Big Buck Down!

By Greg Mather

 

First Stand

It was November 8th, two days after my 50th birthday. My son James and I woke to a beautiful but crisp November morning. James lives in London but comes home nearly every weekend during bow season to hunt with me. Those are the best weekends of the year by far! Unfortunately on this day he had to be back to London in the early afternoon so the plan was for a quick morning hunt on a farm that we have permission to hunt close to home just outside the City of Brampton. I love to hunt evenings after work and earlier in the week I had seen a couple of nice 8 pt bucks in the area and several does so we knew the area was holding a good number of deer. We arrived at the farm around 6:00 am and we thought we had got an early start into our stands but obviously not early enough as we jumped a buck and a doe on the way in. Not to be discouraged we climbed into our ladder stands which we had set-up about 150 yds apart overlooking a weed field that was situated between a good size bush and a river. With the sun coming up the morning frost quickly melted off the field in front of us and we realized that this day was going to turn out to be a lot warmer than we had anticipated. As we watched we were treated to a deafening chorus of honking from the hundreds of geese that had spent the night in the many cut corn fields surrounding the area. The sound was so loud that we could barely hear each other on our radios. We had just finished talking to one another around 8:30 am when a familiar voice called back to us. It was Bill the owner of the farm and as he often did, he was out for a morning drive around his property and had heard James and I talking over the air waves. He asked us if we had seen anything and when we told him we had jumped a couple of deer on the way in, he wasn’t surprised stating that he had seen several deer in the area the evening before. He asked how long we were staying out for and we explained that James was headed back to London later on so we were going to give it until around 11:00 am. It was then that Bill told us that on his way out to see us he had spotted what he thought to be the biggest buck he had ever seen in his life on the north end of his farm. It was feeding in a soy bean field with a nice doe and they were moving towards the big bush at the north end of his property. After a brief discussion we decided that we would try to put a stalk on this big buck especially when Bill said he estimated it to be at least a 285 – 300 lb and from what he could tell, it was a least a 12 point.

Plans Change Quickly !

Hearing this James and I quickly climbed out of our stands and starting walking out to meet Bill at our vehicle. We both commented that this must be a huge deer because rarely did Bill ever get excited and he definitely seemed excited about this one. At that point we decided to pick up our pace paying little attention to what was going on in front of us. We were about 400 yds from our rendezvous point with Bill when he came back on the radios to inform us that we had just pushed a big 12 pt out of the field on our way out. It had run down the trail we had gone in on in the morning, crossed the road in front of him and gone down a ravine into a small 5 acre patch of bush. We quickly hurried to Bill’s location and after discussing our options we decided that because we knew exactly where this deer was we would first put a stalk on him. The plan was for James to go to the far end of the bush and I would stay on the downwind side around the middle of the bush. Once in position Bill would slowly push the bush from the upwind side. It took about 30 minutes to get set-up and then Bill started through the bush but as luck would have it, this big old buck saw through our plan and managed to sneak between us.

