Tony wanted this buck - and wanted him badly!
A great ten pointer, for a guy who had only been deer hunting for two years now - would put a wonderful cap on a season that had already seen two does harvested but no bucks. In fact, the only buck Tony had ever taken was a smallish six pointer the year before.
He had seen this ten pointer twice in person already - but both times could not get an ethical shot - and he had him on trail cam numerous times. It was cold, it was late in November and the time was right - Tony could feel it in the air!!
A New York transplant, by way of Florida, hunting in the LowCountry of South Carolina... you can hardly get a more mixed pedigreed than that into a deer stand.
Tony was overlooking a mature stand of planted pines and this was an exceptionally good stand of pines, too. Just to the south of this planted forest was a huge corn field that had only been cut about three weeks ago because of late rains. West and north of the pines was an incredibly dense 15 year old cut over that was all but impassable - grown up in briers, blackberry, small elms and pines - it was seemingly all a deer could do just to walk through it.
Situated in a low box blind, Tony waited in the mid thirty degree, wet weather for the better part of the afternoon, as periodic rain showers lashed the area. Surely even higher winds would come as soon as the rain let up and the skies cleared - and this would also bring even colder temperatures, with those "blue bird" days that are so characteristic of post cold front weather patterns. Tony knew this - and also understood that this afternoon, prior to the passage of the cold front, was the best chance to see deer. The high winds that typically follow a cold front spell the kiss of doom... at least for a day or so, for deer movement.
The LowCountry, in weather like this, is one of the most miserable areas in the world. It is said that South Carolina is the coldest and the hottest state in the south... and Tony was feeling it this day.
The afternoon wound along and with lunch long gone, Tony settled into this coveralls and tried to make the best of it. Pulling his hood down lower on his head, he slid into a fitful bout of dozing, in which dreams of giant, lust filled bucks pranced around in front of his stand.
Tony woke with a jolt, jerking awake as only a person who is guilt ridden by sleep can do... he felt like an office worker who had dozed off in his cubicle, only to woken by a stern boss!
But - what was it that woke him... he wondered... and he tried to gather his wits about him. Raising the hood, Tony peered around... it was still very light - about 4:00 PM, he figured and he knew he could have dozed only moments. With a glance at his watch, it was in fact only 4:00 PM - but, still, what was it that woke him???
Peering over the sides of the covered stand that was less than 10 feet tall, Tony was shocked to see several does feeding in the rows cut between the pines - and not more than 100 yards distant!
Man, where did they come from?? Silent as ghosts, they moved between the rows, eating green browse.
Keenly intent now, Tony inspected the rifle, made sure the scope was not rain or mist fogged and hunkered low in the stand to avoid being sighted. In the slight mist, he scanned the group with the 8x42's to make sure all were does - and they were.
They continued to feed, moving further away as they went.
Tony watched with interest as yet another group of does - four this time, moved out of the cut down and began feeding toward the several that were already now making their way toward the corn field - eventually catching the larger group and forming a serious pack of does.
Man, I am seeing deer all over the place, Tony mused, but where are the bucks? I have taken two does already, darn it, I want a buck!
As soon as that thought entered his mind, a brown streak burst out of the edge of the thicket closest to the does and ran headlong into the pack - it was like watching a bowling ball strike the pins.... the "pins" scattered to the four winds and just like that - a wide antlered buck cut a doe out of the pack and that pair raced toward and under the deer stand at warp speed!
Stunned speechless and without even time to start to raise the rifle, Tony wondered - did I just see what I think I saw????
The does, some now calling out loud, started to regroup... they were everywhere... some to the left, some right, some way out in front of the stand... and they all seemed to take one cue and began to move back again toward the cornfield and into some semblance of a tight group. Amazing, Tony thought, it is like nothing ever happened and they are just gonna go along their way! A day in the life of a deer, I guess!
