Today we’ve got a great guest post from Eric Hoyt, as he recalls the story of the quest for his first Pope & Young whitetail. Congrats Eric on a great buck and a terrific story! – MK
By Eric Chase
“It’s just not there,” said my father, a bowhunting veteran of 40 years, after tallying the score sheet for the beautiful 10 point I harvested during the 2009-2010 season. The words hurt, but I was still proud for harvesting this beautiful Missouri trophy.That said, I have to admit feeling the slight sting of disappointment. It hadn’t happened this year. My goal of taking a Pope & Young class whitetail still eluded me. I wondered, “When will I get my chance?”
On September 27, 2009 I found the time to slip into the northern Missouri deer woods for an evening hunt over a high traffic food source. As a teacher, high school football coach, and father of a rambunctious toddler, my time in a tree stand was scarce. Although I would love to be able to hunt every day, having limited time to hunt has always increased my excitement and anticipation for each trek into the woods! As I settled my Summit climber into an Ash tree strategically located between a thick bedding area and a secluded corner of a bottomland soybean field, I prayed my Therma Cell mosquito repellant would help combat the swarm of bugs that was already gathering to feast on any skin I had left exposed. With a light southwest breeze, and the deer still settled in their late summer feeding pattern, my hopes were high to get a good inventory of what was living on this part of the farm. Trail cameras had exposed several nice bucks, but their nocturnal movement had me worried that I might have to wait until closer to the rut to examine any of these brutes in person. The four hours I had allowed before dark were slow on deer movement, but rich in relaxation and reflection of hunts past.
When the coveted moments between sunset and the expiration of legal shooting time had finally arrived, a time my dad and I affectionately refer to as “deer-thirty”, the inevitable happened. Several does and year old bucks escaped their afternoon beds in the thicket to emerge into the leafy nourishment of the bean field. While the majority of the herd milled, played, and grazed in the field, experience had trained me to enjoy the show, but keep a close eye on the thick cover. Those wily and mature bucks were almost always the final act to appear during performances such as these. The sound of approaching footsteps confirmed my suspicions, and I strained to look behind me without exposing my position.
My first glance revealed plenty of headgear, and I promptly focused my attention to the harvest. He was moving through thick cover and skirting at the edge of my effective shooting range, so choosing the correct opportunity for an ethical shot would require my full attention. When he approached the field’s edge, as mature whitetails do, he stopped to analyze the open area. To my benefit, his cautiousness had halted him in a small shooting lane in front of a Pin Oak that I had ranged earlier in the evening at thirty-two yards. Already at full draw and with daylight rapidly fading, I settled my 30 yard pin on the last rib of his quartering away silhouette and squeezed the release. I sent the fixed blade sailing his way, hearing the glorious sound of a solid hit. Although I did not see the impact, his high kick and sprint for cover gave me confidence that my arrow had found its mark. A few seconds of crashing brush followed by three raspy coughs from the timber confirmed my beliefs that I had zipped through his rib cage and made a quick kill.
After letting the field clear and allowing time for the deer and my nerves to settle, I headed down the tree and back to my Jeep. I contacted my father and father-in-law to help recover the prize. Since they know I often use the early season to harvest does for the freezer, I decided to have a little fun with my hunting partners. The text read that I needed help blood trailing a downed doe and help soon arrived. The sign was abundant, the trail short, and their confusion soon turned to excitement and handshakes when we reached the fallen buck. We took pictures, dressed the deer and brought it back to share with my wife (who is also an avid hunter), daughter, and the rest of our family.
The fact that this buck would not reach Pope & Young status never diminished the pride I felt for harvesting the animal. However, I knew that after my father and I had carefully scored this Missouri ten pointer twice and arrived at just under 124 total inches in both attempts, my goal would have to be accomplished another day.
During the summer of 2010 I continued my quest to harvest a Pope & Young whitetail. Trail cameras revealed three bucks on the farm that would do. I paid careful attention to their movements so I could have a chance to put myself within bow range when the season came around.
Unlike the year prior, the early season yielded no sightings of mature bucks from my stands, but I was able to harvest a mature doe to fill my family’s freezer.
Through the month of October I consistently recorded pictures of two “hit list” bucks at the same mineral lick. Although the pictures were showing exclusively nocturnal movement, I knew the upcoming rut would draw these brutes out during daylight hours. These bucks were spending a lot of time on this farm and I had just taken a new job that allowed me more chances to hunt. It was shaping up to be an exciting bow season in 2010!