Back to the Original Plan

We regrouped and as good hunters do we rehashed what we could have done differently….you know the “if’s”…”if I’d only stopped here”…”if I’d gone 50 yds farther down the fence line”….”if I hadn’t stepped on that broken branch”. Anyway as most seasoned hunters know, “if” and “luck” often play a big part in the success and failure of any stalk or push and this time it didn’t go our way. Lessons learned we talked over our next move. Unfortunately, our attempt at this buck had cut into James time and he had to head back home. We joked with him “not to worry” because we would send him the pictures of the big buck hanging on the meat pole later that day. He wished us luck and regretfully headed back home. Bill and I headed back to the last spot where he had seen the big buck that morning and glassed the area. With only two of us we knew our chances of getting him were slim at best, but we both agreed that just seeing him would be exciting. The deer were not in the field when we arrived but this was to be expected as the time was now 11:00 am and some 3.5 hrs had passed since Bill had first seen them. We were optimistic however, that they were still in the area because that buck appeared to be glued to this doe indicating to us that the rut must be on. As we surveyed the field adjacent to the large bush we decided that the deer may have not gone in the bush at all and that instead, they may have followed the east fence row and headed down to the river to get a drink after feeding in the field all morning. We decided that I would set-up in the north-west corner of the field just below the bush and Bill would drive down to the river and make the half hour push back up the east side of the field to my location. Our decision was based on our many years of experience hunting the area.  During our many hunts together, we often watched as deer being chased by coyotes would follow one of these two paths of escape. We felt that if they eluded me then they would most likely head right along the east fence line into the big bush. If that happened then we would try a push on the bush. About an hour passed and I was starting to wonder why I hadn’t heard from Bill. I radioed Bill and he came back to me saying that he had stayed down at the river bottom for a bit because there was lots of sign down there and he thought he had heard deer moving around. I told him I hadn’t seen anything yet so he said he was on the move and that he would start walking along the top of the ravine towards me. About 15 minutes went by when suddenly a doe appeared walking and feeding along the edge of the bean field directly across from me headed northwards towards the bush. I radioed to Bill and he said to keep an eye on the fence row behind her because he thought he had heard something big get up in front of him minutes earlier. Sure enough about ten minutes later the biggest buck I have ever seen was moving towards the doe on the far fence row in front of me. I laid my bow down and quickly scrambled to get my binoculars from my pack. When I looked back up he was directly in front of me at about 200 yards standing with the doe in the field. Shaking like a leaf, I frantically focused my binoculars on what was truly a buck of a lifetime. The tines were not only magnificent in length and mass, but too numerous to get an accurate count on from this distance. The body was huge; this was obviously the deer Bill had seen on his morning drive of the property. I continued to watch as they slowly moved towards the bush. I was speechless, I just stood there watching, even forgetting that Bill was all the while moving up the field towards me. Suddenly, I heard a noise off my right shoulder, I quickly remembered I hadn’t let Bill know about the buck and thinking that Bill must have crossed the field over to my side, I quickly turned to inform him about the deer. To my surprise it wasn’t Bill, standing no more than 15 yards from me was a nice 8 pt.

We instantly locked eyes but that’s all I could do with my bow lying at my feet in front of me. It didn’t take him more than 3 seconds to let out a loud wheeze and start back down the field the way he came. Once again I scrambled, this time for my radio to alert Bill to the deer running
directly to him. As I tried to explain to Bill what was going on and warn him about the 8 pt that was headed in his direction, the young buck suddenly bolted across the field about 75 yards south of me heading for the fence on the opposite side. Once he reached the far fence he suddenly stopped and put his nose to the ground. I calmed myself down and then proceeded to
describe to Bill what was going on right in front of me. From what I could tell, Bill and I must have been right about the doe being in estrous because the 8 pt was now moving back north along the far fence row hot on the trail of the doe and the huge buck. He seemed to have totally forgotten about his encounter with me and passed right by me along the far fence row.
It was then he spotted the doe and the big buck that were now only 50 yds from entering the bush. His focus was obviously solely on the doe because he started running right to her, nose to the ground and with no apparent concern for her other big suitor. At about 20 yds from her he lifted his head and quickly realized his mistake. His legs locked up as he tried to stop but it was too late. The big buck wasted no time and was on him immediately. I have to give him credit as he didn’t back down right away, but as hard as he tried to hold his ground; the much bigger buck tossed him around like a rag doll. After several minutes of punishment he was finally chased off but by this time the doe had moved into the bush. The big buck strode off after her and the 8 pt could only watch. It was at this point that I got back on the radio to Bill and told him what had just happened. For fear of getting busted we knew we couldn’t make a move on the big buck until the 8 pt cleared the field. Fortunately or unfortunately, he started to follow the other two but this was not what we wanted realizing that another pair of keen eyes would make our task of stalking up on them much more difficult.

The Bush Push!

 

Bill joined me at my location about 300 yds downwind of the bush and we quietly laughed as I told him the story of the smaller bucks encounter with the monster buck. Bill asked me how many points the big buck was and I said that I wasn’t exactly sure but it appeared to be more than twelve. We then decided on a plan that would have Bill make a long walk along the edge of the field on the west side of the bush until he reached the north end. I was going to set-up in the fence row about 100yds from where the deer had entered the bush because I was convinced that they would use the same escape route out as they did going in figuring that if it was safe going in it should be safe coming out.

I knew it would take Bill a while to reach the spot where he was going to enter the bush so I took the time to survey the area around me placing yard marker tags in the field to my left and to my right at 20 yard and 40 yard distances. Past hunting experience had taught me that I wouldn’t have time to range them if they were on the run so this would give me a quick reference point. It was 45 minutes when Bill radioed me that he was starting through the bush with the intentions of just weaving very slowly back and forth so as to cover the entire bush and not push them too hard. It wasn’t long when I got the call “Greg…there on the move”. Again my heart was pounding and although it was the big one we wanted, I decided the smaller one would be acceptable if I wasn’t presented a shot on the bigger one.

