Today’s W2H reader success story comes from Mike Stephens of Pennsylvania. It’s an awesome story of re-entering the wonderful world of hunting and the incredible memories that can come from it. Please join me in giving Mike a big congrats! And welcome back to the brotherhood Mike! – MK
By Mike Stephens
This is a 100% true story about my amazing encounter with the buck of a lifetime and what led me to that point.
I grew up in a family of sportsmen, whose primary pastime was hunting and fishing…especially hunting for whitetail deer in the woods of Pennsylvania. As a boy, I was always interested in those things, but I always had other sports or activities that interested me just a little bit more and I never fully immersed myself into the outdoor lifestyle that the rest of the men in my family did. You could say I was the black sheep, in some ways.
Fast forward a few decades to mid-2013. I was well into my 30’s and married with two young boys. I suddenly felt a longing to get out in the woods and to reconnect with that side of me that had been buried for so long. I wanted to hunt and provide for my family just like the previous generations of men in my family had done. Because it is how I am wired, I decided that I was going to research and learn as much as possible. Those that know me know that I don’t do things half-way, if I was going to hunt, I wanted to be good. To do that, I studied anything and everything related to deer hunting that I could find. I found myself particularly drawn to the wise counsel of men like Dr. Grant Woods of Growingdeer.tv, Mark Kenyon of WiredToHunt.com and many more. That first year, fall of 2013, I took two deer in archery season, a doe early in the Pennsylvania season and a small 5 point buck on November 5. Both were taken at the “food plot stand” on “The Hill” at my uncle’s farm in Western PA. More on that later. Not to toot my own horn, but I know that’s pretty good success for a guy truly hunting for the first time in his life, especially doing it with a bow.
I’m not one of those guys that considers himself a trophy hunter, as in large antlered deer. It’s not that I have an issue with those that are, I just don’t live in the Midwest where the corn-fed bruisers tend to reside. The deer here in my home state just don’t typically get as big and I’m ok with that. I am a meat hunter and every deer shot in a fair chase situation is a trophy in my book. My primary goal is to put fresh venison in my freezer to feed my family.
After last season, I continued throughout the year to immerse myself into learning as much as I possibly could about becoming a good deer hunter. I had a good 2013 season, but I knew I had a long way to go to be a good hunter.
Fast forward again to Tuesday, November 4, 2014. My Dad and I were planning another trip to hunt with my uncle at his farm. We decided that we would vote at our local polling place and then hit the road for the 4+ hour trip. As we were driving across the state, my Dad and I spent a lot of time in conversation about many issues, including the passion that we both now share, hunting. I explained to him that while I’m a meat hunter, it was my hope that at some point in my life I would be able to take down a nice, mature buck with a big rack. I don’t need them every year, but one would be nice. I didn’t realize at the time just how prophetic that would be.
We got to my aunt and uncle’s house, unloaded my truck and started catching up with them. During that conversation, my uncle revealed that he had missed a rather large buck up on “The Hill” the previous day. There are many stand locations around his farm. But up on the Hill, there are two special stands. The food plot stand is set right off of a half-acre food plot, which is located just outside of a primary bedding area. The field stand is located about 100 yards away from the food plot in a main travel corridor and about 30 yards off of an agricultural field (some years they plant corn and others, like this year, it is soybeans).
He wasn’t sure exactly how big this large buck was, but it was “mount-worthy” to use his words. I was a bit surprised by his miss because he has always been a dead-on shooter and takes good bucks every year. (On a side note, he took his bow to the local archery shop and they found a bow malfunction that was causing him to shoot at least 12 inches low at 20 yards…it wasn’t operator error after all. The issue was fixed at that time and he is back in business).
The odd thing is, this particular buck never showed up once on any of the trail cams that he had used to survey the property, neither day or night. He knew of several does and a mix of 1.5 and 2.5 year old bucks. But this guy was nowhere to be found. So when he popped out on Monday, my uncle was pleasantly surprised.
After talking for a bit, we decided to head out and hunt the last few hours of the day. My uncle reported that deer movement had become quite extensive in the past week up on the Hill. I took my place in my preferred food plot stand and Dad went to his favorite stand, the field stand. It was pretty quiet at first. About a half hour before dark, I had two does come up from behind me, walk directly under my stand and into the food plot to eat. I was hoping a buck was on their tail, but that wasn’t the case. They fed for several minutes without a care in the world and had no idea that I was watching them. Then another doe came from the same direction and stopped directly beneath me and she just stood there. She must have sensed something was up. It was around that time that, from 100 yards away, I heard the familiar “thwack” of a fired bow, followed by crashing in the brush. My dad had shot a buck. I waited for the doe to clear out of the food plot before I went to help him. I was finally able to get down out of my stand around the close of shooting light. It was a stocky 2.5 year old buck, nice for this part of the country. He had 4 points on the right side and 2 on the left…his main beam had broken off (presumably in a fight). After reviewing trail cam pics that night, we identified him as an 8 point that had recently lost half of that main beam.
At one point that night, my uncle looked at me and said, “There is just something magical about that Hill.” He continued, “And the big boy is still up there.” I assured him that I would leave it alone so he could try to take it again with his now-repaired bow. As a meat hunter, I would be happy to take any of the other legal bucks on the property. He got in my face and said, “Don’t you dare. If that buck walks in front of you, you better put an arrow in him.”