After passing on a couple marginal three-year-old bucks during the second week of October, the evening of October 22 gave me a chance to capitalize on a long awaited opportunity.
On that Friday evening I slipped away from work a little early and was able to make it to the mineral lick stand in plenty of time for an evening hunt. I had been hunting this stand almost exclusively for the past weeks, but since I am only able to hunt on the weekends, I felt the deer in this area were not being over pressured. After about thirty minutes on stand I glanced east to glass a thick draw that had historically held deer. There stood my prize. One of my “hit list” bucks was at sixty yards and headed right for me! I immediately recognized his wide, tall 4×4 frame. He had long tines, great brows, nice mass, and a split G2 on his right side which gave him nine total points. There was no doubt I was going to be presented with a shot, so I made ready.
He hustled through the draw in my direction, and then decided to cut through the corner of the field north of me before entering the bottomland timber. With my bow in hand, I slightly turned my feet to square for the shot. As he passed on the opposite side of a young oak I drew my bow. The beautiful nine-point emerged in the open field on the other side of the oak at twelve yards. I let out a loud grunt and he stopped in his tracks, slightly quartering toward me. Anticipating the path of the arrow through the animal, I moved my pin slightly forward in the vitals and let the arrow fly. As my carbon shaft found its mark I was overwhelmed with joy. I had just shot a “hit list” buck square in the ribs!
However, as quickly as elation had overcome me, terror replaced it. The loud crack of the arrow striking the deer did not seem out of place, but as the buck turned to run, I was devastated to see about twenty-eight inches of my twenty-nine inch arrow protruding from the near side of the buck. I immediately knew I had hit the shoulder, and could only pray I had achieved enough penetration to enter the chest cavity.
My heart only continued to sink over the next thirty-five minutes as I watched my trophy slowly walk three hundred yards across a harvested bean field and disappear into the timber. I now had to be optimistic for a fatal wound, endure a sleepless night and return the next morning to recover my quarry.
After the shot, the big nine had circled between my stand location and where I had parked my truck. As I slipped out I found a small amount of blood on his trail. This discovery added a tiny spark of hope to the situation. Maybe tomorrow morning would end in celebration after all.
I again enlisted the help of my father and father-in-law as we began our search the next morning. My hopes were quickly dashed as we discovered virtually no more blood than I had found the night before. There was no blood at the point where he had entered the timber after his three hundred yard march, and none to be found on the ensuing trail inside the woods. Several more hours of searching for blood and eventually walking the timber in a grid found us still scratching our heads. I now had to succumb to what had been in the back of my mind since the shot. I had not penetrated through the shoulder and we were trailing a deer that had a mere flesh wound. I quietly sent up a prayer for his wound to heal quickly so I may chase him another day. My second opportunity in as many years had failed.
The 2011 season came and went with three more legitimate chances at a Pope & Young buck, but none materialized into a harvest. My hunting opportunities were few, but opportunity was plentiful during the rut. One hunt was the prototypical “dream” rut hunt. It was a frosty November morning and the bucks were on their feet. I passed on four 2 ½ year old bucks that morning before the first shooter ambled out of the woods. I was hunting a favorite food plot that was only ¼ acre in size, but had five active scrapes around its edges.
At about 9 o’clock a doe stepped in to view behind a blown down oak. She was aware of a presence behind her, but I could only hope it was a mature buck. It was, but he had no interest of exposing himself in the open. I could sense his cautious nature, and he proved it by chasing the doe back into the cover of the timber each time she attempted to escape his perimeter. I watched this courtship for thirty minutes before the couple, to my dismay, moved deeper into the timber and out of sight.
A few more cold hours passed before a flash encounter with a mature buck came and went. From the same direction the previous pair had wandered, came a nice buck. He was hustling and the shot would be on a trail that was thirty yards away. I would have to stop him, and a distant shot on an aware buck always causes me stress. As he approached, I could tell he was big, probably my biggest ever. He moved through the draw and popped out on the trail, just as I had expected. However, when he entered the clearing I could see the right antler I had been watching as he closed the distance through the timber. The antler was tall, massive and snow white in color, a magnificent five side. What I had not noticed was the complete absence of a left antler. I drew my bow anyway, but let him hustle through the food plot, over the hill and out of sight. My goal was a Pope & Young deer, and I had committed to staying the course.
December of 2011 presented several doe opportunities, but few buck sightings. I did have the pleasure of watching a nice 9 pointer feed for over an hour only to come within 25 yards after shooting light had expired. Another year had come and gone without accomplishing my goal.
