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noun: dream; plural noun: dreams
– an unrealistic or self-deluding fantasy.
That’s what it felt like. A dream. That’s the first thing that ran through my mind. I had to be dreaming. I was in a state of shock unlike any other feeling I’ve ever had after releasing an arrow.
“There’s no way that just happened,” I said to myself.
I was in complete and utter disbelief. I knew I had just seen it with my own two eyes, but my brain couldn’t comprehend what had just transpired.
This was my reaction after sticking a 145″ main frame ten point with a Rage Hypodermic just three hours into my 2015 season. Most of you reading this know the feeling you get after watching your arrow hit it’s mark on a big game animal. It’s special. Emotions sweep over you and flood your body. It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world. Words just come up short when you try to describe it. I’ve been fortunate enough to harvest a great number of big game animals in my 23 short years on this Earth, but I have never, NEVER, felt the way I did the night I arrowed the buck I’ve dubbed, “Mr. Unbelievable.”
The morning of October 6th came fast… too fast. My 5 a.m. alarm was echoed by a pounding in my head, and my eyes burned from all the sleep I didn’t just get. The night before I had been truck shopping two hours away, and my brain was about to burst from searching the internet for the perfect deal for the past three weeks. Nothing about that morning made me want to crawl out of bed. I’ve never been so unmotivated to wake up on a day I knew I was going hunting. After getting home at 11 p.m. the night before, I still had to pack all my gear up and load it into the truck for the next day. This was going to be my first hunt of the season. Every hunter knows the first hunt of the season you’re going to forget something, and you’re always so unprepared no matter how much prep you do prior to the season. None of my cameras were charged, everything was scattered and impossible to find, and I had to bring so much extra gear with me because I was heading straight out after work rather than coming home first. I was bound to forget something.
As the work day drug on, my patience grew thin. I had curbed my drowsiness with a 5-hour energy, which then sparked my eagerness to get out in the woods. I would be hunting a new property that I had never set foot on. I would’ve been like a kid on Christmas with his presents, had I seen trail cam pictures of all the goodies underneath the wrapping paper. Although I, myself had never been on this piece of ground, my good buddy Zack had scouted it and managed it since the spring. The week prior Zack had mentioned, “This property hasn’t been hunted in three years, and the last buck taken off of it scored over 180 inches…” He had my attention. Zack then continued to send me trail cam picture after trail cam picture of different bucks all over 140″. There were at least seven or eight giants he had caught on his camera within the last month. I couldn’t believe the amount of shooters he had running around this property consistently, and during daylight hours nonetheless! After mentioning what I would call, “classified information,” he was kind enough to invite me to try and harvest one of his hit list bucks since he had already filled his tag for the year. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
These are just two of a plethora of trail cam pictures Zack had sent me. You can see why I was licking my chops on the way to the stand.
As we embarked onto the property you could feel the anticipation in all of us. Zack’s younger brother, Kris, would also be hunting that evening while Zack ran camera for me. Kris would be over looking a bottom hay field from a blind, while Zack and I made the journey up the ridge to hunt a stand that sat in a row of honey locust trees. As we crossed a small creek we watched Kris make his way down the woods line towards the blind, and wished him good luck.
The strategy we had going in seemed to be the best chance for at least one of us to see a shooter. With a Northwest wind that evening, we could hunt both the blind and the ridge stand while being the least detected by deer moving through the area. The trail camera pictures still had me geeked out as to what might walk by that evening, but my personal standards stayed true, any buck over 140″ and at least four and a half years old that walked within bow range wasn’t leaving without a Rage flung at him.
When we finally made our way to the stand the heat had taken it’s toll. With highs in the mid 70’s that evening, my face paint started to run down my face like mascara on an upset prom date. I wiped my brow, and climbed the tree to hang a camera stand for Zack. Luckily, Zack had packed in a hand saw because the only place I could hang the stand hosted a huge grape vine in it’s path. Now, after completing the chore of hanging his stand, I was really drenched. In my haste I could see the sweat dripping from my hat, and feel it running down my face and back. As I finally settled in the stand at approximately 4:15 p.m. to try and cool off I realized… the wind wasn’t right. Instead of a Northwest wind as promised by the four weather predictions I checked, it was blowing out of the East.
“No way we see a deer now,” I thought to myself.
To top it off, just as I pulled my release out of my pocket my Dead Down Wind chap stick that had been nestled in there as well, plummeted to the ground. It seemed as if the evening had been cursed from the get go. High hopes from earlier that day had turned to disappointment.
