Grab a beverage and some snacks. It's a long one!
Sept. 9th 2017
On that late summer evening I began my usual routine of glassing velvet bucks as I fought off mosquitoes. Settled into an area I had been glassing all through July and August with regularity, I found the usual bachelor group I'd been seeing. The most interesting buck of the evening was (likely) a 4.5yr old, narrow 10 point with a tall tined frame. That was... until I panned the tripod topped with my 10x binos to the north field. Suffice to say, my world was about to change as I noticed a rather large rack lifting out of the soybeans some 630 yards away in the fading light. The immediate feelings of excitement and awe in that moment are unmatched as a whitetail enthusiast; that is what I live for.
To elaborate on the area which I was glassing and hunting; it's comprised of 3 relatively flat fields, divided by 2 tree lines or fence lines, of which each tee into a major river which runs North/South. My usual glassing point is a berm on the west edge overlooking the central field. I was positioned facing due east with an access road and more fields behind me, to the west, with the nearest paved road being almost 1/2 mile further west on the other side of those fields. The result – a vast expanse of secluded fields.
All of the deer frequenting these fields each day have to swim across the river to feed, eventually swimming back across to return to their bedding area (no hunting allowed) to spend their days growing old in a pressure-less environment. It is important to note that the dynamics of deer movement and general use of this area represents what you would expect for a destination food source, with little available bedding cover. Even more so once the typical soybeans and corn are combined. Starting with the beans in October and corn usually by mid-November, the fields eventually become barren, the area feels naked from cover, and subsequently deer movement becomes even more reserved. Some doe-fawn groups do bed and stay on “my side”, and so they must be carefully worked around throughout the season when hunting it regularly. A task in itself to not educate the resident matriarchs and burn the area out.
So, upon spotting this rack I knew it was a buck I hadn't seen before. In fact, the entire bachelor group was unfamiliar to me. But I had been glassing that area for months, so it was clear a new bachelor group had shifted into the area. The next evening, I walked through an adjoining corn field to get into a better position some 300 yards from where I had seen the new bachelor group the night before. I hadn't been set up long before they appeared, before he appeared. An impressively tall, main framed 10 point, with matching split brows and a large flyer off his right G2. He was clearly mature, not that it needs to be said. I instantly knew my season would be dedicated to hunting this particular deer. After gathering a bunch of low quality footage with my bridge camera zoomed way into the digital range, I backed out.
For the remainder of the month I glassed all but 1 evening leading up to our NY opener on October 1st. Excessive maybe, but I was determined to learn as much as possible about this deer, whom I would eventually refer to as (the) “River Monster”. His bachelor group stuck together into the first week of October. The next most mature looking buck of the group was a wide/framey 10 point, a deer that would easily get my full attention if not for River Monster.
The evening before opening day I watched River Monster walking with that framey 10 right by a tree which I had prepared for the opener, it was too dark for video footage, but that sight will be etched in my memory forever. Talk about anticipation!
We had an unusually cold opening morning that season. Temps in the high 30s overnight made the 1/2 mile row up river a bearable task, not to mention being fueled by anticipation of what was to come. I was hunting opening morning for 2 reasons. 1) opportune time to strike was limited as beans would be harvested soon, so I needed to capitalize on them while they were still standing. 2) Cameras showed River Monster was still following a typical late summer feeding pattern walking along the south treeline to a mock scrape in the corner, just before crossing the river to bed each morning. He would run this route anytime from 5am up to daylight, trending towards the latter. Attempting to intercept him on this pattern was a gamble at best, but I felt like I could do it unnoticed should my strategy fail. I shored the raft about 40 yards past my trail, back tracked, and climbed my staircase laden path up to the field edge. I slipped up the tree and waited. I expected his approach from the west while the air was drafting from the NW. I showed up plenty early, but unfortunately so did he that morning. I had been situated for quite some time when I heard a deer approaching. It was him. Far too early and dark, I could see his approach against the yellowing beans through my binos and as he eventually walked by me at 10 yards. It was so quiet I could hear him sniffing around. He crossed my entrance path and went over the bank to the river. A few minutes later he returned to the field and walked north along the river edge seemingly relaxed as he fed out of sight.