The does continued to move away, yet one of them slowly broke from the pack and started tracing the same path the buck and doe had taken a moment ago. Oddly, with her head down, she continued on toward the stand... seemingly smelling her way along. On she came - 100 yards out, now only 75 yards between her and the stand.... without pause, still she came. At 50 yards out, time slowed down for out friend Tony from New York by way of Florida.
The doe grew antlers.
Gun on lap, Tony was again stunned, but this time not beyond action.
The stainless .308 came up in an instant and the reticle hurriedly settled on the shoulder of the buck as it quartered to the stand. Only 40 yards separated the buck and the stand now. Tony neither felt the recoil nor heard the sound as the round was touched off. Even in the scope, he saw the buck hit the ground, as if he were electric and you pulled the power cord on him.... without so much as a sigh, he settled into the soft, wet pine straw of a South Carolina planted pine row.
Elation, joy, heart racing, adrenaline buzz, hands trembling now... and even some semblance of sadness at the loss of life, Tony cast a long look over the rail of the stand and there lay a great buck! Grabbing the binos, Tony counted.... one, two, three, four points on the antler beam that was upright... man, add the brow tine - that is five on one side - could this be MY ten pointer???
It was, indeed, Tony's very longed after ten pointer.
It was the same ten pointer in the photos, but Tony could not completely verify this from the stand and sadly, it would be a long time before he could.
Waiting a good thirty minutes and with the buck laying in plain view, Tony finally decided enough is enough, I am going to get this bad boy!!! Gathering his items and placing them in the pack, he stood, repositioned the office chair that was up in the stand and backed down the eight steps that were the ladder. Giddy as a school boy and with three victory texts already sent via cell phone, Tony reached the ground and turned to stride toward the buck that lay just yards distant from the stand...
Dread - like cold fingers of a letter you do not want to read - began to slide up the back of Tony's neck. He was RIGHT THERE... where could he be???? Tony walked over the where the buck should have been.
Nothing. No blood. Nothing. Surely my eyes are playing tricks on me.
Go back up the stand for a better look. In my excitement, I have simply gotten confused and am looking in the wrong place, thought Tony, as he went back up the ladder.
No big buck just laying there.
Tony mentally marked where the buck WAS laying before (he was there, right?? I am not in some silly dream, am I... heck, this is not a dream, it is a nightmare) and climbed back down.
Walking to the exact spot - nothing.
Gone, to be exact. No blood. No mark of where he was laying.
Tony looked. Until dark. Four wheelers arrived. Friends looked. Well past dark.
After a fitful night, Tony looked again.
Gone. Like the wind.
Heartbroken, Tony continued to hunt, but 2009 was not his year. Not after that.
Fast forward with me now, Dear Readers, to January 2010.
Season is over and a new kid arrives.
Scouting already in the cold, hard winter of South Carolina.
Mapping out paths and roads on GPS.
Moving along field edges and ditch lines.
Looking for old scrapes and finding the rubs from this year.
Mentally marking white oak and honeysuckle vines.
Looking for shooting lanes and easy lines of stand access.
Planning how to get in and out with a minimum of disturbance.
The new kid is me and I am oblivious to all that happened above.
I do not even know Tony yet.
In fact, I do not know a soul on the club yet - I know the lease manager only.
On a very cold, blue bird day in early January, I walk along a dense cut down that is bordered by a mature pine thicket. I pass a low stand in the distance, out in the rows on pines... and walk over to it - to mark it on the GPS for eventual transfer to my GoogleEarth maps. On my way back to the cut down edge, I find two large beds, well used, in a grown up area of old dog fennels and briers... I look down and see another set of beds on the other side of this tangled area. I skirt the dense area, only 20 yards distant from the stand, and find not two, but three more well used beds.... Man - this area is deer central, I recall thinking.
The ground is torn to pieces, I think... as I look down... tufts of grass and weeds are strewn about - all over.
I glance back toward the stand and in the weeds between myself and the stand, I see the deer.
Moving closer, the deer is savaged beyond description. The area now stands as testimony to what happened - but it will take me quite some time to put it all together and I am still not 100 % sure.
