Archery Hunting Heartbreaking Misses

Bowhunters offer true confessions about big Georgia bucks that got away.

John Stanley | September 1, 2008

Some 40 years ago when I became interested in shooting bows I only knew a couple of actual bowhunters. As an 8-year-old, wide-eyed kid I recall listening in wonderment to one of them, Bob Conner, as he told stories while sitting around our Jasper County deer camp. One statement about bowhunting the sage, old, tobacco-chewing gentleman made stuck in my mind as he peered down at me through the wispy smoke of the fire. 

“Johnny, at least one of two things is true if a hunter tells you he’s never missed a deer. He either hasn’t been hunting very long or is a flat-out liar.” 

In spite of today’s incredible advancements in archery tackle and hunting technology, that statement still rings true. As a matter of fact, missing a deer with a bow, especially a big buck, is sometimes just downright easy to do. Trust me, I know all too well! The following are the stories of some Georgia bowhunters who were kind and brave enough to relate their misadventures to me for us to enjoy. Read on and perhaps we’ll all learn a lesson or two. Experience, even the type gained from an unsuccessful hunt, can be a great teacher. 

The Rookie Bowhunter

So what do you call a guy who has bowhunted a total of three times? A quick glance at the GON Hunting Dictionary would likely find the word: Rookie. Oh, and by the way, the guy in the picture next to the word could very well be 45-year-old Russ Fraze of Lawrenceville. A gun-hunter most of his life, Russ figured he’d give bowhunting a go, bought a bow last summer and practiced religiously. As often happens to a working man with a family, things got busy and bow season almost slipped by with Russ only having a couple of opportunities to hunt. The Friday before the 2007 gun opener Russ loaded up his gear and headed to his trophy-managed club in Oglethorpe County determined to give it a shot the last afternoon of primitive-weapons season. Russ had a ladder stand in a particular area he knew a big buck was using. This stand had gone unhunted in 2007 as well as the previous season as the conditions had never been right when Russ was there. John Seginak, outdoor writer and frequent contributor to GON, had put Russ on this buck after he left the lease following the 2006 season. John once had the wide-antlered buck within bow range, but it never presented an ethical shot. Huge, fresh rubs in the creek bottom near Russ’ ladder proved the old monarch was still around. To his delight the wind was perfect to hunt the ladder when Russ arrived. Russ slipped into his stand as quietly as possible, taking 30 minutes to cover the last 100 yards. By 3 p.m. he was settled in and ready, thrilled to finally be hunting the stand he had spent hours daydreaming of. It didn’t take long for the action to get started. At about 3:30 two does made their way down the hill and began feeding on white-oak acorns that were dropping from a line of mature trees dotting the creek bottom. One of the does suddenly looked back up the hill, and Russ could make out a big-bodied deer slowly closing the distance. Russ was stunned when he got his first good look at the buck’s rack. It had to be him — the buck Seginak had told him about and the deer he had been focused on for two seasons. 

“That was the biggest buck I’ve ever seen while hunting. He was over 20 inches inside, massive and I could make out at least 12 points including a split right brow tine. It was hard to believe the first deer I was about to get a shot at was a buck of this caliber,” Russ excitedly recalls. 

Amazingly calm, Russ drew his bow just before the deer stepped into a shooting lane. One more step, a soft mouth bleat and there he was, broadside and as big as life. As his 30-yard pin settled behind the shoulder Russ touched off the release and watched the brightly fletched shaft sail inches over the buck’s back, and just like that he was gone. 

Twenty minutes later Russ felt so sick at his stomach he had to climb down. Stepping off the distance to his arrow he realized his costly mistake; the buck had been at 20 yards instead of 30. 

Russ called me that night, and I knew immediately from the tone of his voice he had some bad news. After hearing the story about how he had misjudged the distance, I told Russ that a rangefinder was one of my most important pieces of equipment. “Oh sure, now you tell me,” he groaned.

We laugh about it today, but I don’t think that’s exactly what Russ wanted to hear at the time. Adding salt to the wound, Russ found out the buck was killed the following month by a gun hunter on a nearby lease, and it reportedly grossed 168 inches. Ouch. 