He never traveled that return route again according to my cameras. I can only surmise he encountered my raft or boot scent that morning which made him change his ways because I can almost guarantee he didn't smell me (in the tree). Either way, he knew something existed in his world that wasn’t meant to be there. That evening he did not show during shooting hours. Nor did he for the next week of evenings besides only one that I know of, when he appeared in the middle field a few hundred yards further south. It was difficult to simultaneously monitor 1.1 miles of huntable river edge, or 3 separate fields, on any given hunt from any of the locations I had set up.
As October progressed River Monster would end up utilizing a small area in the northeast corner of the property along the river. That ~2 acres of sloped ground in the corner was left fallow as an erosion control measure by the farm the year after it was planted to Wheat (2016), which was under seeded with clover. So now I had to my benefit, a patch of overgrown clover and weeds to serve as a natural ‘food plot’ from that season onward. After the opening morning raft-in encounter to the south, River Monster took to crossing in the NE corner routinely. On that evening I positioned myself in a tree along the north border of the property overlooking the NE corner, facing south. A southerly wind which is common for our area in October, made it all possible. I could utilize that north border to exit back west, with standing corn to conceal me. 8 bucks swam the river to graze in the field that evening, and I ended up “locked” in the tree as they fed and bedded in front of me in the clover. Around when I really needed to climb down, River Monster showed up, walking 20 yards by me to join the rest of the group feeding and sparring. Between the clear star-lit sky, good 8x43 binoculars, and well-adjusted eyes, I was able to watch it all in surprising detail. What a cool experience it was sitting in that tree until 9:30, around when the bucks finally began to move off towards the beans 200 yards away. Before I could slip down the tree to leave, a juvenile opossum had climbed up the box elder trunk in front of me and traversed a branch at eye level, mere feet away. What a night.
I would capture River Monster on camera on and off throughout most of October. The beans got picked around the 20th just days before it rained 4” causing the river to rise some 7’ (partly due to water release from a dam upriver), and the resulting deer movement to those fields all but tanked. My last pictures of him were on Oct. 23rd with no sign or sighting from then on through the remainder of the season. As the end of seasons approached, I shifted my attention to a more realistically killable deer... the narrow 10. He was on the property frequently throughout the season and I’d had a few encounters with him just outside of bow range each time. To my surprise during the final week of late bow/muzz season, the framey 10 popped back up on camera. He had been MIA since Oct. 22nd. The influx of late season movement was helped by an extended period of sub-freezing temps, ankle deep snow, and thankfully, a few spots where the weeds were so bad in the beans that the combine operator couldn't harvest them all. The river had completely iced over to the point that the deer were just walking across it to come feed on beans. Then, on the second to last day of 2017 season we had a warm snap. Temps near 50 that day combined with high winds cleared the ice on the river and made everything a slushy mess. I raced home from work and drove right to the opening of the fields, parking a short distance from the ‘glassing berm’ near a brush patch. Over a rise in the field to the south was a strip of beans where I was expecting the narrow 10 to feed as he'd done on previous evenings. Towards the end of my sit I peeked back up over the berm to the north and noticed multiple deer feeding beyond my truck. Wanting to move closer for a better look through some trees, I crested a small knoll and to my surprise the framey 10 was feeding on bean stubble along the perimeter of the field just 50 yards from where I parked. No doubt he had heard me pull in, but he likely couldn’t see me or the truck and dismissed it after a while. Also, from his feeding location, the truck was out of sight. After hunting with the bow throughout bow season and our regular firearms season, I had caved and borrowed a friend’s muzzleloader for the final few days of NY late bow/ MZ. That evening hunt was almost too easy for my liking, but never the less, I was grateful to take my best buck to date! A few weeks later on Jan. 18th, I was sitting at work when I watched a facebook live video of another friend pulling River Monsters sheds from deep snow on a nearby piece of public land. My heart sank... I informed him that I had been hunting the deer and to please keep his whereabouts quiet. He obliged.
