SECOND “ONCE IN A LIFETIME” BUCK
By Julie Johnson
One snap of a twig gave me an opportunity that may only come once in my lifetime and my love for bow hunting is to blame. To say that I’m addicted to bow hunting is an understatement. I absolutely can’t wait until the first glimpse of fall arrives because I know it will be time to climb into a tree stand and spend some quality time with nature. My husband Rob is completely responsible for my love of hunting, especially bow hunting. Before we were married nearing 30 years ago, I had barely touched a gun let alone know what a compound bow was. My family never hunted and the only gun my dad owned was an old rusted .22 rifle given to him by his father. Rob had grown up hunting and enjoying everything nature has to offer. He has shared that love with me, with our daughter and our two sons. When our children were little he talked me into going deer hunting one shotgun season, we had a lot of fun hunting together and I shot my first deer, a small 8 point buck. I loved deer hunting from the start but I hated the cold weather that Iowa experiences during the shotgun season. After several years I was lucky enough to shoot a huge non-typical deer, a once in a lifetime buck or at least that’s what I thought. After that year, both boys were old enough to hunt and since our daughter didn’t like to hunt I decided to let the boys spend time together hunting while our daughter and I spent time together. After all I had shot a buck many would never even see in a lifetime; it would be hard for me to ever top that deer.
Every year as the kids got older Rob and the boys would head off every season, shotgun, muzzleloader and bow seasons to hunt the great whitetail deer. They came home with so many stories and a lot of nice deer. We live in the heartland of the US in Southern Washington County, Iowa where the corn and bean fields are plentiful and the habitat is great for growing large whitetail deer. I missed being out enjoying nature but raising three children took up a lot of my time and I never wanted to miss any of their activities.
Once all the kids were through school and Rob and I became “empty nesters” Rob bought me my first bow a Bear Apprentice. He started teaching me all about what it takes to be a bow hunter. We practiced shooting off the deck of our house at deer decoys set up in the yard for hours. He taught me how to pull back with little movement, how to aim and how far a safe shot was for me. Finally the season opened, after my first morning of sitting in the tree stand with my bow I was hooked. I loved the beautiful fall weather, the turning leaves and the warmer temperatures that the shotgun season failed to offer. I loved that Rob and I could both enjoy being in the timber together and not have to worry that we were leaving the kids behind. I don’t think I ever even pulled my bow back the first year I hunted but I still loved hunting.
The second season came and went and even though I was able to pull back on a couple of nice bucks, I missed my mark always learning a valuable lesson in the process. Bow hunting is all about opportunity and doing everything perfect to get the best shot and it just wasn’t to be that year. The next summer rolled around and I continued to practice hoping it would be my lucky year. I finally got a perfect opportunity late one Sunday night when Rob and I were hunting together. He sat in a tree stand several yards from me and we both saw a nice 8 pointer coming right towards me. My heart started pounding so hard I thought for sure it would scare the deer away. The wait for that deer to make his way by my stand was excruciating. I knew Rob was watching me through his binoculars and when the deer got to the point where I thought I could draw back my arrow, I couldn’t get the bow pulled back! We had sat for several hours in cold weather and I was just too stiff. It happens I guess, but I kept my cool and when the deer looked the other way I tried again and was able to pull back and take a good shot and I missed. He walked off towards where Rob was sitting but he couldn’t get a good shot. I was so disappointed yet I wasn’t about to give up on the sport I loved. That miss, I would find out later that week was meant to be and turned out to be a lucky miss.
November 1, 2012 was an absolutely beautiful fall day with temperatures in the 60’s and the sun shining bright! I was working and decided I just couldn’t pass up the beautiful day sitting in the office. I took off early, ran home, showered, put on my hunting clothes, sprayed down, and headed to my stand by 2:30 all by myself since both boys and my husband were working. It had been a crazy day at the office and I was excited to have some quite time in the timber. I knew there were several nice bucks in the area since we had hunted the area a lot. I had shot a nice buck with my muzzleloader the week before, from the same stand I would settle in, and my son had shot a buck a few nights before out of one of the other stands on the fence line. I had the choice of three different tree stands all which sit along a cornfield that had been harvested. I had hunted out of the middle stand before but thought I might try a different stand because of the wind direction but at the last minute I decided to climb into the middle stand since I was so comfortable in it. I settled in and began to wait.
As the sun started going down I stopped my book and started watching for deer to come out of the timber. It’s so fun to watch for the deer, you can be watching, not seeing anything and then all of a sudden they just appear out of nowhere. Whitetail deer are such beautiful, quiet creatures so fun to just sit and watch. Several jumped out right at the stand I had thought about sitting in, two were nice 8 pointers and they started moving my way. At this point in time I just wanted to harvest a deer, I wasn’t going to be picky, and I just hoped something would come close enough for me to shoot. I can only pull back 50 lbs so I needed for the deer to be close so I could get an accurate shot to get enough penetration to kill. I stood up in my stand got my bow down from the bow hook and was ready for whatever presented itself. I kept my eye on the two nice bucks just to my left waiting for them to work themselves to my stand. Then the snap of the twig!
That snap of the twig startled me as it was so close. I slowly turned my head and looked down to see a deer with a huge rack standing right under my stand looking out into the field. The deer already in the field had his full attention. Made me a true believer in the lesson my husband taught me about showering with scent free soap before hunting, using scent blocker spray and wearing my scent lock suit, that huge deer had no idea I was just 20 feet above him. I have no idea where he came from but it was obvious he came out of the timber right behind me and I didn’t have a clue he was there. All I could think about was “ok this is MY opportunity, stay calm, when he jumps the fence, pull back.” I hooked onto my nock and waited for him to make his move. I prayed that I would be able to pull my bow back as I had been sitting there awhile but it was warm and I didn’t have a lot of clothes on. When he leaned back to jump, I pulled back, turned, aimed and made what I thought was a perfect shot. The buck took off and rain about forty yards out into the open corn field. I was shaking so hard I could hardly contain myself. I hooked my bow on its holder and got my binoculars. The buck just stood there broadside and I could see that I had a perfect hit but I could also see my arrow sticking out about six inches. I couldn’t see any blood and I was scared he was going to run off. I could also see that his rack was huge, with lots of points and a drop tine. By this time the other deer in the field had started moving towards him and he still just stood there. All of a sudden he fell over and the other deer in the field ran. I absolutely could not believe the experience I had just had and wanted the moment to last forever.
I kept watching him through my binoculars thinking he was going to jump up and run but he didn’t. I sat down after what seemed like forever and tried to relax a bit. I texted my husband and sons and told them I had just killed the “monster buck” but I didn’t want them coming in to the area until dark because the other deer had come back into the open field. Once dark, they drove up into the cornfield picked up the buck and took us both home. The entire time from the first time I saw the buck until it fell over was all of about 3 minutes, a short time that will be sketched into my memory forever.
The final score on my 14 pointer was 179 7/8 gross with a Pope and Young final score of 151 3/8 with both main beams measuring 26 3/8. Not the largest deer in the record book, but like my youngest son told me “Mom, it’s your second once in a lifetime buck.” My beautiful Whitetail hangs over my desk as I write and looking at him reminds me of a beautiful November day in the timber. It’s a great deer but the memory of sneaking away from my busy job and sitting on the edge of that cornfield on a beautiful autumn day watching nature at its finest made the day complete. The lesson of the snapping twig stayed with me. Now I always try to listen for those twigs in my life to snap, you just never know what opportunities you might be given and you have to be ready to take advantage of them.