Paul's call came on one of the final weekends of Tennessee's 2006 general season, when thousands of rifle hunters would be out making a last search for their winter's venison. We decided to head to River Bottoms the next morning. Paul and I headed for our treestands well before daylight, we could see plenty of whitetail sign in the 4 inches of fresh snow covering the ground. We would give these final days his best effort. Despite the late-November cold, we were truly loving the early-morning vigil as the world awakened around us. We had spent many days in prior to the season scouting the local whitetail population. We were hunting public lands available to both gun hunters and other archers, but we felt our chances for success were good. Years of combined experience had drawn us to this fringe area, near an overgrown tangle where deer frequently bed along the river bottoms. Paul always treats the bedding area as a sanctuary and never ventures into it at any time of year. Having a secure area obviously appeals to the deer, as this thick spot always holds animals--including a few old-timers with impressive headgear.
The dark slowly faded away into a gray overcast morning. Light snow fell off and on. Birds, squirrels, and other small game brought the woods to life as we remained on high alert, watching for deer. As the hours slipped by, a basket-racked 4x4 and a fork-horn came under our stand, but by mid morning, we concluded that this was not today's hotspot. Experience had taught us that, during the rut, if bucks are not coming to you, it's time to move to a spot with more activity, which normally means hunting the does and letting the bucks find you. At 11 am we pulled our stand and began looking for signs of heavier deer movement. We found a good trail, but it presented a challenge. Although a few good stand trees stood within range of the trail, the prevailing breezes and air currents off a nearby river made them unusable. Searching further, we located a leaning tree that provided good cover downwind of the trail. Even if we could get a stand up there, we would not be comfortable. Still, it was in the right place, and it would give us a good, close shot if any deer showed up. Paul is very proficient with his recurve, but he insists on shots within 25 yards on game animals. This self-imposed limit occasionally costs him shot opportunities, but it also has resulted in total recovery on hit animals. We went to work and got our stand into the leaning tree.
With that accomplished, we started to make a quick trip to my truck for lunch, but on the way we got delayed when he spotted a big doe browsing nearby. Silently slipping within range, Paul released a perfect arrow, and the doe went down after a short run. Grateful for this opportunity, he took time for pictures and a word of thanks. He then field-dressed his doe and hoisted her into a tree to cool. With meat for the freezer, he could now focus solely on taking a buck. Upon returning to our stand, we felt more hopeful than ever as we discovered deer tracks that had been made during the two hours since we had hung the stand. Quickly, we climbed up and strapped ourselves into the uncomfortable stand, and within 15 minutes, a large doe, followed closely by a 3x3 buck, came within five yards of the leaning tree. The doe bedded, and the two deer hung around close to our stand for 45 minutes. Shortly after they wandered off, a button buck came down the trail and bedded nearby for a short while. An hour before dark, we saw a 130-class 4x4 passing by some 60 yards away. Paul grunted softly, and then louder. The buck ignored Paul's calling. As the buck continued walking away, he suddenly puffed up and began posturing, and soon a smaller 4x4 came into sight. They both walked into the brush, but a few minutes later, the smaller buck came back into view and ended up within 20 yards of our stand. We decided to hold out and wait for a keeper. Just as the sun was setting, a doe and fork-horn came by, and then all was quiet.
With dark around the corner, we prepared to climb down. Just then, a soft grunt caught our attention. Was this a big buck? Would it come within range in legal shooting light? Paul quickly re-nocked his arrow and waited anxiously. The buck stepped from the brush, 20 yards away. The background limbs and poor light made it hard to tell if this was the bigger 4x4 he'd seen earlier, but it was obviously a good buck. He would shoot. But would his cold, stiff, and cramped muscles function properly? Could he pick an exact aiming spot in the dim light and the excitement of the moment? As Paul began to draw his 75-pound recurve, his countless hours of practice during the off-season came into play. When his fingers touched the familiar anchor point, the arrow sped away and was followed by the reassuring thunk! of a solid hit. The buck lunged forward, ran 50 yards, and stopped for 30 seconds. Then he moved on out of sight, but clearly he was hard hit. Quietly, we climbed down, located the blood trail, marked the spot, and slipped out of the woods to get a light and some help for the recovery. A few minutes later we returned with Eddie, who had spent the day in a nearby stand. The blood trail was a bit sparse at first, but the we had no problem following the buck's tracks in the snow, and when we found him not far away, we shouted in celebration as we realized what a truly great river bottom whitetail Paul had taken.