Second-Chance Bow Buck

This Taylor County 9-pointer was a broken tip on a main beam away from making Pope & Young. The hunt included a near miss and another chance.

Zach Tanner | September 3, 2015

I started bowhunting in 2009, and over the past few years I have gradually hunted more and more with my bow instead of my rifle. I ended up killing a young doe for my first bow-kill and missed another doe, but I really began to enjoy the challenge and the extra skill it took as a hunter to hunt with a bow. I’ve had some chances to take several bucks over the past few years that would have been decent kills with a bow, but I really just wanted to wait on a really good one to be my first. And I have always dreamed of killing a Pope & Young in Georgia.

This past season I had the opportunity to get on a lease in Taylor County with Peewee, a buddy of mine that I work with. The lease is only a hundred acres with mainly mature pines, a couple of hardwood hills and a few scrub oaks. One of the best things about it is that the property is just a few miles from the house, and that gave me a chance to go hunting when I got off work during bow season.

I hunted opening morning and a couple times after that in one of my friend’s stands. I saw a few does and a young 8-point, but I really wanted to find a spot to hang my Summit climber. Peewee showed me around the property, and there was a hardwood hill with a thicket of scrub oaks and pines next to it, and good trails throughout the area. I poured out some apple corn, put my trail camera up, and hung my climber on a big oak that sat right between two major trails and had several 30 yard shooting lanes. The first time I hunted it was in the morning, and I didn’t see anything. On Sept. 22, we were at work, and it had rained that day some. Peewee and I had talked about how it would be a good day to go hunting when we got off work that evening. When we got off, we headed out to the lease, and he went to a hardwood hill on the other side of the property. I sprayed down with my BuckMaker Scents No Impact scent-eliminating spray and headed toward my climber. I had been using BuckMaker Scents Game Changer for the past couple seasons and had great results with it, so I sprayed some on my boots before I walked in the woods, and then I sprayed the bushes around my stand pretty good before I climbed up.

I had been sitting there for a little while when I saw two big does headed my way between the thicket and the hardwoods. They ended up coming within bow range, and one of them ate some of the apple corn I put out. I decided not to shoot one being that I had to work the next day. They ended up walking away into the thicket, so I continued to sit still until about dark. I sat up in my climber because my back began to hurt a little the way I was slouched down in it, and as I sat up, I looked to my right around a branch that I could not previously see around. I saw a very wide buck with his nose straight in the air, standing in the thicket at about 30 yards away. But all I could see of him was from the neck up. I instantly knew he was a shooter.

After standing there a few seconds, he must have liked the smell of that Game Changer because he started down a trail headed right for my shooting lane. I stood up in my climber. As he was walking behind a big oak on the edge of the lane, I drew back on my bow. When he came out from behind the tree, he was only about 18 yards away, and he started quartering toward me slightly, heading for the bushes where I sprayed the Game Changer.

I put my first pin at the top of his shoulder and let it ride. He took off like you shot him out of a gun for about 20 yards, and then he came to a halting stop at about 15 yards behind me. As he was standing there breathing heavily trying to figure out what just happened, I tried to nock another arrow. I was shaking so bad my arrow made a little noise as I was trying to get it on my rest. He looked me right in the eye, blew one time, and ran off into the distance.

At that point, I was just standing there trying to take it all in on how I just messed up. I waited a few minutes and got down and walked over to where I had shot to try and find my arrow. It was sticking out of the dirt right where he was standing. I pulled it out to further examine it, and there was a bunch of hair on it with just a few specks of blood and a little meat around the broadhead. Deep down I knew that it wasn’t a good sign.

I walked back to the truck and met up with Peewee, and we went back down to where I shot to look. We didn’t find much sign where I shot, so I walked over to where he stood a few seconds and the trail he ran off on and found a handful of blood. As we started to look around, we found a pretty decent blood trail to begin with and continued to follow it for the next couple hours, sometimes having to get on our hands and knees to find little specks—until we lost it.

Peewee had to leave, so I called another buddy of mine, Rodney Harvell, to help me look some more. We ended up picking up the trail again for another 30 or 40 yards, and then it just ran out. At that point it was like two in the morning, and we figured I had just grazed him, so we left. I planned on going out there and looking the next day but was unable to. The next couple nights were sleepless. The shot and the whole thing just kept replaying in my mind over and over again.

I ended up going and checking my trail camera a few days later. As I was scrolling through the pictures and came across a picture of the buck, my heart began to pound. I couldn’t believe it. It was my buck. He was a big 9-point and had come through just two nights after I had shot at him. These were the first pictures I had of him, but I knew it was him by his distinctive wide rack.

