By Cody Altizer:
Not too long ago I wrote a lengthy, detailed blog where I told the story of my 10 most embarrassing hunts in my 18 years of deer hunting. There were some real doozies, and I hope that at least one of my mishaps provided you with a little laugh or some entertainment.
However, this post, in an effort to reclaim my pride and dignity, I’m going to share with you the story behind 8 of the deer I’ve killed that I’m the most proud of, and that mean the most to me. In my 18 years of deer hunting, I’ve killed 23 whitetails in 3 different states. That’s not a lot of deer by any stretch of the imagination, but as I get older and hunt more, I hope to kill a lot more deer (that’s the plan anyway). However, I don’t want to ever forget the story of any deer I kill, which is why I keep records and photos of all my successful hunts. Below are the few that mean the most to me.
1. This was the very first deer I ever killed. I don’t remember the exact date, but it was my first season hunting and I was 6 years old. I had loved being outdoors at the time and would ride around on the 4wheeler looking for deer with my dad, but actually hunting and killing a deer never crossed my mind until my brother shot one a few weeks earlier. After that, I had to keep up with big bro and tag one myself. This beautiful young doe gave me a 70-yard shot from what was, and still is, creatively called “My Stand” and I dropped her in her tracks. After pulling the trigger and seeing her go down, I just remember falling backwards and my dad having to catch me from falling from the treestand. It was very surreal moment.
2. The year was 1998 and I was a seasoned deer hunting veteran by that time ;). Going into my third season in the woods I had killed one doe, and one button buck. My goal for this year was something with antlers. Of course, at the time, it didn’t matter how big it was, I just wanted to put my hands on my first racked buck. Fortunately, in one of my first hunts of the season that year, this yearling 4 pointer stepped out into my shooting lane at 140 yards looking right at me. I didn’t waste anytime I either. I was hunting with my grandfather at the time, and he gave me the okay to shoot, and shoot I did. As soon as I found the buck in my crosshairs I pulled the trigger and sent the bullet on its way. I had absolutely no business shooting at a deer that far that was looking right at me, but luckily the bullet caught the deer’s neck and he dropped where he stood. I experienced my first case of ground shrinkage with this buck, because when I pulled the trigger, I could have sworn he was at least a 10 pointer.
3. Fast forward a couple years to 2001, and my hunting expertise had sky rocketed. By that time I had harvested 8 deer, but still no big buck. I was in the 7th grade, and knew that the next year meant high school, girls, JV basketball, and less time in the woods, so I hunted harder than ever hoping to get my first big buck. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on my side. In fact, I didn’t even get a shot off the first two months of the season despite hunting nearly every single possible day. Up until this time I had hunted with either my dad or my grandfather, but on the last day of the season, I called my dad at work asking him, “If I could take his muzzleloader up behind the house and sit for a few hours this afternoon?” He said yes, so I grabbed his Thompson Center and off I went. I set up on a field edge where I had absolutely no evidence that deer might show up, and waited. It would have been a pretty big shot to my 12-year-old ego if I didn’t kill a deer one year, so I lobbed a few desperate prayers to the Man Upstairs. Fortunately, he answered. About a half hour before dark I turned around to see a group of 8-10 does staring me right in the face at eye level at 40 yards. I grabbed the muzzleloader and shot the first one my scope found. It was just a button buck, but it was my first deer by myself, and I sure was proud of him.
4. As mentioned, I started high school the next year, and with that the time I could dedicate to hunting dropped dramatically. I didn’t give up, though, and hunted every single day that I could. If I had basketball game in the afternoon, I’d hunt all morning. Practice in the morning? I’d hunt all afternoon. If there was time to be spent in the woods, I found it. I even bought myself a crossbow to extend my season an extra month. Unfortunately, however, this didn’t lead to much success. I shot a handful of does, a coyote, and another 4 pointer in high school, but never even saw my first shooter buck (At the time, I considered a “shooter” a buck with at least 8 points, regardless of age).
Once I graduated high school in 2007 and enrolled at the local community college I knew I’d have plenty of time on my hands to hunt. I only had classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so that meant Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday were to be spent in the woods. I hunted more during the ’07 season than I had hunted in all my years in high school combined, but still hadn’t even seen my first shootable buck. That all changed on November 16th. It was the Friday before the week of Thanksgiving, and I was stoked to be hunting. My dad had a week of vacation, my brother was coming in from college for a week of hunting, and I couldn’t wait to hit the woods. So I didn’t.
I got home from school at about 3:30 in the afternoon, but it was too beautiful of an afternoon to sit inside, so I threw on some camouflage, grabbed my muzzleloader and went to sit in a ground blind, smelling of Adidas cologne, Axe hair gel, and Old Spice deodorant.
This buck came in from behind me about 45 minutes before dark chasing a doe, and I shot him square in the lungs. He didn’t make it 15 yards, and I was out of the blind running through the woods jumping, screaming, and yelling. Finally. After 12 years of hunting, I had finally shot my first “wall hanger.”
