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Persistence Pays Off
By Robert Gratson


During the last week of the 1997 archery season, I found myself in a situation on State Game Lands #51 in Fayette County that would eventually test my knowledge and skills for the next two years.


It was a fairly uneventful day because of the warm weather. As daylight faded, I picked up my equipment and started back to my truck. I was walking down an overgrown logging road when I thought I heard a grunt. I decided to stop and listen; I knew it was too dim to take a shot, but I was curious as to what I heard. Then, just on the other side of a thicket, a deer came from my left and stepped into the road. It stood there about 12 yards in front of me. I was shocked and dumbfounded! It was a beautiful, high-racked, massive buck. The incident was over as fast as it happened -- so I thought! In reality, it had just begun!


There were only a few days left in the season, and I figured I had no chance of patterning this animal, let alone seeing it again. But the encounter was so close to my stand, I thought that if I moved my ladder stand a little I might just have a chance.



The following morning I was not able to hunt, but by 2 p.m. I was in the stand and ready. At about 3:00, a small 4-pointer and three does passed by.


Not long after that, a decent, pencil-racked 7-pointer came in. I had the opportunity to take it but decided to pass. I knew deep inside there was something bigger and better close by because the bucks that had just passed were nervous and jumpy.


I was right. About a half-hour before sunset, a buck suddenly showed up. I knew it was the one from the night before, and it was heading to the same place. It came within 20 yards and offered me the best shot any archer could ever ask for. The buck was perfectly broadside and looking away. I came to full draw, put the pin on it, held my breath and released. I heard a thud and was sure of a fatal hit because of the sound and the way it raised its hindquarters. The deer kicked and then ran away.


I waited only 15 minutes, and by that point, the excitement was killing me. But I would soon find nothing but a major heartbreak! I went to the area of the shot, and there, stuck in a stump at ground level, was my arrow with absolutely no trace of a hit. To this day I still can't figure it out.

I hunted the remaining three days with no sight of the buck. On the final evening of the archery season, the good Lord gave me the opportunity to harvest a nice 8-pointer.


Although happy with the 8-pointer, I couldn't quit thinking about the other buck. The image of that monster was imbedded in my mind. I let my grandfather get a crack at him during the gun season that same year.


On the first morning, I sat right beside him on the opposite side of the hollow from the old clear-cut where I first saw the buck. We sat there for hours and saw a lot of does and a couple of spike bucks, which he won't shoot. There was no sign of the buck anywhere. By now I figured it was gone or harvested by someone else down the hollow. We hunted that area the entire season with no sign of the buck.


The second day of doe season, I decided to hunt up around an old house foundation that used to be a big farm and was now overgrown with a huge crabapple thicket on the top. I still had my doe tag and had seen does there during archery season. The old farm sits in the middle of a giant saddle. At the top on one end is the backside of the clear-cut and on top of the other end is the crab-apple thicket. As daylight broke, I saw two deer wander off in the distance and disappear. At this point I decided to move about 200 yards over, closer to the foundation.


I was slowly still-hunting the ridge over toward the farm and noticed I was surrounded by giant buck rubs. As I took a closer look, I noticed the rubs were deeply gouged at least three feet off the ground, and I was looking at 10-inch trees. I knew from experience that they had to be done by a big buck. I had this overwhelming gut feeling that these were the makings of MY buck. As I stood there looking at the rubs, I noticed a big doe. I didn't hesitate. I took her.


I radioed my grandfather in the hollow and told him that I was taking the doe down the hill and through the hollow to the Game Lands road and told him to meet me there.


We met and made plans for the afternoon hunt so he could get his doe. I told him to drop me back off at the old farm road, and I would poke around up there because there was a ton of fresh sign. He would be sitting in the bottom of the hollow so if something was up there it would run down to him.


It took me 20 minutes to reach the farm. I was walking a zigzag through the fields and thickets toward the old foundation. I jumped four does immediately, but they were heading up the hill away from my grandfather. I tried to make a big circle to the top of the knob in order to cut them off and push them back down to him. I slowly reached the top of the knob. There were two giant pines and a couple of old, rusty Chevy Vegas about 40 yards in front of me. No does in sight.


I was just about ready to turn around when a flicker of something in the two pines caught my eye. I looked close as it stood up. I could not believe my eyes! It was the buck. It seemed like 15 minutes went by. We both stood there staring at each other. I could finally see its size and mass with my 40x binoculars. At 40 yards I could almost count the burrs. The buck was a perfect 8-pointer, but its mass and height were the impressive parts. I had taken some nice bucks, but this one had more than 5 1/2-inch bases and was just as thick all the way up to its P3 with long tines. As the deer said its goodbyes, it walked away without even raising its tail. That was the end of the 1997 season for me.


