Never Lose Hope

Rick Hanson is sponsored by: BowTech and Victory Archery.

I love bowhunting and this season was becoming one unforgettable year. I had shot a Pope and Young elk in Montana and a good antelope in South Dakota. I was now searching for a mule deer and a whitetail to complete my archery season. Little did I know the best was yet to come.

In October, my wife Deb and I left for central SD to hunt deer the weekend before the annual pheasant season opener. Hoping that the deer patterns would still be undisturbed before the sounds of shotguns were blasting across the countryside. Getting blinds and treestands setup we picked our spots and spent the weekend watching and waiting. That weekend my cousin Dylan shot a great buck with his bow. It was a 9X10 and grossed 179, it was one of those bucks that a person dreams of taking. This buck gave my wife and I hope that there might be other giants lurking in the area. I was planning to go bowhunting in Montana and western South Dakota looking for a good mule deer. Then I would be back to central South Dakota to hunt whitetails.

My hunts in Montana and western South Dakota were exciting, but I did not connect on anything. I got video of some nice deer and woke up with a mountain lion not 100 yards from my tent. What an adrenaline rush yet a surreal experience. On these hunts I did not get a deer, but the awesome experiences are what make my hunts successful. Arriving home, I was now planning my whitetail hunt back near my parents. I would work until Thursday getting some rest after work, then leave early enough to arrive at light.

Deb, was not going with me, she had shot a 4×4 whitetail in SD, a week prior. So with my gear packed I gave my sleeping wife a kiss goodbye and an I love you, then I was pointing my Xterra east. Driving into the night, gulping a Redbull, and drinking a Mountain Dew, I am awake with caffeine and anticipation. This is sometimes the best part of the hunt, dreaming of a big buck and the adventures yet to come. With many miles behind me I arrive as the eastern sky starts showing the first signs of light.

Slowly driving and glassing, I see some bucks in the distance chasing does. Stopping and talking to a few of the farmers I knew I asked them what they have been seeing. With the knowledge gained from my morning scouting, I set up my blinds and treestands then went to my parent’s house to get a bite to eat and a short nap.

After an hour nap, I talk to my mom then I am off to my treestand. I like to get into the stand early and let things calm down. Parking, hope and excitement are flowing through my body, as I walk to the stand. Once into the stand I begin to enjoy the beautiful afternoon, as in most of my hunts the silence of being in the woods, or on a mountaintop is a soulful experience. It gives me time to contemplate life and the direction that I am heading. After about an hour the edge of the corn starts to come alive as a couple of fawns emerge from the cornfield. As the fawns feed they move towards my stand passing under it perfectly now if only a big buck would do the same.

With the sun beginning to sink towards the western horizon, time is passing more quickly, and more deer are filtering out of the safety of the large cornfield. My binoculars are scanning for a sign of big buck when I spot a good buck, analyzing him and asking myself is he big enough, as he follows a doe my way. Then I spot another buck and with out question I know he is a shooter, now if he will venture my way.

My senses are high with hope and anticipation, focusing on him trying almost will him into shooting range. Minutes pass by like hours the buck is slowly moving my direction, when he glimpse the first buck that had come out of the corn. The big buck walks toward the smaller one they posture sizing up each other, thinking to myself this is going to be a great show. The big buck knows he is the boss and does not waste his time and starts to saunter towards my stand, with my BowTech Admiral in my hand a rush of adrenaline shoots through my body. Butterflies are now floating through my veins, when the buck begins to scrape not fifteen yards from my stand. Preparing to make the shot, raising my Admiral, maybe over confidence is in my head, with thousands of shots taken preparing for this moment all year, I knew this buck was going to fall from my arrow. Drawing my bow I turn and bend at the hips like a bowhunter should at such a steep angle. Then releasing my arrow I watch in horror as my Wac’em tipped arrow flies over the big bucks back, hair flies in the air and my arrow sticks in the ground. With my heart pounding, my spirits sink as he trots off to about forty yards and turns to look back at what had just disturbed him. Glassing the buck I search for any sign of blood but see none, sad that I had missed, but happy that I did not wound him, he walks off unaffected.

The yellows and oranges of the setting sun are giving away to the night; I am beating myself up mentally, contemplating why I had missed. Crawling down the tree and retrieving my arrow, I find a clump of hair and no sign of blood on the arrow. Still feeling dejected I slowly walk to my Xterra breathing in the cool fall air. Getting back to my Mom and Dads I tell them the story of what happened, they know the time I spend shooting my bow and my Mom being ever inspirational tells me that I missed for a reason, I can only hope it was a good reason.

After a short, restless night of sleep, I am sitting in one of the blinds I had set up. Purples and blues begin to grace the morning sky, and I hear the pheasant roosters waking, as a new day is about to begin. Still kicking myself from my mistake the night before I feel the reason I had missed was because I had not focused completely on the shot. Then suddenly I hear the sound of deer coming my way, hoping that a big buck would give me a second chance, I peer out of my blinds window. Then the deer appears it is a doe and two fawns passing with in shooting range. I am entertained as the fawns play as the sun begins to show in the morning sky. At about eleven o’clock, I leave the blind and go have lunch and practice with my Admiral hitting the bullseye, I know it was my error the night before.

With renewed energy I go sit in my stand with little action, I enjoy the autumn night that once again gives me more time to focus, relax and contemplate life. This time thinking gives me energy and revitalizes not only my mind but also my soul. I am one lucky guy and know it, so I think of things to do with my wife once the hunting seasons are over. Deb hunts also, but come January we try to get away for a weekend to relax as a couple. I work full time at lumberyard and part time at Triggers Pro Shop a local archery store. I hunt around 50 or more days a year, and scout even more, so showing appreciation to my wife is great for our relationship. As the night comes to a close, I know that I have one more day left to connect on a buck.

