30 SECONDS ABOVE ANTLERS
I sat motionless. I had just had one of the most intense 30 seconds of my life. The morning was cold and still as I climbed into my stand, not a breath of wind rolled across the picked corn field. There was no sound. It was kind of like looking at a photo. You stare at it but none of your senses seem to be working, not smell, sound, only sight. I hung my bow on the hanger and pulled up my pack and rattling horns. With grunt call, horns, and doe bleat hanging from the hooks in front of me, I settled in for the morning’s set.
I had seen a whole herd of whitetails in this field the night before. Four shooters were running does all over the field. Twice I had raised my range finder setting the cross hairs on a good buck only to press the button and see he was just out of range. It was an unforgettable evening to say the least. The chasing went on well after shooting time.
I finally had to blow the deer out of the field so I could get back to my truck without them pinpointing my stand location. I climbed down and unhooked my lifeline, turned on my small light and headed toward the muddy corn field. I scanned the ground looking for a small nothing in the vast field. I had 2 big bucks appear out of nowhere. They were coming from the same area. Both were standing at the same spot when I hit them with the laser range finder and both just out of my comfortable range. I had tried grunting them into expectable shooting distance, but their minds were focused on love from the pod of does feeding in the field. Their horns stood long and tall as they shined in the setting sun. Checking each doe that would give them a good sniff, they lip curled looking for that first Hot doe of the season. I searched for some kind of trail the bucks had been using to enter the field and scan the feeding does without being detected with my small pen light.
After several passes back and forth across the area, I came across the slightingly beaten pathway. I could tell it was the path the bucks had been using because of the big spread hove indentations with dew claws hitting a good five inches behind track. I followed the trail across the field to the adjacent timber line. It disappeared into the tall stand of foxtail on the edge. The darkness had me out of whack on my bearings, so I raised my head and skylighted the timber lines to get a good position. I know I had a gun stand in this area already set up, cleared, and fitted with lifeline. The small light did not offer much help as I scanned the treetops looking for the stand. To my right 30 yards, I could see the reflective thread woven into the lifeline. I paced 33 steps to the base of my stand. It was on an inside bend in the field, slightly sticking out a little from the point the bucks had come from. It was not the perfect set up, but it would at least get me into the area the bucks had entered the field and give me a day or so before the estrus cycle began, and they were locked down.
The field edge came to life slowly this morning. I closed my eyes and mentally tried to rough score the 2 bucks that had given me a glance at their magnificent racks. Both perfect 10 points. Their G 2’s standing tall and straight. My mind wandered into a blissful splendor as I dosed in and out waiting for shooting time. It was my 3rd sit of the season. I had not gotten much scouting or camera time in since I had spent the last month on Covid lock down. I had contracted a bad version of the virus. In fact, with my underlying lung problems, it had damn near killed my wife and myself. I was fortunate to get in quick for the antibody stomach injections that, in my mind, saved my life. I was weak but had started my long recovery from the 2 weeks of Hell I had gone thru just a couple weeks from this morning. I scanned the field as dawn approached looking for a single buck cruising or the does that had no doubt left a ton of scent in the area the night before. I too had left scent, my mix of different gland lures well placed in my shooting lanes to possibly stop a wandering buck or to stop a chasing one before climbing into the stand. Several hours later and not so much as a glimpse of a whitetail, my only sighting was a mangy black farm cat that had somehow escaped the pack of coyotes I had heard bellowing from the darkness two ridges over. I watched as it hunted mice in the thick foxtail below. I thought to myself, this is not a good omen having a black cat walk in front of you during a hunt. The sun was gaining distance from the treetops. The bewitching hour had come and gone. All I could think about was a nap and the thermos of warm sausage gravy sitting in my truck just waiting to be dumped over the biscuits in a Tupperware container on my front seat.
Finally, I made the decision to climb down and head for the Tundra. I grabbed the pack and started to load it when I realized I had not hit the horns all morning. I unloaded the pack again and hung the grunt call around my neck and reached for the horns. With them laid across my lap and grunt call in my mouth, I began to make a racket that sent the black cat straight up a nearby tree. He turned and looked straight at me wondering what the H… I was and why I had interrupted his hunt. I continued to bang horns and tree limbs followed by intimidating grunts and bellows. The sound of the mock battle would surely have carried at least a half mile across the brightly colored timber. This went on for at least 2 minutes. I laid the horns down and tried to catch my breath from my covid scarred lungs. Thinking this was a waste of time, I made a cardinal mistake. I had not laid the Ravin across my lap and readied for a shot.