The next morning was November 5, exactly one year to the day that I took my very first (and only) buck on the very farm that I would be hunting that day. My dad would not be hunting because he had just taken his buck. My uncle had some other obligations first thing that morning, so I would be the only one going out. Feeling nostalgic (and maybe a little superstitious), I was planning to go back to my favorite stand, the food plot stand. My uncle said that he was seeing more deer movement in the mornings at the field stand though. Both stands would be good, but he recommended the latter. We checked the forecast for the morning and found that the wind was going to be perfect for the field stand. That’s where I would sit.
Keep in mind, for the previous week, there had been a crazy amount of deer movement up there on the Hill. My uncle said he was seeing a lot of movement until at least 11:00 every day, so I should plan to stay in the stand until at least that time. I got into my stand about an hour before sunrise and waited for dawn to come and the woods to come to life. A beautiful sunrise came, but the deer didn’t. I sat in the stand for hours and saw nothing. Maybe the commotion of the night before (with my dad shooting his buck) had caused the deer to change their pattern for the day. Perhaps I should have gone to another part of the farm to allow things to calm down. Too late now. About 9:00, I got a text from my uncle. “Anything yet?” “Nothing” was my response. He immediately fired back, “Sit tight. It only takes one.” That’s sage advice from a grizzled veteran. Again, I had no idea how prophetic that statement would be.
Twenty minutes later (about 9:20 or so), I received a text from my wife (who was back home 4+ hours away). “Seeing anything?” to which I responded, “Nothing but squirrels and chipmunks.” I put my phone away in my pocket and stood up to stretch my legs. I did a slow scan around the entire area. Nothing. I finally made it around to the direction of the food plot. It was about 100 yards away though the woods and some thick stuff. However, since most of the leaves had fallen, I could see somewhat into the lush green expanse. Immediately, I saw a big body walk into the plot. I got my binoculars up and saw a sea of horns. It was the big guy and he was clearly looking for a date. The first thought that went through my head was, “Why did I let him talk me into me sitting here instead of there?” If I was in the food plot stand, I would have had a perfect angle for a shot on him. Ugh. I quickly fired a text to my Dad and uncle letting them know that the big boy was over there.
Harkening back to some of the knowledge that I had absorbed over the previous year and a half, I then grabbed by grunt call and hit it once. The big boy immediately snapped his head around and looked in my direction. I grunted a second time and he swung his entire body around and stood in an aggressive posture. I knew he was the dominant buck and he was not pleased that another buck would be on his Hill. I let that sit with him a few seconds to get his blood boiling. I then hit the grunt a third time and he couldn’t take it anymore. He started in my direction and was moving with a purpose. He was ticked. The line he was taking would take him right by my stand. As he strutted through the timber, I picked my bow up. The way things were set up, he would arrive in a window that would give me about a 15 yard shot. If that didn’t work, I would have to wait for him to cruise past my stand and I would have to get him moving away from me. He stayed on that line which gave me a quartering-to shot with him on the move. Not the best situation, but, after hours of practice, I was confident that I could pull it off. I drew my bow when he was 50 yards out and followed him with my sights. He stepped into that window, I put the pin right on him and hit the release.
I saw the arrow go in. It hit exactly where I was aiming and was a complete pass-through. As he took off running, I heard him quickly start to wheeze with gurgling sounds coming out of him. I knew I had at least hit both lungs. Based on the shot location, I probably hit the heart, too. He was a dead deer walking, so to speak. He ran in front of me and over to a ridge line and followed that for 50 yards or so. At that point the ridge started to go downhill. As he crested that hill, moving away from me, he stumbled and a short time later, I heard a crash. He was down. The buck of my lifetime, the buck that I was talking about the previous day (which I had no idea actually existed), was down. With that, silence. The woods became calm again…that is, until I got on my phone to call my Dad and uncle. They said they knew as soon as the phone started ringing that I got him. My uncle answered and before he could say anything, I excitedly said “I got him! I got him! The big man is down! I hit him perfectly and I saw him go down!” They would be right over, they said.
I’ve never been so excited in my life, other than the day that both of my little boys were born. My next call was to my wife, who was equally excited and wanted pictures. I knew my boys would probably be most excited of all. All they have talked about all year long was wanting Daddy to get another buck. It’s in their blood, I guess.
Finally, I got down out of my stand to locate my arrow and wait for the cavalry to arrive. I had a good idea where he fell, but we followed the blood trail anyway, just for kicks. It was an easy track, bright red lung blood everywhere. As we eased down that final hill, we saw a tree with blood all over it that he crashed into and a few steps past that, a large, blood-covered downed tree that he had also run into. Just on the other side of it, there he laid. My buck of a lifetime. Wow.
I have heard many stories about “ground shrinkage” where a buck isn’t nearly as big as one thought when taking the shot. This was the definitely the opposite. He was much bigger than I expected. Both in size (and mass) of the rack and the number of points. I was expecting a large 8. He ended up being a mainframe 10 with one split brow, 11 points in total. He was 4.5 years old and his green score is 136”, which are both unusual for Pennsylvania. I plan to have him officially scored for Pope & Young once the 60-day drying period has elapsed. I never in my wildest dream anticipated ever having the chance to shoot a trophy-caliber buck. I am truly blessed.
My boys are still on cloud nine and have named the big man “Buster”. he was clearly a fighter and had at least 3 tines “busted” off (hence the nickname). We dropped him off at the taxidermist yesterday. My oldest son (5 years old) was in tears last night because he already missed his new buddy and was ready for him to come home to “live” with us forever. To see the look on those little faces means even more to me than actually taking a trophy-caliber buck. All of the grind, the struggle, the time spent in the stand is all worth it in those moments.
– Mike Stephens