They say “Patience is a virtue.” However, if you read the Bible you learn that it’s a virtue that’s hard earned. Deer hunters know this all too well. Wait for the bigger buck and eventually it will show up. It took me a long time to learn this lesson but I did and it did finally paid off with a great buck I was not expecting.
A little backstory is needed here. I’ve been hunting since I was 16 years old, but my lessons were not from a seasoned family member. They were learned the hard way, trial and error. My family didn’t hunt. We fished, a lot, but never hunted. I was interested and a friend in high school introduced me to squirrel hunting at 16. That was all it took. I lived in Florida for a total of 20 years and spent the first 10 years of whitetail hunting braving the public game lands in the sunshine state. On Florida public lands, the only legal game is a buck with over 6” of antlers on both sides. This means there are a ton of malnourished does run around these woods, with most spike bucks getting shot before they ever have a chance to grow. (Poor game management in my opinion, but not the point to this story.) What all this means is that I never had an opportunity to even shoot at a deer until I moved to North Carolina in 2012. At this stage I had been hunting for 16 years, in my early 30’s, without any success. I have paid my dues and to say I was frustrated would be an understatement. Finally, in 2014 I successfully connected with my first deer and harvested a spike buck. A trophy to me that will forever have a place on my trophy wall. Since that year I have shot at least 1 deer every season, progressively getting better bucks.
Opening day of 2016 set the tone for what would be a great season for me. I was able to shoot my first deer with a bow that first evening taking the normal pressure to get meat off my back and giving me confidence with my abilities. I saw deer over 50% of my sits and passed on several. Taking a meat deer first off meant my family eats and I could now focus on something more substantial. If you are as obsessed with deer hunting as I am, you watch the hunting channels rather religiously. I’ve drooled over these shows where they had so many deer coming in that they can sit, watch, count and make the call as to what is worth taking. I had never experienced this until the 2016 season. It was marvelous. By taking that pressure off myself I learned first hand what everyone had been telling me. “Be patient and wait. If you wait and let the little ones go, bigger and better will come along.” I learned a lot about deer behavior and patterns that year. I learned a lot about the hunt itself.
Now those of you who hunt the Southeast know that we don’t normally have a hard, traditional rut like they do in the Northeast or out West. Every few years we get to see bucks actively chasing does in daylight like we see on all those hunting shows, but normally what we get is a bunch of night time trail cam photos of this activity or maybe a few daytime small bucks following their instincts. Because of weather, and a whole lot of other theories, our rut is drawn out in the Southeast and can even happen 2 or 3 times during a season. It makes predicting and hunting this anticipated time extremely difficult.
However, November of 2016 was one of those magical times where a clear and defined daytime rut happened, and I happened to be out in the woods for it. I had 2 days off works from my job and had only planned on hunting 1 morning. I had a honey-do list piling up that needed done. The responsible side of me said “Get it done.” The first morning was amazing. I sat for about 2 hours and saw 15 does coming running out of the woods surrounding my small cut corn field I was sitting on. I had already eaten most of my first deer and was looking at trying for a big buck or doe. I had more than 15 does come out and so much activity that I couldn’t even stand up to relieve myself without having 1 nearly walk under my stand.
Several does were big, close and filled my cross-hairs completely, but something in the back of my mind kept me from pulling the trigger. With all these does running around and the time of year that it was there should be bucks moving too. Where were they? With all that activity I couldn’t ignore the possibility of the next morning and decided the “honey-do list” would have to wait. Thankfully I have a very understanding wife who agreed it was too good to pass up, so I made my plans. The next morning, I went back to the same spot with a good buddy of mine a few hundred yards away on the opposite side of the wood line. Again, the parade of deer started not long after sunrise and again it was a bunch of does. My buddy saw a nice buck at 400 yards but had no shot. After about an hour a small spike buck showed himself and began what would be a day of entertainment from this young guy. As I watched doe after doe come through that nearly empty freezer started to call louder and louder. The patience I was learning started to wane. I saw only that same small spike buck making loops around me, otherwise, nothing with antlers. As things started to slow I decided the next big doe was going in the freezer. I wasn’t going to let an opportunity like this to pass without getting another deer.
Finally, a worthy doe came out, crossing from one wood line to another via an old farm road. She came out hard and fast at about 125 yards away. I had a clear straight shot with a 30-06 that could more than do the job. Making that quintessential “meeah” that all deer hunters seem to make, the doe slowed down but would not stop. As she slowed and I was preparing to take a shot at a moving target (not my ideal shot) my scope suddenly filled with antler! “NEVERMIND THIS B!$@#, I WANT HIM!!”, passed through my mind as the shakes set in big time. A very big bodied mature buck was chasing this doe and I had no idea until his rack popped up in my scope. Now my buddy had a management plan set up on this land I was hunting which meant the bucks antlers had to be wider than his ears and he needed to be a 130 or better. When you hunt in the wide open it’s easy to judge a deer on the hoof, but when you have a matter of seconds to get him while he is in a small farm road it’s not so easy. I knew he was big, beautiful and too good to pass up. This time my “Meeah” was shouted in order to make a break in the buck’s rut-crazed mind. Stop he did. Right on the edge of the woods and for no more than a second. Of course, with adrenaline pumping that second felt like an eternity and less than a second all at once. With the crosshairs covering his vitals I squeezed the trigger and he barreled into the thick woods head first on the run.
