By Mark Kenyon
November 7th, 2013 will forever go down as one of the most memorable, exciting and surprising hunts of my life. And that’s really saying something, considering I didn’t even kill anything!
As you may have saw on the Wired To Hunt facebook page last week, W2H teammember and my best bud, Josh Hillyard, killed his first buck with a bow. As great as that was, the story was a little bit different than the usual big buck story we have here and part of that story ended up getting national attention (both good and bad). That said, it’s time that we share the whole story for ourselves. Even though I didn’t kill a buck, I was blessed to have been a part of Josh’s hunt and for that reason I’ll be sharing my perspective on the story as well as Josh’s. So here goes!
Josh: It was the morning of Thursday, November 7th and Mark and I were into our 6th day of our Ohio rut vacation. We had high hopes for the day as it had rained most the day before and temperatures were set to drop around 15-20 degrees from the prior day. We decided we were going into the core of the farm that day as the conditions were perfect to be aggressive and try to put a buck on the ground.
It was a chilly morning with a slight breeze and I struggled to stay warm while I waited for the sun to rise. As I sat in my tree stand and tried to doze off for a quick nap, I was awakened by deer moving through my area prior to daylight. This was a great sign, and I was optimistic that this would be the morning after 5 days of tough hunting.
Just before shooting light, I flipped my seat up against the tree and stood up to be ready for any shot opportunities I may have at first light. Unfortunately, the deer didn’t end up moving much during those early hours. I sat back down and started to have my doubts about the day. All I could think about was how it was going to be a long 13 hours in the tree stand without much movement! However, my luck was about to change in a big way.
Mark: Like Josh said, we headed in Thursday morning with sky high hopes. Conditions were perfect and it was time to go in deep. I even posted on our Facebook page that we were sick of messing around, and were going to get it done that day!
I had decided that with the west wind we had, both Josh and I could sit a ridge system at the core of the property. I knew if there were any bucks on the move, there would be a good chance they would cruise this ridge. I sat at the end of a point, overlooking a draw, and Josh sat about 200 yards behind me up the ridge.
The morning started cold and slow, but a little after 7 my suspicions that today would be good were confirmed. Antlers materialized out of the brush about 150 yards away and I instantly knew I was looking at a shooter.
After a minute or so of slowly browsing around in the tall grass, the big buck began to slowly walk down the old logging road headed straight away from me and Josh. I obviously couldn’t let this happen so I gave my grunt tube a couple hits, and as if he were following a script, he turned and began walking straight down the trail towards me. This was about to happen.
As the buck methodically approached, I prepared myself for a shot and steadied my nerves. 110 yards. 100 yards. 90 yards. 80 yards. He quickly covered ground and it seemed like he was about to walk right into my lap. But at the last minute, at just under 80 yards away, he turned and cut up the ridge to his right. My desperate grunt calls had no effect on him, and I watched as he continued up and then finally cut left to parallel the ridge.
It was at this point that I realized that there may still be hope. Not for me, but for Josh!
If this buck continued on the path he was on, he’d hit the ridge that Josh was sitting and I knew he’d end up on the old logging road that Josh was watching over. Josh was going to shoot this buck!
I quickly turned on my camera, explained my prediction and settled in to wait for a call from Josh.
Josh: It was now around 7:15am. I decided I would once again stand, only this time it was to try to warm myself up little bit. I needed to get the blood flowing. I was sitting on the top of a ridge that was just downwind of a bedding area overlooking a clearing between the cut bean field and the aforementioned bedding area.
As I scanned the area, my blood quickly began to start flowing. I put my binoculars up and scanned an area behind me about 80 yards away. As I scanned through some long grass, there he was, a wall of antlers filled up my binoculars.
As the buck stepped out of the grass, I about fell out of my tree stand as I realized he was headed my way. This was by far the biggest buck I have seen while hunting. The first thing I thought to do was to get my camera on him. I flipped on the camera and immediately started recording. I then quickly turned to grab my bow and started preparing myself for a shot. I knew I had to act quickly as he was heading on a string straight to my tree stand. I tried to stay calm, but almost immediately buck fever started to kick in. I was doing my best to try to get some good footage of the buck while also trying to control my nerves.