There's not much to talk about because River Monster was MIA all year. That's right, I never laid eyes on him that summer or fall, never picked him up on camera, and never heard of anyone seeing him or finding his sheds. I spent the season hunting for the unknown just hoping there was a chance he’d show. I had even cast a wider net of cameras and boosted scouting efforts in all directions with anticipation of his return... nothing. And when the few friends that knew about him asked, I didn't even have to lie. He had vanished! I ate both of my NY buck tags that year. As the season closed I was left accepting the reality that the quest for that deer could be over…
I typically don't start glassing velvet bucks that early because once I start, I just can't seem to stop. To my amazement, one of the bucks I glassed on that first evening looked increasingly familiar as he and I accidentally ended up 30 yards apart. Besides the unmistakable vertical rip in his right ear, the crown of brow tines was a dead giveaway. River Monster was "back"! From that evening onward it became really difficult to not go glass for him daily, I sure wanted to. Especially considering I could ride my bike a mile from the house to see him before work or nightfall nearly each day, all without educating him. His rack already sported a double and triple brow cluster, and a flyer now protruding from his left G2.
The footage I captured of him on cameras and through my binos that summer was nothing short of amazing. If there was one thing I learned about him from 2017, it was that he didn't seem to care about a red IR flash, so I wasn’t too concerned about camera intrusion scaring him off. I was however always mindful of my wind while watching him. By the time he finished out he had bloomed into what I figured was a 190 class buck with at least 18 points. With his enormous body and boxy framed rack, he had a commanding presence whenever he was in the fields. There were a few challenges surrounding the circumstances of that season. Firstly, I couldn’t hunt him where he preferred to hang out, so I needed him to move. Secondly, most of the fields I relied on to attract deer to my side of the river went unplanted that year due to an unusually wet planting season. Ultimately he ended up staying in his sanctuary all fall long.
River Monster finally graced a camera on my side during season. This was a hopeful turn of events, considering that once he began to feed on my side I’d likely see him develop a late season feeding pattern, so I began to hunt more aggressively. Would I finally get my opportunity? I needed to be there when he decided to take a swim, but I just couldn't afford to make a mistake knowing how wise he was. Contending with the prevailing wind being in his favor the majority of the time, and a larger than usual group of resident does routinely on site, kept that task ever difficult.
As the weeks passed I just couldn’t seem to catch a break. No sightings of River Monster yet. Then, on Dec. 15th he showed up on camera again, only this time there was a “problem”. He had shed both his antlers. He must have shed between the 1st and 15th... which can't be a good sign, right? An abscess-like lump was visible on his neck. Would he make it through the winter I wondered? Much to my surprise he stayed frequent on the property from then onward, gravitating to some turnips I planted that summer in the fallow spots, and pawing through snow blanketed corn stubble. Since he was feeding at night almost exclusively, I never laid eyes on him while hunting the final week. In the final hour of late season, I pulled the trigger on a unique old 6pt buck I had found a few years’ worth of sheds to. While not the season I had drawn up in my mind, I was still thankful. By February I was relieved to see the lump had receded to a point it wasn't noticeable and River Monster looked healthy enough to ease any concerns. Fortunately for me, that year I ended up being the one to find his sheds in February after many miles of walking. Oddly enough I had already walked by them 30' away on the first day in December that I began searching. A trip in the opposite direction gave a new perspective and boy they were hard to miss seeing then!
After another summer spent casting a wide net of scouting efforts, I finally located him in mid-August. Though I missed a lot of the growing season, it was a major relief to finally locate him. He was 2 miles as the crow flies from the prior year's preferred summer food source. Once again in an area I cannot hunt for him. I wasn't super concerned though, knowing he could or would probably shift away from that area toward mine. By the time I found him he appeared finished out in the rack department. It still boggles my mind to think about what he turned into at age 7 (presumably). His main frame 10-point rack now featured 22 total points; with matching drop tines on either side, double and triple split brow clusters, plus other extras. Wow!
After returning from a 2 week Montana Elk trip with some friends, I was eager to check cameras to see what I’d been missing. Low and behold, River Monster had shifted from his summer range to feeding on beans on my side. I had first captured him on the 11th and thereafter almost every day during the middle of the month. My first night back, the 26th, I glassed him as he entered the beans alone, feeding across the field, coincidentally right toward a tree I had prepped back in April. With just days to go before the opener he was right where I needed him in order to finally connect. Given the camera intel and his old mature buck demeanor, I’d never felt better about my odds… could it really finally happen? Talk about anticipation all over again.