All winter I frequented the area and studied trails and sign but never saw the buck again except for part of it in March of 1998. I took my closest bowhunting buddy out to the areas that I had seen the deer and what I think were its signs. We agreed that together we might be able to come up with the buck's travel pattern. We looked at my notes and maps, and I showed him the areas I had seen the deer so that we could come up with a feasible plan. We decided to walk the route, and everything began to fall into place. We saw rubs, scrapes and lone beds. About halfway through the route, we ran into a giant scrape at least 10 feet by 6 feet in the middle of the crabs. Then I noticed something in the "Y" of a tree. It was a shed, and not just any shed. The buck's right side shed had become caught in the tree and was hanging there -- a little chewed up but still impressive. I finally knew that I was on the right path.


During turkey season in May, I looked around and saw a lot of bucks, but it was still too early to tell anything because they were still in the early stages of velvet. When mid-August rolled around, I had the buck in my sight pretty regularly. It was unmistakably large compared to the other bucks we were seeing in the area. Throughout the rest of August and September, I frequently saw it in the fields in the early morning hours and had the deer's travel trails down fairly well. It was just a waiting game until archery season began. I knew I would have to get a shot at it early because the forage would be changing quickly and its patterns would change as well.
 

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Two year Bond PART II




The first day of the 1998 archery season finally came, and it found me in a tree 400 yards from where I had seen the buck leave the fields early in the morning throughout August up to now. I knew I had nailed the spot because at dawn a 6-pointer and a fork that was always in the field near it passed by me at 17 yards. Within 20 minutes of them I saw movement to my right about 75 yards away. It was MY buck. It came in nervously walking in a zigzag pattern like it was confused. I was confused! The wind was with me and none of my scent was in the area where it was walking. The buck stopped about 50 yards out and bedded! Yes, bedded! I was a wreck. What do I do now?


I waited until 10:15 and it never budged. I was desperate so I reached under my shirt, grabbed my grunt and hit it one soft time. The buck just stood up and walked away! I was crushed.


Three weeks went by before I ever saw the buck again. I changed locations. One evening I was set up where I was seeing a lot of does. I thought with the pre-rut or chase phase I might catch it snooping around. After seeing a few does that evening, I decided to head back to the truck. Walking in the field, I saw the deer about 50 yards away along the opposite side along the woods. It caught sight of me and was gone -- just like that.


The very next morning, I was back in the same stand. Right at 7:30, a buck that I had never seen was coming in pretty fast. It was a beautiful 10-pointer, and it was running a little buck right out of the woods. I decided that if it presented the shot I was not going to pass on it. The buck stopped at 25 yards and started to feed, giving me a slight quartering-away shot. I took it right to the vitals. I was glad I took the animal, because up to that point it was my largest buck ever. It was a mainframe 10-pointer with five kickers coming off the right base, truly a trophy animal. But the personal battle between the big 8-pointer and me was not over, not by a long shot.


I still did not harvest my doe so I spent every minute that I had searching for a big mature one. It didn't take long. The next to the last Saturday of the season, at 12:30 p.m., a big doe came down the fence line right toward me. I could not believe it! She was nervous, and so was I, because right behind her and closing quick, grunting and snort wheezing, was the bruiser I wanted! It chased her right around my tree and stopped with her at 10 yards and the buck at seven! She looked right at me as I tried to come to full draw while my arrow was pointed at her but my eyes were on the buck behind her.


I think that it was the most nerve-racking moment of my life! I managed to place a pin on her and arrowed through her shoulder with a perfect hit. She went 35 yards and expired. The buck never moved. I was a wreck. There it was looking right at me in the tree. Again it walked away, every once in a while turning around and looking back. That was the final straw! At that moment I made up my mind that if that buck made it through the season, it would be the only deer I would hunt the following season!


After telling this to the local guys and friends, they all said that I should have let the previous buck pass because of all the time I spent on this deer. But I felt like only a fool would pass on a buck like the one I got. Like I told them, "That might have been my once-in-a-lifetime buck." But deep inside I knew there was still a chance for me next year, or for my pap's gun season this year.


The gun season was uneventful with no sightings of the buck at all. I even resorted to taking a few friends out for late archery and muzzleloader season. We drove out every thicket and hollow, but no buck. I figured it was shot, hit by a car, dead or poached because one of the guys found a giant bodied deer with just the head and shoulders cut off of it. Then, there was a flicker of hope. One morning a ranger in the area almost hit a giant buck crossing the road into the old farm place. That helped, but I still had an empty feeling in my gut.


In July, August and September of 1999, I scouted passionately for my buck. Then, on August 23, 1999, I stumbled into the deer at a very close distance. It was a foggy morning at about 8 a.m. I was on the route that my friend and I came up with right after my first sighting, walking along a 10-foot high, eroding bank.


