By: Warren Gray
Copyright © 2022
“Now, therefore, take your weapons…and go
out to the field and take me some venison.
And make me savory meat…that I may eat.”
— Genesis 27:3-4.
The story of this particular deer hunt began on Thursday, September 8, 2022, the day before the opening of archery hunting season for whitetail deer here in Maryland. I had a trail camera attached to the base of a neighbor’s 18-foot hunting stand, and at 1:57 PM, in broad daylight (most unusually), the nice, healthy, eight-point buck shown below appeared right in front of the camera, as if posing for a profile photograph near the corn that I had scattered upon the forest floor.
I saw him in person for the first time just four days later when he and two of his bachelor-herd friends – a five-point buck and a six-point buck – arrived at the same location at 7:15 AM, precisely at official sunrise. The six-pointer and eight-pointer were both extremely cagey and elusive, but I had a clear shot at the big, 160-pound, five-pointer as he stopped to consume my corn (See my previous, Gunpowder Magazine article on “Swift, Silent, and Deadly: Crossbow Hunting in the Deep Forest,” from October 3, 2022.) Needless to say, I took the huge five-pointer as my sole, archery-season buck.
Soon afterward, I purchased a brand-new, Killer Instinct Lethal 405 crossbow because my older crossbow was starting to delaminate on the limbs, a potentially dangerous situation. This new crossbow fires 370-grain, HyprLite 20-inch arrows/bolts at a blazing 405 feet per second, hence the numerical designation of the weapon. It also shoots my older, 415-grain Barnett Headhunter arrows at about 370 feet per second. My last two crossbow deer kills – in October 2021 and September 2022 – were somewhat less than decisive in stopping power, with the first buck running a full quarter-mile before expiring and the second buck dashing off for 250 yards into a deep thicket for some sense of safety and concealment.
So, despite its aggressive-sounding name, I wasn’t sure how the new Lethal 405 would perform on an actual hunt, although I had sighted it in perfectly at 25 yards, straight through a one-inch bullseye.
One of our neighbors, Kenny, told me that he had taken an eight-point buck with a crossbow early in archery season, but it ran off, and he could never recover the body. Since the only eight-pointer I had seen recently in our neighborhood was the big fellow shown above, I was disappointed that someone else had harvested him first and reasoned that he was probably long gone by late November.
So, on the morning of Tuesday, November 22, 2022, I was quite surprised to step outside my home to retrieve the trail camera from a tree near my deer feeder at 7:55 AM, and standing brazenly nearby was the same, eight-point buck pictured above. I could only count seven of his points as he allowed me to close to within 50 feet before he turned and ran away. I took the trail-cam inside my home to check the results on my computer, and meanwhile, the big deer boldly returned to my feeder outside, remaining there for the next half-hour as he leisurely finished the last of the corn lying on the ground.
At that point, I had already taken the one allowable buck during archery season in my state. So as far as I knew, this big, healthy buck was safe from my hunting efforts until the opening of rifle season on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Also, I was only permitted to take one buck per year with less than six points, so my next buck had to be a six-pointer or larger in either rifle season or muzzleloader season.
Then, that very same evening, my corn feeder went off at exactly 5:00 PM, and the eight-pointer arrived promptly at 5:02 PM to partake of the corn spread alongside a doe and her young fawn. Notice on the trail-cam image below that he was standing directly beneath the feeder, a behavior that he would later repeat with fatal results.
He was a nice, beautiful buck, but still unattainable, at least for a few more days, although on the opening day of rifle season, I knew that our area would be overhunted with enthusiastic deer hunters all gunning for this one available buck.
Early the next morning, on Wednesday, November 23, 2022, the day before Thanksgiving, I was out walking for exercise in the darkness at 5:20 AM when I rounded a corner about a quarter-mile from my home, and saw the same eight-point buck slowly crossing the road in front of another neighbor’s (Vince’s) house under a street lamp. This was the second time that I saw this buck in person, and I already had him on trail-cam photos from September and the previous evening. So, I was excited to see him again but not overly hopeful of my chances of getting him in the upcoming rifle season.
Later that same day, Kenny and his adult son came to my house for a few hours to relocate some logs to build a shooting backstop for my rifles and pistols. When they were done at about 1:30 PM, we had a brief discussion about deer hunting, and he mentioned the state’s “bonus-buck” stamp.
I had always understood that this ten-dollar stamp permitted hunters to take a third buck for the year, after taking one in each of two seasons, but he pointed out that there was also a clause allowing the “bonus-buck” stamp to be used to take one additional buck in any season. We were still in archery season for a few more days, and I already had an archery-season buck, but I purchased the stamp at 2:15 PM, and instantly became legal to hunt that roving, eight-pointer with my crossbow for the next two and a half days.
I went hunting that very evening at 4:00 PM in Vince’s woods up the street, where I’d just seen the mysterious buck very early in the morning but had no results for the next hour and a half until it was too dark to see anything. Meanwhile, back down the street at my own home, my wife later told me that the eight-pointer had stepped out of the tall grass next door at 5:19 PM, headed for my feeder, but he cautiously veered away into the neighbor’s woods a mere 10 yards before reaching the corn feeder.
