March/April 2012 EBJ (Issue 70) - All of the adrenaline and excitement was taking control over my body and clear thoughts weren’t a remote possibility as I prepared to release the arrow. I had felt this kind of excitement and "rush” many times before. It’s very similar to that moment right before I nod my head and they turn the steer loose.
My horse would explode out of the box and, in an instant, I was off his back and onto the steer. To me, the whirlwind of a bulldogging run seems to be over in the blink of an eye. At the same time it is a blur, I have to gain control of my thoughts and somehow remember all the things I had learned and practiced. I think the biggest keys are the reflexes that I have gained from repeatedly practicing over and over. This one shot at a monster buck wasn’t going to be any different!
Moments like these seem to make time stand still, as we are tested to see if we can somehow overcome that surge of adrenaline, perform at our best and make all those long, dedicated hours of practice and preparation pay off. I spent countless hours for the past year preparing for this one moment. I shot my bow as much as I could, and as I got more accurate, I moved back farther and farther in distance until I was right next to the horse corrals. It was the only way I could get 60 yards out of my homemade range. The first few times I shot from there, my horses went crazy when I released the arrow, but after listening to my bow a couple thousand times, they don’t mind.
Getting back to the hunt, we located my monster buck on the fourth day. The stalk was somewhat difficult and getting close was next to impossible; it was going to take some luck. We had watched some deer in this same area during the previous days of hunting and they always seemed to trail up a long ridge to bed down during the day. This bit of scouting was a key as we positioned ourselves between the buck and the bedding area.
As the last of his does cleared my shooting lane, I drew my bow. The arrow was gone and I thought I had my pin right where it needed to be. I don’t remember seeing my arrow at all, but watching the buck jump and kick was a huge relief. My dad said he didn’t see the flight of my arrow either, but he was sure I had hit him. The sight of blood on the hard, crusted snow was an amazing sight that is burned into my memory forever. I found my arrow in the snow, right behind where the buck had stood. It was a clean pass through, and except for the blood on it, my arrow seemed to be in perfect condition.
Because we weren’t absolutely certain of the location of my shot, we waited an hour before following the blood trail. The snow was still crunchy, so we moved slowly and carefully. I could tell my dad was getting nervous after we had a gone couple hundred yards and my buck hadn’t stopped. Then, my dad froze in his tracks. The buck was now leaving piles of blood in the snow and the adrenaline kicked into high gear for both of us.
As fast as my heart rate had soared, we tracked him for another 50 yards and my buck had almost quit bleeding. To make matters worse, we found a fresh pile of droppings that had blood mixed in with them…my heart sank. My hopes had vanished as quickly as they had skyrocketed a few minutes before. It was clear that my buck was likely very close and possibly not expired yet. Knowing this, we quietly backed out of the area.
We circled back around to a high vantage point and picked apart that ridge through our spotting scopes. I think we had every tree and bush almost memorized, but we couldn’t find any sign of him. This was my first buck with a bow, and the thought of losing a buck of this caliber sickened me!
Just then, my dad exclaimed, "There’s a huge buck! Wait a second, it’s your buck!” We wasted no time in making a move because we knew we had some ground to cover. Stalking was tough with the frozen mud that crunched like the driest leaves you’ve ever heard.
For a full account of Dakota's adventure, go to page 18 in the March/April 2012 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.