As most of us have experienced before, a deer hunting season can often resemble a roller-coaster, with your emotions swinging from highs to lows almost on a daily basis. And while it can certainly be tough to bear at times, I’m convinced that the trials that we experience during the fall do help us more than they hurt. And when you push through those struggles, and eventually succeed? Well, it makes everything worth it. Our Wired To Hunt reader success story today from David McElwain is a perfect example of this very thing. He had a hell of a season and made some mistakes, but found a way to keep on grinding. And in the end, well you know what happened. Enjoy David’s story below, and please join me in giving him a big congrats! – MK
By David McElwain
“Hunting has always been a part of who I am, and to quote Donnie Vincent, “hunting is something that lives in my soul. I think about it year round, it’s something that is consuming. It’s not a decision whether I’m going to go or not going to go, or going to do it or not going to do it. It’s not casual or a hobby for me. Hunting is something that I absolutely have to do.”
Hunting is truly a year round season that pushes me to set new goals and aspirations. But as October first arrived this past year, I had not seen a mature buck that I wanted to pursue. I wanted a buck that would somehow define the effort I had put into this season. As October quickly passed by, I had hopes that November would bring different bucks into the area I was hunting.
Just as if it were yesterday, I will never forget the day of November 24th. On that day I had asked a friend to film me on a rifle hunt. Thankfully, he agreed to come. We hopped in the truck, made the drive to one of my properties, grabbed the camera equipment, and began the long walk. We had arrived a little later than I wished and bumped a few deer getting to where I wanted to sit, but eventually we set up between two doe bedding areas in hopes of catching a buck passing through.
As deer began feeding across the field, a doe and a yearling began acting skittish. I looked behind me, towards the other end of the field, only to hear my friend say “Buck! That’s a big buck!” I grabbed my rifle and my backpack and got set up to shoot this deer that I had never seen before. Tall, white tines that seemed to reach towards the sky. I found the deer in my scope, put the crosshairs behind his shoulder, and fired.
The buck stood completely still. Panic set in as I knew I had missed what could be my largest buck.
I immediately loaded another bullet and began to readjust. I can remember clear as a bell, thinking I had shot low. As I put the crosshairs on the buck, this time I raised them on his back and shot. As the bullet connected, the buck dropped to the ground and laid lifeless. I immediately hopped up and began celebrating. A few minutes passed and we began to get ready to walk towards the buck. As I gathered my things I heard the gut wrenching words of my friend saying “David he’s getting up! Shoot him again!”
To see your largest buck to date get up, and run in the woods like nothing was wrong is the worst sight a hunter could see. I have always heard stories of big deer getting back up after they were knocked down by a bullet and never seen again. These thoughts resonated in my mind as we walked down to look for blood. As we searched, there was no trace of the buck we had thought was dead. Like a ghost, he had disappeared. The next morning, a few friends and I searched for close to an hour before I stumbled upon a drop of blood. Then another, and another as they were leading towards a food plot I had put in during the summer. Then, just like the buck had done before, we lost his trail. He had disappeared once again, and seemingly out of my life forever. After days of searching, I soon lost hope to recover this deer.
As December finally arrived, hopes were waning. I felt as though I had blown my only opportunity at a buck this season. I began getting pictures of another great Mississippi buck on camera. He had tall tines that reached upwards on one side, and equally long tines on the other side but curled back in. With stickers on his brow tines, he earned the nickname Sticker 8. I immediately fell in love with this deer and decided this was definitely a deer I wanted to go after. I had a camera over a small, secluded food plot in very thick cover that I had saved all year for the rut and I knew if the does stayed in and around the food plot, the bucks couldn’t resist.
Right on cue, I began getting pictures of Sticker 8 in my food plot, scent checking does. Still, I did not hunt him. All of the pictures I had of him were during the night so I knew I needed to wait. Finally, on December 14th he had shown himself during the daylight. The next day, I hunted him to no avail, but finally on the 16th of December my luck seemingly changed. As I climbed in the stand, I felt a peace come over me. I said a prayer, and settled in for the afternoon sit. Not a single deer came in that food plot until finally, I heard what sounded like chasing. I quickly grabbed my bow, clipped on the release and got ready. The sounds got closer and closer until finally it stepped out in front of me. My once excitement turned to dispair. Just as I thought that it was surely the buck I was after, two dogs appeared in my small food plot. I hung my bow and grabbed an extra camera battery to throw at one of the dogs to scare them away.
As the dogs ran, I sat back down. Not thirty seconds later I heard more sounds coming towards me. As I sat, thinking it was another dog, I began to think “why is this happening to me”? It felt as if I just couldn’t make things come together this season. As the sounds began to get closer, the animal walked out ten yards from me. I could not believe what was happening. It was him! Slowly, he was making his way towards me. I reached for my bow, drew back, and found Sticker 8 with my sights.
All of the days, weeks, and months spent working harder than I ever had before had come down to this one, small moment in time. I squeezed the release, and sent the arrow. It hit the buck high in the top of the shoulder but angled into the lungs. I knew as the buck ran off, I only had a few inches of penetration. After the woods grew silent, I climbed down to find my arrow where it had broke off right as the buck ran in the woods. I decided to back out in hopes he would bed down.
I came back the next morning to look for my deer and hopes were low as I couldn’t find blood and I just knew in my mind that he was still alive.
I asked myself “did you just really shoot two bucks in one year and not find either one?”
I began to doubt myself and as I walked through the woods, beating myself up, I stumbled upon where he had bedded during the night.
As I made it around a thick patch of briars and trees, not fifty yards from where I had shot him, there laid the deer I had worked so hard for. All of the ups and downs, the roller coaster of emotions throughout this season had finally come to an end. As I sat next to my largest buck with a bow, I stared at him. I had seen this deer before, and not just on trail camera. As I looked on the bucks back, one inch from where I hit him with a bow was an old, healed wound. An old wound that I immediately knew the cause of. As I sat next to this animal, it all came together. This deer was the deer I shot, 23 days earlier with a rifle! I could not believe it! After weeks of not knowing if the deer had survived, I finally had my answer. Not only had he survived, but he returned and was no worse for wear. The bullet had struck the deer high, above the spine, just where we had suspected. I had finally redeemed myself and could rest easy because I had finished what I started with this deer. The montage of ups and downs that filled this season made the end result much sweeter. To say this animal meant a lot to me would be an understatement. I was thankful I was finally able to close the chapter of Sticker 8. As this season passed, the realization came that this year, this season, was not only about the hunt for the animal, but much deeper than that. I felt as if I had discovered a different side of myself while chasing after this one goal.
As a hunter, I have a deep love for the sport. Hunting has always been a part of who I am, but I feel as though the true meaning of the hunt has diminished and is beginning to be more of a competition between hunters to see who can harvest the largest deer. The respect and reverence with which we once viewed the animals we hunted is now forgotten. With all the forms of social media, animals are put on display for others to see and compare to the animals they have harvested. As a hunter, I believe we are not only hunting for the animals we chase, but hunting for a deeper side of ourselves. The hunt, is truly never over.”
– David McElwain