13 Days

By Devin Leonard

Eastmans' Bowhunting JournalDevin Leonard
Utah, 2008, DIY, Public Land

Hunting has always been in my blood, and is a passion I love sharing with family and friends. For me, it's never just about the kill. I love the challenge of trying to outsmart one of God's creatures, which I would swear has a sixth sense.

Finding a buck that would score over 200 inches has been like finding a needle in a haystack, but in August of 2007 my luck would change and take me for one heck of a rollercoaster ride. I had finally located an awesome buck that would visit my dreams over and over again. With persistence and a lot of patience, the moment of truth finally arrived. I can still see that scenario crystal clear in my mind....

...Here they came! It was the two bucks that had been driving my emotions crazy over the last month. There were a million things running through my mind as they came into bow range. The last thing I remember thinking before they walked behind a small patch of pines was "just pick a spot."

Both were shooters, but the bigger one had about 50 more inches of antler and was leading the way. I took a shot and it hit true, but after a short tracking job to my fallen quarry, I discovered I'd shot the smaller of the two.

As I sat there momentarily dazed and confused, I realized the two bucks must have pulled the old switch-a-roo when they went behind the pines. I was upset and angry with myself, but I tried to appreciate the deer I had harvested. I also decided to call the larger buck "Dini," because of his seemingly magical Houdini switch act.

He remained on my mind during the off-season. As summer came on, I spent countless hours tying to find him, and was rewarded with the sight of him on July 20.

For the next few weeks, we kept pretty good tabs on Dini. With only six days left until my hunt started, I committed myself to watching Dini's every move. I wanted the odds to be in my favor so bad that I was willing to put my life on hold for the chance of harvesting the 200-inch buck. The pressure was on and I wasn't about to give Dini the upper hand!

A few days before the opener, he disappeared. Despite all of my best efforts, I couldn't locate him. Worry and doubt began to creep in, but with three days left, I spotted Dini working his way across a rocky face as he approached his feeding area. He disappeared again the next day. It was becoming clear that he was a trophy for a reason. Every time I thought I had him figured out, he'd given me the slip.

Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal Issue 52

With one day left, I managed to catch a quick glimpse of him early in the morning as he bedded up in some thick cover only ten minutes after daylight. That might have explained why he had been so difficult to find on previous occasions. He was bedding up early and staying hidden all day.

Opening morning had my heart racing with excitement as I hiked up the mountain trail. The moon was bright in the night sky, as it would be for the rest of the hunt. I knew the full moon would make it difficult to keep track of Dini; it was no doubt one of the reasons he had gone nocturnal. All the anticipation and preparation became anti-climactic as Dini kept himself out of sight for the first two full days of the hunt.

Day three was a sheer test of patience. At first light, we found him feeding high above us. Despite our excitement, we decided to sit back and wait until he bedded down. Unfortunately, Dini headed into the thick pines and we lost him, thus killing any chance for a good stalk.

I spotted him a few hours later heading out of the pines. I moved in quickly with my friend Taylor right behind me. Carefully, we positioned ourselves 115 yards away. From there we ran out of cover and simply could not close the distance without the risk of spooking him and possibly running him out of the area. The situation was killing me; I was 115 yards away from that awesome buck and I couldn't do anything about it! Frustrated but feeling confident in our decision, we backed out, hoping to have another chance that evening.

We carefully back-tracked and sneaked our way up to our friends, Billy and Dallas. Billy had put Dini to bed and we could tell the buck was in a great location for us to put a stalk on him. We made our plan and headed back into the basin. One hour later we were sitting 40 yards away from Dini but were still unable to get in position for a shot. The big buck had protected himself from every angle; we hunkered there for two hours, waiting for a window of opportunity.

Finally, Dini stood up and got out of his bed. My heart about jumped out of my chest. It seemed I was only moments away from getting the shot I had worked so hard for. Just as I thought I was going to get the shot of a lifetime, Dini took a couple quick steps into the dark timber and vanished. Once again, my emotions took a rollercoaster ride, and the frustration of coming so close bit hard. We didn't want to push it, so we backed out, waiting for the right opportunity.

Days four and five had us searching high and low for Dini who, once again, seemed to disappear overnight. I no longer regarded him as a normal buck. After hunting him for two years and watching his instinctive moves, I thought he was the smartest buck I had ever hunted. I was also starting to wonder if I had missed my last opportunity. Maybe I should have pushed the envelope a little harder on day three when I had him within bow range.

On the sixth day, we found Dini making his way over into some thick nasty pines. We made two soft attempts to sneak in on him, but the condition of the terrain was not favorable. Once again, we decided to back off. After living with Dini for the last 12 days, getting very close to him a couple of times, and still not being able to reach my goal, I was starting to question my hunting ability.

They say seven is a lucky number. Day seven of the hunt would verify that and lay any self-doubt I might have had to rest.

We spotted Dini heading out of the basin, making his way back to the area where it had all started. While Ryan and Billy stayed behind to watch, Taylor and I positioned ourselves 200 yards above him. Dini had bedded down and the waiting game was on. Just before noon, the hot sun finally coerced him to get up, stretch, and feed a bit. It was time to move in.

Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal Issue 52

Crawling across that steep country in our socks was no easy task, but removing our shoes had been necessary in order to eliminate any sound of our approach. During our stalk, Dini had bedded down again. I really don't like sneaking in on a deer while he's bedded down, so we had a decision to make; should we hold back, or continue to move in? We assessed the setup before deciding to push the envelope and continue.

In short order, we found ourselves sitting on top of what we thought was his location, but Dini was gone! I was confused about what to do next. We couldn't move any farther because of the difficulty of the terrain and we couldn't see the buck. Just as I was about to take another step, Dini appeared out of nowhere, only 20 yards from us!

All I could see were his antlers swaying in and out of the thick brush. I sat there for several minutes waiting for him to show his vitals, my buck fever growing all the while. He finally took a couple steps out of the brush, giving me the quartering-away shot I needed. I instinctively pulled back my bow, took quick aim, and released. I watched my arrow fly through the air and connect, and then he took off.

By the way Dini had been running, we knew he was hurt. Without wasting any time, we closed the distance to 30 yards. Dini was bedded in the open and was breathing hard. I pulled my bow back and this time, before I released, I took a couple of seconds to calm myself down. I had a lot of emotions running through me. Seconds later my arrow was ripping through the air with certainty and I had an unbelievable sense of relief and accomplishment come over me.

Holding Dini in my hands gave me a feeling I can't explain. After all the hard work and persistence, I was overwhelmed. The challenge of overcoming obstacles is what has always triggered my love for archery hunting. After hiking up and down some of God's meanest country for the last 13 days, I was starting to shut down physically and mentally. It was that love of hunting that kept me pressing forward.

After the 60-day drying period, Dini scored 210-4/8 inches gross and 203- 7/8 inches net. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to hunt and harvest such a buck. For the guys who helped me accomplish my goal, it was truly a hunt of a lifetime.

Thanks guys.