With only a day left to hunt, I am woke up one more time by the ringing of my alarm clock. Jumping out of bed having a quick breakfast, I am once again on my way to my stand. Sitting in the frosty morning air the sky is still draped in darkness. Then I see a dark deer figure, it stops and rubs its antlers on a post the buck is about twenty-five yards away. My senses are on edge and my sight and hearing are focused on the buck as he is raking the post. Then the sounds of the buck’s footsteps crunch in the frosty grass as he meanders my way. He is twenty yards away, I know because of the tree I had ranged days before, but the morning has not yet escaped the grasp of the nights darkness, The figure walks by undisturbed and fades into the darkness unaware of my presence. Is this how my luck was going to be this hunt, close but not connecting on a buck? Then I pick my spirits up and tell myself this is what life is about and I want to experience as much of the outdoors as possible before I am a memory.

With hours left in my deer hunt, I am once again enjoying the serenity of a treestand. The breeze is great and the weather is perfect. Sitting in my stand the hours seem to pass by slowly, but with inspiration from my Mom and Dad plus, a good luck call from my wife, there is still hope of a big buck. Does start moving into the open, leaving the confines of the cornfield, my optimism is high that tonight is the night I will get a buck.

Then like a hammer nailing a coffin shut my hunt is over. Pheasant hunters drive by my Xterra and proceed down the trail scaring my would be quarry back into the safety of the cornfield. Pulling out their shotguns they begin to walk a near by creek. Climbing out of my stand anger and disappointment encompass me, but walking to my vehicle I begin to think that some things are just not meant to be. As much as we want good fortune, success is not only a big buck but also the experiences given.

With less then an hour of light left I slowly drive back to my parents house, when I spot a shooter buck chasing a doe. It is on property I can hunt thinking to myself it is now or never, I park, grab my Bowtech and am sneaking through and around some hay bale stacks. Spotting the does coming in my direction and the buck seemingly throwing caution to the wind, like a love struck teenager. I am hidden behind a round bale, then the buck disappears behind the bale stack following the does.

Moving quickly, closing the distance between the deer, and me the does appear from behind the bale stack. Ranging the does mentally, I estimate the distance as twenty-five yards away. Knowing the buck has to be close behind I draw my Admiral, then the buck materializes stopping perfectly broadside. Telling myself to focus and follow thru he turns his head slowly toward me, but my arrow has already been released. The shot looks and felt great and the buck runs towards a shelter belt about one hundred yards away. I scramble to the top of the bale stack as I watch him jump the fence and vanish into the trees.

Sitting on the bale stack I glass intently watching for movement in the trees, I can not believe what just happened. I have heard of last minute luck but this was unbelievable. With the last glimmers of light diminishing fast I drop to the ground, get my bow and retrieve my blood soaked arrow, I am sure it is a fatal hit. Walking back to my Xterra I get my Surefire flash light and begin to follow the bloodtrail. The trail is good for aways but the blood begins to dwindle so I decide to back off and go get help.

Driving to my parent’s house I call my Dad and tell him I shot a good buck and need his help he, is combining sunflowers, and tells me he will be about an hour. Then I call my cousin and ask him for help, he will meet us at my parents in an hour. One last phone call is made to Deb telling her I shot nice buck. After the phone calls anxiety permeates my body and questions race through my mind, asking myself was it a good hit?

Driving back to the spot I had shot the buck, Dad and Dylan question me on the shot and how big he was. My answers were I am sure I double lunged him by the looks of my arrow, and I was focused on the shot and thought he was a six by six. Entering the pasture to get to the shelterbelt the buck had run to my heart sinks, we see eyes in the pasture, but it is a lone coyote strolling through the grass on a hunt of its own. With spirits once again lifted we turn towards the trees, where I wanted to start the search, as the head lights lit the trees a white belly of a deer reveals itself, on the other side of the fence.

Reaching the fence blood has sprayed from the buck’s body; fat had plugged the arrows mortal wounds but had let the blood escape when the deer jumped the fence. Surefire in hand I am the first to climb the fence, and make my way to the deer, the bucks head is hidden from me by a plum bush. Shining the beam of light on him I am flooded with emotion and start jumping up and down, I had just shot the biggest buck of my life. My Dad and Dylan are right behind me; I hug my Dad and high five Dylan. I am shaking with excitement. The buck is a nine by eleven and is just plain big. After gazing at this monarch of the prairie, we drag him carefully under the fence, I tag him then we lift him into the in the back of the pickup. We all left our cameras at the house so I take a quick picture on my phone and send it to my wife and three close friends. When we get back to my parents we take many more pictures of my last minute buck.

I am so happy my Dad was there to help me recover such a special deer, it is a memory that will last a lifetime. It was also nice that I was part of recovering Dylan’s deer that he could be a part of my recovery. The buck has now been officially scored, it

He gross scores 201 1/8 and net 193 2/8 I feel lucky and privileged to been able to shoot such a great animal. I also want to thank my Mom for her inspiration as well as my wife for encouraging me to achieve my hunting goals.

On a side note my wife shot the buck I had missed, not two hundred yards from my stand, opening day of rifle season two weeks later. There was some missing hair and a slight scar from my errant shot. No life threatening injury. This buck has a gross score of 155 and is 21 ½ inches wide.