Dream Buck Poached, As I Watch

With his target buck finally so close a shot was imminent, the author watched in horror as an arrowed passed through the buck.

Matt Keller | December 21, 2019

I took the biggest buck of my life the third week of November this season. I wish I could tell you the story of how I’ve been scouting this buck for years. How I learned his patterns and tendencies, about how then one late afternoon I saw my window of opportunity and seized it.

But the story of this buck—this once-in-a-lifetime monster pictured—actually begins with hunting a completely different deer.

I’ve been scouting my land and surrounding lands—with permission, of course—for years. Our small pockets of metro-Atlanta woods can harbor monster bucks that grow and survive by stealthily living in low-hunted, private lands. Under the mentorship of my former student, Drew Carroll of Seek One, I’ve learned more about deer hunting in the last three years than all the previous 30 combined. 

On a hunt one Saturday morning in November, I spotted one of my “target bucks” lumbering down a deer trail, headed directly toward my stand. Last season, I let him walk five or six times, waiting for him to get bigger. I made sure he had plenty of protein over the spring and summer. And when he bailed on his summer schedule the very week before opening day, I didn’t take it too personally.

I was being patient with this guy. On my trail cam, he’d been passing by inconsistently for weeks, but then a few days before my hunt, it looked like he was setting up shop in the area.

He’s why I was in the stand that November morning. And now, this 150-inch 14-point toad was finally making his appearance. It was going to happen…

At about 80 yards from me, the big buck turned broadside and stared off into the woods. I grabbed my grunt, thinking I could coax him back toward me.

One minute goes by as I sit, watching him through the binos. Two minutes go by. 

And then, to my complete and utter surprise, I watch as an arrow passes through the buck—WHACK!

I stared, stunned. He ran off down the hill and crashed on the other side of a creek.

What in the world just happened?!

Here is the thing. There should not have never been a hunter in that direction. I was 60 yards away from someone else’s land, and the owner was not keen on hunting. That meant one thing—poachers. A poacher just shot one of the deer I’d been diligently scouting and watching for the last year.

In shock and anger, I climbed down and headed toward the scene of the crime. There, about 80 yards across the property line, was a guy about 6 feet off the ground in a climber. He saw me and climbed down. Two hunters in the woods ready to have words. I was about to call the DNR, but his buddy came over and validated the young man’s story. About how he’d never hunted here before, about how his buddy’s family has some land a couple hundred yards away, and he’d gotten into the woods late. He’d just walked too far and unknowingly ended up on this other property. 

This buck the author had been hunting was shot as he watched.

But I was so mad and ready to turn him in. Then I realized why. I wasn’t mad that he was hunting on land he didn’t have permission to hunt on. I was furious because I had spent so much time pursuing and patiently waiting for this buck to have the chance stolen right in front of me.

And not by someone with the same hunting intensity and respect that I put in, but by some guy who had walked into the woods two hours late, started up a tree, saw a random buck coming over the hill, stopped climbing, pulled his bow up in the stand while the buck stood there watching, and then took a 60-yard Hail Mary, only to score a heart shot! It was plain, dumb, luck! He didn’t deserve this deer. I did.

But… I believed him. He seemed genuinely apologetic and remorseful.

So, I congratulated him, briefly put hands on the fallen giant, took a pic, and let the lucky hunter on his way. After all, this was hunting, and Lady Luck is one fickle gal. 

As you could imagine, I spent the next four days replaying that morning over and over in my head. What hunter watches their target buck get poached by bow in front of them? I couldn’t believe it had actually happened. 

To make matters worse, I recently launched a company specializing in a bow-mounted range finding product called AVYD. I was intentionally filming that hunt so I could post the video footage of me using @getavyd and scoring one of the monster bucks I’d been following. I didn’t just lose a target buck, I also lost the possibility of future sales, which helps me provide for my family. 

I couldn’t bring myself to hunt for a few days. But when Wednesday rolled around, I got home early enough to slip in the stand for a quick, two-hour sit before dark. I needed to put that Saturday’s heartbreak behind me and get in the woods while the rut was on.

An hour into my hunt, two does slipped in to feed. The woods were alive. I leaned my head back up against the tree, closed my eyes and prayed a simple prayer, “Lord, I need a win here. Please bring a shooter to me.” As I opened my eyes, I glassed up to my left, and I saw a large buck slip through a clearing at about 70 yards. He disappeared. I remember laughing a little bit in disbelief. After grunting some, I relaxed and figured he’d cruised on. Right before sunset more does appeared, and I prayed the prayer again. 

A few minutes later, I looked off to my right and saw a doe coming down the hill, flicking her tail. And then I heard that sound all hunters want to hear—the unmistakable sound of an excited, grunting, mature buck. I didn’t get a good look, so I wasn’t sure which buck it was. The doe came around up the trail, right into my shooting lane, and the buck was right behind her, grunting with every step. My chest was pounding.

By the time he stepped into my shooting lane, it was too dim for me to make out the buck’s antler pattern for certain, but I had a hunch it was my top target buck. My instinct took over, and I drew on him. The digital display said 22 yards. I took the shot.

The resounding thump of the arrow let me know I’d hit him good and true. But just to be safe, I backed out of the woods for an hour. Not sure which of the bucks I just shot, but knowing he was huge, that next hour left my heart racing.

When I retuned with a buddy to track, we found the blood trail was short. He only made it about 100 yards before he laid down. I have to tell you, walking up on this monster was a surreal experience, but left me with one very clear thought: “God gives, and he takes away, but he’s good and blessed be his name.” 

Hunting has highs and lows. There is so much out of our control. But the lows make the highs sweeter, and in the end, this uncertainty is what we sign up for when we go out into the woods. You just never know what might happen. And what stories you’ll come back with. 

I’ve got mine this season.

Just days after watching his target buck get shot by a trespasser, Matt Keller put an arrow through this DeKalb County 10-point buck.

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