This trophy inadvertently fended off Mike Ogbourne's first efforts at taking him. Luckily for our hunter, the buck came back for more.
By Mike Ogbourne
As boys, my cousin Frank and I would listen to our fathers' deer-hunting adventures, and those tales lit a fire in us. We've been avid whitetail hunters ever since, and on Oct. 30, 2002, that passion culminated in an experience almost beyond belief.
Frank and I met before dawn, as usual, at the "lodge" (our grandfather's old Iowa homestead). It was raining lightly but steadily, so we decided to look for a "chase" instead of posting in our tree stands.
Not long after starting, we spotted some bucks chasing one of several does in the edge of a Conservation Reserve Program field. After glassing the scene, we decided to get closer. The deer were in an area bordering a creek bottom and a multiflora rose patch - a perfect setup for slipping up on them in the rain. The wind was in our favor also.
I managed to get within bow range of a couple of the bucks, but unfortunately, we never saw the big one that should have been there. With this type of activity during the pre-rut, you'd expect to see the area's dominant buck tending the doe and running off other bucks, but he wasn't there this time.
Frank said he wasn't sure if he was going hunting later, so he headed home, and I returned to the lodge. After a short rest and some target practice, I went to check for deer sign in a couple of new spots. I also tried a rattling sequence, but only a small buck responded.
You could hunt for several lifetimes trying to make a shot like the one Ogbourne made and never pull if off. Photo courtesy of Mike Ogbourne
When I returned to the lodge, Frank's brother, Mitch, stopped by to see video of a large buck I'd filmed during the first week of October. We viewed the video, after which I took some more practice shots with my bow. By then it was time to pick an afternoon hunting spot. Mitch left to do his chores, and Frank hadn't returned yet, so after waiting for him at least another 30 to 45 seconds (about double the amount of time he waits for me), I decided to head out.
I knew where I wanted to go. Approximately two weeks prior, I'd located a large rub that was being worked regularly. That sign, combined with a scrape line extending down the ridge and my memory of a large rub having been there the season before, shouted: Hunt here!
The wind was seldom right for this spot, but now it was. I walked into the timber with a nose wind, the sound of water dripping from the trees providing sufficient cover noise for me to slip up to the rub undetected. The fall conditions had produced a brilliant change in the foliage of the oaks and hickories. They were holding their leaves, making the walk into the timber like stepping in under a canopy.
The wind had switched and was now blowing out of the north. When I got to the rub, I considered continuing down the hill to where it was more open and I could see farther, but I let the thought pass. One evening a week before I'd sat by the rub, and while I'd seen only two does, I felt the spot would pay off over time.
Using screw-in steps to climb a mature oak, I positioned my portable stand. After settling in, I began imagining the deer that had been rubbing the tree and wondered if he would show up that evening.
I'd been on stand only 15 minutes before movement to my right roused me. There he was: a massive non-typical with a drop tine on each side!
From a reliable source, I had heard rumors of such a deer having been spotted in this section, and I'd hoped that this was his rub. Seeing him now after never having laid eyes on him amazed me, because I had hunted the area extensively with bow and shotgun for many years. He wasn't a fantasy after all, but flesh and bone and real.
The buck wasn't with a doe, which to me meant he was vulnerable. OK, I thought, time to go to work! But even though I'd had numerous "close encounters" with other big bucks over the years, my heart kicked into overdrive and I was hit with a major adrenalin rush when I realized that this deer might present me with a shot opportunity. The "stay calm, pick a spot" sticker on my quiver wasn't working. All I could think was: Get over here NOW! Let's finish this quick! One of us is going to die!
I watched the buck saunter along as he unknowingly made it play out the hard way. The rush began to subside as I realized he was angling past me and out of bow range. He was not heading to the rub.
I let the buck continue until I was sure he wasn't going to turn toward me without some coaxing. He was upwind, so that wasn't a factor yet. I had my bow in hand, ready to draw, as I grunted at him one time.
The buck immediately swung his head to orient his vision to the grunt's source. Unable to see the source of the grunt, he finally proceeded to chew on more leaves and rake another branch.