As he got closer, he kept getting bigger. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening! I started to zoom out with the camera and made sure to aim the camera at the best shooting lane I had out of this tree stand. I could see in the screen that I was aimed right where I needed to be. The buck was about 5 yards from where I needed to shoot him. I drew back and settled in on my pin with it aimed just behind his shoulder. As he stepped into the shooting lane I let out a “bueeerrpp” to stop him. I slowly put pressure on my release until I felt the arrow explode off of my Bear Motive 7.
The buck took off like a rocket continuing down the path he was on, only now he had an arrow in him! As soon as I shot, I felt I may have rushed the shot just a hair. I had my pin just behind his shoulder but for some reason my shot was just a bit back. Also, when I stopped him, his last step was slightly towards me which caused him to be quartering to me a bit as well When I shot, I don’t think I accounted for this slight angle. It all happened in what seemed like a blink of an eye. I knew my shot would be a kill shot but I also knew it was a touch back, that said I still thought I had gotten at least one lung. I was confident the shot would be lethal!
As he ran away, it looked as if he was starting to get wobbly as he reached the end of the trail before I lost sight of him. I then heard some loud crashes and what sounded like a small dead tree being knocked over. I thought the buck was down and assumed he was piled up only about 75 yards from my stand! I was ecstatic!
I called Mark to let him know what had just happened! I told him I had just shot a big one! Mark was only hunting about 200 yards from me in the direction that this buck came from and he told me he that he thought he saw the same buck! Mark thought he was going to get a shot at this buck, but for whatever reason, he headed down a different trail right in my direction! I told Mark I thought the buck was down and we were both ecstatic! Our luck had changed and we finally had a big buck on the ground!
We decided we would wait a couple of hours to make sure and also for Mark to hunt longer to see if we could both possibly tag out that morning too.
I sat back down in disbelief; I couldn’t believe what had just happened! I went back to review the footage to get a better idea of where the shot location was. Unfortunately I must have bumped the camera when I drew back because the buck was just out of camera view when I took the shot. I was pretty disappointed in myself at this point but I guess that is one of the realities of self-filming your hunts.
Mark: When my phone began ringing, I knew exactly who it was and what it was about. My predictions was spot on! Josh had shot the buck! After a quick chat with Josh I settled back down and crossed my fingers that our luck would continue. Just a few minutes later, I thought it had as I heard crashing in the brush behind me.
I spun around and immediately saw a big buck running down the ridge towards me, hot on the trail of what looked like a doe or two. I quickly grabbed my bow off the hanger and swiveled the camera around.
As I started zooming in the camera, the deer stopped in the middle of a creek a little over a 100 yards away and they began crashing around. I finally got the camera trained on them, and as the picture came into focus, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was no doe being chased by a buck, this was a buck being chased by coyotes!
At this point the buck began spinning around, as the coyotes circled and lunged at him. I watched in a state of shock, not even fully processing yet what I was seeing. Then just as quickly as it began, it ended. After ~ 15-30 seconds, before I could even think about doing anything, the coyotes took off from where they came from and the buck stood panting in the creek a little over 100 yards away. If you haven’t seen this video clip yet, I’ve embedded it below
Eventually the buck slowly began to walk in my direction, and I ranged a couple shooting lanes that I hoped he might walk through. If I could put another arrow in him, I absolutely would. Unfortunately though, he never came any closer than probably 80 yards and at all times he was behind many trees and branches.
I watched as the buck walked up a hill and bedded down. It looked like he would expire right there, and I breathed a sigh of relief. This would end quickly.
I texted Josh and filled him in on what had happened, and that his buck was bedded nearby and about to pass.
Josh: A total of 5 to 10 minutes had probably passed by this time when I heard crashing across the ridge on the other side. I quickly got my binoculars up and was able to see a coyote chasing a doe! I was surprised to see that at 7:45am but didn’t think too much of it until I got a text from Mark a few minutes later.
He said he had good news and bad news for me. The bad news was that he saw my buck and he was NOT dead like I thought he was!
My buck that I shot had been chased by 3 or 4 coyotes! The good news though was that my buck was able to quickly scare them all off and had bedded down near Mark. He said the buck looked like he would expire soon.