There was only one thing left to do. Press on.
The 2012 season drug its feet, but finally arrived. The early season yielded one close encounter with a 3 ½ year old ten pointer who had lots of potential, but needed another year to grow. The crop harvest was in full swing and we were seeing some nice deer from the combine and trucks. Could this be the year?
On October 28 we were busy harvesting the soybean crop. We were over half done and the weather was holding out. After spending several hours in the combine, my father-in-law suggested I go climb in a treestand for the next few hours until dark. He didn’t have to say that twice! A quick check of the westerly wind sent my mind spinning. I had several options and I had to choose quickly. I dumped the hopper of beans from the combine to the truck and took off across country to my pickup where my gear awaited me.
I chose to hunt some standing beans near a hidden clover food plot and bedding area. I knew does would be in the nearby cover and there were active scrapes around the edges of the clover.
Only a few minutes into my sit a small doe came to view in a natural pinch point at only fifteen yards. But instead of moving on out into the standing beans, she instead stayed just inside the timber browsing on buck brush. There she stayed for over an hour causing me to maintain a constant state of stillness. Admittedly she eventually became quite annoying, but the discomfort would soon be worthwhile.
At around 6 p.m. a small buck fed from the timber and moved in to the beans to feed. The doe paid attention and began her cautious march from cover to field. Suddenly both deer went on alert and my eyes darted in the same direction as theirs. Stepping through the narrow tree line from the secluded clover plot and into the bean field was a mature buck. I could see his rack was tall and massive, so the decision was made. He was a shooter.
He eased his way into the field with his attention on the small doe who was now at the base of my ladder. One short grunt gained his full attention. He took a few more steps and a follow up grunt turned his body and initiated a stiff legged march toward my exact location. Hair bristled and ears laid back, he veered left then right as he bulldozed through the standing beans. My main obstacle quickly became painfully clear. I had to divert my attention from the approaching bruiser and be able to draw my bow without the doe noticing. With the buck at around 80 yards and closing fast I went to work. She was very aware of my presence after the two grunts; there was no room for error. If the doe spooked she would take the buck with her and my chance would be ruined. Luckily the approaching buck was making her nervous and she rotated her body, facing directly away from me. The buck was still more than fifty yards away, but now was the time. I slowly slid back my arrow and waited.
I could hear him coming, but he was obstructed from view by a pesky limb I had purposely left for cover in the sparse mulberry in which I was perched. By now it was obvious the shot would be close and as the buck neared the pinch point he began to swing wide and circle the doe, who was still standing at less than five yards. I saw his white rack come in to view and readied my twenty yard pin. He was inside of twelve yards, so I held the twenty yard pin low on his vitals and made a grunt with my mouth. He came to attention and I touched the release. The arrow zipped through the air without a sound and the buck bounded off. He stopped twenty yards later. By now I was very nervous because the sound was atypical of a rib cage hit and I did not see the arrow impact the deer. Where was the trademark “twack sound”? Did I miss him totally? My prayers were promptly answered when he tipped in his tracks, less than thirty yards from my tree!
Several texts and calls later my family was on their way to the field. Killing a buck is a special affair in our clan, and celebration was in order. As I sat in the dark waiting for the cavalry to arrive, I had time to relax and enjoy the sounds of the late October woods. The love sick smaller buck was unaware of what had just happened and I could catch glimpses of him in the moonlight as he chased the once pesky doe around the bean field, grunting as he hustled after his potential date.
Headlights entered the field and everyone piled out of the truck. We recovered a beautiful, crimson arrow planted firmly in the ground at thirteen yards and crossed the ditch to my buck. We high fived, shook hands and took pictures. What a perfect end to a wonderful day!
My 2012 bow kill grossed 127 6/8 inches Pope & Young and ended my nineteen year quest for a buck measuring over the Pope & Young minimum. October 28 was a great hunt and one I will remember for the rest of my life. However, I was surprised with how anticlimactic accomplishing this long time goal felt. Sure, it is a feather in my hat, but I’m not going to stop. That’s what gets me about bow hunting; I will never get enough of it.
I think a recent Zac Brown Band song says it best, with a little modification of the original lyrics of course.
“On the day that I die, I wanna say that I, Was a man who really lived and never compromised, And when I lived out my days, Until the very end, I hope they find me in my home stand, A guitar compound in my hands.”
– Eric Hoyt