When the deer began moving away from me, I grunted again, this time a bit louder. It stopped the buck and made him look again, hard ... but still he wouldn't come. Knowing how a buck will respond to a good grunt, I was confident he'd eventually change direction to see which foolhardy inferior buck dared to invade his territory. I didn't panic.
Suddenly, I detected movement to my right again and looked down to see a much smaller buck walking up to my tree. At first I felt the situation was deteriorating, because I feared the little buck would wind me, because he was now only inches away from my screw-in steps and about 15 feet straight below me. Still, I knew I needed to grunt again.
Surprisingly, when I did, the little buck never even reacted. I quickly returned my attention to the non-typical, which was now down the hill to my left, and staring intently my way ... but still not coming.
With the little buck now acting as my live decoy, I gave a few more grunts. That did it. Asserting his dominance, the non-typical vigorously tore to pieces the nearest overhanging limb, then started toward "us" at a steady ground-eating pace. The little buck was in for a whipping.
Season after season we bowhunters endure extreme conditions, all in hopes of finding ourselves in such a scenario. This was my chance. As the huge buck started toward the deer that he must have viewed as a defiant juvenile, time slowed. An eterni
ty can be compressed into an encounter lasting only moments, as inevitable detection by the deer races against shot opportunity. Which will occur first?
With my "new best buddy" and the target of the non-typical's irritation literally beneath my feet, everything was going my way. But with the monster not yet arrowed, I shouldn't have been so confident.
At this point, it seemed nothing could go wrong. The shot would need to be taken as the buck was quartering slightly toward me, but I felt confident in my ability to hit just behind the right shoulder as he walked. It would have been a huge gamble, given my position, to wait any longer and expect a better shot before either deer winded me.
At full draw now, I settled my sight in on the buck's right lung as he closed to within only 10 yards of me. I triggered the release.
Something had gone very wrong, and I immediately knew what it was. At the instant I'd released, the buck had tilted his head and intercepted the broadhead in midflight with the 8-inch drop tine on his right antler!
The big deer bolted but only ran about 50 yards and stopped. As a medieval knight might fend off a blow with his shield, the buck had done so with his drop tine. And there was my arrow, now sticking up out of his rack like a new extremity!
On the emotional rollercoaster ride that is bowhunting, I was now on a plunge to the bottom. How could I have blown this opportunity? It was all over now. With the buck of a lifetime standing there, my arrow whipping around above his rack like a radio antenna as he turned his head, I felt like a novice. What a poor attempt. No deer was coming back after that, especially not a mature buck.
In retrospect, I'd hope that at this time I was keeping a positive attitude, thinking, Now I've got you right where I want you! or maybe, That's your warning - leave now or suffer the consequences. But in actuality, I was wondering who would answer my new classified ad: Slightly used left-handed bow, several assorted tree stands, 3-wheeler, membership in the Short Creek Hunting Lodge and '86 Ford Bronco II, all in 'cherry' condition. At that moment, for some reason, I'd lost my enthusiasm.
But as the buck walked away to the southeast, he wasn't in a hurry - and the little buck was still between us. Putting away thoughts of cutting my bowstring, I had a glimmer of hope that the big buck just might respond to the grunt call again, somehow holding the little buck responsible for all of his problems, and return to try sticking an arrow nock in his eye. In short, I had nothing to lose. I said to myself, Hold on just a minute, deer! I want that arrow back!
Not being one to dwell on the past, I produced my trusty call and gave a few grunts. What happened next was nothing short of divine intervention. The big deer stopped, looked back, turned and began to circle downwind of me. Cancel that classified ad! He's coming back!
I remember thinking, Can this really be? Something good is happening here. (The rollercoaster ride was now going up.) The little buck in submissive posture must have been saying, That wasn't me, boss; it's coming from over there!
I'd taken only two arrows with me that day, and my second was now nocked as I prayed for redemption. I wanted a second chance before the non-typical could get downwind. But at the same time, I felt detached from the drama that was unfolding.
