What’s the worth?
Public land can be the toughest of hunts. I had just come home empty handed from a long and cold week in Illinois, and before that I drained my wallet, vacation time and energy chasing elk to no avail in Colorado. So to say the least, I was tired and frustrated driving my 6 hour journey on a November night to a public land spot in WV. I reflected on all the time I had already spent that fall for what some people might call “failed hunts.” I thought about how my wife begged me not to go out again and how my son would miss me once he realized I was not there in the morning. I questioned whether or not it was worth it, but those questions were soon laid to rest…
I arrived at my destination just after 2am and crawled into my sleeping bag on the backseat of my truck where I tried to get whatever sleep I could before my alarm sounded off in a couple hours for my 3mile trek up the mountain to my spot that I had not seen since the season before. My alarm went off what seemed like moments after I shut my eyes, and away I went.
Anything can Happen in November!
It was a typical November day, there were a few does feeding early in the food plot that I was perched on top of, butI didn’t see much action after. It stayed like that until just after sunset. That is when I heard something down in the big drainage below me. I knew instantly that this was a buck. There is just something distinct about how a big buck starts to move in those primetime minutes before last light. You just know it when you hear it…THAT’S A BUCK!
I estimated that sound to be approximately 100yrds down into the drainage which is much further than I could see at this point in the day. I took out my binoculars and threw them up to the location I heard the sound, and by dumb luck and with set of really good BINOs…I landed clearly on a main beam and a long tine of a mature whitetail buck. I immediately thought…SHOOTER! Idropped the binos to look at my watch…25mins of legal light left.
The dramatic difference between the light in my binos and what I could see with the naked eye was overwhelming, and it had me worried about being able to get a shot before I was out of light.
I knew my only option for a shot would be in the food plot where there was still enough light to see. I imagined that he was going to make his way there eventually, but I needed to make this happen fast!
Closing the Distance!
I made a small contact grunt and threw the sound into the plot beside me. To my surprise he responded and changed his direction to start slowly heading up towards the call. As I listened, I was still scared that he wasn’t going to get there quick enough. So I decided to throw out another more aggressive grunt, knowing that this could totally blow the whole scenario. I would not typically grunt again so quickly after getting a positive response to my initial call, but I needed this to happen faster than the current pace he was keeping. It worked!
He picked up the pace and popped in to the corner of the food plot 75yrds from me. He is now feeding at the end of the plot and I pull out my binos to try and get a better look at him and confirm that he is indeed a shooter…HE IS! I look at my watch again, less than 5mins of legal light, and it’s getting dark fast on the overcast night. So in sheer desperation, I call one more time, throwing the sound behind me to try and get him walking my way, just a soft contact grunt…It works again!
He is now walking straight down the middle of the plot and I pull out my range finder to double check some spots along his path. There is a nice well lit spot at 30yrds directly in his path and my plan is to wait till he gets there and send it.
Then just as I am about to draw my bow, he makes a hard 90 degree turn left before my spot. I unhooked from my D-loop and range him. He is at 42yrds, and stopped feeding and I know it’s now or never because I’m going to be out of light. I draw my bow and try to get anchored and lined up, which if anyone has ever tried, you know, it is not as easy with minimal light. As I look through my peep I can tell he isn’t broadside so I pull back away from my peep to get a better look as I stay full draw waiting on him to make a move to give me a shot. It feels like minutes as a few seconds pass while he feeds. He turns and quarters away while looking back to his right staring directly at me. Maybe he heard me, maybe the hunting gods told him to turn, but that’s what I needed. I lined it up and sent it!
Moment of Truth
I hear the THWAK!! of my Wasp Bullet broadhead as it smacks the bucks center mass and see my glowing nocturnal laying on the ground behind where the buck was standing. The buck gave a mule kick, spun and coincidently took a few hurt steps to the exact 30yrd spot I had ranged on his original travel path down the plot. I knew I hit him, I could tell he was hurt, but I was still unsure if the shot I delivered was a fatal one. I grabbed another arrow from my quiver, knocked it, and drew. Just as I was about to apply pressure to my release…..HE FELL! I let the bow down and put it back on the hanger. I was filled with excitement but still hesitant as to whether my work was finished. As I pulled up my Binos to look for movement or the rise and fall of his chest as he lay. He let out that final deep grunt as he exhaled his last breath.
There is a troubling feeling that I am overcome with every time I watch the life leave an animal at my doing. That’s the part of hunting no one likes to talk about other than anti-hunters. But it’s real and still bothers me every time just like the first. It reminds me of why the sustenance that is provided from that animal is so valuable. It’s a connection that you cannot get at the supermarket. Every time I grab some venison from my freezer I am reminded of what was sacrificed so my family and I can fill our bodies with nutrients. I have a tremendous amount of respect for these animals. In a weird and predatorily way, this is how I show it. Putting in the time, learning and grinding some to catch up with one of these animals, and then, being lucky enough that it all comes together to harvest that animal.
I climbed down from the stand in the dark and walked up to my trophy. It was the wide 8pt that we knew was frequenting the plot I was hunting. For me, it was the representation of 5 years of public land hunting for a mature whitetail in my home state and a reminder that
hard work and determination had paid off.