Opening week was nerve wracking. At any moment during those evening sits I anticipated his appearance. Unfortunately, after a few weeks he hadn't appeared or returned on camera, but I knew where I could likely find him. Come to find out he had shifted nearly a half mile away to feed daily on some winter wheat fields in his sanctuary. I wasn’t worried about his shift having been due to me educating him, so I remained positive he would return, as he clearly discovered my plantings of turnips, not to mention the row crops that were present. In the mean time I had the next biggest mature buck I knew of from my summer scouting now occupying the area, so I'd end up hunting that buck all of October on into early November. Unfortunately, I never laid eyes on that buck either, even though I had him on camera very frequently albeit always at night. He was an exceptional buck as well so I wasn't complaining! As November rolled around River Monster still hadn’t show up. The “first” rut came and went providing many great hunts and encounters with other 3 and 4yr olds, but I elected to pass on anything that wasn’t one of the (now) two.
The previous few morning and evening hunts had been rather slow for action. I couldn’t help but think that I’d burned the area out despite my best efforts to hunt it cleanly. So with temps in the 50s and drizzly rain forecasted early into the hours of a morning sit, I slept in for the first time in a while. It was Thanksgiving morning. Not wanting to miss out on a chance to at least gather intel before the day’s festivities, I decided to pull camera cards. I about had a mental breakdown when I saw that he was on camera strolling around the property at 8am. He was “back”… and I was sleeping in!
After Thanksgiving I don’t recall missing more than a handful of morning or evening hunts for the next 2 weeks. If the wind direction or heavy rain kept me at bay I would at least glass from a distance. There was no room for error however, hunt hard but hunt smart, this was the opportunity I’d been waiting on. I would go on to see river monster 2 times before the end of the month, but he was always a step ahead of me and out of reach, even for the shotgun I was toting along with the bow. Part of the issue was getting into range of him as he fed amongst other deer in the 50+ acre combined cornfield, always nearing his exit routes as day broke. Attempting a stalk one morning meant dealing with not only the wind direction, but also any other set of eyes and noses between him and I, along with crunch of frost swelled soil and the ever present layer of cornflake-like leaves underfoot. Though he fed slow and deliberately toward his exit, my approach inevitably ended up slower.
For that morning sit I approached a tree I often hunt positioned in a tree line on the south edge of the central field where he should be feeding. On my way in I ran into a few other deer in the bean stubble of south field which delayed my approach as I waited for them to move off. Getting to the tree rather late, I noticed a buck in the gray light on the far edge of the central field about to make its way into the brush to cross. Through the binos I could see a fair amount of antler and in my mind decided that it was probably him even though I wasn’t positive. At any rate I climbed up and settled in, but not for very long before deciding it was pointless to stay. After all he had likely crossed the river already, right? So I decided I’d check a camera at the tip of the golden rod patch I was sitting over before heading home. Making my way along the golden rod patch through the muddy buffer along the corn field I got to about 50 yards from the tip when suddenly the golden rod erupted with movement. Out of the far side, a doe and buck hastily exited out across the corn toward the river bank. In retrospect I laugh at how confused I was as I looked at this buck running away thinking it was a deer with golden rod hanging from his rack! I pulled up the binos and quickly realized those were actually his drop tines… not golden rod. The feeling of disappointment and mix of choice words aimed at my own self-disgust that promptly followed, is something I’m sure every deer hunter has experienced, or will at some point. I had just bumped the very buck I was hunting. I know he never smelled me nor likely even saw me, rather spooking at the sounds of my approaching footsteps squishing through the mud. So, maybe the damage wouldn’t be that bad? Chalk it up as my 2nd blown opportunity. I didn't see him for a few days after that blunder. But he was still there at night according to cameras.