Third Time’s A Charm 

When I first corresponded with Luthersville resident Phillip Harper he told me he had a unique bowhunting story. He wasn’t kidding. Back during the 2001 bow season, opening day found Phillip and his buddy Randy Metzger hunting a small tract in Coweta County. This was the first year of bowhunting for the duo, and they really weren’t sure what to expect —especially Randy, who, perched in his stand for less than an hour, turned and was shocked to see a nice 8-point buck rubbing a cedar tree. While attempting to control his quickly deteriorating nerves, Randy drew his bow and sent an arrow on its way. Unfortunately for Randy the buck was no longer there by the time his arrow arrived. Strike one. 

Little did Phillip and Randy know it would be an entire year before the buck would resurface. Opening day of the 2002 season finally rolled around. The morning hunt was uneventful other than a couple of doe sightings. After lunch Phillip, the lucky winner of a coin toss, chose to hunt the same tree where the buck had been seen a year earlier. Shortly before dark a buck caught Phillip off guard, walking in so quickly he got behind the tree before the hunter could get ready. Phillip stood, turned around and got his first good look at the quartering-away buck. A mouth grunt did the trick and stopped the buck at 25 yards. 

Holy cow! That’s the same buck Randy missed, and he’s gotten huge! A quick snapshot of the big buck mounted over his fireplace flashed through Phillip’s mind as he drew a bead and calmly touched the trigger. The afternoon silence was suddenly rudely shattered by a loud clank, and the next thing Phillip knew he had a bowstring wrapped around his arm and his arrow had flipped harmlessly to the ground. 

In his haste to get off a shot, Phillip had failed to notice his lower bow cam floating perilously close to his hand climber and as a result the buck’s lucky streak continued. Strike two.

What were the odds of that buck showing up again on opening day? Things like that just don’t happen, right? Maybe their luck had run out, Phillip and Randy mused as they met for lunch after the morning hunt of the 2003 bow opener; neither one of them had seen a deer, and it was HOT. Keeping a positive attitude, Phillip and Randy grabbed their climbing stands and bows around 4:30 and headed out, Phillip to a persimmon tree and Randy back to the poplar tree on the edge of a thick swamp where the buck’s apparent core area was located. Not long after getting settled, Randy watched a spike emerge from the swamp and begin drinking in the creek. Suddenly the young buck became startled as Randy heard another deer approaching. 

“You’ve got to be kidding me?” Randy thought as if on cue the same big buck once again materialized for the third year in a row. The now 4 1/2-year-old buck had grown crab-claws and was a perfect 10-point. The deer stopped a mere 10 yards from the poplar tree, and Randy summoned the courage to draw his bow. He was shaking so badly the arrow came off the rest, but with a stroke of luck he was able to flip it back on with his finger without alerting the buck. 

Three years of luck ran out for the buck as Randy’s arrow center-cut the deer behind the shoulder, a perfect double lunger. The buck ended up scoring 144 inches, won the Truck-Buck Contest week for Randy and was featured on the Oct. 2003 cover of GON.

Rut-Crazed Buck 

One of the most exciting things about hunting during the whitetail rut is that you never know what you may see — the action can get chaotic and every once in a hunter’s moon even a little bit crazy. A couple of hunts Macon resident Emory Causey had a ringside seat for during the 2003 season can certainly attest to that. 

It was a foggy, mid-October morning, and Emory was hunting a tract near the Bibb/Monroe County line. Tucked up against a tree and hidden by a brushpile, Emory had a nice view of a hardwood flat littered with fresh scrapes. Attempting to try and make something happen, Emory grabbed his rattling antlers and slammed them together briefly; seconds later he heard something to his left, spotted movement and could make out a nice 15-inch, 10-point intently looking his way and cautiously coming in. His attention was suddenly taken off the buck when he was jolted by the sound of wheezing right behind him. The hair on the back of Emory’s neck stood up as he strained to cut his eyes in the direction of the sound. Almost close enough to spit on, Emory could make out the thick main beam of a mature buck a mere 10 yards away. 

