A Second Chance Worth Taking

By Matt Palmquist
Kansas, 2009, DIY, Private Land

A second chance worth takingNov/Dec 2010 EBJ (Issue 62) - Darkness was fast approaching as I glassed in search of the big mulie buck. I had learned about the buck from a local farmer, who simply said, “He has lots of points; too many to count.”

Many miles and gallons of gas have been consumed chasing tips like this, and usually they end with nothing to show for it. Ghost hunts of the past were running through my mind as I glassed the mahogany sea of milo.

I noticed a deer walking through a stubble field to the east, and as soon as I found it in the glass, I knew it was the deer I was searching for. I scrambled to get the spotter on him as he lumbered across the field and barely caught a glimpse as he disappeared over the horizon, but it was enough to know he was very massive and fit the farmer’s description.

I moved to try to get a better look, but like big bucks tend to do, he vanished. Assuming he had headed into the nearby standing corn, I headed home, but as I passed the end of the corn, I was shocked to see the massive buck in the open pasture headed toward a lone tree near the road! I watched him work the poor tree over with his unbelievable set of headgear. It was one of the most impressive displays I’ve ever witnessed and I made up my mind to focus all of my efforts on this buck.

I had to share this experience with several hunting buddies, and nearly every conversation turned to what the buck might score. Even with the chance to study the buck as he left his mark on the tree, I still didn’t have a clue what he’d score. He was a freak with tons of mass, not real tall, but with lots of character. The best I could muster was a guess that he would gross over the magical 200 mark. Regardless of score, the buck was number one on my list.

I spent nearly every evening and several mornings over the next 12 days in search of the gray ghost. I was rewarded with one sighting of the buck when I found him with several does in the middle of an open field. I closed the distance in an adjacent corn field, but ran out of cover and had to sit and watch him push a doe around.

An unusually wet fall delayed harvest and the standing crops provided great cover for the deer. Finally, Mother Nature decided to cooperate and provide the crops with some warm, windy weather, helping them to dry. I hoped that as the cover disappeared and the rut kicked in, the monster buck would become more visible.

Sunday morning, day 14, found my wife, Jerri, and I out looking for him. We had to attend a wedding the day before, and to my delight, two-thirds of the milo field had been harvested in our absence. It didn’t take long before we saw him heading across the milo stubble toward the remaining strip of cover. Once again, the adjacent corn provided me an avenue to intercept him.

A second chance worth taking

I covered some ground and neared the edge of the milo, hoping to spot the monarch. All I could see was the massive set of antlers and the top of his back as he walked through the milo. I planned to parallel him as he moved, keeping tabs on him at all times. I knew I had to get in front of him, and luckily I did.

When the buck exited the standing milo, I ranged him at 50 yards. I clumsily hooked my release to the loop, drew, picked a spot, and as I squeezed the trigger, I immediately knew I had squandered a great opportunity. I knew the buck was closer than 50 yards, but that was the last number in my mind. My heart sank as I watched my arrow sail harmlessly over his back. My mind had turned to mush in the presence of this monster.

He was now on the move, but was none the wiser to my pursuit. The hunt was still on! I attempted to intercept him again, but guessed wrong. I assumed he was now hiding in the corn.

I met Jerri and we went back to find my arrow. To our astonishment, we spotted the buck again. This was the first time Jerri was able to get a good look at the deer and she exclaimed, “He’s huge! This probably doesn’t help, but he looks like a deer you could see on Eastmans’ Trophy Deer Tour.” Talk about rubbing salt in an open wound.

I had several more close calls throughout the day, but never was able to get another shot off. I had my chance and blew it. I was devastated, but great family and friends helped encourage me to stay on him.

I searched for the ghost again the following day before and after work, but was unable to find him. On Tuesday morning I spotted multiple small bucks, but once again the big buck was in hiding. Discouraged and wallowing in self pity, I expanded my search to areas that held does. The farmer pulled up while I was glassing and told me that he thought he had seen the “big one” near his house, less than a mile from where I missed him earlier. I snapped out of my pity party immediately and went to find the buck and redeem myself.

I spotted him back in the milo field, alone and cruising for does. I thought I knew his next move and tried to make a play on him, but like several times before, I guessed wrong. I watched helplessly as he traveled over a mile and then I lost sight of him. I assumed he had headed to the corn to bed for the day.

With appointments at work, my hunt would have to resume in the evening. However, on my way back to town, I was shocked to see the buck a mile from his last location. It didn’t take long to dismiss my responsibilities and continue my pursuit. Wasting little time, I devised a plan to intercept him.

Traversing a drainage, I proceeded with caution and located the giant in a weedy, overgrown pocket adjacent to a picked corn field. I closed the distance and kept close tabs on him. I entered the taller cover as the buck worked his way toward the field edge. I continued to gain ground on my hands and knees until I was out of sight. Seizing the opportunity to cover some ground, I rose to my feet and broke into a run.

Slowing, I looked to my left and saw him in the weeds along the corn. I knew that he had spotted me as well, so I quickly dropped to the ground and got ready. Luckily, the dominant buck didn’t know what I was and decided to find out.

A second chance worth taking

Amazingly, he started walking right toward me! As he neared, I couldn’t help but stare at his huge palmated antlers swaying side to side. His hair was bristled up as he turned broadside at less than 15 yards. I decided it was now or never.

When I drew my bow, he spooked and ran a short distance. I grunted loudly and he stopped, providing me a slightly quarteringto shot opportunity. I released and watched my arrow hit him. The freak exploded, but he abruptly circled and stopped at 30 yards. I was nearly able to release another arrow, but just before I could, the buck decided he had seen enough and trotted away.

I watched him make his way down the creek drainage toward a small bowl of CRP grass. I was confident he would bed there and that he could not escape without me seeing him, but I wanted more eyes to make sure. My friend, Steve Tholen, was off work and was generous enough to assist me, forgoing his opportunity to kill a buck that day. He located the buck in the CRP and kept the spotter fixed on him.

A little while later, I slipped in on him and was able to finish the job. After all that I had been through with this monster deer, I could finally breathe and let out an indescribable sigh of relief. I couldn’t believe he was down and he was mine! Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever see a buck of this caliber, let alone kill him.

My dream buck officially net scored 237-2/8, grossed 245-7/8, and had nearly 50 inches in mass measurements - truly a buck of a lifetime! Needless to say, many prayers of thanks were said for the opportunity to hunt this buck and especially for being blessed with a second chance.