The buck came in behind several oak branches still full of leaves. His approach was not detected by me until he was coming hard. As time slowed, I could see him clearly at only 10 yards from the stand. He came in with every hair standing tall and erect on his back. His sidestep walk was meant to intimidate the bucks he had heard fighting and send them a foot so he could take the Hot doe they were undoubtingly fighting over. His demeanor is one I will never forget. He looked like a father that had just caught his daughter’s boyfriend trying to sneak a kiss on the front porch after an hour past her curfew. He stopped and buried his nose into the estrus and dominate buck glad lure I had placed under the stand. As he dropped his head, my arms grabbed for the bow. I shouldered it and looked for his vitals in the cross hairs of the slightly fogged up scope. Twice I had to pull off him for his enormous body filed the scope with nothing but brown. The third time, I started at his front leg and moved to his shoulder and released the bolt and Rage broadhead his way. The knock lit upon exiting the Ravin. I watched the bright knock as it passed thru the buck’s chest. The buck kicked his hind legs high after the pass thru, whirled and headed on a full run back into the center of the field. After 70 yards, he turned on a dime and headed back my way and crashed thru the dense underbrush edge only 60 yards from my position.
I hung the Ravin back on its hanger and bowed my head thanking God I had gotten off the shot and hoping my aim was true. I looked down and could see the bright orange knock still glowing with the bolt firmly bedded into the ground. I was relieved it had not hit a shoulder, but anxiety soon set in as I looked at the angle the bolt was stuck in the earth. I prayed the trajectory of the arrow’s flight had hit vitals. Was the shot too high? Was it too far forward? I could not visibly see any blood splatters on the dried foxtail. This sent me into a panic attack, the same one I get every time I release any projectile at a buck, be it slug, bolt, or arrow. Questions started flooding my mind how big was he? How many points? He was a beast. His body was long and wide. I could see the roman nose as he crashed into the underbrush a mere 60 yards away. I struggled loading my Cabella’s pack, dropping a bolt, grunt call, and candy bar from the canopy towards the ground. I got my lifeline hung up twice as I climbed down the stairway from heaven. To say that was an intense 30 seconds would not have given the moment justice. Every sense had been highlighted 30 times fold. My hands shook as I searched the ground for the things I had dropped. I reloaded the Ravin and set out to locate the bolt. After a good looking over, my anxiety had not lessened. The bolt had a little blood on it and some hair but was not exactly what I was looking for. I set it back into the quiver and started looking for a blood trail even though I knew exactly where the buck had crashed into the edge. I aways trail blood so I can get a sense of how bad the buck is hit before I move to locate him. Quietly, I scanned the ground looking for sign he was hit good. After a hundred yards I was losing hope, not much blood to track and the tracks of the running whitetails the night before gave me no clear trail to follow. I decided to head back to the truck and give him another hour. Back at the truck, I fumbled thru my pack re-organizing and adding my field dress pouch to my pack. I fired a practice bolt at my Bass Pro Shops block target and felt a little relief that the scope was still dead on.
I left the truck and headed back across the field to the spot I had seen the buck exit. I shouldered the Ravin as I slowly stepped thru the hole in the underbrush the flight of the hit buck had made. I scanned every inch for any sign of blood or him. Slowly, I stalked until out of a little depression 40 yards in I saw antlers sticking up. He was done. I tore thru the multiflora rose bushes to get to him. He was a tank. He was an old buck with his horns still laden with strips of bark he had peeled from rubs just days before. His neck was swollen, and his rack held mass, a fully mature Illinois Giant. I sat and pulled the victory cigar from my pack, lit it up and inhaled deeply, exhaling the smoke with a sigh of relief. It had not been perfect and may have been a bit lucky to take this brute without much scouting, but the homework I had done during the summer had paid off again. I sat near the fallen buck and closed my eyes trying to burn those intense 30 seconds of the hunt firmly into my memory. Remember my friends, preparation, setup, good equipment and confidence will always prevail when you are 30 seconds above Antlers!!
SEE ‘YA IN THE CANOPY…