The buck turned its head, and Emory found himself staring at a 130-class 8-point, 18 to 19 inches wide with long tines. With no way to get off a shot, Emory watched the buck do a snort wheeze, stomp its foot and walk off. 

Emory spent the next couple of weeks dreaming about that buck and mentally kicking himself for sitting on the ground instead of climbing a tree. 

Nov. 5 was much cooler and nearing the peak of the rut when Emory had his next chance to hunt the area. This time he climbed a water-oak tree dubbed “Old Faithful,” a stand he still hunts today. Shortly after daylight he spotted two does feeding, then a button buck followed a scent trail of Paula & Boyd’s to the base of his tree, and hung around for 20 minutes. 

After a rattling and grunt session, a 4-point came in and intently worked a scrape 20 yards in front of Emory.

An hour had passed when Emory decided to try the antlers again. He smacked the antlers hard, grinding them together and raking the tree. For 10 minutes all was quiet, and then Emory heard something he had never heard before. 

“The best I can describe the sound is that it sounded like a grizzly bear gasping for air. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive about what I was about to see. The sound also favored a thirsty dog, which would have ruined my day, but the foot steps favored a deer.” 

A few seconds later Emory made out a buck headed his way and realized it was the same big 8-point that had slipped in behind him in October, and he sure looked a lot meaner this time. 

This buck was rut crazed — tongue hanging out of the left side of his wide-open mouth, hair bristling on his back, patches of hair on his neck and back missing, a floppy ear as if it was broken and appeared to be torn and bleeding. He walked with a bad limp, almost on three legs instead of four. He stopped at about 60 yards, swinging his head back and forth as if looking for his next victim. 

Emory snatched his grunt call from the side pocket of his pants and blew it twice. The buck never hesitated and came in as if on a string — 50 yards, 40 yards, 35, and suddenly there he was right in the middle of a shooting lane at 22 yards, perfectly broadside, bowed up and ready for battle. Emory was already at full draw and buried his 20-yard pin dead-center behind the buck’s shoulder, released the string and watched in shock as the arrow grazed the deer low in the brisket, cutting nothing but hair. 

Emory was devastated to say the least; he couldn’t believe he’d blown a chip-shot opportunity at a buck of this caliber. He couldn’t stomach hunting the next morning, opting to shoot his bow and hopefully regain his confidence. His first practice shot hit 10 feet short at 20 yards. Puzzled, he nocked another arrow, drew and squeezed off another shot. A loud pop resulted as the buss cable snapped! Apparently the buss cable had been on its last leg, resulting in lower arrow impact until it broke. Talk about bad timing.

Caught On Tape

One of the great things about successfully taking a big buck while filming a TV show is that thousands of people will see it. One of the not-so-great things about missing a big buck while filming a TV show is that, well, thousands of people will see it! 

Sixteen-year-old Travis Johnson of Covington knows that fact all too well. Travis is the star of “Growing Up Outdoors,” and he is the grandson of outdoor legend O’Neill Williams. Attempting to get some good footage for the television show, Travis and cameraman Klay Shorthouse were perched in trees inside the wood line near a food plot in Oglethorpe County last year on opening day of rifle season. Travis’ expectations for the afternoon hunt began to swell as the shadows lengthened and the steady breeze continued in his face. With a little luck the big buck that had been seen on the farm near where they were set up would make an appearance. 

It was around 5 p.m. when things began to get interesting. Travis heard multiple deer approaching, grabbed his bow and slowly stood up. Three does slowly approached followed closely by two small bucks. Not seeing the big buck that he knew was in the area, Travis relaxed for a second and watched the group of deer. 

The sound of another approaching deer alerted both Travis and Klay, and just like that, there he was, the big 140-class 10-point they were looking for. Travis slowly repositioned himself in the stand as the camera rolled and the buck made his way slowly toward the duo. 

Changing his focus from the buck’s massive rack to a spot behind the shoulder, Travis took a deep breath, drew his bow and settled his pin on the buck’s heart as the deer stopped at 15 yards. 