That afternoon my brother and his wife stopped by for a visit. I didn't hunt after they left since it was getting late to try to make a move, not to mention the drizzly conditions, but glassing seemed like a smart choice. Wouldn't you know it, River Monster was already well out into the corn stubble, completely surrounded by does, fawns, and surprisingly a few other bucks. Though I had the shotgun in the truck I just watched. It was the first evening I'd ever watched him feed on my side in years (during the season). The next morning I made my way to the same south edge tree line, only to run into deer yet again which prevented me from reaching the tree in time. I couldn't keep doing that, so I hatched a plan. His recent movements resembled a pattern of sorts, which should allow me to get within striking distance if I can get to the right spot unnoticed.
Mid-day I crafted a new pre-set that would put me near where he was exiting the field regularly. But I'd have to kayak in and out just over 1 mile round trip. It was a bullet proof plan though, at least in my mind. I could paddle past the entire south field, and paddle or drift half of the central field, moor the kayak, come up the river bank on a clean path, never making a sound, and climb up my tree. All the while with deer feeding in front of me. I hunted it that evening leaving both the gun and bow in the tree. Temps were slated to be high 20s and low 30s the next few days with a steady west wind. I knew he was bedding to the north east of where I’d be so my wind should carry to the south of him and he would have a favorable quartering wind approaching feeding each night.
Time to put my new game plan into action. Anticipation was at an all-time high knowing it was the first morning move from this new spot, and I’d likely see him, if not get my chance. As I reached the central field I began to let the kayak drift. Under the dead calm of the clear star-lit sky, I began to hear the unmistakable sound of 2 bucks sparring up in the field. The sounds of antlers continued as I reached my spot. Much to my chagrin though, as I exited the kayak, I had a very hard time not making noise. Everything was crunchy type of frozen, the mud, the leaves, and the grass. I had to get the kayak onto the bank so it wouldn't float away. Even the kayak plastic creaked in the crisp 20deg air. Hearing those sounds in the stillness brought those curious bucks down the bank to investigate. Luckily I had a down treetop between me and them as they stood at the water’s edge merely 20 yards away. For what seemed like eternity, the 2 youngsters resumed sparring right next to the water. I had to sit tight and just pray the calm air wouldn’t waft my scent their way. Wishful thinking on my part as those tall river banks channel air like a tube. Eventually at least one of them caught my scent, and without blowing they both quickly scaled the bank, bounding out into the corn field. Frustrated and kicking myself for not paddling in a half hour sooner, I made my way up my path and quickly climbed the tree. I was initially disappointed to see only a few deer beside those 2 bucks in the field. Then only a few minutes after getting connected to the saddle’s tree tether I heard another deer to my right. Out of the brush stepped River Monster. He began feeding away from me along the field edge, quartering away at 70 yards. I have no doubt those 2 bucks bumped him off the field momentarily and he had relaxed enough to come back out. I couldn't shoot him with almost a half hour to go until legal shooting time – even though it was plenty light out. Eventually he turned into the brush again and crossed the river. At least the wind was right, and he left none the wiser to how close we had just been to one another. A success in my book! That evening from the same spot I was shocked to watch him enter the field first, well before dark, maybe 300 yards away. He began to feed into the wind directly away from me. I had no advantage to stalk him through the field or on land for that matter, so I quickly climbed down and readied the kayak for an attempt to get past him and come up a deep drainage ditch he was ultimately headed toward. I paddled 350 yards as quickly as possible and made my way up that ditch. Expecting him to be feeding well inside shotgun range, to my surprise he had never stopped walking. He was 280 yards further east. Thinking that could be the time to pull out all the stops; I executed a sort of running tip toe down the opposite side of a fence line to close the distance, making all sorts of a racket in the frozen landscape. He never noticed me, but had since rounded the corner making his way south. When I finally reached the corner he was still at 220 yards, facing away, feeding on big n beasty which I had planted a small strip of along the corn. I frantically contemplated if I had an opportunity to take an ethical shot, could I make it? It didn’t matter as he casually turned and walked into the brush patch he was standing near. I abandoned the stalk and got out of there.