This was another interesting development, because by now we had him on camera at least twice and had three visual sightings of him within less than two days, and I was hot on his trail with a fully legal, bonus-buck stamp to use my crossbow again.
On Thanksgiving morning, Thursday, November 24, 2022, I hunted from my own wooden hunting blind, 10 feet above the forest floor and only 18 yards from my corn feeder beginning at 6:25 AM in the first few minutes of visible daylight with my feeder active for six seconds at 6:30 AM. It was a frigid 28 degrees Fahrenheit up there, but there was no wind, and the plexiglas windows kept me reasonably warm, comfortable, and quiet. Yet no bucks appeared by 7:30 AM, and it was beginning to feel like a wasted effort.
Then, we enjoyed a wonderful, Thanksgiving Day visit with immediate family members from approximately 9:00 AM to 1:30 PM. After they departed, I decided to try again for that wandering, eight-point buck, on the off-chance that he was a creature of habit, (as most of us are) and would likely return for a corn feast soon after 5:00 PM when the feeder would once again dispense six seconds worth of dry, shelled corn.
It was a balmy 51 degrees when I climbed into the octagonal hunting blind at 4:15 PM, and a doe and her fawn soon arrived to check on the nearby feeder, but there was no corn yet. So, they quickly departed, deeper into the surrounding forest. Then, at 4:57 PM, three minutes before feeder activation, a big, healthy, solitary doe showed up, nosed around the feeder, and then ambled into the adjacent woods for a few minutes, until she heard my feeder spewing out corn. She hurried back from 80 yards away, and began helping herself to the fresh corn on the ground, but there was still no sign of my sought-after buck.
So, over the next few minutes, I raised the window facing the feeder, propped a small, camouflaged pillow on the windowsill to cushion my crossbow, and shouldered the new weapon, taking careful aim at the doe. I did this strictly as practice to get the feel of the crossbow and its scope in an actual hunting scenario. I aimed directly behind her front legs, at the heart-lung area, checking the visibility of the scope’s crosshairs in the declining daylight, with no real intention of shooting at this doe as the outdoor temperature had gradually dropped to a still-comfortable 48 degrees Fahrenheit.
Suddenly, at 5:13 PM, in my left peripheral vision, the rogue, eight-point buck appeared in the distance, emerging from the tall grass and trees to the north, and angling directly toward my feeder and the doe that was already present. I immediately slipped the fairly noisy safety mechanism of my crossbow from “Safe” to “Fire” at 100 yards, before he could approach closely enough to hear it. By 5:15 PM, he was on the far side of my feeder, just out of sight except for his legs, and my heart was pounding with the anticipation of possibly obtaining a decent shot at this elusive buck.
Then, he slipped directly beneath the feeder again, exactly as he had done on Tuesday evening. I was presented with a less-than-desirable, front-angle shot just in front of his left shoulder, and downward into the heart from a mere 18 yards. I didn’t like the oblique angle and the declining visibility, but I figured that this might be the only shot that I would ever attain, so I gently squeezed the trigger and unleashed a Barnett Headhunter 20-inch, carbon bolt at 370 feet per second, with my last, razor-sharp, 100-grain, Allen Stryke Impact broadhead screwed onto the tip. (I’m now using sturdy, G5 Outdoors Montec, solid-steel broadheads.)
What happened next was so fast and furious that I didn’t sort it all out until the coming of full daylight the next morning. I hit him straight through the heart, with the rear half of the short arrow still sticking out of his left shoulder. He instantly kicked and bucked, breaking off the rigid, arrow shaft and lightly damaging the feeder screen in the process. Then, he charged straight at me, rammed the lower portion of the heavy, wooden, hunting blind and loosened a steel tie-down cable in the process. He turned left, headed east, and only made it 17 yards before collapsing and rolling over. He stopped moving just six seconds after I took the shot, so it was a quick, clean kill, and there was fortunately no need to track him through the deep forest in the growing darkness.
Since this occurred on Thanksgiving Day, our usual deer processor was closed for the day. So, my wife and I quickly field-dressed this fine buck, packed his chest cavity with a large bag of ice from the local gas station, and delivered him to the processor at 9:00 AM on Friday morning. He weighed in at a modest 96.2 pounds dressed-out, so he was about a 110-pounder in the wild – a bit on the light side. However, this was during the full-rut period for local deer, so he was apparently more interested in female companionship than eating. Yet, he was still hardy enough to have grown eight identifiable points on his broad antlers and was certainly the only eighter-pointer regularly appearing in my semi-rural neighborhood.
In any event, this extra-special deer hunt was a very rare Thanksgiving Day blessing for several important reasons. First, the big buck suddenly appeared out of nowhere after an absence of two and a half months, and now we were now repeatedly seeing him virtually every morning and evening for nearly three days straight. Next, I was unaware of the bonus-buck clause until Wednesday, hastily purchased the stamp at the last minute, and my very short window of opportunity to take him before the busy, overhunted, rifle season was rapidly slipping away. It was one of those truly unbelievable circumstances when everything came together in a hurry in an unlikely combination of preparation, sheer luck, and considerable prayers, acquiring a substantial amount of clean, healthy venison for the coming year.
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Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism, and is an NRA member. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, four college degrees, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He currently a published author, historian, and deer hunter. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.