Any hunter will tell you that it’s moments like these that seem to last an eternity and it seemed like an hour had passed from the time Bill said they were on the move when in fact, it had only been 15 minutes, that’s when I got the second call from Bill. He said they were about 150 yds in front of him moving slowly in my direction but they hadn’t yet seen him so he was going to stop moving. I agreed this was a good idea and laid in wait. Ten minutes went by when my radio erupted with the sound of Bill’s frantic voice…”there coming and there coming hard” was the message. My guess was they had started to double back through the bush and spotted Bill but this wasn’t the case. Apparently another 8 pt had been bedded in the bush not 20 yds from where Bill was standing and upon seeing Bill must have froze. With Bill standing there only yards away, the buck couldn’t take it any longer and bolted from his cover. Now I had four deer steamrolling towards me and I remember thinking how in the world I would stop them. Within seconds I could see four white tails bouncing through the bush towards me but the good news was they were coming out exactly in the spot where they went in. The doe was in front, one      8 pt was right behind her, the “Big Buck” followed him and another 8 pt picked up the rear of the charge. Suddenly at the edge of the bush they all put on the brakes and came to a stop.

I remember thinking “did they see me” but it didn’t appear like it because they were all looking in different directions. I also took the opportunity to look around and quickly realized I had a tractor opening in the fence some 5 yds from me that I had missed seeing before. I thought “excellent”; I could use this if they jumped the fence. As I watched time seemed to be standing still and then suddenly it happened, the doe was the first to bolt running right towards me with the others “hot on her hooves” in the same order they had exited the bush. At 50 yds from me the doe decided to jump the fence and come up the field on the other side of me. I knew the others would follow so I scrambled to get into the fence opening. As I looked up she blew by me at 25 yds with the 8 pt right on her tail. The big Buck however, although running, was moving much slower and I noticed as he approached that the reason for this was the enormous rack he was carrying. He looked like he was going to follow right behind the others and I prepared myself to shoot. He was moving at a good pace but not at full stride. As he approached he started to gradually veer away from me. I quickly scanned the field for my marker tapes and I decided he was going to be a 40 yard shot. I pulled my bow up and as he got broadside I let out a loud “blah”. It worked; he stopped and spun 180 degrees giving me a standing broadside shot. I released the bolt and watched as it hit the target and down he went. I stood in absolute shock my heart was pounding and I was shaking profusely. I was so excited I didn’t even realize that the 8 pt that had been following him had stopped and was looking right at me at 30 yards. It was only when he trotted over to the fallen giant did I notice him, he stopped looked at his downed companion, and then trotted off. Although I had another tag, all I could do was sit back on my haunches and watch in amazement, totally in shock of what just happened.

It was Over!…Or was It!

The next thing that happened was a call from Bill on the radio. He asked me what happened and I said he’s down….he said the Big One!….I said Yup!…I didn’t need the radio to hear his cheers from the far bush. The wait was on; all I could think was don’t rush this. I was talking to Bill and I remember him saying over and over to me that he couldn’t hear me. I told him I was whispering because I didn’t want to spook the buck and have him get up. An hour passed and Bill called to say he was starting to walk down to me and that’s when all “Hell broke loose”!