The next morning I paddled in again, only this time much earlier, plus I brought a small stake I had fashioned to tie off the kayak on so I never had to moor it on land. Execution was flawless, I never made a sound. Up the path and up the tree I went. Around 6:40 I was glassing him as he slowly fed toward me along the field edge, eventually taking the exact same trail he had re-entered the field on the day prior. As silence set in I couldn’t help but think he may have bedded on my side of the river (he looked dry when he entered the field the night before). After a few hours of waiting, with a favorable wind level to mask my presence I climbed down and quickly paddled out, ate lunch, and paddled back in around noon. It was extremely cold with the piercing wind. I had to wear boot blankets and my warmest clothing. After enduring a constant west wind in my face for 5 hours that afternoon, anticipating he'd step out early again only 80 yards away, I got skunked. I had only fooled myself. For the next few days I’d kayak in for the morning and evening sit from that same tree on that same bitter west wind front. I didn’t lay eyes on him again but cameras showed he was there daily.
I decided to hunt from the ground in a high risk, high reward spot that evening. A natural blind positioned at the tip of that golden rod patch would put me within striking distance of where he liked to enter the field. Surrounded by the field on both sides, it would be a miracle if I could exit without blowing multiple deer out of the corn stubble, ruining it for future sits if necessary. A doe and her 2 fawns were feeding past me when a big deer stepped into the field beyond them. Just days prior I had seen a half rack 3.5yr old 8 point and the next morning it had fully shed. The deer that just stepped into the field was fully shed. I quickly dismissed him as that 8 point. Well, that is, until that shed buck quickly made his way over to smell the doe. As it did so, my mind began to race, this deer was clearly not a 3.5yr old. At 25 yards I realized I was looking at River Monster. He had shed. I was so flustered, overcome with disbelief and feeling slightly dejected, I just sat there watching him feed off until darkness fell.
Instead of hunting, I decided I'd check cameras to confirm what I already knew. As he’d been doing routinely, I got my usual video of him feeding on some lush green grass, pausing to look at the camera as if acknowledging my question. Doing so gave me confirmation by seeing his torn right ear and unique under bite – as if I needed it. At this point I began to ponder my next move.
Do I look for his sheds and continue to hunt him if I find them? He spends at least 2/3 of his day feeding on my side, bedding in between, so I'm pretty sure they’re here. That would require tracking my scent all over the place potentially burning the area.
Or do I continue the hunt for him without his sheds in hand, and hope I find his sheds later if I can connect? He’s never been more ‘killable’ and I’ve been getting closer with each attempt.
Checking a few cameras to piece together his movement overnight, had me walking across the corn field, so I glassed about 20 acres’ worth of corn rows. No sheds. I checked the Big N Beasty strip where he fed the night I put a stalk on him. As I did so I decided to venture into the brush he had turned into the evening. I had to see why he went in there; what was more important than the turnips he was standing in? After walking 25 yards into the brush I turned toward where I thought I remember an apple tree being, where it also wasn’t an impenetrable tangle of useless brush. Eureka!
At the base of a pear tree (I’d always just assumed it was an apple tree due to proximity of others) laid both sheds! The scene would suggest he was likely reaching for a pear between 2 saplings when his outward angling drop tines made contact causing them to fall straight down. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time and effort looking for sheds in recent years, but if there was ever a set I desperately wanted to find, these were them. After calling a friend to take a video of the discovery, the next stage of decision making began…
Never in my wildest dreams had I expected to be facing a scenario like this; pursuing a deer intentionally even after it had already shed with 10 days left of late season. It’s December 12th in New York after all, not like its February in Ohio. I’ve known of deer shedding in December of course, and guys popping antlers loose inadvertently during late Muzzle loading season, but it’s far from the usual. It’s also not the scenario I’d have drawn up after over 4 years of pursuit of this specific buck. Truth be told I’d almost certainly have thrown the towel in if it was any other buck. Chase them next year. Let them get bigger and older.
This buck was different though. I’d spent a ridiculous amount of time and effort on this pursuit. All for a buck which most would likely deem “unkillable”. Plus, there is never a guarantee he lives another season, let alone presents an opportunity. To some these may just sound like excuses to go against some unspoken hunter’s code; to do the unthinkable by shooting a buck that has shed. But for me personally they emboldened my decision to press onward. After all, he was still the same wise old animal I’d been hunting all these years and whatever he grew on his head or didn’t have attached to his head really didn’t change that fact.
