spin and disappear into cover as I had my pin on his shoulder and pressure on the trigger.
Needless to say, that night and the next day were full of anxiety and frustration and almost led to my taking the day off on that Saturday, Nov. 7. However, even though it was going to be unseasonably warm, I had to go out since it was November 7th — you just don’t miss that day!
That morning started off with grunts and chasing behind me a half-hour before shooting light. As the first rays of light developed, I heard a deer working toward the same scrape the buck had come to on Halloween, before it ghosted by me to live another day.
Pessimistically, I figured the same thing would happen, only to have the buck work his way directly to my tree. After that, the rest is history. I came to full draw, stopped the buck in my lane and executed a perfect shot as if it was second nature.
I wasn’t even aware of what deer I'd killed. I just knew the buck had a great frame and that was all I needed to know. Focusing on the shot, as all archers know, is paramount.
Memories & Much More!
The walk up to this buck is one I will cherish forever. Sitting in that swamp and looking at the image in “real time” brought it all together. The farm, the bow, the practice, the failure, the dreams and the success were all right there in one moment.
Even now, I'm overwhelmed when I look at the picture, and you can bet I'll thrill at that memory until I have the opportunity to make another.