5. After having scored on my first decent buck in 2007, I was addicted to success and had fully immersed myself in the world of Quality Deer Management (QDM). I had also since sold my crossbow, and purchased my first compound, a BowTech TomKat. 2009 was my first year hunting with it, and I was so excited to draw back on my first deer. I was still in community college at the time, and had dedicated myself to deer and deer hunting. I now knew every nook and cranny on our property and how it related to deer movement, and thought of myself as a “serious whitetail bowhunter.” After missing my first chance at a deer with my bow in early October, this old doe gave me a 14 yard chip shot in early November. The arrow sliced through both lungs and she died just out of sight. My first deer with a compound bow.
6. The next year, 2010, found me living and hunting in the great state of Illinois. My passion for deer and deer hunting landed me a job in Chicagoland writing, shooting photography, and filming for Bowhunting.com. When I wasn’t at the office working, or out in the field filming (which wasn’t often), I had a few opportunities to hunt myself.
One of those opportunities came during Halloween weekend. I had filmed my friend Justin Zarr for 3 hunts, and he turned me lose on my own on the afternoon of the 30th. Temperatures were warmer than normal peaking in the upper 60s and it was breezy, but that didn’t deter my confidence. I had a sneaking suspicion something good was going to happen that night. After watching a doe and twin fawns pass by my stand, I heard a snort wheeze to my North. I threw up my binoculars and found this beautiful buck looking right at me. He made his way down the finger I was hunting stopping on his own, perfectly broadside at 20 yards. I can still remember settling the pin, but touching the release was purely instinctive.
This was my first buck with a bow, my biggest buck at the time, and my first buck killed in Illinois, however, what made this hunt even more memorable was sharing it all with Justin. Not only was he kind enough to let me hunt on his lease, but he filmed the recovery, laughed at me while I field dressed the buck in the dark, and took some killer harvest photos. To this day, I can still remember nearly every second of that afternoon’s hunt and celebrating that night.
7. When my internship ended in Illinois in the winter of 2011, I returned home ready to unleash holy war on the whitetails that call Bath County, Virginia home. My brother had been running my trail cameras throughout the winter before I got back and captured images of two nice bucks that had made it through the season. The first was a busted up 3-year-old buck we’d nicknamed Clyde with a long sweeping right main beam that, at the time, would likely have scored in the mid 120s. The second was a 2-year-old buck that had sharp, high and tight brow tines. Throughout the summer and early fall we captured pictures of the older buck, who was now a 4 year old. He had ballooned into a true giant. As a mainframe 10 pointer, I guessed he would easily break the 140” mark. The younger, smaller buck, whom we’d nicknamed High n’ Tight, had disappeared. My brother shot the older buck in mid-November, and he turned out to be bigger than we thought. As a mainframe 10 with 5 scoreable kickers, the buck grossed 148 6/8 inches.
I had invested quite a bit of myself in trying to kill Clyde, and was getting run down by the end of November. I had decided to hunt old reliable, “My Stand,” for the first time of the year the morning of November 23rd. Just a little after daybreak I saw a good buck quickly sneaking through the thick timber trying to access our sanctuary. With little time to analyze the situation, I stopped the buck at 60 yards when he entered a shooting lane and dropped the hammer. I knew I hit the buck good, but didn’t see him go down.
I texted my brother, who made it to the base of my treestand in near record time, and we picked up the blood trail. My brother tagged along and filmed me following the blood trail right to the fallen buck. After looking him over quickly, I immediately recognized him as High n’ Tight. He was a mainframe 10 with a baby kicker on his right base and he scored 127 inches. But, like my Illinois hunt with Justin, sharing the recovery and celebrating with my brother is what made this buck memorable.
8. Having scored on my biggest bucks to date in the 2010 and 2011 seasons, I went into the 2012 season hungrier than every ever, but also pickier than ever. I had shot two very good bucks the last 2 years, but I wanted a giant. I wanted something that would break 130 inches with my bow, or 140 inches with a gun. That was my criteria. Unfortunately I didn’t seen any bucks that fit that criteria last fall, however, I did cross paths with the number 1 deer on my wish list.
Saturday afternoon, October 13th, was the type of hunt deer managers dream about. Temperatures were in the lower 50s; bluebird skies cast long shadows across the clover plot I was hunting, and that 15 turkeys and 2 does and 2 fawns were feeding in. I had already considered the hunt a success.
However, with light quickly fading, I heard deer running through the woods behind me. I quickly turned around to see a button buck racing full speed ahead towards the food plot. Behind him approached a doe and a second fawn. I glassed the doe through my binoculars and immediately identified her as “Momma,” an old doe with which I had tremendous history, and I guessed her to be at least 10 years old minimum.
I grabbed my bow and readied myself for a shot as she cautiously made her approach. Each step calculated, head on a swivel, nose in the air, and ears constantly rotating, she was the ultimate adversary. Finally, she committed. I quietly let out a soft grunt to stop her at 19 yards and watched my arrow bury itself right behind her should and in the dirt behind her. She expired within in seconds 60 yards from my tree.
I’ve never had Momma properly aged (cementum aging), and I don’t want to. However, most folks that I respect and talk to guessed that she was in her early teens. I feel a tremendous amount of humility, pride, and sadness every time I think about Momma. I may never kill another animal that old the rest of my life, but to kill an animal with which you’ve shared 5 years of your life, is very saddening. She was a special deer, and I feel very grateful for the opportunity to have hunted her.
Do any of your hunts over your lifetime stand out to you as particularly memorable? We’d love for you to share one in the comments!
– Cody Altizer, CodyAltizerPhotography.com