I am a retired Soldier of 25 years in service. After spending many hunting seasons deployed to places like Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, one of my goals upon retirement was to try and make a hunting trip out of state somewhere every year or so. So to honor my service to my country, in November 2008 near Excelsior Springs, Missouri my great friend, Matt Hartwig, invited me for a muzzleloader hunt on one of his farms. My wife approved the purchase order and issued the kitchen pass so off I go.
Matt had sent me trail cam pics of his deer and obviously Missouri being home to many record book deer, I had to say yes. My brother-in-law and I made the long drive from central Louisiana to west central Missouri. The weather was supposed to be cold and snowy, perfect for deer hunting!! We arrived on a Friday, the day before season opened. Since we did not know anything about the way the land was laid out or the deer patterns, we were completely at the mercy of Matt and his research. Obviously being from Louisiana, I had to cook up a pot of camp gumbo for all of us. With the heater on in the cabin and food on the stove, we started off opening morning at one of Matt’s farms and saw some does and little bucks, but no big one. Matt had shared his trail cam pics as I said and I noticed that some of the pics looked like they were in the same place. Now understand, Matt had already had 4 or 5 good bucks killed on his farms the week prior during gun season. So the deer were being shy and nobody had seen a couple big ones that we knew were in the area.
One big deer in particular that nobody had seen in two years except on trail cam was ole "Crab Claw". So when Matt told me that the pics had been taken within 600 yards of his camp house, I had to try it out. I made my way to the stand about 1 pm opening day. We thought it might be a little early but since the deer were spooked and not acting in a typical manner, maybe I could get lucky and see a mid-day buck! I had only been in the stand 45 minutes or so when I see a good buck jump a fence and start running almost directly toward my ladder stand. I could not tell for certain how good a buck he was but I knew he was a shooter outside the ears. It all happens so fast when you see a big one as most of you know; so I grunted in hopes of stopping the buck to get a better look. Sure enough he stopped about 35 yards from me but he stopped directly behind a mock orange or hedge apple tree. I could not see his antlers completely but he was a shooter. I almost did not shoot because I am a bow hunter at heart and never take a shot unless it is a completely open one. I remember telling myself, "What are you doing? You have a gun in your hands, not a bow, shoot that deer!!" So I took careful aim with my Knight Disc .50 caliber and squeezed the trigger. That Knight jumped and smoke blew everywhere!!! The buck immediately started running in circles in the field and tearing up the ground. I could hear him sucking air like a stuck pig and I knew that I had hit him but I was not sure where. He made two circles in the field and headed down the draw behind me. I turned to watch him go head over tea kettle into the woods and could not hear anymore movement.
I decided to stay in the tree and get my breath back. My heart was in my throat, my breath was labored, my knees were weak and I just knew that I had gotten extremely lucky by killing a nice buck on day one of a 7 day hunt!!! WOW, does life get any better? Well after what seemed like an hour, probably only 10 minutes, I managed to get down out of the stand. I almost fell while climbing down as my knees were still weak! The moment I hit the ground, it started snowing. I walked over to where I had shot the deer only to find a bunch of white hair and no blood. Oh no! I thought. I did not hit him well. White hair is not a good sign and no blood was even worse. I called Matt and told him I thought I had it a good 8 point and him and Benjamin immediately started to my location. About an hour had passed and the three of us found ourselves walking through the woods looking for my buck. We searched until almost dark to no avail. By now we had three or four inches of snow on the ground. I was heart broken. Matt was giving me the, "well it is not the first time that has happened" story. In case you are wondering, the story did not lift my spirits. We made our way back to the cabin and relayed the story about a hundred times to my brother-in-law and all of Matt's hunting buddies.
Hunters are relentless you know. You think I got any sympathy from them? Oh no! I got the, "maybe we should straighten that barrel Ben" routine. And the, "maybe you should go back to the range", line from them. I was heart broken. We looked again the next day and again, no luck finding my deer. Well we hunted several other areas and nobody had seen a buck. On the third day I made my way back to the ladder stand where I had the initial encounter. My plan was to hunt for a few hours then walk around and look some more for my buck. My brother-in-law was not convinced we had looked hard enough. He kept telling us that the deer would have made his way to low ground and tried to find a creek if he could. So Marc, my bro-in-law decided to look himself. While I was in the stand, he made a huge sweep around the area. About three pm I heard something behind me and looked to see bright orange making its way up the hill. Marc was whistling to make sure I did not think he was my wounded buck! He looked up at me and said, "I don’t appreciate you lying to us." I said how did I lie brother. Marc said, "It is a 10 point not an 8 point brother and I found your deer!" I almost fell out of my tree.
We walked back to the cabin, got a couple other buddies and a four wheeler and made our way to my deer. The ole boy had sure enough found his way to a creek about 250 yards away, the creek had two huge "S" curves in it and he had gone as far as he could go and collapsed. There he was my 135 class Missouri Muzzleloader prize! And to make it even better, it was ole "Crab Claw". It took us a while to drag him out of the creek and the coyotes had feasted on his rear hind quarters but he was in tact and still salvageable. I guess I should re-think my shot placement when shooting through a hedge apple tree but we found my buck! My brother-in-law has become one of my many heroes! What a great trophy and great hunt. I am now hooked on Missouri deer hunting and will always take Marc to find my deer for me!