Two Years and Two Hundred Yards

As the 2011 muzzleloader season approached, I was looking forward to spending some quality time by myself in the blind. I would have a couple days to myself in the quiet northwoods of Wisconsin to likely close out my season. It had been a great season for me so far with both a turkey and bear already dropped off at our good friend and taxidermist, Pat Tourville. However, the whitetail bow season was a struggle. We had seen a lot of up-and-coming two year olds running around everywhere, but nothing worthy of the arrow. Darin and Tim both had encounters with a great 9 pointer, but it just didn’t come together for either of them. Then, the rifle season brought more frustration with lack of mature bucks and word that the buck Darin and Tim both encountered was the trophy of another hunter. Being the cameraman through most of this whitetail season, I witnessed the frustrations first hand. So on the eve of my first day of muzzleloader, I was looking forward to closing out the season on my own terms - an opportunity to enjoy a couple of days afield, knowing I had a great 2011 season.

The first morning brought a balmy -2 degrees and good activity all day. I was sitting in a ground blind near just off center of a hardwood stand, nestled between a hemlock stand and an open marsh with a few large hills rising up to break the view. It was a spot both my brother Darin and I had strategized just a two weeks prior. We felt confident in the decision, in that we had come to it independently from one another. I could see 150 yards in any direction and the thin snow coat that lay on the ground made the deer movement easy to spot. With each deer, I brought up the binoculars to confirm sex and age. The deer roamed in all directions all day, but only brought two bucks, a fork and spike, whose movement clung to the bases of the ridges 125 yards out.

Day Two was warmer but snow threatened. Temperatures hovered at 32 degrees. The sky darkened progressively throughout the morning. By late morning, I had seen a couple does and a spike run through. I was growing restless, knowing my season was closing on me. Around noon, a lone fawn wandered in and found a patch of ferns 10 yards outside my blind. With the slow morning activity, I had been considering a mid-day scouting trip to the ridges. I was just waiting for the fawn to leave.

Then the doe fawn looked off in the distance behind me. I watched her, waiting for her to make that tell tale head shift to tell me that she saw something legitimate. She obliged. I took a look out the rear of the blind and saw a deer behind the old hemlocks. I could just make out the rump. I looked back at the fawn, grinding up her fern lunch as she watched the deer behind me. I looked back again to check the status of the new arrival.

I wish I had a camera on my face when I saw what the deer turned out to be. The majestic crown of this buck flashed between the trees as he fully presented himself into the open hardwoods. He was on a track as all the other bucks had been…along the base of the ridges. I had no need for my binoculars to decide what I was going to do next. I grabbed the break action smoke pole and turned around in the blind. The buck continued his emergence, checking the ground for scent as he strolled in confidence. Unfortunately, the fawn, still within a snowballs throw, saw my movement and was locked on me. I knew I had to make quick work of this before she blew the whole operation. I made the turn and found the 10 point buck in the crosshairs. I steadied my aim with my monopod. By this time, he had moved inside of my 100 yard visual markers, a fallen log in this case. I knew then he was in range. He was slightly quartered to at 80 yards when I dropped the hammer.

He went down immediately on his rump and then out of sight behind a tree. He began to sound out in such a manner that I have only heard when I spine shot a buck in 2007. I assumed the worst and quickly began the process of reloading. He then proceeded to try to run, but snow plowed on his front quarters a ways. I then know I had taken him in the shoulders and my triumph was moments away. As he took his final breathes, I tried to take in what had happened.

Like always, it happens so fast. On what was likely to be my last day afield for 2011, I had taken the biggest buck of my life. A 145", 10 point, Northwoods "screamer" (as Darin calls them.) The body was the biggest I have ever personally seen, likely eclipsing 200 lbs. Adding to the moment, it was my first buck with a firearm since 2004 and first with a muzzleloader since 2003. I had come so close to leaving the blind that day and was reminded of the value of patience and trust in the location when it all came together in the end. But, most special of all, I was rewarded by the pursuit in God’s great land and with some fortunate timing was able to share it with my brother Darin and cousin Tim.

The p.s. to this story comes courtesy of my brother-in-law Tim who reminded me of a buck of 2009 that I had encountered during the infamous October lull. After careful comparisons to a lone trail camera picture and some albeit amateur footage I had of the encounter, I am fairly certain the buck I killed was the buck that eluded me two years ago and 200 yards from the spot that he took his final breath. I had named him Buster Brown because of his brown antlers and the fact that he picked me out of the tree moments before his escape.

Thanks to my wife for supporting me in this pursuit, and my brother Darin for being largely responsible for lighting my passion in the pursuit and providing the opportunities to keep it burning.

God bless and may you be rewarded by the pursuit.

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