I moved to the deer and he is fresh - not still warm - but less than 24 hours dead. I know this from experience.
A beautiful ten pointer, one antler is knocked off and lays some 10 yards distant in the well trampled grass. The fur on his face is torn and shredded from one ear and then all the way down to the jawline on the side that is missing the antler. White bone and broken teeth show mute testimony to what I am slowly starting to piece together. I note again the trampled grass and torn underbrush - now I see a good thirty foot circle of it.
Moving back to the deer with my eyes, I note that both hams are nearly gone and almost all of the entrails and lungs are gone. The front legs still reach forward as if trying to gain a purchase and run, run, run.
Run no more you will, my friend, your days are sadly over and likely long before your time.
The coyotes have gotten you and you are done for.
You fought the good fight, that I can tell, but in the end, one caught you on the side of the head and they were too strong or there were too many of them.
With the winter cold and the recent death, there is no stench at all. I examine the deer more closely, wondering now... how did the coyotes catch this buck and instinctively I know... you were shot and the wild pack of dogs captured you. Likely surrounded you and the weakness took away your ability to run.
You were either recently poached or you were shot and made it to mid January, as season has been out two weeks now. You are still relatively stout and healthing looking, so I lean toward poachers - and this worries me because I just recently joined this club.
Moving even closer now, I look... and find a small hole in the top of the neck, middle way between the ear and the base of the neck.... I have to know, so I flip the buck over... and on the backside of the neck, but further down toward his shoulder, there is a 1.5" hole blown in the side of his neck. Blood, matted grass and debris, along with festered and infected looking tissue still cling to the area.
Bingo, you were shot - and not in the last day or so.
All of the rest of this story, except for the very end, are conjecture.
I think the buck lived in this area as his home range.
I think he was shot but managed to survive... at least temporarily. The wound, the cold, the low availability of food and perhaps the constant harrassment by the coyotes eventually weakened him.
I think at the end, he bedded right there by the stand, getting less and less mobile until eventually, the end came.
At the site that day, I pushed on the remaining antler with my foot and it popped off of his head just like it was shed - which is the way the original "lost" one looked. I am sure the first one was knocked off as he fought valiantly to save his own life.
He was a solid ten pointer and appeared to have had about a 17 - 18" spread. With a well balanced rack and 8" G3's, I am guessing he would have scored in the high 110's or low 120's, which is quite respectable for this area.
I took the antlers with me, threw them in the storage bin of the camper and thought little more about it. Someone will need a good pair of rattling antlers at some point, I recall thinking.
Fast forward again, if you would (I know this tale wound long) to turkey season of 2010.
I meet my first members on the first weekend of turkey season. As a new hunter, I have pulled off the improbable and have killed two birds with one shot. Jakes, but two birds, nonetheless.
We talk and I relive the turkey hunt and then we invariably turn to deer.... I tell of scouting, ask about productive areas, we share war stories and I mention that I found a dead buck - a nice one - back in January in a pine row over on the Peters tract.
I see Tony, who I just met, go rigid.
He immediately peppers me with questions and as I am assailed with all of these queries, the story starts to come clear.
Rather than answer all of the questions, I let him tell me the story... where he was, what the stand looked like, what the deer looked like - all of the details that he can recall. I see, even now, the dark purple vein in his neck throbbing as he tells his story... and I know beyond a fairly reasonable shadow of doubt - that was Tony's buck and he eventually died less than 25 yards from the stand he was shot from originally.
I know now, also, that the buck was knocked cold and appeared to be dead - and like so many other "dead" deer - he managed to gain his feet and make a darned quick exit while Tony was climbing down from the stand. He never even knew which way the deer ran... in the wet pine straw, I bet he, too, was silent as a ghost.
With no more torture, I walk the ten yards to the camper, open the storage bin and ask - do you think he looked like this????
Tony is in the process of getting these antlers put on a plaque, I will post additional photos once I have them in hand.
Miracles do happen, occasionally.
It was some time in the coming, Tony, but you got your ten pointer.