Harrison County Longbow Monster!

Harrison County Longbow Monster!

Ben Hilt hunted his "Coal Mine Monarch" for three years before getting a shot at one of the biggest typical bucks taken by an archer in Ohio in 2008. (August 2009)

The dawn broke heavy with the promise of rain. A steady drizzle had been falling all night, and with the exception of one brief respite as I climbed into my tree stand, there was no reason to believe that I would not be facing another long, wet day in the woods.

For two years, I had stalked, photographed, videotaped and studied a particularly huge, typical buck. He had roamed within 500 yards of our cabin and left ample sign throughout his domain. Had I not had the pictures and video to prove that this giant of a buck did, in fact, exist, I might have thought him to be merely a hunter's mirage.

When I first saw the buck that I would come to know as the "Coal Mine Monarch," I estimated his weight to be in excess of 275 pounds and his rack to contain at least 13 points. He was definitely a buck worth pursuing.

His sign began to show up as early as 2007, but the nocturnal giant was nowhere to be found during daylight hours. That year the Monarch outfoxed me at every turn. He always avoided my stand and I suspected that he moved mostly under the cover of darkness. This Buckeye State bruiser seemed to taunt me by leaving a continuous string of sign, almost as if he knew I was after him,

My hunting cabin is in southeastern Ohio in the heart of the region's coal country. Rural Belmont and Harrison counties have long been big-time coal producers.

The ground that the Coal Mine Monarch called home is in the middle of numerous old mines, and he roamed that land unmolested until that warm September day in 2008 when his luck, and mine, finally changed.

Despite the rain, I heard him before I saw him. To my right I could hear the sound of a buck polishing his antlers on a nearby tree. Through the mist approximately 30 yards into the brush, I could just make out the outline of a deer.

I held my breath.

The big buck was almost in range as he moved away from his rub. Directly to my front, I had cleared an area about 10 yards wide. The trail he was taking would put him 17 yards in front of me, well within my skill level and the capability of my bow.

He continued moving slowly through the thick underbrush. My heart was pounding in my ears and my forehead was growing warm. Every ounce of my attention came to bear on my quarry.

I readied my bow. The buck took another step forward.

"Breathe . . . relax . . ." I told myself, over and over.

I knew I had to be absolutely sure of my shot. I had no desire to wound this majestic creature and I knew that an arrow shot out of range, or a shot taken too slowly or too fast, would certainly send the buck on a cross-country run that could result in a slow, painful death.

His next step would bring him into my shooting lane. His head emerged and I drew my bow, ready for the shot. Just then, I heard another sound to my right. My eyes and my head turned reflexively to see the source of the sound. It was another buck, but a much smaller buck! He was following in the hoof prints of my buck.

Realizing that I had just made a rookie mistake, I quickly snapped my head back to my intended target. Of course, he was gone!

It was all I could do to stifle an exasperated scream as disappointment and anger over my mistake rose within me. To my left, I could make out the outline of the big buck in brush too thick for me to take a safe shot. I smiled. He had outsmarted me yet again. To my right I heard the oncoming smaller buck. I looked again to the clearing where the monarch had stood and now I could see his head up and looking back over his shoulder.

He had not realized that the second buck was following him. Now, whether by sight, smell or sound -- or by some other sixth sense known to beasts of the woods -- he detected something behind him, and to my surprise began to back up! He never turned around. Instead, with his head looking back over his shoulder, he slowly backed into the clearing, his full attention on the smaller buck.

It was more than I had a right to ask for!

On this day, the hunting gods decided to be exceedingly kind to me, for reasons I could not imagine.

The big buck backed almost dead center into my shooting lane.

My bow came up smoothly and I pulled the string to its anchor point at my cheek. My eyes focused on a spot no larger than a pinhead on the animal's rib cage. That is where I wanted to place my arrow.

My heartbeat slowed, my breathing stilled, everything slowed down. There was no rain, no other buck, nothing that I could feel or see except the arrow in the grasp of my fingers and the heartbeat of the buck in front of me.

I released the 650-grain arrow tipped with a Snuffer broadhead. I heard a dull thud as the arrow struck dead center, precisely where I had intended it to hit. The buck gave a startled jump and then shot off down the trail in the direction he had originally been moving.

The calm was over. Adrenaline surged into my body and my knees and hands began to shake. I followed the running buck with my eyes for as long as I could, until I lost him crashing through the brush.

Climbing down from my tree stand, I stood looking in the direction the Monarch had run. I knew the shot had been a kill shot, and that the big buck could not possibly go far. My immediate impulse was to run and chase the deer down. I had almost lost a trophy buck once because of such a novice mistake, however, and I had no intention to lose one now.

I took a deep breath, allowing the cool air to clear my head and calm my body. Next, I called my cousin Rob Hilt, and my hunting partner, Mike Rizzo. Not only were these two hunters expert trackers, I knew if they were present, they would prove to be sound "voices of reason."

From what I could tell, there was a solid blood trail that indicated the wound was mortal. If I pursued the buck too soon, I might spook him while he still had the ability to run. I had no desire to track him into the next county, so I waited.

Two hours later, my

partners and I had followed the blood trail about 150 yards. I was amazed that the big buck could have traveled so far with such a wound. I began to doubt my own shot, my own memory of the hit.

We reached a spot where the buck had doubled back toward my tree stand. Following the trail another 25 yards, Mike said excitedly, "There he is!"

Directly in front of us, the Monarch lay on the ground, his eyes watching our movements. He was still alive! To my astonishment, he rose from the ground next to a large tree. He looked at us with arrogant distain.

We all stopped in our tracks in utter disbelief as the big buck turned and began walking away from us, his head lowered, as if he knew his time was short.

I stepped forward to follow, but Mike placed a hand on my forearm to stop me.

"Wait," he said quietly. "Let him go. He's just looking for a place to lie down and die."

The buck moved off about 25 more feet and dropped out of sight. Mike and Rob held me in check. For 45 long minutes, we waited.

We finally found the buck a short distance down the trail. At last, the Monarch was mine! His main beams measured over 24 inches. With an inside spread of 17 1/8 inches, G-3s at 10 inches and a net typical score of 167 5/8, he was definitely the buck of a lifetime.

Excitement about my kill and pride in my trophy changed to a sudden sense of melancholy and despondency. Where would I go from here? How would I ever top this hunt?

Suddenly the answer was clear. My 6-six-year-old son, Hayden, had killed his first buck earlier that season, a nice 8-pointer. I felt better knowing that some day Hayden, too, would get a chance to arrow his own Coal Mine Monarch!

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