A split-second after the shot a crack was heard and deer took off running everywhere. 

Oh man, I got him. I made a good shot! The surge of adrenaline shook Travis to the core, and he had to take several minutes to regroup, as he and Klay whispered to each other about what had just happened. After a nervous wait, Travis eased down the tree and tiptoed over to where the deer had been standing, eyes wide open looking for blood. Travis spied his arrow buried in the ground, yanked it out and felt his heart sink. Other than a little dirt, the arrow was clean. 

Totally deflated, the two hunters searched the area anyway just to be sure and found no sign of a hit. A quick review of the tape clearly showed what the eye couldn’t pick up in real time. As Travis released the arrow, the buck dropped, whirled and the arrow actually hit the buck in the antlers. 

O’Neill saw the buck again later in the season and attempted to comfort Travis a little. 

“Son, just seeing that buck across the field got me shook up. And that was at 200 yards without the pressure of having a bow in my hand and a camera man peering over my shoulder!” 

Wacky South Georgia Morning

Tim Knight of Dublin has been hunting exclusively with a bow for more than 20 years. A well-known taxidermist, Tim runs Knight’s Wildlife Studios and has taken eight bucks big enough to make the Pope and Young record book. 

In the mid 80s, early in Tim’s bowhunting career, he well remembers a big 8-point buck that made a mockery out of him one chilly, late October morning in Wilkinson County. 

Tim was shooting a Bear Whitetail II compound with Bear Razorhead-tipped Easton aluminum arrows. Shortly after daylight Tim heard deer chasing each other off in the distance and suddenly felt good about his decision to put out some Tink’s 69 in hopes of luring in a buck. As luck would have it, a big doe ran by his tree and seconds later Tim could hear a deer coming at a steady gait — then it grunted: “BRUUUUUUUUP!”

To this day Tim says he has never heard a buck grunt louder; probably an early version of what is known as the buck growl today. Tim relates that the loud sound “put my right leg into Elvis mode and quickly spread across my whole body. As my soul reached an 8 on the Richter scale and I was about to shake my eye-teeth out, I looked up and here comes that big son of a gun on a string. It’s a sight I’ll never forget.” 

The buck locked it down when he smelled the Tink’s and did a lip curl. As if Tim wasn’t nervous enough already at this point, a few seconds later the buck let out a GRUNT SNORT WHEEZE! 

Putting his head down, the buck headed for Tim’s tree. Somehow Tim managed to yank the bow string to full draw, take aim (or thought he did) with his 20-yard pin and shoot. 

The arrow stuck in the ground a good 2 feet under the buck! To add insult to injury the deer just turned, walked even closer and looked directly up at Tim, now shaking like a leaf and trying not to fall out of his perch in the sweetgum tree. After a long standoff, Tim slowly reached for another arrow, or at least tried to. 

“Believe it or not it helps to be looking at something you are trying to grab,” Tim remembers. “You guessed it. I hit my quiver just enough to knock it off its perch and watched it fall to the ground. It kinda reminded me of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon where he takes one of his famous slow-motion falls and seeing that puff of dust where he hits the ground. One thing’s for sure — a quiver almost full of arrows that falls 20 feet from a tree and lands 10 yards from a trophy buck has the exact same result as waving your arms in the air and yelling BOOOOO!” 

Not exactly being the kind of morning Tim was ready to brag and spread the word about at the time, he admits to keeping the entire fiasco to himself for a little while. When his hunting buddies David, Wayne, Phillip and Grant met him for lunch that day and asked if he had any luck, Tim, like any true bowhunter worth his salt replied, “Naw, I ain’t seen a thing. They must not have been moving this morning.”

Taking a big whitetail buck with a bow is straight up one of the most difficult hunting tasks in Georgia. Factor in the numerous opportunities for one of Murphy’s Laws to gum up the works and you’ll understand how the odds are seemingly stacked against you. So this fall if you happen to miss that wallhanger of a lifetime and find your name inscribed in the Book of Heartbreaking Misses, take solace. You’ll have plenty of company!

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