They lead a charmed life

By JEFF NORTH,

There can be 10 routes of escape, with nine of them covered, and they’ll find that one way out. Of course, I’m talking about those big bucks that always get away. It happens to everyone if you hunt long enough. Find a weathered woodsman and he will surely be able to recall those giants that gave him the slip. Even now, if you are still reading this, I know fully well you have already thought of one, or perhaps several, of those gray ghosts that left you completely deflated.

It’s happened to me more times that I care to remember, but I suppose this is one of the reasons I keep plugging away and grinding through the swamps. In fact, I’ll just share the accounts of a few of these bucks that still haunt me. I hope you find it entertaining.

The first one that comes to mind was while I was bowhunting at Willow Point on the Mississippi River. Let me first qualify that I was recovering from rotator cuff surgery from chasing down a gobbler for Dr. Charles Neill. This is another novel itself, so back to the buck.

The magical time in December was in full swing. I was sitting in a lock-on along the edge of small clearing, choked with briars. It was almost like a gift from above as this giant walked straight to me. I wasn’t nervous and this buck had no idea I was even on this planet. I stood while he was still over 100 yards from me and readied myself for the shot. I hate to even tell you how far he was, but for you to have the complete picture just know he was farther than 10 yards, but closer than 15. Maybe my shoulder issue played a role, for I did struggle just a bit with the draw. By the way, this seems quite common with me. I did, however, manage to draw and settle my pin on just the right spot. A gentle push/pull on the bow, and a touch of my release and the buck of a lifetime would be mine. To this day, I still don’t know how I sent the razor tipped shaft over the buck’s back…. but I did.

I really don’t know how big he was, but Bubba Street, the head guide at that time, saw him the next day and confirmed my description. In Bubba’s exact words, and I quote, “he was the biggest whitetail buck that’s ever been on this island.” For those of you that know about this region and for those of you that ever knew Bubba, this should tell you what got away. He still haunts me today. Just wait, for there are more.

A particular swamp buck that still visits me with regularity lived deep in the woods on the Big Black River near Kilmichael. Frank Grimes had been chasing this one and had several opportunities but never could close the deal. He invited me to join him on his place to see if we could use a team effort strategy to collect this ole mossy horned buck. We had to boat down the river a mile or so and then cross slough after slough to get to the climbers Frank had hung. I settled in one stand and Frank went to the other one.

All morning, I listened to dogs running deer in the distance. Around ten o’clock I heard a tremendous crashing noise through the water behind me. As I turned to look, I still remember seeing this giant of a buck running straight to me. By turning around, I was facing the tree I climbed. The buck veered to my right, so I moved my rifle to that side of the tree. He then veered left, so I re-positioned to the other side of the tree. All I had to do was place the crosshairs on him and squeeze the trigger. I did neither. He ran within three yards of my tree and was now going straight away. I calmly turned around and would have to shoot him going away. With each bound, he put a tree between he and I. It almost seemed like he knew I was there and deliberately humiliated me.

I finally squeezed off a shot as he disappeared through the swamp. This miss just added insult to injury. He was a dandy that lived the rest of his life in the silt loam soils of the river bottom. Are you up for one more? I can think of several, but one in Kansas comes to mind first.

The setting was a beautiful little bottom, studded with giant cottonwoods. The rut was in full swing and one of my buddies took a dandy buck in the low 160s the morning before from this same set. He told me bucks were all over him, so I took the bait. He was right.

Just after sunrise, two mega bucks were doing their best to see which one would win the favors from the doe they were courting. I think she tired of the charades and proceeded to leave the thicket they were occupying. Her path of exit brought her right past me at eight yards. Yes, eight, not 80. The wind was a bit “squirrelly” but she passed right under me and I beat her nose.

Guess who followed next? The two bucks were right behind her taking the same path. As the lead buck, and the biggest, went behind a giant cottonwood, I drew. I held for just a moment as his head and neck cleared the only limb that would block my shot. I still remember saying to myself, “one more step and I’ve got him.” There was no way this mid-west bruiser could escape. Or so I thought.

I guess his nose was just a little better than the maiden’s he was following. I was at the point of no return when he wheeled and bounced back the way he came. He made a little horseshoe curl out into the cut soybean field. He stopped, but instead of standing at eight yards, he was now, thirty-eight. I try to limit my shots to under twenty-five yards, but I settled my forty-yard pin and touched my release. Everything went perfect, but one thing. When my arrow got there, he wasn’t. He ducked, turned, and wheeled, all in the same motion. I was sick. So close, yet so far. Another buck for the memories that I think about more times than I care to.

Have you been here? How many times have these special bucks eluded you? How do they do it time after time? I know you’ve all been there. I guess this is one of the reasons we keep going back. These are just three bucks that come to mind, but rest assured, there are more. Maybe at some point I’ll share what happened with the others as well. I’ve always been told, don’t live in the past. I try not to, but they keep coming back to me. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Think back on some of your most cherished hunts of the “ones that got away.” If you see me somewhere, I’d love to hear your story. To me, these memories are as special as the ones where we were successful. I bet if you think about it, you’ll agree with me. It’s coming to an end so get out there and make some more memories. Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.

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