The Story Of Eastside

Clae Mathis | August 21, 2023

The story of the Eastside 9 began way back in 2017. I was videoing my hunts off of a cheap camcorder back then, and I got some videos of a young buck. This young buck had obviously gone under a barbed wire fence or something because he had a section of fur missing on his back. That missing patch would help me identify him for the rest of his life. I videoed him a lot in 2017 and 2018. He was always with another buck that we named Rocket. My son, Charlie, shot Rocket this past season as at least a 7.5 year old, maybe even an 8.5 year old. Anyway, when I was videoing the buck with the missing patch of fur on his back, I had him as a 2.5 year old in 2017. He was definitely a slow growing buck because each year, he only changed a little. He never got that much bigger. In 2020, which was the first year we started the channel on Youtube, he made his way onto the shooter list just because he was mature. His rack wasn’t small, but I had bigger bucks to hunt that year, and I wound up passing him several times. Even in 2020, three years after I saw him for the first time, the patch of fur was still missing. I wound up tagging out on two different bucks in 2020. Those stories were started and finished right in the middle of the saga of the Eastside 9.

The story picks up in the summer of 2021. I got pictures of the Eastside 9 in July, and this time he was a nice 10. The same patch of fur was missing on his back. He was now at least a 6 year old buck. He had truly been on our property all his life. The weird thing about him was that he bedded in an area where no other deer were known to bed. I have watched him get up from where he was bedding and walk into eat in front of me many times. 2021 was the year that I was finally going to make him a priority. The first buck that I hunted that year, though, was named Major. I videoed Major and Eastside both in velvet before the season started. That video is on the channel, as well. It was a fun evening videoing both bucks I wound up taking that year plus Hook who I was able to take the next year. Major was a 4.5 year old 8-point that had crazy long brow tines. His story and hunt was an adventure in itself. My mission for him was a little bit of revenge as well because he had blown at me the year before when I was hunting a monster buck. That buck whose name was Dude, was walking in to eat in front of me, and Major scared him away. I never saw him in daylight again. I was able to complete the revenge tour on him during the first hunt of the year. The main reason I hunted him before Eastside is that he was on camera in daylight 37 out of 39 days in a row leading up to the evening I shot him. Once I shot him, I immediately began the next weekend hunting for Eastside. During the summer Eastside bumped into something and knocked a couple of his tines over while in velvet. They wound up staying like that when he went hard horned as well. He was a unique buck at this point, and the hunt for him definitely going to be a wild one.

The hardest part of hunting a buck that has been on your property that many years is that even though it’s our property, it’s his home. He knew the property much better than I did. The first hunt for him was the second week of bow season. At the time , I was still coaching football, so I could only hunt on Saturdays. The first Saturday I hunted him was six days after I killed Major. I was sitting there, and it was getting close to dark he appeared to my right. He was coming straight to the food plot like many deer had before him. The direction that he’s coming he has to clear two pine trees before I can shoot him. He cleared the first one and then he stopped at the second one. A doe that was behind me began blowing. She could see me as I picked up my bow because the zipper in my blind was broken. He left as soon as he heard her blow. One week later I was after him again. This time, early in the hunt, he showed up out in front of me across what we call the runway. The runway runs parallel to the pines, and many times deer walk down it to the food plot. Eastside always crossed the runway into the pines and followed a trail in the pines. His older age is probably what caused this. He was always very careful before coming out in the open. This time it took him a while to get there, but he appeared inside of 20 yards for the second Saturday in a row. This time he was walking faster like he was on a mission. He made it to the second pine tree before the food plot in good time, but hit the breaks again. He froze and it was just like he knew something was up. He left again. Back to back weeks now, he had taken off on me inside of 20 yards. I hunted him a few more times before it turned into our fall break from school. I didn’t have any football practice, so I was off the whole week. I planted my food plots on Monday, and then went back after him that week. Tuesday evening I went hunting with a Muzzleloader for the first time that year. Right at last light, Eastside made another appearance. If you are keeping count, this is now the third time I have seen him while hunting. He walks out into the food plot, and wound up giving me a good shot. I pulled the trigger and the gun didn’t go off. I picked my head up to see what was going on. When I did that, the gun went off. Smoke was everywhere, but I had obviously missed. The nightmare that followed was the worst experience that I have ever had happen to me while hunting.

