Bottom of the Ninth… The Story of “Trespasser”

Hunter’s Journal: April 2024

Reader Contributed | April 2, 2024

David Hornback, of Dallas, with a great bow-kill from Paulding County. It netted 121 5/8 inches and is the No. 7 best bow-kill for the county.

By David Hornback

My heart pounded on this cold, rainy January day as I watched the buck I had been hunting for two seasons walk toward me.

I am an avid bowhunter, and my story began two years ago when a special 3-year-old buck walked in front of my camera. He was beautiful—a perfect main-frame 8-point. He had a racehorse body with a nice set of antlers to match it. I knew he could be a special buck if allowed to age. It is difficult for bucks to mature on a 50-acre tract of land in Paulding County, as it requires cooperation with other landowners to let them walk. The rule of thumb, “dead deer don’t grow,” is one I hunt by. If it is not a mature buck (four years or older), I let him walk.

I staked my claim on that big boy and named him “Trespasser.” My neighbors shared their pictures with me of Trespasser roaming on their property. During the 2021-2022 season, I saw him twice under my stand but gave him the pass, tipped my hat and said, “See you next year.”

Well, the 2022-2023 season came and went. I had plenty of sightings of Trespasser on camera but no physical encounters. Although my interest remained keen, I pursued him, knowing he would have more to offer next year if he could make it to 5 1/2 years old. When I conducted my final camera inventory for the season, I’ll never forget the picture I got of him on Feb. 10.

“It’s him!” I yelled as my son looked at me, bewildered. He had made it through the season.

I knew I had a lot of work to do to convince Trespasser that my farm was the place for him to call home this year, since his home range would begin to shrink with age. He was going to be 5 1/2 years old next season and would have expressed most of his antler potential.

Immediately following the 2022-2023 season, I began my work. I dedicated all my efforts toward Trespasser, including more food plots, spring feeding and changing stand locations. All of this hard work in the off-season resulted in more pictures. It seemed like we were destined to meet in the fall.

During the time when bucks transition to fall ranges, Trespasser disappeared in September and did not return until Oct. 15. He was bigger than ever—a nice mature body, neck dropped to brisket, sway back, short-looking legs and black tarsal stains. I deployed my whole arsenal of cameras to gather all the intel I could. Meanwhile, the four surrounding landowners granted me permission to hunt their land to allow me to pursue this great trophy.

As the season progressed into November, I received very few pictures of him. During the prime rut, it can be feast or famine, depending on if you are near that hot doe. It can be an absolute grind and test of perseverance.

Well, Nov. 15 came around with no pictures of him on cell cameras in weeks. I was sitting outside on a 25-degree morning and a doe ran by me. I turned my head and behind her chasing was one of the most beautiful sights—Trespasser. He was 80 yards away, and I was holding my Mathews bow—with no shot. He had his doe, and there was no reason to call to him. I watched him run by two more times just out of range only to live another day.

I woke up on Dec. 3 to a 28-degree morning. I had no recent pictures of Trespasser, but I figured since it was cold, deer would be moving. This hunt was by far the most enjoyable hunt I had ever been on.

Earlier that morning, I had a young 7-point walk by and had heard a fast woodpecker sound in the hillside to my left. I have read that bucks can make that sound and have noticed that I have seen a buck every time after hearing that sound. Well guess what? The 7-point walked up the hill and out stepped Trespasser to greet him. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. His big, dark mature body stepped out of the timber on the frosty grass, steam clouded out of his nose as he breathed a sigh of warning to the 7-point, his ears pinned back, coat bristled up and his rack stood out past his ears towering above everything else. He was everything I had worked for; however, he was 98 yards from me on my neighbor’s land, which I did not have permission to hunt on.

The rest of the day I sat and watched him tend the doe and fight off bucks. It was truly incredible, yet I was disappointed at the end of the day because I knew my chances were fleeting.

For weeks I would get sporadic photos of him, never being able to pattern him, and then one day, he disappeared for a week and a half. I knew he was either gone to hide and recover from the rut, or worse he was dead. I was so down about it. Every morning at 5:30 a.m. I would check cameras. Every cold morning and evening, I would hunt pinch-points to food and bedding, but disappointingly, nothing.

Then came Jan. 7. It was the bottom of the ninth, and there was little time left in the season, but Trespasser returned home. Ding, my phone went off. Ding, it goes off again, and he is going down the same trails he always used. Twas the night before my date with destiny. Finally, at 6:30 a.m., he was right next to his bedding area. I knew it! Trespasser would be bedding there that day, and right before dark he would give me the shot. I had only chosen the perfect times to hunt with a wind that would thread the needle, almost giving him the advantage. And that perfect wind was set to be in place that very night.

I climbed in the saddle at 3:30 p.m. and waited patiently. It was foggy and 47-degrees—a perfect combination to get deer moving. Primetime rolled around (a hunter’s favorite time), and the conditions were still. I looked to my left on a road cut in an overgrown pasture, and out stepped Trespasser. He began walking right toward me using the exact trail I had hoped he would. He closed about 10 yards and stopped to check for safety, licking his nose while constantly checking for scent for what felt like an eternity. The closer he got, the more my heart pounded—over a hundred beats per minute, according to my smartwatch. All the hours, all the effort, all the work, all the sacrifice came down to this moment.

He crept into range at 35 yards, and I slowly drew back my Mathews LIFT. I placed the Garmin pin right in front of his shoulder on the quartering-to shot. Thump… the bow goes off, and I watched that lighted nock head right for my trophy. It was all in God’s hands now. Bust… the arrow hit him perfectly, and he ran out of the field like a bolt of lightning. I felt an overwhelming joy as I heard the tree limbs crashing. The story on Trespasser was coming to an end. I picked up my cousin, as well as my grandfather, who had taught us to hunt, and what a celebration we had! Trespasser was down.

It is obvious that hunting is an integral part of my life. For me, deer season ends on one day, and the next season begins on the following day with habitat management work. I love every part of managing God’s creation. But this story is more than capturing my dream buck. I wanted to share this story because so much of life is about perseverance, and many people today do not want to persevere in their family, their job, a long hunting season that is a grind, nor in their relationship with Christ. I would encourage you to persevere and to not give up, because you never know when that breakthrough will happen and your Trespasser will step out. May God bless you, and I hope this story encourages you.

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