The big deer I finally took down and dubbed “Super Seven” came right after the lowest low in my hunting career.
I’ve been hitting the public lands woods alone for the past 15 hunting seasons, making more than 1,300 deer hunts in that span.
In all that time, I’ve harvested more than a dozen nice 2- and 3-year-old racked bucks, but the older mature brutes had always eluded me. I’ve never been one for getting lucky — every racked buck I’ve taken has come three or four years after hunting a particular tract of land.
It takes me countless hours in the stand and on foot to fully learn and perfect a game plan to outsmart the deer. Getting to know bedding areas, travel routes and natural food sources is quite the challenge. It’s even more of a hurdle on public land because the hunting pressure can definitely throw you a curve ball.
This deer season had gone moderately slow, but with bucks it was extremely slow.
To make matters worse, this November I was in the best shape of my life running 80 miles a week to prepare for the Boston Marathon. Then, after dragging out a deer, I went for a four-hour run, took a bad spill and ripped a ligament. Two months later, I still can’t even walk without pain, but missing a single hunt was never an option.
So I limped in the woods, into the deep mucky swamps and up the steep hills 1 to 2 miles to every spot since November, keeping my right leg as straight as possible. Hunting closer spots never crossed my mind. I just absorbed the pain and focused on getting a trophy. By the end of every weekend, my knee was back to being swollen like a softball.
Finally, on Jan. 5 on public land in Adams County, Miss., the action moment happened. A racked buck passed by me just 14 yards away after a hard rain. I had my compound bow and thought for sure this would be an easy takedown.
I got perfect video of the 18-yard quartering-away shot on this unique 20ish-inch solo-beamed buck. I aimed perfectly for the heart and was sure it was down for good.
However, little did I know after pulling out a big doe I shot with the bow really deep in the woods two days before, that the sites had gotten knocked off.
When I got down to check the arrow, all I could find were white hairs and very little blood. Shooting the bow at the camp that night revealed it was shooting 6 inches low at 20 yards. The good news was the buck would probably live since my video revealed only a low leg wound.
I tracked the buck the next morning before a torrential sleet and lightning storm moved in, but the small blood trail abruptly ended.
I proceeded to ride out a horrible thunderstorm in the dark in my climber praying I wouldn’t get struck by lightning and would get a chance at the bigger buck that presumably broke off that deer’s other antler.
Sure enough, my chance would come sooner than expected. Five minutes after the rain, the biggest buck I had ever seen slowly lumbered its way from upwind to 22 yards and turned broadside.
I couldn’t believe it: I was about to bag my first ever heavy-horned trophy after all these years with my primitive .444 Marlin.
My scope was slightly fogged, but I could clearly see that huge shoulder and squeezed. Click …and no boom. I was dumbfounded — my H & R Marlin had not messed up all season, but at the moment of truth it failed.
I quickly reloaded another round, but by then the buck was in the thicket, and my scope was completely fogged up.
So I couldn’t run, I was failing at hunting, and this season my wife and I lost our first child with a rare miscarriage of a healthy boy in our surrogate’s pregnancy due to medication. Depression overwhelmed me — a deep, dark depression.
I refused to give up, but switching weapons was a must. My wife had a new dependable Encore .460 S&W I had gotten her as a birthday gift, but it needed an optic.
A few weeks earlier, I was busting through palmettos in a rainstorm at Buckhorn Wildlife Management Area when I jumped a really nice racked buck with a 17-inch spread, but the internal components on the gun’s red-dot sight had gotten wet, rendering it useless. Spending all my money on the expensive gun left only enough funds for a cheap red-dot.
I got back to the camp after the misfire and put a scope from one of my rifles onto the gun. The .460 Encore worked flawlessly, except with the cheaper Barnes Vortex ammo when the brass would get stuck. Just my luck, I had run out of all other premium ammo on my vacation except for one last half-box of the Vortex.
I decided one shot, one kill would be fine and packed along a micro screwdriver to bust out stuck casings, along with the final few rounds I had left after siting it in quickly at close range.
The next evening I was ready, but I came across a stuck car in the mud with a couple and their 1-year-old stranded. With all that plastic on the bumpers, I couldn’t pull them out without damaging their vehicle, so I drove them home to get out of the cold.