I didn't hunt that Sunday or Monday morning as I pondered my next moves. Then Monday evening on through the next produced no sightings of him. In fact, nearly any deer sightings had tanked. Was I putting too much pressure on them again?
Wednesday the 16th brought with it a front. Heavy snow was forecasted for later in the day but the morning would start out in the 20s with a NNE wind. That morning I opted to walk into a pre-set I'd not been able to hunt but 1 other time. A spot near where he often crossed and traveled by, but on the east side, so generally un-huntable on any S, SW, W, or NW wind. That morning as the gray light shifted to sunlight I saw only a lone fawn wandering the corn stubble, and my entry was clean.
Wednesday afternoon the snow arrived and began to coat everything in short order. Given that there were no deer in the fields that morning I figured the deer had gone 10 hours without choice food, and as so, should be up and moving early. As I left the house I said to my girlfriend “tonight will be the night - I'm going to get him tonight”. I even brought the sheds with me, something I'd not previously done. I opted for the same tree naturally, bringing the bow I’d been hunting him with all those years. We had a slight NE wind which is great for that set but provides no advantage for any approaching deer. I was confident however that the drive of hunger would prevail, and just maybe he would throw caution to the wind if he hadn’t been feeling too pressured...
After ranging a few spots of distinct stubble rows between flattened rows, I sat with my hands tucked away in my muff and waited. The snow was falling nearly straight down, sticking to everything. That calmness that comes with it is always a welcome feeling. I had been checking over my shoulder periodically when, around 4, I noticed deer milling along the opposite bank of the river looking like they were fixing to cross. No dice. They continued onward out of sight along the river.
Shortly afterward I noticed legs moving under the tree branches about 100 yards away, rounding the bend in the corn field and heading my direction. The first deer to enter my sight was large bodied, followed by a little spike. I quickly brought the binos to my eyes to confirm - yes, it’s him! My heart rate picked up with anticipation. He’s walking slow but steadily, almost parallel with the field edge following the stubble I had pre-ranged. He’ll walk by around 40 yards and while not a shot I prefer, it’s one I will take if I feel steady enough in the moment. I brushed the snow from my rest and arrow. I dialed my sight. I raised my bow arm, at ready to draw. In the fleeting moment I had to draw and shoot on the left side of the tree, I quickly changed my mind, bringing the bow up and over my tether for a shot on the right side of the tree. As I’m doing that in a slow controlled movement, I notice through the Y in the tree trunk that River Monster had begun to walk diagonally toward me. I don’t think he’s in my wind yet, but he’s got to be close, so I’ll need to be ready as he nears my south east. I frantically try to map his trajectory, dialing the sight down to 25. As he cleared the right side of the Y trunk, I eased the bow to full draw. He stops at 22 yards, slightly quartering-to, and looks up at me. I’m not sure if he caught my movement in the calmness or was in my wind. Either way, he seemingly knew this was it, as he stood motionless, eyes trained on me. The world stood still in that moment as the pin settled. My arrow found its mark, and in true monarch-like fashion, he took it without even flinching. After a short 70 yard run he stopped. I’m on him with the binos instantly, looking for the exit and praying for it to be over. I can’t have him make it to the water. He stumbled to the ground and expired. I thanked God for a clean ending, for finally giving me the opportunity I’d waited so long for. The mix of emotions I felt in that moment are indescribable.
I don't know that many non-hunters would understand the feelings of happiness conflicting with sadness and yet relief of such an accomplishment.
As the snow continued to blanket his body I climbed down and made my way over to him. I had told the landowners son, my good friend, that I’d wait for him and his dad to arrive to be part of the recovery and help me load him up. I owed them a big thanks anyways so I wanted them to be there for it all.