In the midst of my discouragement, I still tried to enjoy the evening. Since it was the first time being back in a stand since my bear hunt in June, I was soaking it all in. Enjoying the moment. The saying really holds true. Even with the worst of luck, “A bad day of hunting is still better than a good day at work.” Little did I know in just a few short hours this evening would turn into a blessed day to be in the woods. For the first few hours I just enjoyed the scenery. We were set in a split trunk honey locust. Behind me, and to Zack’s left sat a freshly plowed field. The stand shadowed a 20 yard-wide strip of green grass that rose approximately 10 inches off the ground. On the opposing side of the strip was a wooded lot broken up by a giant power line that cut through just 80 yards to my right. From what I could see, the deer were using that line of honey locusts to come out of a huge wood lot which is just thick and nasty (perfect for bedding and cover), and then cutting back into the woods just in front of the stand to head down into the bottom where Kris was set up. Because of the power line being wide open just past the stand, it almost made the stand location a pinch point. This forces the deer to give you a shot before heading into the woods to make their way to the bottoms for the night. It would’ve been perfect, had the wind been blowing the right direction.
As the evening went on and the sun made it’s escape for the tree line, it became apparent the heat had played a factor on the deer movement. It was coming up on 6:00 p.m. and we had yet to see even a glimpse of a deer. Just then, I heard some movement across the strip in the thicket. Out walked a year and a half old buck followed by a button buck and his mother. The three deer made their way across the strip and circled just behind us. They munched on honey locust pods as they milled their way around into the plowed field behind us to my right. As the deer left our sight, it was almost like a light switch had be flipped. The wind which was once blowing in from the East, had switched completely around to what the forecast had called for. It was almost as if those three deer had switched the wind around for us. Things were looking up.
With the wind now at a steady Northwest, my hopes began to climb again. The next hour was filled with hopes of a bruiser stepping out behind every tree I scanned. At almost 7:00 p.m. on the dot, my peacefulness was interrupted by a quick nudge to my arm.
“There’s a deer,” Zack said. “And it has a huge body!”
As I looked up the strip of grass about 200 yards away I could see just glimpses of a deer’s body among the honey locust branches.
“With a body like that, that deer has to have a head set,” I told Zack.
We watched to deer slowly mill it’s way toward the plowed field. Just as it reached the field edge another deer stepped out. By now we’ve determined the first one was in fact a buck, and the second one just happened to be too. The two bucks walked out into the field slowly, as if with no purpose. Now, being able to see the first buck in the clearing we could both make out distinct points and rack features. I knew then, being able to distinguish those from that distance, it was a good buck. The two slowly started making their way down the line of honey locusts in our direction. With my focus on the first buck, Zack spotted another buck bringing up the rear. As the bucks moved closer I could now make out the first buck in line was the biggest. The second looked to be a three and a half year old while the third looked like a two and a half.
With my bow already in hand from when they first popped out, the bucks drew closer. I could feel my heart starting to beat faster and faster while I still wasn’t sure if the first buck was a shooter or not. But I just had a feeling. Somewhere deep down inside me I knew the moment of truth was coming. As the first buck cut back into the strip in front of us I knew he was a shooter. An almost perfectly symmetrical main frame ten with good 3’s and good main beams. I knew he was a mature animal. He stood now just forty-five yards away behind a honey locust munching on the sweet, pulp-filled pods they drop every year at this time. That moment seemed like an eternity as though he was never going to step into the clearing in front of me. With it being very open in front of me I knew it was going to be tough to draw on him without being pinned. I leaned over and whispered to Zack who had a better view of the buck, “When he goes to step out, tell me so I can draw.”
I made ready for whenever he would give me the go-ahead. I felt like a horse at the Kentucky Derby just itching for that gate to drop. Dead silence was broken by that one word I needed to hear, “Now!,” Zack whispered. I drew my Mathews Creed smooth and still. I touched my anchor point, and found the buck walking in my sight window. He was quartering to me at too steep of an angle. He was closing fast, 40…35…30. Zack was filming every step. I was just about to swing my broadhead around the other trunk of the tree to my right when he turned and stopped, almost as if it were meant to be. At 25 yards I settled my 20 yard pin just behind the shoulder, midway up his side. I don’t even remember the release going off. The next thing I remember is seeing my red nock gliding through the air towards the buck. The Rage stuck in him right where I had settled the pin. In an instant, the buck lunged forward and sped down into the woods in front of us, wielding my arrow from his right side.
At that moment, was when the dream set in. Reality became skewed, and both of us could not believe what he just happened. I raised my bow to the sky and pumped my fist like Kirk Gibson rounding second base. I turned to Zack as he was shouting, “You smoked him, you smoked him!”
A cool shot of my lighted nock and “Mr. Unbelievable” just milliseconds before arrow impact.
I gave him a huge high-five, and continued to celebrate. I had never felt that way after harvesting an animal. It almost felt as though I was going to throw up. I don’t know if it was the lack of food in my stomach, or the emotions running through my body. Probably a combination of both. I put my hands on my knees as I could not fathom what had just happened. For all you experienced hunters out there, you know it’s not supposed to happen like this. You pray and pray it does every time you step in the woods, but it just doesn’t happen. Never, does a giant buck like that follow the script like you want them to. Never, have I seen a buck walk right in, three hours into my season and stop at 25 yards for a shot. It was meant to be. There’s no other explanation. It was truly unbelievable.