To say I had buck fever and the shakes set in would be an understatement. It took at least 30 minutes for my heart rate to slow and to catch my breath. While this was happening that little spike buck really started his show. He went crazy running all around. Running in and out of the woods, making laps around my stand, and running up and down the road at least a half a dozen times. It was like a teenage the very first time daddy leaves him alone at the house. My buddy heard the shot but after a few text we decided for him to stay hunting and give my buck a chance to expire. I saw that spike buck more times than I could count and a few other does while an hour plus passed. We decided it was time to retrieve my game. I start gathering my gear as my buddy heads down the farm road toward my stand. Walking in the middle of the road a small doe walks out not 30 yards in front of my buddy and they both freeze in an epic game of “Don’t Blink.” With his gun slung on his shoulder there wasn’t a lot he could do but watch. I think this young doe had about the same set of options since neither of them flinched for what seemed like a half an hour, of course it was only a few minutes. I was still in my stand watching this stand-off with so much intensity I would swear I was in the middle of it myself. The stalemate finally ended when my partner tried to shoulder his rifle which broke the trance, running the doe off. I get down and we begin the arduous task of tracking. Despair set in bad when I stand at the spot where the buck was standing and found no blood, only a tuff of hair. We looked all around and paying close attention to the tall grass the buck ran through before hitting the woods and no signs were found. As a last-ditch effort, we crossed the grass line to look deeper into the woods just in case the shot was off. “Thank the Lord, there is blood.” It was just few drops but it was enough to know I didn’t miss. As we began tracking the blood trail got heavier and we knew we were on the right path. Halfway through we heard the sound of a deer running around us in these thick woods. That crazy small spike buck made another last appearance. Crazy enough this curious young guy walked up within 10 yards of us trying to figure out what was going on. I had a can call in my pocket so I pulled it out and my buddy flipped it over to make that tell-tale cow sound. The spike buck bolted and then bound around us like a retriever playing fetch. I have never seen anything like it. It was like he knew he was safe and he was flaunting his freedom. After a great laugh we continued our trailing and came around a particularly thick patch of brush to find my buck lying there in all his glory.
He was big! He was a great 8 pointer with a huge neck and body. Ground shrinkage was non-existent with this guy and I about cried. I couldn’t believe how this all went down. I went way past cloud 9 and was somewhere in the neighborhood of cloud 19! It was about 150 yards of dragging to get him back out to the road where I shot him, and even with 2 of us, it took a good 45 minutes. He was heavy and the woods were thick, but I was not about to give up now. We walked back to the house, got the truck, and got him loaded up. As big as he was we made a stop at the local sporting goods store to get a scale. I had to know just how big he was. A neighbor stopped us on the way out and we found out this buck had been on his cameras over a mile away all season then disappeared shortly before I shot him.
Once we got him to the makeshift skinning post my buddy had set up we began the hard work of breaking him down. The decision was already made that a shoulder mount was going to be done and I wanted every bit of the meat I could get. Turned out his size made it hard to get an accurate weight. The skinning post was an old swing set pole bolted to a light pole with a crank winch off a boat trailer that lifted the deer off the ground. As we cranked one of the “S” hooks on the pole started to creak and moan, and with his head and most of his shoulders still on the ground, on the hook straightened. My heart was beating fast again when that steel cable “POPPED”, making us both jump back. The scale read 185 and still had a good quarter of the animal on ground. We called the weight at 200 and decided to not press our luck with the pole set up. We skinned him out and put the head and hide in the freezer to be taken later to the taxidermist. The buck fed my family great and for a long while. The shoulder mount came out beautifully and holds a focal point on my wall.
Had my patience ran out just a bit sooner I would’ve still had meat in my freezer but would have never even seen this buck, let alone gotten my hands on him. Since that time, I’ve let deer go, missed deer, and shot deer. He’s still my biggest and my best, but I have learned a lot from that experience. I watch more religiously now. Not only during deer season but also during the off season. I own land now that holds a few really good bucks that might trump this guy in antlers and size but have not had an opportunity at them yet. Patience is easier when you start the season off right. That much is for sure. However, patience is also necessary when you go after bigger and better deer. Trophy deer, challenging deer; they take time. They take observation and planning. Most of all they take patience. When in the deer woods, you never know what is lurking on the edge waiting to see what the younger deer do. Giving a pass to a smaller deer will eventually pay off but only God himself knows when. It can be very frustrating, I know, but giving those challenges time will pay off far greater than giving up and shooting just anything. We all need meat and sometimes the best you can do is a big doe. There is nothing wrong with that. But if your goal is that big cagey old buck. Time has to be your friend. Patience is the key, but man I know it sucks!