As the bruiser circled on a collision course with my scent stream, I searched for a decent shot opportunity. But only very small holes for shot placement were available, and I held off. Then the unavoidable collision with my scent occurred. Abruptly, the big deer snapped to attention and looked straight toward me, head up and on full alert. Someone had invaded his sanctuary.
The non-typical had stopped at 40 yards downhill and between the "V" of two small trees. This was a much tougher shot than the first had been, but I decided to take it. With the dimming evening light in the timber, overcast skies, water dripping from the trees to the leaf-covered forest floor below and my first arrow still stuck in his antler, I drew my bow, hoping he would give me time before he ran.
In less time than it takes to explain, I settled the sight on the buck's exposed chest and released. The shot felt good, and the sound of the arrow hitting home reached my ears. He spun and ran, the little buck with him, tails flagging, but not traveling as fast as would be expected. I could see them for about 80 yards; then they were out of sight.
The woods went silent except for the distant flap of roosting turkeys and the drip of water on the leaves. I let out a deep breath and wondered how long I'd been holding it.
Wow! I thought. Did that really just happen? The only thing better would be to have it on video. Shaking, I scanned the area with my binoculars, looking for the arrow or the deer, all the while second-guessing my shot. It had felt good, but I hadn't actually seen the arrow hit.
I somehow stayed put for 30 minutes before quietly climbing down. In the faded light I slipped over to where the buck had been standing for the second shot, and within a few feet I could see blood splattered on the leaves along his exit route. That was a welcome sight, but given this buck's apparent ability to cheat death, I decided to back out for the time being. I was out of arrows and didn't want to push him.
The shock and despair of my first shot now had given way to cautious optimism. I'd been given a second chance. If the buck were dead, he'd still be there in the morning. If the hit had been marginal, I could only hope he would lie down right away and not end up hidden in one of the bottomless gullies that mark this terrain.
I returned to the lodge, and just as I arrived, Frank and his son David drove up. After I'd filled them in, we agreed that the weather was a factor in the decision of whether or not to trail the deer in the darkness. Fortunately, the Doppler radar indicated that no more precipitation was expected, so I decided not to look any more that evening. I'd return at first light.
All of the trials and tribulations of years of bowhunting were represented by the few seconds it took to take that last shot. I truly believe the Lord guided that second arrow. (The first one I did on my own.)
The hour drive home and the rest of the evening were filled with excitement and then doubt as I relived the events over and over in my mind. Relating the story to my wife, Helen, and our daughter, Sierra, brought me encouragement from them that I would find the deer. I resisted the urge to call and tell anybody else what had happened, however, given my intermittent pessimism.
I got a few hours of fitful sleep and arrived back at the scene with first light. There had been no more rain overnight.
As I walked into the timber, a deer ran off. Instantly, I was nervo
us. Approaching the tree where I had been on stand, I could see down the timbered hillside about 150 yards. There I spotted what looked like a deer's white belly, but I wasn't sure.
From the start of the blood trail the white patch ahead of me looked more promising, so I walked directly to it. There he was! The feeling at this moment has to be a hunter's best. (If you could just bottle it!)
I thanked God and looked his rack over, avoiding slicing myself with the 100-grain Thunderhead permanently imbedded dead center in his right drop tine. The arrow shaft had broken off at the insert as the deer had run under a limb. The second shot had hit him in the heart and had buried up to the fletching.
The next chore was at hand. I returned to the truck for my knife and camera. Shortly afterwards, Frank and David arrived and helped me drag out my trophy. He wasn't a big-bodied deer by local standards. The taxidermist, Joe Meder of Solon, estimated him to be 4 1/2 years old.
I had my deer measured at the Iowa Deer Classic in Des Moines in March, and the net score turned out to be 186 7/8 non-typical, after 8 5/8 inches of deductions. The basic 4x4 frame has a gross score of 160 4/8, and there are 35 0/8 inches of abnormal points, including those 8 7/8- and 7 4/8-inch drop tines.
Some say it was extremely lucky to have this buck return for a second shot. I feel another power assisted. Regardless, to have had the opportunity and to have had this final outcome was fantastic. However, I don't recommend using the "warning shot" method - it's just too stressful on all concerned!
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