My ‘Made-to-Order’ Buck
Russ Chastain 05.10.17
Some hunts are destined to happen in a certain way, and I can’t help but think this one was meant to be.
I’d been hunting whitetail deer in middle Georgia for a few days and had seen a number of smaller bucks, but nothing that I’d call a shooter. Then came a dry spell due to crazy high winds and a bunch of weekend hunters. But come Monday, the wind disappeared along with the weekenders, leaving us with a peaceful forest to hunt.
Monday morning’s hunt didn’t even show me an animal, but one of the first thing a hunter learns is that it only takes a second for things to change in a big way, so I kept up my faith.
Taking a Camera’s Hint on Where to Hunt
On that same morning, my friend Richard retrieved the SD card from one of his game cameras, and it had a pile of pictures of deer. As near as we could tell, we had photographic evidence of eight does and nine bucks with racks. It was hard to tell some of the bucks apart, but we determined there were no fewer than 6 or 7 rack bucks in the mix.
Most of them failed to impress, but there was one that caught our eyes. As near as we could tell he only had 7 points, but we thought his rack looked tall and heavy. And that afternoon, I headed to that food plot with a pop-up blind and some other gear.
I found a nice spot for the blind, where I could set it up with some light brush between it and the plot, but still be able to see most of the plot. I prepared a spot by clearing away some leaves and thinning the brush a little, and while that was going on a heard some commotion in the woods to my right. It was too thick for me to see anything over there, so I got back to setting things up while staying as quiet as I possibly could.
By 2:39 PM, I was sitting comfortably on a folding chair inside my blind with my rifle propped up on my Bipod Shooting Sticks, awaiting the arrival of the trail-cam 7-point or a bigger buck.
Making the Connection
Confidence is a huge part of hunting, and mine was high. The pictures of the buck I was after were four days old, but this plot was popular with bucks (probably because it was one of the only plots without a permanent stand). I felt good about my chances.
I got myself a snack from my pack just after 3:00 and soon thereafter I spotted movement at the edge of the plot. I could instantly tell it was a deer, and less than a second later I knew it was a rack buck.
The buck moved more into view, and I wasn’t terribly impressed with its size. Then it turned its head and I recognized it. This was THE BUCK that I had come there to hunt! After less than 30 minutes hunting the plot, he had arrived.
The rifle’s forearm was already propped at a good height. As I raised the butt to my shoulder while positioning my eye behind the scope, the buck turned its head my way; clearly, it was suspicious of me.
The buck began to walk. It was traveling broadside, going right to left at close range. I felt he might bolt at any moment. As quickly as I could get find him in the scope, I set the crosshairs just in front of the sweet spot and let him walk into it.
As his vitals became aligned with my crosshairs, I let him have it with Little Lotta, a Savage 110 rifle that I had rebarreled to 338-06. The gun barked and the buck ran, disappearing quickly into thick woods on the other side of the food plot. I heard some crashing and thrashing in the brush and knew he had gone down.
Tracking Him Down
At less than 30 yards, I knew I had made a good shot, but whenever an animal leaves my sight after a shot, I become edgy. I wanted to run out there to look for him, but forced myself to slow down, just in case the deer needed some time to die. So I recorded the time (3:03) in my notes, gathered some gear, and slowly walked out into the plot to track him down.
I tried to find the spot where he’d stood when I shot him, and couldn’t. There was neither blood nor hair nor deep hoofmarks to indicate where the buck had been at the time of the shot. No worries; this wasn’t my first rodeo and I’d had this happen before. I moved in the direction the deer had gone, to the edge of the plot.
I located some fresh, deep tracks at the field’s edge and knew that was probably my buck, so I followed them. This was easier said than done because the brush was low, thick, and thorny, but I moved in as quietly as possible, scanning the ground ahead for blood, hair, or my deer.
While I hunkered low to pass below a thorn branch, I spotted some fresh blood on a leaf. It hadn’t dripped or splashed onto that leaf. Instead, it was smeared on as if the buck had fallen there and gotten back up, having blotted the leaf with blood.
Close ahead, there was a low berm. I looked over it, and there lay my buck.
The buck must have launched itself over the berm with some force, and may have even died in mid-air. Its antlers hit a small tree and become hooked on it as the deer’s body swung off to one side.
He had clearly died within second of being hit, and his final resting place turned out to be appropriate because his antler bases were covered with shredded bark; apparently that racket I had heard while setting up my blind was him rubbing his antlers in the woods.
The reason he didn’t leave a blood trail? No blood pressure! The 200-grain hand-loaded Nosler bullet just about erased his heart.
He weighed in at 160 pounds, which isn’t bad at all for such a young buck.
In spite of our admiration of his antlers in the game cam photos, they turned out to be a bit on the small side–because yeah, he was young. Live and learn! But he definitely turned out to the “the one” from the photos, which made this hunt 100% unique for me: I went hunting for one particular buck and found him in short order. Or maybe he found me.
Either way, I love my made-to-order buck and the story that goes with him.