The Hunt for SJ

The Night Walker 

deerIt was the summer of 2017 in Central Pennsylvania when we first got trail camera pictures of the buck my family nick-named SJ. There were a few other hit list bucks on trial camera that we wanted to hunt for that year. One of these bucks was a main-frame 8 point that I had personally targeted, nick-named Swoop. We nicknamed SJ (Swoop Junior) after Swoop because of the characteristic “swoop” in the main beams of both deer. Throughout the course of the 2017 Pennsylvania deer seasons, SJ was a night walker, only showing up on camera under the cover of darkness. He favored one particular clover food plot on the property. My brother and I spent a lot of time studying this particular young buck throughout both the 2017 hunting season and off season. We concluded that SJ was a 2.5 year old buck, and we were excited to see him grow! He eluded hunters through the 2017 seasons, only showing himself in the normal night-time trail camera pictures of him. On the second day of the 2018 rifle buck season, I was fortunate enough to harvest SJ’s namesake Swoop. Yet SJ continued this same night time travel pattern for the 2018 deer seasons. 

Times A-Ticking 

In March of 2018, a small group of us went out in search of shed antlers, hoping to get a clue as to which buck had made it through the hunting season. We carefully planned our walk and searched areas that had well-used feeding stations and food plots. Though I walked and searched for hours, I came up empty handed. My brother, on the other hand, found the sheds off of three different buck that we all knew very well. One of them was the distinctive right-side swooping beam of SJ! We were thrilled to see that he had made it through another season and would be returning to the property the following year as a four-and-a-half-year-old buck. And we were able to learn that SJ was using the middle of our property during the rut and the late season. 

Fast forward to the summer of 2019. Despite knowing that SJ had survived the previous season, he did not show up at our mineral sites or visiting his favorite food plot in the early months of summer. We were all on edge, hoping he hadn’t established a new home range off the property. As the summer drew to an end, SJ finally made his appearance. Though there were deer with larger antlers that were regularly in front of our cameras, the thought of harvesting a mature white-tail got all of us excited. If we got the opportunity, we would take him! And this time around, one thing had changed; SJ was making more and more daylight appearances. With this change in his usual pattern, I knew it was only a matter of time until SJ made his fatal mistake.

The Thrill of a New Season

2019 Pennsylvania archery season came upon us, and we were all looking forward to the six weeks we would get to spend in the stand chasing white-tails. We hunted hard during the archery season, and my mother and brother were both able to put their tags on two very nice Pennsylvania white-tail bucks. Yet there was still no sign of SJ. On the last evening of the archery season, disgusted by the lack of buck I had seen, I decided to try out a stand that we had hung just a few days before. Just a few minutes after 4:30, I heard the sound of deer coming down off the mountainside. Looking through my binoculars, I spied a doe picking her way down the side. And behind her, the tell-tale swoop of SJ! The estrous doe led him directly by me for a twenty yard shot. I lined it up and took my shot. SJ reacted to the sound of the bow going off and turned into the arrow. I felt sick as I watched him stagger away, my lumenok bright in his front shoulder.

The Power in Numbers 

family photoAt dark, I could see that SJ had bedded just 70 yards from me. I got down out of stand as quietly as I could, ready to wait until the following morning to pick up his trail. The following day, I and a few family members and friends started the search for SJ. We started at the shot, and there was very little blood to find. Not far from it, we found several beds where the buck had laid down. We followed the trail to the last bed and there was very little blood. After an hour of searching, my father-in-law was able to pick up the trail. To our surprise, he was headed straight up the steep side of the mountain! We tracked him for four hundred yards and finally came upon him. I was so relieved to have found him, and to have shared the moment with a few of the people I love the most. I never would have found him on my own. The power of family and friends sharing the same passion of deer hunting is what truly matters. This is what deer hunting is truly about!

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