My brother Eric and I have never observed one another shoot a white-tailed buck although we've taken our share of trophies individually. We've hunted whitetails together for 20 years in Pennsylvania, a densely populated whitetail area with plenty of food and timber.
On several occasions over the past years, we've come very close to taking deer in each other's company. With our busy schedules, we have difficulty coordinating our hunts. But, my brother Eric has confessed that sometimes he won't hunt with me because he believes as partners we are jinxed.
Back in 2000, I started filming our hunting adventures in the deer and turkey woods. We finally accomplished the goal of taking video footage of us bagging our spring birds on the same hunt. Wearing our Advantage camouflage, we both scored on the same morning within minutes of each other. That success felt wonderful, and I got to capture that experience on film to cherish forever.
The fall of November 2000 looked promising for taking bucks together. Nothing transpired from our fall archery season, but the first day of rifle season in Pennsylvania offered a promising chance for harvesting a mature buck. As dawn broke on this particular morning, the sounded woods sounded like a battleground. We heard a barrage of gunfire all around us in every direction as the haze rose off the ridges. We gripped our guns with anticipation of seeing a bruiser buck running in our direction trying to escape the orange coats. Some residents say the first day of rifle season in this area turns the state into a giant pumpkin patch.
After two days of hunting together, Eric and I passed up a few small bucks. On the third day of the 2000 season, I planned to meet my brother at 5 a.m. for our normal spray-down session at our regular parking spot. Then, we'd walk for 15 minutes down into a ravine to our stands. We always placed our stands in advance so we wouldn't disturb any of the surroundings. We planned to hunt a well-traveled deer escape route from other adjoining properties. For years we'd hunted this hot spot with success.
The cold wind stung my eyes as I sat alone in the dark 20 feet off the ground in my stand. Eric never showed. But, I didn't worry because he'd sometimes get called into work in the middle of the night, and he knows that we've set a 10-minute grace time at our hunting parking spot. If Eric doesn't show up within 10 minutes from our scheduled meeting time, I assume work has called him in, and he won't make it till later in the day, if that.
The third day of the season, we saw little deer movement. But the evening would prove different. The Weather Channel projected a storm front that would bring snow flurries later that evening. At about 4 p.m., I caught movement on a ridge about 100 yards away from me. With a quick glance through my field glasses, I whispered to myself "Oh Yea. He's a Shooter" and raised my 300 Savage. The buck began moving in my direction as he fed. As he stepped into a clearing at 25 yards, I let the big dog bark. The buck bolted past my stand and headed for the thicket 50 yards to my right. He crashed through the middle of the brush and disappeared. Everything fell silent as the first snowflakes started to fall onto my pack as I gathered my thoughts and gear. I found blood and 70 yards later I located the high-tined buck. I set up the tripod, unpacked the camera and groomed my trophy for some photos when I heard, "Hey!"
Eric got off work late in the afternoon and hunted on the next ridge so he wouldn't spook any deer on our normal trail. He said from the direction of the shot and the feeling he had, he knew that I had made the shot. So he headed in the direction of our stands. To his surprise, he came across my prize and me.
"I knew you had made that shot," he said as he shook my hand. "He's a real nice eight point," I blurted. "Now I can film for you the rest of the season."
Unfortunately, bad weather bombarded the rest of the season, and we had little opportunity to hunt due to our work schedules. So, we'd have to wait another year to accomplish our goal of taking deer together.
The following year, we spent much of the season chasing a mature 10-point buck with forked G2's. For years now this trophy had dodged archery, rifle and muzzleloader seasons in one of the most populated states in the country with over a million hunters. This buck lived on the property we hunted, but with all the shed hunting and early season scouting I did, I should have found some evidence of the buck's whereabouts. I assumed the buck either wondered onto the property at some point or he could have been born there. Either way, if we could find that hiding spot, he wouldn't stand a chance.
We hunted him all season with no luck. By the last day of archery season, we had pulled most of our stands in preparation for the upcoming rifle season. We had just two more stands to pull before rifle season. My brother decided to hunt one of them on the last evening and pull both remaining stands after dark.
Eric and I discussed his evening's strategies and the happenings of the mature 10-point buck over lunch at our town's greasy spoon. Someone may have already shot him, he may have gotten hit by a car or taken by a poacher. We spoke nothing more of the 10-point and finished our meals.
Later that evening, the phone rang around 8 p.m. I picked it up, put it to my ear and listened to what I could only describe as a heavy-breathing stalker or someone having a heart attack. I soon learned that my brother had hit the 10-point buck, and needed a hand with tracking it through a muddy cornfield. After we found the buck and took some photos, Eric said that he had filled his tag and could film the first day of the 2001 rifle season for me.
