With the humbling experience of my mule deer recurve stalk behind me, we spent the next couple of days driving, glassing and stalking. We’d invariably find mule deer in the high, barren hills; whitetails in the creekbottoms and cover clumps. Early mornings and late evenings we tried out the portable, fold-up blinds that Reed Henschel makes.
One morning Henschel and I sat in blinds set 20 yards apart along a fenceline mulies were following between a hay meadow feeding area and creekbottom bedding site. Though the blinds were two big lumps in an otherwise featureless field, they blended in well and the buck that passed was within easy bow range of one of the blinds before he realized something was up. Unfortunately, Henschel was between my blind and the buck, and I couldn’t shoot.
Mark Kayser, along with Cliff McGinnis, an expert hunter and friend of Henschel’s, joined Henschel and me on day three. We went to a big riverbottom that McGinnis knew held a lot of deer, and set up a drive. As I got into position at the downwind end of the cover strip, I had no idea what was developing.
A lot goes through a hunter’s mind when he’s on stand. I was contemplating this spacious, game-filled land, how I’d wanted to live this rugged lifestyle since I was a kid, but never managed to make it out here. Then a vague, familiar sound brought my wandering mind back. It was the sound of running deer.
I clutched my bow tensely and leaned into a tree. First I spotted a flicker of movement, then noticed the movement was coming my way. The first object I could distinguish clearly was a huge set of polished whitetail antlers!
The idea had been to get deer up and running far up the creek, so that by the time they reached me they would be alternately trotting and stopping, looking back toward the drivers.
It hadn’t quite worked as planned; this half-dozen deer were charging full-steam, on a course to pass me at 20- to 25 yards. When they came broadside, I mustered all my concentration to tear my eyes off that awesome set of horns — wide, thick, and long-tined — and gazed at a spot on the buck’s churning shoulder. Trying to let my instincts take full command, I drew and shot in a single motion as the herd spotted me and wheeled away.
I lost sight of the arrow in the pandemonium, but it felt like a good shot. As the buck lunged up the hill to my right, he stumbled and fell, but was up again and running. I found a thin but steady blood trail, then the arrow, covered with blood. Very good signs.
The guys soon arrived, excited when I broke the news.
“I walked right up to him before he bolted,” Henschel said. “He’ll go 160 points easy.” McGinnis had seen the buck too, and agreed.
We got on the blood trail, but my heart sank when it petered out after only 100 yards. We fanned out to search. Toward dark, McGinnis and I heard the sound of hooves on stone and looked up. It was the buck, flushing from a plum thicket. As I saw him power over the ridge, my hopes crashed again. He looked quite healthy. God, those big ones are tough.
We spent most of the next day kicking every bush within a couple miles in the direction the buck ran. Nothing. Folks here are concerned and respectful for wildlife, and Henschel and some friends resolved to keep up the search. They went back looking during the next week, even after I had to leave for home. As much as I wanted those horns, I fully expected the report I got: no buck found.
It took a long time to get over the disappointment, but I came to realize that maybe it had turned out for the best. I got to enjoy the adventure and camaraderie of the hunt, and experience a very close encounter with a truly trophy buck. Yet I have the satisfaction of knowing he’s still out there roaming the range. Wiser now, he probably eluded the rifle hunters.
Those antlers that I can still see when I close my eyes have fallen now, soon to be replaced by another, probably larger set. Sometime late this summer, as that bulky new rack is becoming white and polished, I’ll be giving Henschel a call, making a date for the three of us to get together again.
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Mike Strandlund is editor of Bowhunting World Magazine and bowhuntingworld.com, and is a member of the National Bowhunters Hall of Fame.