After the shot, Eastside didn’t run off. Instead he spooked a little then began walking toward me. I began frantically trying to get the primer out. I literally would try for a minute and look up to see where Eastside was. Every time I looked up, he was closer. He wound up getting to 25 yard directly beside me. I could’ve had an easy shot right there, as I had already had plenty of time to load the gun back up. The worst part happened next. As I continued to try my best to get the primer out, Eastside wound up turning toward the stand. He walked directly behind it and stayed for over five whole minutes just milling around. I literally opened the door of the blind and looked at him within twenty yards of me. I couldn’t believe that this was real life. I had a camera running the entire time as I tried to get the primer out, and the whole ordeal lasted almost twenty minutes. I never could get the primer out until I got home. I just knew I had missed my opportunity at him, but I will say the only thing that helped me feel better at all was the fact that he was not the least bit spooked by the stand or even by me opening the door to look at him.

The next time I hunted him was Thursday evening, and I brought the whole family with me. Taylor, Charlie, Cal, and myself all packed in to our Fatboy Blind and had an awesome evening hunt. I brought a pair of pliers this time just in case I ever needed to take a primer out again. Anyway, this time Eastside had obviously been right back where he always bedded. He got up and walked toward the food plot, and I thought I might get a shot that night. He was walking toward the food plot, and then I lost him. I figured that he went straight across into the pines like I had seen him do earlier in the year. Anyway, another sighting and another night going home without him. I stayed up late that night trying to figure out what in the world it was going to take to get him. I decided I would try him in the morning and see what might happened. I got up Friday morning and went hunting. The next day was rifle season which would’ve made the hunt much easier, but the fear of him going to another property and getting shot worried me. Anyway, I got in an hour and a half before first light. I didn’t want to take any chances. As the sunrise began and the food plot came into view, I could see that there were already two deer there. It didn’t take long to realize that they were both bucks, and after a few minutes I realized that one of them was Eastside. Looking back, I should have waited for more camera light so that I could have watched it back better, but I had to go ahead and take the shot. I shot and of course all of the smoke blinded me. One buck ran one way and the other ran the opposite way.

Looking back I should have trusted what I saw. He was running with his tail down into the pines. I have seen that type of run and that look before and when deer do that they usually crash pretty quickly. I went to the sight of the shot, and I just wasn’t even sure that I had hit him at this point. I didn’t trust myself at all. I went the wrong way and looked where the other buck had run to first. I wound up looking in both directions and walking all over the pines. The whole time I was looking for him in those pines, I had an internal struggle. Part of my whole plan every year for these deer on this property is that I never go in these pines. I leave them alone for the deer to use as trails and bedding as they please. I looked for a few then left. I went back later in the day, and I never could find him. I was obviously extremely upset. I sat the next morning and several times the following week during rifle season. I never saw him, and he hadn’t been on camera. This wasn’t like him. He never went that many days without being on camera before. So, I wasn’t able to get back out to look for him all week because of football. I finally decided I would hunt the following Saturday morning and then get down and look for him. I didn’t hunt very long, I just knew he was dead and I was prepared to search all day. I got down and told myself, I am going to walk in the pines and walk the trail because that’s the direction that he was headed. I followed the trail, and it only took me about one minute. There he was. His whole body had been eaten by coyotes, but his head and rack were all intact. I sat with him a few minutes. It was about as bittersweet an ending as there could have been to such an old, wise, buck. I was thankful that I had him, but I hated the way it ended. He only ran about 90 yards and was dead right there. I didn’t get to eat him, didn’t get to take any pictures with him, but most of all I never got to see the spot on his back with the missing patch of fur to see if I could figure out what had caused it so many years ago. I felt terrible about the way it happened, but I must’ve walked right beside him the day I shot him. I will never know how I didn’t find him that day. I was tagged out pretty early, and I had time to focus on my son, Charlie, going after his first deer ever.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is the book of James. James 1:2 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds.” The rest of the passage goes on to talk about how trials can teach us perseverance, and I think that is 100 million percent true. I do think sometimes we all have a hard time considering our trials to be joyful. I can tell you that I did not find much joy each time I saw Eastside from the deer stand, but couldn’t get a shot. I also didn’t find much joy in the eight days between the shot and finding him. The truth is, though, that it’s not the killing that even means the most. Sure it is nice to have a good payday after all the hard work we put into hunting these animals, but there is so much more to it than that. The chase itself is what is so much fun. Setting up stands, feed sites, and trying to outsmart these bucks is what is so much fun. Spending time with family, friends, and even strangers during hunting season is what is so much fun. I am going to try to spend this next season with joy in my heart. I know trials are coming, but the trials we face while hunting are nothing compared to what others are facing daily. They are certainly nothing compared to what Jesus went through on the cross for us. Let us all be thankful that we get to chase these animals, and whether we kill one or not, let’s just enjoy the chase.

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