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7/22/10

To sum up the start of my 2009 bow season you could simply say disheartening. I bow hunt close to home, which consists of numerous woodlots and ravines that run through farm country. I scout year-round, using my own eyes and  the help of several Cuddebacks. For the first time I could begin to see and feel the effects that urban sprawl would have on my future of bow hunting around home. I went the entire month of June without capturing 1 photo of a buck visiting my Biologic food plot or my home recipe mineral lick. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had dry spells before, but nothing like that. Then on the evening of October 24th, that all changed.

2008 trail cam picture of the BuckMy usual evening routine was (and still is) to look in the backyard with my young son and say “good night deer!” before putting him to bed. I have a food plot along the very edge of our yard along the top of a wooded ravine. Occasionally I would shine it with a spotlight when we would say our goodnights. By this point of the bow season I had become used to the fact that nothing larger than an occasional year and a half old buck existed within 100 miles of my home, so I had given up on shining the food plot. For some reason that night I decided to shine it anyways. What a good choice that was.

As soon as I hit the light, I realized who was standing there- it was the buck I had chased around for the previous 3 years. I had not seen any sign of him since I let him walk at 37 yards the first week of November in 2009. I assumed he was gone, either someone else had gotten him or the highway did like it had for so many other bucks I knew of over the years. Yet there he was, almost a year since I had seen him last, the same telltale rack, only bigger and better. My son was in awe, not because of the majesty of the buck but simply because there was a deer in the yard. I immediately yelled for my wife to bring the camcorder. She came to look and in awe as well at the size of him. Keep in mind she does not hunt, but she surely understood what she was looking at.

Justin's 2009 Bow BuckThe camcorder batteries were dead, so she ran for the camera, it was dead too. We both stared in disbelief of what we were seeing. There was a doe eating some brassica, big leaves of it disappearing into her face as she chomped away. He just stood there, turning his head, looking around as if he were king. Then a great 8-point rose out of the ravine. He was great in his own right, but we were fixated by the huge buck. The big boy didn’t care that the 8-point was there. Both stood like love-struck teenage boys staring at the cutest girl in school. When she left, they followed behind; almost as if she was guiding them on leashes. We never did get any pictures, who would believe me?! I had no idea how big he was now, only that he was BIG! Splits, mass, tall tines, and the tell-tale wrap around main beams. The whole time he was there he stood perfectly broadside. The only way we could describe his rack was like trying to look through a rib cage. I was pretty sure I counted 12 points, a typical 6X6. It made sense, the previous year he was a perfect ten-point. We (yes, we- my wife even wanted to see him again) continued to shine the backyard for hours after putting our son to bed. Nicole even got out of bed around 3AM and checked again- nothing.

Nearly a week had passed no other sightings or even photos of him, or the big 8 for that matter. I finally was able to get out to hunt on Halloween Eve. I sat in my trusty Rivers Edge treestand that I had seen him from in previous years. The setup was perfect, the right wind, the soybeans were being hammered by deer, and I was there plenty early. It was going to be a good night! Nothing came out. Even the usual flock of turkeys didn’t come out to annoy me. What a disappointment.

Justin's buckI woke up on Saturday, Halloween morning, and followed my usual routine. A cup of coffee, some toast and peanut butter, and the local TV news morning show. The weatherman said a light mist would pass through and be gone before 7AM. No biggie, I thought. I finished breakfast, showered, and headed to my honey-hole stand in the middle of a long, wide ravine.

Typically I don’t hunt in the rain, I’m a big believer of recovering everything you shoot (after all, you owe it to the animal) and rain hampers tracking tremendously, but the weatherman and his radar said the light rain would soon pass. After the ten minute walk I reached the base of my favorite tree. I climbed into my other trusty Rivers Edge stand and hung up my Guide Series TecHunter bow (made by BowTech) and settled back to wait out the light rain. At 7:45, I checked the radar on my phone. The light mist had grown into a steady rain, and then backed off to a light mist again. I just stood there thinking ‘this is crazy’ and thinking how smart I was for buying my Guide Series camo rainwear the previous year. I was debating quitting at 8:00 if the radar showed no signs of the mist ending. To my surprise, the radar showed that it would pass within a few minutes and a clearing to the west coming my way. I slowly put the phone back into my pocket. Then it happened.