I could hear Bill coming through the field and looked up to see him approaching. When I looked back at the spot where the buck was laying my mouth dropped, he wasn’t there anymore. He had gotten up and was very slowly moving across the field towards a steep ravine. I radioed Bill to stop and watched in horror as the big buck slowly made his way through the weeds to the edge of the field on the far side and disappeared into the ravine below. I thought my heart was going to drop out the bottom of my feet. Bill came up and I told him what happened. Like I said earlier, Bill is a calm guy and he assured me that even if the buck made it to the ravine and down, he’d never make it up the other side because it’s a very steep 70 ft climb. I agreed and we waited another hour before going to look for him. Crossing the field we found where he had laid down but there certainly wasn’t the amount of blood you would expect from a deer that had laid there for over an hour. I said to Bill that my shot must have been high in the body for him to drop that quickly and for there to be so little blood. Bill agreed so we picked up the blood trail we had and approached the ravine with caution. Unfortunately before we reached the ravine the blood trail vanished so we made a decision to split up and walk in opposite directions across the top to see if we could spot him in the bottom below. We walked about 300 yards in opposite directions and then back, commenting to each other in disbelief that we hadn’t seen him lying below us. As we stood there chatting, a turkey suddenly flushed out from the bottom of the ravine about 75 yards to our right. We looked at each other and without saying a word, we ran down the field to where the turkey had flushed. It was then that we spotted the buck angling his way up the other side of the ravine. I turned to Bill and said, “if he makes it up there he’s gone because I don’t think we can” and Bill just nodded in agreement. I remember thinking to myself “I can’t let that happen” and without saying a word I took off running down the side of the ravine with my bow over my shoulder grabbing trees along the way in an effort to keep myself from falling. When I reached the bottom the buck was 50 yards away and half way up the other side. Luckily the creek at the bottom only had a couple of inches of water in it so I ran down the middle as fast as I could, climbing over a few fallen trees until I was parallel to the buck. After taking a couple of deep breaths, I shouldered my crossbow put my sights on his front shoulder and released. This time the arrow found its mark just behind the front shoulder and he came tumbling down the ravine.

Our plan had worked and I was now trembling even more than before as I stood over a true “Ontario Monster Whitetail”. He was a heavy buck with a massive 16 pt rack and thankfully, none of his tines had broken off during the fall. Moments later Bill was standing beside me as speechless as I was. After a series of pats on the back, numerous yelps and several high fives our thoughts turned to how the heck to get him out of there. With the help of Bill’s tractor we were able to pull him out of the ravine. We had just enough sun to take a few pictures and send them off to my son James. Just to rub it in a little, his sister whom had also been home for the weekend hadn’t left yet to return to University so she got in on the photo shoot!

Now that’s “gotta hurt”!

 

The Trophy Mount

My mount was done by Richard Reaume of Wildlife Art & Taxidermy in Tilbury, Ontario. Readers may recognize Richard as he is a very renowned and experienced taxidermist from South-Western Ontario. Richard was also the taxidermist selected to reconstruct the two remaining buck mounts taken in 1918 by the late and famous Jack Miner. These are believed to be the only two remaining trophies from the late Jack Miner’s collection (See the article in Ontario Out Of Doors February 2010 – entitled “Jack Miner The Hunter” for more details). The work he did on the “Miner” bucks was fantastic and my mount turned out to be even better. Richard’s work is truly some of the best in the business and he has a trophy packed studio to prove it.

Richard and I attended the Southwest Outdoors Club, Big Buck and Bull Day in April in Tilbury Ontario sponsored by “Ontario Monster Whitetails” where my mount was measured by FROW and on display with many other true trophies. As it turns out, my buck had 15 scoreable points (one sticker point was not) and was classified as “Typical”, scoring 194 -7/8 Gross and 179 – 6/8 Net making it the second largest “Typical Buck” ever taken in Ontario with a crossbow up until the time it was measured in April. The show was very well organized and well attended and a tip of the “camo” hat goes out to the organizers.

 

The Honor Role

 

A special thanks goes out to my friend Bill for letting us hunt his property and putting me on this magnificent buck; to my son and med-student James for coming home on weekends from his studies to hunt with his Dad; to my daughter Melissa who has just recently taken up deer hunting and joined me in the stand on numerous frosty mornings; to my hunting partner’s Herb, Pierre and Mark who spend countless hours in the bush with me and helped me with the butchering; and last but not least my wife Rhonda for all her understanding and patience around the house, especially when I’m out bow hunting 4 -5 times a week from the beginning of October to the end of December. As you can imagine things don’t always get done when they should. I would also like to thank the Beasley Brothers from “Ontario Monster Whitetails” for giving me the opportunity to share my story with the readers of this great magazine.

 

The tremendous bond and friendships that hunting has created between all of us is amazing and something you can’t measure in “points” or “pounds”, you just feel it every time we get together in the field, over a fine venison dinner prepared by our wives or just rehashing one of our stories over a coffee! Oh yes I almost forgot to mention, we saw what appeared to be this bruisers twin brother a week later in the same area, hopefully one of the other guys gets their chance with him this coming October.

 

Greg Mather with his daughter Melissa and record buck
Greg Mather with his trophy buck
Greg Mather with his trophy buck

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