Over the next couple weeks, I was able to go back hunting a couple more times and continued to get pictures of him on trail camera. My second encounter with him was on Oct. 3. When I first saw him that evening, he was walking away from me through some broom sedge on the edge of the thicket. He ended up crossing through the hardwoods about 80 yards from my stand, but I was able to get a good look at him. This gave me a little more hope that I might actually have another chance at him. I had been checking the weather for which way the wind would be blowing each day. When I went back, I wanted it to be perfect.

On Oct. 7, I saw that the wind would be coming out the southwest, which would be perfect for my setup. When I got off work, I rushed home and took a shower, grabbed my gear and headed for the woods. When I got there, I sprayed down with my No Impact and sprayed the Game Changer on my boots before I walked in and on the bushes around my stand as I had done before. I had been sitting there about an hour when I heard something walking in the thicket to my right over where I had first encountered the buck. I just had a gut feeling it was him, so I turned my head and focused on that spot. A couple minutes later I saw him.

He started slowly walking around as if he was going to circle around me. At that point my heart was beating about 90 miles an hour, and I was just praying that he didn’t walk behind me and get down wind. All of a sudden he turned around and started walking back on the same trail he came in on, and he was headed for the same lane where I had grazed him two weeks earlier. I started to stand up and draw back, but I remembered Rodney telling me, “Just wait on a good shot.”

He came out, and he was so nervous acting that I knew there was no way I was going to get away with standing and drawing my bow, so I just waited and watched. He walked around looking and smelling for a few minutes, and then all of a sudden I hear what sounds like footsteps coming from the thicket.

The buck heard it, too. He looked over in that direction and took off with his tail in the air, out of sight.

At this point I’m thinking, “I had my chance and blew it on a Pope & Young buck.” Less than a minute went by, and I saw a coon coming out of the thicket. So I reached for my grunt call, which was hanging on a hook in the tree, to try and get him to come back. Then I saw him walking back toward me. He must have seen that it was a coon, and I just couldn’t see him at that point. Whenever he got about 30 yards from me, I heard what sounded to be another deer walking down a trail behind me that came 5 yards by my stand. At that point the buck had come to a stop and was looking in that direction, and then he started pawing at the dirt like a bull!

Scared to turn my head or make any movement, I just continued to focus on him. I could hear the other deer getting closer and closer. He stopped at a scrape right under my stand and started working it. I guess the big 9-point didn’t like that too much cause he went over to another scrape and started aggressively tearing it up. I still didn’t know how big this other buck was until he walked around me, headed for the apple corn, and I saw that it was just a young 6-point.

The big 9 turned around and was headed toward the 6-point, and I thought, “Here’s my chance.”

As soon as he walked behind a dead oak and some young sweetgum trees and was focused on the young buck, I leaned out the side of my climber and drew back. As he stepped out from behind the trees, I let him have it at about 15 yards, right behind the shoulder. I knew I hit him good because when he left he was plowing up dirt as he ran back to the thicket. The young buck ran off about 20 yards and came right back to eat, not knowing what had just happened. I texted Rodney and Peewee and told them, “I just smoked him!”

I waited until dark when the little buck left, and then I snuck out to meet Rodney, Peewee and Joey Logue at the truck. We waited another 30 minutes before we started looking because I wanted to give him at least an hour. We found my arrow broke off not far from where I shot him, and it showed good blood and deep penetration. We continued to follow the blood trail into the thicket. There was good blood at first, and then it started getting less and less. At this point, I was debating whether we need to back out or keep going, but we continue on, finding drops of blood here and there and seeing where he kicked up sand as he ran. We had been tracking him for about 80 to 100 yards when I heard Peewee say, “There he is.”

I didn’t believe him at first until I ran up there and got my hands on the buck. When I got to him and grabbed his rack, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My shot was a perfect double lung shot, but the arrow had lodged in his opposite shoulder leaving only one hole to bleed out of. After examining him, we saw that I had grazed him two weeks earlier.

Before he dried, he had a 20 1/4-inch inside spread and ended up grossing 127 3/8 and netting 123 3/8. He had broken at least 7/8 of an inch off his left main beam, which would have made him have a net score of 125 1/8 Pope & Young. It was still a hunt of a lifetime even though he didn’t make Pope & Young, and it’s one that I will always remember.

I’d like to thank my wife Becca, for putting up with me for the few weeks that I obsessed over killing this buck and BuckMaker Scents for making such great products. I’d like to dedicate this article to my Uncle Tommy Tanner, who I lost this past March. He was a huge influence on my life, and without him and my father, I would not have a passion for deer hunting and the outdoors that I do today. Take a kid hunting and fishing cause you might just be the spark that lights a life long fire up in them.

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