Close-upI caught movement about a hundred yards across the ravine to my left. I immediately knew it was him. I thought about giving him a grunt on my Primos Buck Roar to get his attention, but there was no need. He was completely love-struck, zig-zagging the creek bottom with his nose to the ground, searching for any sign of love he could find. 60 yards, 50, 40, 30,… I tried to draw back but my muscles were frozen. Hell, I remember thinking adrenaline isn’t supposed to do this! Finally I came to full draw and gave him a “brawwww” with my mouth like I’d done to freeze other bucks from the same stand over the years. He didn’t care. 20 yards. I tried again. Nothing. 15 yards. I tried louder. Nothing. 17 yards and trotting broadside. At the top of my lungs I yelled “SSSTOPPPP!!! He did. I squeezed the release and watched the arrow fly right into a branch cutting across the arrow’s path. I watched the arrow hit him in the neck. He bolted. I stood there in 100% disbelief of what had just happened. Every year for the previous umpteen years I meticulously trimmed shooting lanes mid-summer to avoid such an incident. How could I have missed this one and why did my arrow have to find the only one I could now see that I missed? Worse yet, I may have wounded an animal that will now be hard to recover, not to mention the buck most people, including myself, would never dream existed, let alone get a chance at. The mist was still coming down but was ending. Knowing that I had a neck shot and the buck ran off, I knew I missed the spine. I could only hope I hit one of the numerous blood vessels. I knew what I had to do. I immediately climbed down to begin the tracking process.

Once I was firmly and the ground, I called my wife to tell her what had happened. I told her I had to go and I’d call her back soon. I quickly fought off the emotions and sickening feeling of ‘how the hell could this have happened’ and began looking for my arrow. Amazingly, there it was, my Muzzy 125 and Carbon Express arrow buried straight into the ground where he was standing, covered in blood, with 1 fletch ripped off. Immediately I could see the blood, it was spraying all over the place. I followed him. About 50 yards in I could tell where he had stood for a while. After seeing the amount he leaked, I knew I would soon be seeing him. My common sense told me to back out. Good judgment told me to press on. Even though the mist had ended 15 minutes earlier and the sun had poked out, I knew the thicket would continue to wash away the trail with every second I let it have. The rain may have ended, but until all the water had fallen from the trees and brush above, my trail would be in jeopardy.

Juntin's BuckAnother 50 yards brought me to waist-high grass and the creek. I could see where he jumped the creek, so I waded through the knee-deep water. Suddenly I heard a loud groaning noise. As if out of nowhere, he rose up out of the grass. He looked at me, and as he did in the backyard, he moved as if he was in slow motion. He walked 4-5 steps and lay back down. I knew he was finished, but my ethics told me to end it as quickly as possible, letting him or any other deer suffer is not something I would allow. I swiftly placed a reassuring double-lung shot on him. He got up and crashed into the dense thicket. Now I could back out.

I called my hunting buddy Brian Rottier to give me a hand. 2 years previous Brian had helped me find a good buck I had harvested from the same area. Brian is a tracking guru. I’m pretty sure he literally owns more tracking gear than hunting gear. I had told him about the deer the night we seen him. Now I was hoping he could see him for himself.

We got to where he crashed into the thicket. Once inside, there were 2 obvious paths he could have taken. I went right, Brian went left. That when I heard “Justin!” and I ran towards Brian.

There he was. We both stood in awe and took photos with my camera on my phone. I sent a photo text to all I knew who would care that simply declared “I shot freak-nasty!” After some congratulatory high-fives and a couple of Swisher-Sweets from Brian’s recovery kit, the drag was on.

Justin & his son with the BrusierNeighbors and friends were waiting when I got him to my parent’s house. My dad was just a week removed from knee-replacement surgery, so I backed him up as close to their front window as I could. Friends and neighbors came to see him. My son and wife came over as well; my son was already dressed in his shark Halloween costume. One of my favorite photos is of me holding our son in his costume next to him.

I registered him at the Green Bay Gander Mountain store. The guy from the fishing department came out to put the tag on my buck. He stopped in his tracks and paged the entire hunting department declaring “there’s a buck you guys need to see in the parking lot. I’m dead serious.” I think every employee had come out to see him, as did many customers. It was a feeling of pride I’ll never forget. It was a fitting end to a journey that covered 4 years.

He is a mainframe 6X6 with a split G2 and G3 on his left side. All in all he’s a 14-pojnt by Boone and Crockett, 16-point in my book (1” from center of the beam). Gross score was just over 169, after deductions he scored 159 0/8 typical, just 1 point from being a ‘Booner”. According to Stan Zirbel, who did the official scoring, he is the #2 typical whitetail harvested by bow in Brown County. He won 1st place in his division at the Green Bay Whitetail Classic.