Missing The Point
A 9-year quest for a P&Y buck ends with blessings and life lessons.
“Only 23 days until bow season. I am literally counting down the days. Maybe this year I will get my first Pope and Young buck.”
The year was 2000. This was the beginning of my first journal entry for my tenth-grade English assignment. My mind was on deer hunting as I daydreamed of shooting a trophy buck with my new Mathews bow. I had gotten all new bowhunting equipment for the coming season, including new Innerloc broadheads with Gold Tip carbon arrows. I felt like an experienced bowhunter, having harvested two does since starting my bowhunting career two years prior with my rough-shooting bow and heavy, crooked aluminum arrows. I was determined to set the bar high, really high. I was chasing 125 inches.
My old-school trail camera, which only took 30 pictures on a roll of film, had recently captured one beautiful, velvet 8-point, that looked to net score in the mid-120 range, on our hunting lease in Terrell County. Since I played football and practice consumed every weekday, I was going to have to be a weekend warrior in the deer woods. That did not leave much time to connect with an elusive Pope and Young buck.
When the 2000 season finally came, I hunted patiently, and though I saw several small bucks, I never let an arrow fly at a buck. The beautiful 8-point that I had on camera remained unseen, but I stuck to my goal: P&Y or bust. Well, the season came and went with only one doe falling to my arrow. I felt a bit disappointed. But I was missing the point.
Four years later, in 2004, I decided to lower my buck standards. I had yet to kill a buck with my bow, so I told myself that I would try for the next decent buck that came my way. In mid September, my opportunity arose with a neat-looking 6-point with tall tines. Even though this buck was not huge, I was elated with my success. I began to realize that it is not all about the score. I wanted to work my way up to a mature buck, regardless of his headgear.
Flashing forward four years to the 2008 hunting season, I found myself gazing at dozens of digital trail-camera photos of a heavy Morgan County 8-pointer in velvet. He was pushing 125 inches net score. I was truly a seasoned bowhunter with numerous fine bucks under my belt but still no Pope and Young to my name. I had all but pushed the dream of a Pope and Young out of my mind. Now, I had a buck showing up consistently that was really getting my attention. And to make the experience more exciting, my dad and brother were both in on the scouting; it was a team effort.
I hunted that one buck all season long, and I turned down the opportunity to shoot at several nice bucks, choosing to wait on my target buck. Many people told me that I was crazy for not taking my rifle, but I persisted with bow in hand. Then, on a cold, windy day in mid December, well after the rut in Morgan County, I found myself high up in a tall pine tree just cussing the wind and questioning my decision to even be in the woods at all. I had nearly convinced myself to climb down when I saw a patch of dark brown moving through the thick brush. One glimpse of the heavy beam told me what deer this was. I slowly stood, gripping my bow tightly, and painfully observed this big buck lift his nose cautiously into the air. The wind swirled. The buck’s tail twitched. And then, without blowing, he began to bound up the hill, angling away from me. Drawing my bow in a panic as the buck spooked, I prayed that he would stop and give me a shot.
To my complete surprise, the big 8-point did stop, right in a shooting lane. It was a gift. I aimed and let the arrow fly. And that’s what the arrow did… it flew away and over that big buck’s back and disappeared into the woods beyond, never to be seen again. As if knowing that all was ok now, the buck tauntingly trotted up and over the hill in no hurry to leave, glancing back toward my tree with a confident look.
I was sick. I was mad. I was disappointed in myself. I had failed. I was finished hunting for the season, I decided. I had missed the buck to get me into the record books. And once again, I missed the point…
I did in fact hang up my bow for the remainder of the season and kept a sour attitude about bowhunting. Why was I even trying to kill a big buck with my bow? I could have killed several huge bucks over the years if I had only taken a rifle to the woods. Just when I had convinced myself to change back into a rifle hunter, the buck left me a gift… two actually.
On Feb. 21, 2009, my dad and I were walking along a wet-weather creek bed in the same spot where I had missed the awesome buck two months before. I saw something white lying on the ground, and I froze. I knew it was an antler, but not just any antler. It was the left side of the big 8-point. I ran to it, picked it up, and gazed at the bloody base. This buck had just shed his antler!
Handing the heavy antler to my dad, I slowly walked the area around us. Lo and behold, just 20 yards away lay the right antler. Looking up, I could see the tall pine where I had sat in my climber. This buck had survived the season and stayed in the area! As my dad and I admired the incredible pair of sheds, my already wide smile just grew wider. I had a feeling this buck was going to be bigger next season.
Spring came and then morphed into summer, and during the heat of July, I set my trail camera out again. Wouldn’t you know that on the first week my camera was out I got multiple pictures of this buck. He was substantially larger and easily identifiable by his characteristic curved right brow tine.
Veterinary school prohibited my hunting much in September and early October, but I was still getting pictures of this massive buck. Then on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009, opening day of rifle season, a friend and I went out to this Morgan County tract. It was surprisingly cold with a drizzling rain. I climbed up the same tall pine tree along the old creek bed where I had missed the big buck the previous season. I knew that buck was still right there. Had I made a mistake taking my bow instead of my rifle?
An hour before dark, I saw a deer walking parallel to the creek bed. Straining my eyes, I searched for antlers but saw none. The deer was in a thicket only 40 yards away, but I just could not see details. Suddenly, I saw a dense piece of antler above his head. That was all I needed to see. Only one buck on my camera had that much mass. Standing slowly, I drew my bow as the huge 8-point calmly walked broadside into my open lane.
My finger touched the release, and my arrow raced down and sank into the buck’s chest, sticking into the ground on the other side. Bolting up the same hill he had run when I missed the year before, the buck made it out of sight, but then I heard the telltale sound of success… the loud crashing into the leaves and bushes. The buck was down!
Nine years after my tenth-grade dreams of harvesting a Pope and Young buck, I sat staring in awe at the beautiful Morgan County 8-point that netted 132 7/8 inches. It was all worth it. So many people had advised me to put down my bow and take a rifle to the deer woods. I was told that my odds of success would increase. Perhaps so, but they were missing the point…
Morgan County Best Bow Bucks Of All-Time
|1||173 1/8||Michael Long||1991||Morgan||Bow||View|
|2||177 5/8 (NT)||Keith Almand||2019||Morgan||Bow||View|
|4||171 6/8 (NT)||Loy Banks||2005||Morgan||Bow||View|
|5||148 6/8||Joe Chandler||2010||Morgan||Bow||View|
|6||146 2/8||Jimmy Ross Jr.||2010||Morgan||Bow|
|7||145 5/8||Keith Almand||2020||Morgan||Bow|
|8||144 2/8||Keith Almand||2013||Morgan||Bow||View|
|9||143 1/8||Brian Arienzo||2009||Morgan||Bow||View|
|10||142 1/8||Jerry Wall||1966||Morgan||Bow|
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