As I was sneaking along the trail, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the silhouette of a deer right above me along the edge. I stopped and looked. There, only at 20 feet distant, was my buck, unaware of me in the trail below it. I could tell it was already as big as it was the previous year, but a kicker off of its P2 was new. The buck looked even twice as massive in velvet! I knelt down and watched it eating and moving along the ridge until it was out of site. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of joy and appreciation that the buck was still there. I tried to get a better pattern on it this time, but everything seemed to have taken change with its character.


After that day, I didn't see the deer again during daylight hours, and by September 15, it must have gone completely nocturnal. I only saw the buck about 5 times following that day while spotting with the family; and then nothing. I figured that my presence, scent, and pressure around it, along with our encounters and its biological clock ticking away, caused the deer to make this sudden change. I decided that this had to be the season or it would die or move out of the area altogether.


As the archery season of 1999 began, I was more ready than ever. But it didn't take much time to lose hope. I, along with my buddy, saw buck after buck the entire month of October, but never MY buck! I decided it was gone, and I needed to move on.


Then on November 6, I was walking into the area I had seen the buck and where I'd taken the doe that previous year. It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and I had just crested the hill on the backside of the field. I could not believe my eyes! There the buck was again, chasing two does back and forth. I knelt down by a round bail and tried every call I had in hopes of turning it my way. Nothing worked. I rattled ... nothing! Not even a look!


I collected my thoughts for a moment and decided to just sit there and wait without doing anything else. All I could do was watch them go off into the woods and disappear. But I was in no way upset. In fact, I was delighted to see the buck. I spent the entire next day in that stand and only saw one little doe.


I returned to the area on November 10, my daughter's birthday. I woke up a little late that morning and arrived at the location where I had seen it chasing does three days earlier. The morning was cold and rainy with temperatures right at the freezing mark. But I had a calm sense of success from the moment I climbed out of bed. I never felt that relaxed and at ease before in spite of the late situation and weather conditions.
 

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Two year Bond PART III

It was 6:15 a.m. when I started heading across the field to my stand. As I reached the top of the hill in the middle of the field, I looked over and noticed a bunch of deer with one of them running around in circles chasing the does. I pulled out my optics and was smacked in the face with what I saw. The deer were about 150 yards from me and about 30 yards from the stand that I was planning on hunting in at the edge of the field. It was still a little too dark to see the size of the buck down there, but I could tell that it was a big one. I figured I would try to head to the corner where the other does were apparently heading.


I got to the corner at about 6:30 a.m., undetected by the deer. I stood by an old beech tree in hopes that the buck would come by. I could see the does about 40 yards from me in the field. All of a sudden they came running at full steam within 10 yards!


Then, about 50 yards to my right, I heard a grunt, and there, running past me, was my two-year quest! It passed at 25 yards, but I didn't have a shot. The buck stopped about 40 yards away from me and pawed the heck out of a scrape. I quickly got tucked in behind the big tree and hit my grunt one long time. It immediately jerked its head up and took a couple steps closer. I reached into my pocket and turned over my 'doe in heat' bleat.


As soon as the baaaaaaaaa was done, the deer came charging right toward me. There it stood, 7 yards away, totally unaware of my presence, and I was not even at full draw. Luckily, one of the does that ran by earlier must have urinated because the buck stuck its nose on the ground and was doing a 360-turn with its nose nailed to it. This allowed me to come to full draw.


I put the pin on it, and just as I was getting ready to release, I looked at my arrow and noticed it wasn't sitting on the rest, but on my wrist! With the buck staring right at me I managed to do a quick burp and wiggled the arrow at the same time right back to the rest. Right when I released, the buck turned and I watched the arrow smack and crack it right in the side of its neck. The buck fell down without taking another step.


I stood there for a minute or so and noticed that he just bedded and could not move. I'd hit his spine! I slowly approached the animal. The buck couldn't move anything but his right front leg a little and hold his head up some. I felt horrible, but excited at the same time.


I sat down beside my trophy and slowly tried to ease the pain somehow by petting his head and back. After about 10 minutes of this, he seemed quite comfortable, and I had the feeling we had had a bond for two years. I slowly pulled his head to my lap and spent the next 20 minutes talking and petting this big animal until he finally passed.


As the buck took his final breath, he turned his head over on its side on my lap and licked my hand. Needless to say, at that point I was in tears but thanking God for what had just happened, and for what He had given me. This is was a hunt that will never leave my mind.

The buck weighed in at 203 pounds and scored an impressive 154 3/8 net. It is truly a trophy with only 8 points and one kicker on his P2. His mass was 6 3/8 at No. 1 measurement of beam and 4 3/8 at final measurement of main beams.
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Robert Gratson
 

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Great story, thanks for sharing.
 
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