From his tree stand, Mark was able to see the entrance hole as well as the exit wound on my deer and he said it looked to be a pretty good shot and was almost positive it was a fatal shot. By this point, I was back to being a nervous wreck! I had been thinking that my buck was lying dead not far from my stand but instead he had been pushed back towards Mark by a small pack of coyotes! I was starting to worry that we would not be able to recover the buck, especially if the coyotes came back and continued to push the buck. I had no idea what to think and had knots in my stomach. I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.
My spirits dropped but then were slightly lifted again when Mark texted me 20-30 minutes later to let me know he saw the buck get up and start walking away (spirits dropped). He had lost sight of the buck in the brush, but he texted that he thought he heard a crash and some flailing about 100 yards from him (spirits lifted!). It was an absolute roller coaster of emotions over the next 6-7 hours before we started to track my buck!
Mark: I thought the show was over, but then the unthinkable happened. The buck unbelievably rose from what I assumed would be his death bed, and I started getting pretty nervous. If he’d survived this long, he might be able to survive the whole deal. As Josh said, I saw that his entry wound was pretty well placed and I thought for sure he would have taken out a lung. But because of the angle, it appeared he probably only got one. I’ve heard many a story of bucks that survived with only one lung. I was concerned, so I told Josh we should back out and wait til 7 or 8 hours after the shot.
Speaking of the shot, after posting the video of the coyote incident later that week, we received many comments viciously criticizing Josh for his shot on this deer. No, the shot wasn’t perfect. But for it being the biggest deer Josh had ever seen, and it being the first deer he’d ever killed with a bow – I’d say it was pretty darn good. The entry wound was perfect up/down, but about 6 inches behind the shoulder. Then because of the angle from the treestand down to the buck, the exit wound was low and back. This resulted in the exit wound which everyone saw in the video and criticized Josh for. Josh has put in plenty of practice and he’s a great shot. But as we all know, things don’t always go perfect in the heat of the moment. It was really disappointing to see the vitriol being spewed by people online, and the hypocrisy was appalling. No one makes perfect shots every single time, it’s just a reality of hunting. Nevertheless, I guess that’s what we get for putting ourselves out there. There’s a lot more I’d like to say about the various comments we received on our blog, YouTube, Facebook, Outdoor Life, and North American Whitetail – but I’ll keep them to myself. Everyone has an opinion I guess. That said, back to the story…
Josh: After we waited the necessary amount of time, we decided to start tracking the buck where Mark had last seen him bedded down. Much to our surprise, we were not able to find any blood! We started walking in the direction the buck was headed hoping to find some blood at some point, but there was nothing. After we went about 200 yards, we decided to head back to where we had seen him bedded down and continue to look for any signs of blood there again.
As we headed back, Mark and I split up; he went higher on the ridge and I walked closer to the creek bottom. We were about half way back when Mark motioned for me to head his way! I headed over and he told me that he had found some blood! He kept pointing out blood to me but I thought he was crazy because I didn’t see anything. As I continued to follow this invisible blood trail, I looked up and there he was! A white belly and the same wall of antlers I saw earlier in the day coming out of the long grass!
I couldn’t believe it! I was back to the highest of highs! We were able to recover the first deer I had ever harvested with my bow and by far the biggest deer I had shot to date! I was starting to have serious doubts that we would not find him after not having any sort of a blood trail to follow. But we got very lucky, as Mark just happened to look in that area as we were headed back to look for blood. And I knew I wasn’t blind because Mark admitted to me that there was not any blood!
At the start of the day, we thought it would be a great day of hunting but we had no idea it would be this good! November 7th, 2013 will go down as a day I may never forget. Between seeing the largest buck I had ever seen, being able to get a shot, and then a coyote attack, it was a day filled with emotion. Shaky nerves, optimism, doubt, excitement, and accomplishment! My buck rough scored at 136 2/8″, but I could really care less about what he scored. He would have been a trophy to me no matter what he was! – Josh
As I mentioned earlier, because of the unique nature of this hunt and the coyote incident, the story got some coverage on Outdoor Life and North American Whitetail’s websites – if you’re interested in seeing those, you can visit the links below.