The first morning of rifle season arrived with a bang. Eric and I both set up in our key location only to have a junior hunter shoot a doe on top of the ridge we were watching. The doe came off the ridge and pilled up under our stand at 8 a.m. with the junior hunter and his guardian in hot pursuit. Eric, who can get a little hotheaded, couldn't believe our luck and decided to leave for lunch while the two hunters began the real work. The local greasy spoon was located only minutes from our stand location, so he decided to go there. The two hunters would take some time getting this young man's trophy out of the woods. They had to drag the doe up a steep hill about 250 yards to a logging road. I decided to sit tight and wait. I believe you never know what may happen.
I sat alone again in my tree like I've done time and time again watching the two troopers drag the doe up the hill. Just then, I caught movement to my left in a thicket circling the two dragging the doe. With closer inspection of the movement, I discovered it was the 9-point buck I had hunted earlier in archery season. I gently swung the camera arm into place and turned on the power switch. I focused the camera on the buck, hit the record button and raised my old, faithful rifle. One squeeze of the trigger sent the buck racing down the hill past my stand. After witnessing the buck go down, I began packing up my equipment for a closer inspection. I lowered my rifle and equipment to the forest floor and began climbing down from my stand. Eric had returned from eating lunch by the time I reached the bottom of the tree. He didn't understand why I was packing up our gear. He couldn't believe I shot this buck while he was gone from the stand for only 47 minutes. We felt as if fate did not want us to share this experience.
The 2002 season started out great. I started the season by taking a nice 10-point buck in Maryland. I had hunted in Maryland for three years with limited time and no luck. But this year, Lady Luck would travel with me. Next stop -- Illinois!
With that year's schedule, I didn't have much time to archery hunt my home state of Pennsylvania. But it didn't matter. I had two bow-hunting trips to Illinois I banked on to provide me with a big buck for my wall. My first trip would take me to Carmi, Illinois, early in October to hunt with an outfitter. Nothing transpired from the trip. I felt very disappointed. When you pay more than $2,000 to hunt the big guys, you should at least see a deer.
The second trip to Illinois seemed more hopeful because I planned to hunt with my buddy Jeff Budz. Budz's knowledge of the property we planned to hunt would play an essential role in my quest. After spending a few days at the ranch, I had spotted more huge whitetails than I had ever before seen. Even though I didn't get off a shot, I enjoyed watching the huge bucks run all around me for days. I never bagged a buck, but I'll return to Jeff's ranch next year for sure.
After returning from my second Illinois hunt, I had a few days to prepare for the Pennsylvania rifle season. I felt very confident that I would experience success during the rifle season. The first day, I passed up a small 6-point and an 8-point buck. I worked the second day of the season with no opportunity to hit the woods. The third day of the season, I decided to film for my brother. We planned to meet at 5 a.m. While I was getting ready, my cell phone began to ring. Eric called to tell me he was running late and to grab him a coffee. He said he'd meet me at our parking spot at 5:30 am. Since I was filming for Eric that day, I left my rifle at my home with no intention on hunting. By 5:45 a.m., he still hadn't arrived. I made an executive decision to leave the parking spot, return to my house, grab my rifle and head back to the parking area to meet up with Eric. By the time I arrived at our parking area, Eric still hadn't made it. I decided to make the trek to the stand while it was still dark. After I climbed into my stand and got things set up, I heard footsteps crunching the frosted leaves. The sounds of the crunching leaves got closer and closer. Then I only heard silence.
Once daylight broke, I caught movement in a thicket to my right. I couldn't understand why these deer were playing fearlessly on the third day of the season. While glassing the thicket, I caught a glimpse of antlers and watched a buck chasing some does. I couldn't see the size of the buck until a doe broke away from the pack and began to run away from my stand. Then the buck turned, came out of hiding and drifted past my stand 50 yards away from me. He looked like a nice-sized deer. I continued to film the buck until he turned to look back at a doe. Then I realized he had a bigger gut than I expected. He had a huge spread with long tines. I raised my rifle and dropped him in his tracks. Those events all happened by 8 a.m.
I gathered my equipment and descended from my stand. Once I hit the ground, I began the short walk over to the buck that had slid another 50 yards downhill after he'd expired. While walking, I heard a loud "Hey!" You guessed it. Eric heard my shot while making his way to our stands from the opposite direction. As we approached the downed buck, he couldn't believe our luck. He had missed watching me take another deer. This buck made my best deer to date, even after spending close to $4,000 that year on out-of-state hunting trips. If Eric had gotten out of bed sooner, we would have achieved our goal.
Maybe the experiences you have mean more than the goals you set for yourself. As the years pass, our goal of taking deer together has become less visible. Now, we concern ourselves more with just hunting and experiencing the outdoors together than actually taking deer because nothing lasts forever except memories.
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