A Big Bow Buck from the Bay

A Big Bow Buck from the Bay

Sometimes trophy bucks show up at the darnedest times. Just ask Bay City's Don Baldwin.

By Richard P. Smith

Don Baldwin from Bay City bagged the highest-scoring non-typical bow kill on record for Bay County on Oct. 17, 2002. According to state record-keeper Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM), the 23-point antlers have a gross score of 205 and net 192 2/8 inches.

The previous No. 1 non-typical archery buck from that county is a 17-pointer arrowed by Paul Mickey during 1982. That rack nets 184 3/8. Mickey still holds the county- and state-record titles for the all-time highest-scoring non-typical, a 29-pointer he shot with a rifle in 1976 that scores 238 2/8.

If things had worked out a little differently, Baldwin could have claimed the title to the county's best non-typical bow kill a year earlier, and if he had succeeded in doing so he thinks the antlers would have scored higher. Baldwin first saw the deer on Nov. 4, 2001. He was on the ground in a line of trees between a pair of fields when the buck popped out 100 yards away.

"I got down on my hands and knees and started rattling and grunting," Baldwin said. "I got my bow ready and he was right on top of me. I was so excited about the possibility of getting such a close shot at the trophy buck that I got hit with a bad case of buck fever and had a hard time getting the string back on my 70-pound-pull bow.

"The buck saw me move and started to leave, but he only went 20 yards before stopping," Baldwin said. "I still couldn't get a shot, though, and he eventually disappeared into the woods. Then I resumed rattling and calling, and the buck came back in the open again, but he never got within bow range after he reappeared.

Don Baldwin's buck has a final score of 198 2/8 non-typical inches. Photo courtesy of Don Baldwin

"I was messing around with the buck for about 15 minutes and got a pretty good look at him. I'm convinced that when I saw him during 2001 he had a lot bigger antlers than when I got him."

The big buck was spotted again on Nov. 5 by Baldwin's wife. She had seen it previously, too, and told her husband about it. Despite his best efforts, Baldwin never got another chance at the buck of a lifetime during the fall of 2001.

Baldwin started bowhunting when he was 12 years old and he was 31 last fall when he got his book buck, so it was his 20th year of hunting whitetails with archery equipment. He had taken two other bucks with bow and arrow prior to 2002. Both were 8-pointers.

As the 2002 bow deer season neared, Baldwin had seen three good bucks in the area he hunts. They included a pair of 8s, one of which had a 20-inch spread, and a 10-pointer. He wondered what happened to the whopper he had come close to getting a shot at the year before.

Then on Sept. 30 he saw the deer again. It was in the area and he decided to concentrate on trying to accomplish what he had failed to do the year before. He put a tree stand in the same location where he had rattled the buck in during 2001. The stand was in a tree about 15 yards from the edge of the field that the buck had crossed in response to the rattling.

He planned on hunting every day of the season, if necessary, to get the buck. Starting Oct. 1, he hunted every day after he got off work. He was usually in his tree stand by 4 p.m. and stayed until dark.

On the evening of Oct. 7, Baldwin was doing some rattling and calling that attracted the buck's interest, but it came in behind him and detected his presence, eliminating any chance for a shot. It would be 10 days later before he would see the buck again. And when Baldwin did see the buck, it was when he least expected to. The deer caught him off guard, but in spite of the awkward circumstances he managed to take advantage of the opportunity to accomplish his goal.

"All I saw on the evening of Oct. 17 were a doe and two fawns," Baldwin said. "They came out in a different place than they normally do. By then I was familiar with most of the deer that visited the fields to feed and I recognized that family group. Light was fading for the day and I decided to call it quits. Besides the fact I didn't think I was going to see anything else, I had to empty my bladder.

"I had climbed out of the tree and was in the process of taking care of business when I looked over my right shoulder and saw a deer coming across the field. I thought it was a doe at first, but then I saw antlers on the deer's head. Big antlers."

For the second time in two years, Baldwin was on the ground in the same place with the buck of his dreams bearing down on him. Only this time, the archer was less prepared than he had been the year before. But the buck's interest was different this time, too. The whitetail was intent on feeding and wasn't looking for a pair of bucks fighting like he had been the year before.

"The buck was within 10 yards of me before I was able to turn around," Baldwin continued. "By then my heart was beating like crazy. I remember some guy on the Outdoor Channel saying he doesn't take a shot until his heart rate calms down. I started talking to myself to help calm down. Concentrating on what I had to do helped.

"I still had my rattling antlers around my neck and my bow was still attached to the rope I had lowered it on. Fortunately, there was some thick brush between me and the buck, and he started feeding. I had also cleared the leaves and brush away from the base of the tree I was in, which helped reduce the chances of making noise.

"I slowly knelt down and carefully removed the antlers from around my neck, trying to be as quiet as possible. I made a little bit of noise when I put the antlers aside and the buck looked up, but I froze and he soon went back to feeding. I was so determined to get this buck that I concentrated on doing what I had to do to get a shot. I didn't want to let another opportunity like this slip away when he was so close.

"Then I unclipped my bow from the rope and he looked toward me again. The same thing happened after I put an arrow on the string, but I froze again until he went back to eating. The final step was putting my release on the string.

"I was amazed the buck was still there when I was ready to shoot," Baldwin continued. "Even though I was doing my best to avoid spooking the deer, in the back of my mind I was afraid he was going to leave before I could get a shot. There was an 8-inch hole in the brush between me and the buck. I found that hole when I came to full draw and released when my pin was behind his shoulder.

"I said, 'Yes!' when I heard the arrow hit and started j

umping up and down. Then I realized I had better try to watch where the buck was going and ran out of the woods to see where he went. By the time I got out into the open, the deer was already out of the field."

Neighbor Bud Lesor helped Baldwin look for the buck. They found a good blood trail where the deer entered a two-track in thick woods. Both men were surprised at the dimensions of the buck's antlers when they found him.

"I never knew the buck had that many points," Baldwin said. "I knew the antlers were big, and then was concentrating on shooting him."

The second time obviously proved to be the charm. The trophy buck had a dressed weight of 207 pounds. The deer not only took first place in a big-buck contest held annually by Bay Archery in Bay City, but it also drew loads of onlookers to the store when it was registered. Since the bow that Baldwin shot the buck with has a 65 percent let-off, the rack can also be entered in national bowhunting records maintained by the Pope and Young Club.

(Editor's note: For more reading about Michigan's big bucks, refer to Books 1, 2 and 3 of Great Michigan Deer Tales. Each book includes chapters about the top bucks taken with bow and gun from our state. The books are available from bookstores, as well as some sporting goods and gift shops. Autographed copies can be ordered from Smith Publications, 814 Clark St., Marquette, MI 49855. Books 2 and 3 are $16.50 postpaid and Book 1 is $15.50. The three-book set can be ordered for $40.)

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