By Marty Long
BUCK OF A LIFETIME
The sound of a dry leaf being crushed underfoot diverted my attention from the field in front of me. Moments before a squirrel had been rummaging around behind me but this sound was from something much heavier. Slowly turning to peer over my right shoulder I could see the top of his antlers as he turned his head from side to side. It was him. At just 10 yards there was no mistaking the split G-2 on his left side and the crab claw on each antler. His instincts told him something was up and after several minutes he turned and walked back the way he’d came. It was my first close encounter with the giant whitetail I’d been chasing for the past 3 seasons
For 3 years I’d gotten numerous trail cam pics of this buck in velvet from May through July. As soon as the antlers would harden and the velvet would come off, he would become a ghost, offering only fleeting glimpses throughout each hunting season. My every thought of hunting revolved around this giant buck and this early season was no different. There was however a change in the property that would prove to give me a big advantage in my quest to harvest this animal. Grass planted in mid august was coming on strong and it would prove to be his downfall. After hearing of his entering the field before dark, I knew it would be my best and possibly only chance of ever getting a shot at this buck.
A text from the property owner two days after my first encounter confirmed that I hadn’t run him off into the next county. He was still coming to the field before dark and it was time to get on him before he changed his pattern with the upcoming rut. By leaving work in Columbus at 4 o’clock I could be settled in by 6 and wait for him to show up.
Two days later, with an east wind I was set up on the ground in honeysuckle. I could take a shot from two directions before he would get downwind. It was risky but I had to try. Like clockwork he came out of the corner right to the shooting lane and turned straight-on toward me, put his head down and started feeding at 20 yards. I had no shot. After several minutes an unseen small buck had worked his way downwind and the hunt was over. As the huge buck left the field the way he’d come in I stood and drew my bow in case he’d stop to look back but no luck. If anything I think he caught my movement. He would not enter or exit the field from that corner again.
Two evenings later, back in stand at my original setup, movement in the northwest corner caught my eye. It was him once again. He had changed his entrance into the field. Darkness found him still at 80 yards, standing in the middle of the field. Now I had to climb down and get out without spooking him. Getting a shot at this buck was not going to be easy and I was running out of time.
A north wind the next day would keep me from hunting him. On Sunday evening, back in the stand, he would enter the field again from the northwest corner. Slowly and deliberately he made his way to the middle of the field with 2 smaller bucks. The young buck in the lead was at 45 yards and is where I needed him to be. With shooting light running out he finally pushed the smaller buck away and it was the shot I was looking for. As he slowly turned from quartering to me I let the arrow fly and heard it hit its mark.
By the time I pulled myself together and got the climber down it was dark. Reaching the spot he was standing I could not find my arrow. Finally finding blood at the field edge I tracked him over the hill for about 200 yards. Being unsure of a good hit I decided to leave him alone and pick up the trail in daylight the next day.
After a sleepless night I picked up the trail the next morning. After a few hundred yards the trail was getting sparse and abruptly ended. I moved forward in each direction he could have gone and nothing. I was sick. He had to have backtracked somewhere and I didn’t catch it. I suddenly wished I hadn’t taken the shot or had missed him completely. This magnificent buck was going to die out here somewhere and I wasn’t going to find him.
I decided to call off work one more day. I was going to scour this hillside and anywhere I thought he may have gone to find him.
On Tuesday morning while walking the edge of a wetland I found him floating in the pond at the opposite end. He had backtracked off the hill and had gone to water. The quest for the giant was finally over. My jubilation in pulling him from the water was worth every drop of sweat and countless hours on stand over the last 3 years.
I would like to give a special thanks to the Mcmanus family for their granting permission to do what I love to do and their help in retrieving this amazing animal. Without them this story would not have been written.