Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Spend enough time in the out-of-doors and, sooner or later, you’re going to witness an event that is so over the top — so overwhelmingly improbable — that you’ll be reluctant to tell your story to anyone — including your closest friends. My end of the season archery deer hunt was one of those occasions.
The winter sunrise was colorful, clear and cool. A brisk 15 mph NW wind had dropped wind chill values to around minus seven, which made sitting in the tree a truly refreshing experience. The first hour and a half were pretty dead; even the squirrels were staying curled up in their holes.
I’d somehow managed to forget my neck gator in the truck. Not good. By now, I was getting pretty tired of the wind blowing down my collar and was starting to fidget. It was about that time that things started to happen.
The first sign of activity was the quick flick of an ear. Peering into the thick understory, I spotted a doe standing in some cattails at the edge of a timber shrouded pond. One movement led to another and I soon determined that there were at least four deer moving toward a trail that would lead them in my direction.
The white-tails continued their advance and the first deer to reach my stand was a button buck and his twin sister — slowly passing within six steps of where I sat. A minute or so later, another button buck came walking down the trail — also passing within six paces. Next to appear were a mature doe and a year-and-a-half-old buck. The doe appeared to be heavier than the buck. We love venison and I decided to take her if I got the chance. From my elevated position I could see that the doe was sleek and wide; her back literally rippling as she moved. I waited until the white-tail came perfectly broadside, then quickly took aim and released the string. The deer wheeled, ran, and then dropped dead at 26 yards.
And so my archery hunt ended. As always, I had hoped to down a real wall hanger this season. And although I’d seen some eye popping bucks, had a few close encounters, and missed one easy shot; such was not to be. Nevertheless, I was extremely grateful for the way the hunt had ended.
As I sat reviewing the season in my mind, a rustling in the leaves jarred me back to reality. More deer were on the trail. The first two were does. And then – from farther back — I caught the glint of something shiny. I knew instantly that it was the tip of an antler.
Now this is where things really get nuts, and I hesitate to relate the rest of my story.
As the buck began to emerge from the thick understory, I could already tell that he was big. A few more steps and I could see that he was really big. By the time he’d mostly cleared the brush, my jaw was dropping.
Standing head on at 35 yards or so, I could now see that the deer’s well-polished antlers extended well beyond the width of his ears. But because of the surrounding clutter, I could not determine exactly how many points the antlers contained. I finally began to realize what I was looking at when the buck moved forward again and the “clutter” came with him — a mass of prickly tines that defied accurate count.
There was something else. The buck also had what appeared to be a dark shadow across the side of his face. Turned out that it really was a shadow — a shadow being cast by a long drop tine protruding like a stalactite from the underside of the buck’s main beam. In more than 40 years of bow hunting, this was the very first drop-tined buck I’d ever seen from a stand. For me, it was the deer of a lifetime.
Although the buck had been following the two does, he now seemed more intent on staring into the brush. I suddenly realized that he was looking at the deer I had shot. Only a couple of minutes had elapsed since I launched the arrow, and I suspected the buck had probably watched as the doe ran, stopped, and fell.
As the two does continued past my position, the buck seemed riveted in place. And then he turned and began walking to the fallen deer. Arriving at the carcass, the buck showed curiosity but not alarm. Although the other deer eventually disappeared, the big buck remained; coming within range of my stand on two separate occasions. In spite of the fact that the buck was in clear view for several minutes, I never did get an accurate count of his tines. I’ll just say that he easily bore the most points I’ve ever seen on a live deer.
Sometimes I carry a camera to the stand. Sometimes I don’t. Today I didn’t which, of course, made the encounter all the more painful since I could have taken tons of shots. But like I said earlier, I’m still extremely thankful for the way the hunt ended – grateful for the extra pounds of fresh venison.
Returning with the two wheel deer cart and camera, I took a couple of “selfies” before loading the doe and starting back for the truck.
Final Thought: Iowa’s late muzzleloader deer season will be here before you know it. Who knows? I might just be able to make that trip to the taxidermist yet. And, if the gun is completed in time, my friend Dave Thomas has offered to let me test his new flintlock rifle. Sounds like a real deal. I mean, what could go wrong?