While I waited I sat in the snow next to him giving thanks and reflecting. Here is a buck I’d enjoyed possibly hundreds of hours watching in the summers. Hundreds of hours hunting for. And many more untold hours planting food, preparing ambush locations, strategizing, dreaming about... I've never felt such respect and gratitude toward a wild animal. I know it should be that way for all of them, but honestly, I don’t want to feel connected to all of the deer I hunt on that sort of level. Over the years River Monster had been a driving force of motivation. My biggest hunting related challenge thus far in life. Teaching me to learn an individual bucks’ personality and tendencies, and how that translates to strategy. Holding out until the last few days of each season to fill a buck tag on another buck - if I did at all. Driving me to think outside of the box with my approach, to push my own comfort level. The pursuit of River Monster also undoubtedly turned me into a bit of a 'trophy hunter'. Not the kind of trophy hunter just fixated on the rack though. Rather, the kind looking to match wits with a particular buck; hopefully one I’ve had to put forth the effort to learn, possibly enjoyed the ups and downs of a history of failed pursuit and encounters with, but ultimately one earned in the end.
Most importantly, he’s an exceptional example of Gods many wild creations, for which I am eternally thankful for and blessed to have been able to experience in the ways I did.
During february we had a few weeks of thick crust on top of about 12" of snow.. The turnips I planted ended up being a crucial food source with loads of deer bedding right near it for that time period. I found 14 sheds on that property, but mostly during january when we had very little snow. February I left them alone.
what a story - many guys wouldn't have shot after he dropped, I would have !
Congrats to you on a great buck! Any pics of him on the wall? (I’m assuming you had him mounted)
Stick - thank you. I was torn on how painful it would be to read, but I mostly wrote it for myself. As an engineer I'm extremely detail oriented so its only fitting to capture as much detail as I can recall while I can still remember it all, for when I can't.
Molson - the next one is another phenomenal animal I don't deserve but am hopeful to encounter. I think he knows he's the next top dog in the area too, so hopefully he utilizes it and behaves as such.
Thanks for the nice words guys. Definitely a unique/ lucky experience to pursue a specific buck that long and not really have other hunters or natural causes get to him first. I also realize how rare of an animal he was with respect to his rack, but admittedly it was not something I had dreamt of. I've always wanted to be successful with a mature giant but even I couldn't have fathomed what he'd grow into even after year 1, 2, or 3 of seeing what he grew. I'd have guessed he'd regress if anything. I'm not complaining, though :)
Funny you say most wouldn't have shot after he dropped. I probably wouldn't ever have consider doing this either, had I not ever been faced with the situation. Not something I ever expected anyways in mid December. Would be a different story if it was february in Ohio for example. Those guys encounter this sort of scenario more often I'd wager. Generally speaking.... yeah let him go until the next season. In this case I just had to be realistic with my odds. They'd never been better up until that point. Also helped I had those antlers in hand.
Hard to say if he'd have made it. I'll never claim I did him a favor though. The fact that he lived that long has been a point of pondering. Do some deer just have it figured out? Most never live that long...so is it fair to assume, like humans, some deer are more intelligent compared to the rest of the herd? Gotta wonder.
hah APauls I was actually keeping in contact with our local DEC so if word got out I wouldn't have to deal with any rumors. When I shot him I asked and they told me I could tag him either way. So I filled my buck tag and called it a season :)
Slate I didn't expect to ever be in that position to decide, and should I be, I don't know that I would do it again.
Very well told story. Kinda changes the way I think about the big boy I saw behind the house last month.
MD, yup results are above, he was aged at 8.
Thanks guys! Glad people have enjoyed the read.
Good luck to everyone this season!
Talk about another giant!
SB - It is certainly bittersweet. The place feels empty in a way, but like you say the memories are still there. I can take all the lessons I learned and apply them to future hunts here. Sorry to hear you lost your access... I can't imagine. Hopefully you find some new ground!
Treeline - Gotta be good at something, right? I haven't hunted yet (partly due to setting up a new bow right before season, partly weather, partly nighttime deer movement), but I put in an inordinate amount of work this summer and up till now to pattern them. So I've got "intel" to show for it...the easy part. Time will tell if I'm fortunate enough to actually sit behind another one I'm after.
Bowhunter24 - no diary. Good memory I suppose, and plenty of phone and camera pictures along the way to maintain an accurate timeline of events. Attention to detail pretty much sums up my life and day job as a design engineer and part time machine shop button pusher :) Yup still at it. Did a 2 year stint in the crossbow world (I know - gasp), but now back to vertical bows. Will be hunting with a bow launching this november!
Appreciate the nice words guys. Always wanted to contribute a good adventure type story of my own here.