After sharing a few post-hunt words on camera we decided it’d be best just to meet Kris back at the truck. My heart fluttered the whole way back just anxious to go find my quarry. After finding out Kris has seen a giant, but had no shot, we gathered some lights and more camera gear together and headed back up. I had shot “Mr. Unbelievable” at approximately 7:10 p.m., and by the time we made it back to the stand it was almost 8:30. So he had plenty of time to expire. As we looked for blood, and the buck’s trail into the woods we weren’t finding much. Figuring it was a lung hit, I knew we might not find some right away.
We dove down into the woods where we had seen the buck run on film. Finally after about fifteen yards, we were on blood. Not a lot, but enough to track. For the next 100 yards we just found drops. I mean little, tiny specks of blood. I found my arrow about thirty yards into the woods. It was soaked with what looked to be lung blood up the shaft about 12 inches. Plenty of penetration to kill even the toughest of deer. The only problem is that he only had one hole in him. Because the broadhead had hit the opposite shoulder and bounced out, he was only bleeding on his right side…and not a lot. With the shot location I knew he had to be dead. The shot was slightly quartering to, but not much. And maybe a touch higher than mid-body but no more than an inch. It was definitely a lung hit, but he was bleeding mostly internally. It was going to be a tough find.
Shown here is a recreation of the shot I put on “Mr. Unbelievable.” Just as I would find when it came time to field dress him, the Shot Simulator states it was a double lung hit.
An hour went by, and we had tracked specks of blood out to the power line. He had only gone 100 yards at this point, if that. Now came the tricky part. It would be nearly impossible to follow his blood across the power line so we began checking every opening on the opposing side, hoping to find kick up marks or blood leading down into the woods. Nothing. My guess was he dove straight across and down in, but we couldn’t find anything the first 10 yards or so into the woods on the other side. We needed a new plan.
Zack had mentioned there was that same creek we crossed going into the stand that evening down at the bottom of this woods lot. He thought maybe the buck had went to it before expiring. We knew he was dead, so we decided to make one clean sweep in this woods lot looking for a body. If we didn’t find him, we’d back out until morning. By this time, we had more recruits show up. Both Zack and I’s dads showed up just in time to head into the bottom strip of woods. So we split up. Zack, Kris and their dad, Mitch, were headed towards the creek, while my father, Joe, and I checked the shelf above the creek. After about 75 yards of making a half circle I looked down, and there was a blood clot. Unbelievably, we had stumbled upon his trail again. Everything about this buck was becoming harder and harder to believe. As I shouted down to those guys, they shouted back they had blood too! As we made our way down the hill we kept finding more and more blood as we stayed on the buck’s trail. I told my dad, “As much as he’s dumping it out now, they’d have to be almost on top of him.”
The blood was really coming out now. When we reached those guys they all just stared at me. While trying to not grin, Zack finally spoke up, “Just kidding. He’s right there!”
Looking at an overhead view of the property, you can see where we entered the stand, represented by the green line. Mr. Unbelievable’s line of travel is represented by the blue line. The red line shows where he ran after impact of the arrow which was about 300 yards. You can see where he finally went down was just shy of 100 yards from where Kris was hunting in the blind.
I turned to the creek to see my buck had expired right in the creek bed just as Zack had said. Again, the night’s roller coaster reached one of it’s highs. I was on cloud nine. From thinking there’s no way we were going to see a deer that evening, to arrowing this buck, back down to doubting if we were going to find him, to now being just as excited as I always am after finding my quarry. He was a stud! And what a body on him for early season! We all celebrated in that creek bed together. These were very special moments. It was a quest for all of us to find this buck.
In the midst of celebration, comradery, and the delicate process of picture taking, I realized what this buck meant to me, and what his name should forever be. But “Mr. Unbelievable isn’t just a silly or cool name to give to an animal just because of his stature. It describes every moment, every second of what this hunt was like. And to me, it still feels like a dream. From the amazing trail cam pictures Zack was pulling off his cameras, to the string of bad luck we had to start the evening, to the fact this buck followed the script better than any actor in Hollywood, to all the blood we didn’t find and the doubts that came with that, to finally putting my hands on yet another incredible creation by God. Every fiber of this hunt, was unbelievable. The fact I got to spend it with my friends and my father was just icing on the cake. I just hope one day all of you, can somehow harvest your, “Mr. Unbelievable.”
“Mr. Unbelievable” in his glory. Almost perfectly symmetrical from side to side. Only having 3 inches of total deductions on his green score.
“Mr. Unbelievable” scored 145″ gross, and was estimated a whopping 300 lbs live weight. He was never officially weighed.
The footage of this buck will hopefully be picked up by a television show in the next year, and I will be sure to share with everyone the date it will air. Good luck the rest of this season. Hunt hard, but hunt smart!