A Morning to Remember

By Jon Howell
California, DIY, Private Land

Jon Howell - A Morning to RememberJanuary/February 2013 EBJ (Issue 75) - I realized I had a dilemma. I was looking in awe at the biggest blacktail buck I had ever laid eyes on. Through my binoculars I estimated him to be 26 inches wide, with the biggest, most symmetrical forks I had ever seen and eye guards that were at least four inches. I was scouting a friend’s newly acquired property which I had permission to archery hunt. This property was in an over-the-counter general area I had a tag for but I had also drawn a limited-entry archery X-zone tag in a different unit. Both zones were set to have the same season dates. Should I start the season hunting this massive blacktail that was every bit as big as the mule deer I hoped to find on the X-zone tag? Or should I start with the tag that I had been so happy to have up until this point?

My other problem was that the blacktail was just off the property on the neighboring ranch, which I did not have permission to hunt. I made a couple more morning scouting trips before work and was disappointed to see the buck continuing to use the neighboring ranch. I decided to ask the landowner for permission. I talked to the landowner’s wife about the possibility of archery hunting their property. She responded by telling me they had a bad experience with other hunters and didn’t think they were going to allow hunting anymore. I left her with a business card just in case they changed their minds. I drove away realizing which tag would kick off my season.

Three weeks later I found myself high on a ridge after a long day of hunting mulies trying to get reception to call my wife. I finally got through and was greeted with a couple voicemails. The first message was from the landowner of the neighboring ranch that held the big blacktail. He said that I could bowhunt their property! I couldn’t believe it! Once again, I was torn between the huge blacktail and the big mulies that I was having a hard time finding.

I was able to get out on their property a couple times late in the season. The blacktails had shed their velvet and had become much less predictable. I saw some smaller bucks but never did see the big four-point. As archery season came to a close I remained optimistic about the four weeks of rifle season that I would be able to hunt with my bow.

One cold October morning I finally spotted the big blacktail feeding under an oak tree. I had very little cover other than the couple of oak trees between us so I began slowly crawling through the cold, dew-drenched grass. At 48 yards and still undetected, I decided I was close enough. As the buck fed, I slowly came up to my knees and came to full draw. The cold silence was abruptly broken by the harsh blowing of another deer that was hidden about 40 yards to my left behind some oaks. This was quickly followed by the sound of hooves bounding. My heart sank. I had been so close and could do nothing but watch the biggest buck I had ever stalked disappear out of sight. I never did see him again during the season. I continued to put in a lot of time in the area, and in the last two hours of the season I took a small buck that fell in sight to a perfect arrow.

The property owners saw the big 4x4 several times during the rut chasing does and began calling him "Big Jon," as they knew he was the one I wanted. All I could do was hope that he would still be around next season.

Jon Howell - A Morning to Remember

For a full account of Jon's adventure, go to page 48 in the January/February 2013 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.