I didn’t realize they lived 30 minutes away, but was glad to help. Sure enough, while climbing up my tree way later than planned at 4 p.m., a nice racked buck walked slowly through a perfect gap. But the way my luck had been going, you guessed it — the gun was still on the ground tied to the pull rope.
Now I was really feeling down, but my buddies told me good karma would be coming my way. Thank goodness, they were right.
The next day, I switched tactics and stalk-hunted in very windy conditions, bagging a nice 155-pound 7-pointer on R.K. Yancey WMA with a heart and liver shot to get my first racked buck of the season. It was my first ever rack on the stalk, but the bullet hit a touch lower than where I aimed. I figured I just pulled a tad lower on the trigger squeeze.
After that 64th harvested public land deer, I just accepted that a giant buck wasn’t in the cards. It required too much luck, and in 13 years I had only had once chance, so I was sure it would take another 13 years before my next opportunity.
Still, I went back for the bigger misfire buck looking for redemption, but the pressure had pushed out the deer leaving no fresh sign. So I trekked much deeper to a spot I learned years ago.
That season I had tagged out on bucks by Jan. 2, but I spent the entire final month longbow hunting for does even when I was sick as a dog with the flu.
I didn’t score any does, but the information gathered now came back full circle. I had learned their late-season pressured patterns, and even had a couple of racked bucks come out in open areas I would’ve never even thought to hunt.
Sure enough, I started seeing does and small bucks at that spot this season. I let them all walk hoping one doe would go into heat.
After an evening hunt there, I put the Yancey 7-pointer’s smelly hock over the biggest scrape in the area.
The next morning was deer hunt No. 143 of the season. Walking in I noticed the scrape had been freshened and the hock was knocked down. Apparently, the big buck was not happy with another buck’s scent on its turf.
I remember soaking in the beauty of seeing a rare setting full moon in the west with a simultaneous sunrise to the east. Not long into the hunt, I could barely see a doe coming through some reeds.
Her tail was up and she had a funny gait. Something was pushing her — something very large.
I got Laura’s .460 S&W Encore ready on my trigger stick monopod in the climber, but the doe was walked along the furthest trail I could see, which ended up being 101 yards.
The giant figure trailing it stopped behind some brush and looked around. I prayed this buck didn’t see me trembling or couldn’t hear my heart pounding, because I swore the entire tree was shaking with my nervousness.
When it stopped in the next opening I could finally see the vitals. With the low impact point on my previous buck on my mind, and knowing my .454 Casull pistol bullet would drop some at that distance, I aimed high up on the buck’s shoulder and squeezed.
This time the gun went boom.
The buck roared up with a hit, ran 80 yards, stopped and then looked around perfectly in the open.
I frantically tried reloading not knowing if the shot rang true, but of course, my brass casing was stuck. Finally, using the screwdriver I was able to pop out the casing, but it took about 15 seconds to reload. Now I could no longer see the buck standing there. Had it run off?
Then I looked in the scope and saw a huge beam sticking up from the ground.
I climbed down that tree faster than ever before, getting all tangled up in the pull ropes with my safety harness and tree vines. I nearly strangled myself, but I used my knife to slash the bird-nested cords and freed myself.
I sprinted over and couldn’t believe my eyes. All of the depression instantly vanished when I grabbed those horns, which sporting a 19 ¼-inch inside spread, 25-inch beams and heavy 5 1/2-inch bases. The buck weighed 225 pounds, and hardly had any fat on its body from the rut.
The 250-grain copper bullet went perfectly through the heart, broke the opposite shoulder and lodged fully expanded against the skin. Thank heavens I had aimed high, because shooting ammo back at the camp that evening revealed the gun was shooting about a half-foot low at 100 yards.
Carting out the massive deer took hours. I re-injured my knee and fractured my hand when the cart fell and crushed it against a log.
As if I cared — getting busted up is all part of the process of a hardcore public lands adventure.
I ended up shooting a different buck than the misfire experience, since the buck’s right beam had only three points instead of the four I had seen.
I told my wife I’d come home early from my vacation if I got a giant. Being that I have the coolest wife in the world, once she heard I downed a different buck, she instructed me to keep waking up at 4 a.m. to get that bigger one.
Finally, I hunted truly pressure-free for the first time in my life, and took my recurve bow without having to wonder if I’d ever get one of those elusive mature bucks.
With deer hunting it only takes a few magical seconds to create the experience of a lifetime. My ‘few seconds’ took quite a long time to happen, but they had finally happened.