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A bedtime prayer: yes, always hunt your best for whitetails, but never underestimate the power of the intangibles.

DURING THE SUMMER, my hunting partner and I had selected stand sites based on crop rotations, aerial photos, and good old-fashioned boot-leather scouting. Now we had just spent the afternoon checking gear and flinging arrows to ensure that our gear--and our shooting form--was ready for the whitetail rut.

As the sun dipped below the treeline and we loaded the last of our gear into the truck, it was time to tuck my eight-year-old son Travis into bed. As he burrowed under the covers, he began his nightly bedtime prayer. Listening to him talk to God, I felt thankful for the time we had together, and a little humbled that I had been entrusted to teach and care for this little man. After he had thanked God for all his relatives, his dog, and all the other things little boys thank God for, he finished up saying, "And help my Dad get a big buck tomorrow."

As my son's words echoed through my head, my mind raced back to an oak ridge I had hunted the previous October ...

AT MY RIDGETOP VANTAGE, only the occasional smack of falling acorns ricocheting from branch to branch and hitting the leafy ground interrupted the calm, cool evening. Securely strapped to the waist-thick red oak, I cautiously scanned my surroundings. My plan was simple--to intercept a buck cruising between prime bedding and feeding areas north and south of me. The narrow strip of timber between a near vertical drop, and the freshly cut bean field in front of me funneled deer. Experience had taught me that the scattered oaks and ample cover created a favorite travel route for rutty bucks.

Nearly two hours into the hunt, the methodical steps of a buck shattered the quiet cairn. Glancing to my left, I saw a tall, white rack. Knowing this was a shooter, I slowly stood up and came to full draw, as the 140-inch 10-point closed the gap between us. When the buck stepped into an opening between two large white oaks, I grunted, but he continued his march. Quickly, I adjusted for a shot in another opening. I grunted again once, twice, three times. In desperation, I whistled. Only after taking several more steps did he pause long enough for me to admire the sticker points on his beautiful rack. Unfortunately, the 45 yards separating us would be as close as I would get on this day.

Walking out of the woods in the dark, I second-guessed my decision not to take the shot. The buck had passed by a mere 25 yards away, but in the end, I knew that moving shots are always iffy. Fortunately, the buck hadn't spooked, and with the rut just starting to heat up, I began planning my next move.

Although I hunted hard, I never saw that buck again until near the end of January, and then it was only a glimpse as he crossed the road in front of my truck. It was exciting to know he had survived the last of the gun seasons. With another chance to arrow this magnificent deer just a hunting season away, October couldn't get here fast enough.

ON OCTOBER 28, EXACTLY one year from my first sighting of the tall-tined buck, I stood perched in a double-trunked poplar tree. I had patiently waited until conditions were perfect for this spot. The steady rain that had fallen throughout the day allowed me to cross the 60 acres of standing corn and quietly sneak in close to the bedding area undetected. The steady south wind would safely carry my scent away from the deer I hoped were bedded in the thicket. The night before, my son had prayed for my success. The stage was set.

Positioned 40 yards into the woods, I looked across the small staging area that separated me from a briar-choked cedar thicket beyond. With the protective wall of corn behind me and the impenetrable thicket in front, I felt confident this was the perfect place to ambush an unsuspecting buck.

While still fastening my release onto the bowstring, I saw two does emerge from the cedars and browse toward the corn. The gimme shot would have put some tasty venison in the freezer, but I chose to let them pass. Having hunted this farm for years, I knew it was a prime area, and the boss of the woods would likely have claimed this spot as his own.

An hour later, I saw a buck with a tall white rack, maneuvering between the cedars. It was him. The same deer from a year ago--but now, with tines more than a foot long, he had to be pushing 160 inches, P&Y. I'd thought about this buck for a full year, and here he was, walking boldly into view. Unfortunately, he was following a trail that would keep him on the opposite side of the staging area, just out of my effective shooting range.

Hoping to change his course, I let out two mature buck grunts. He stopped, looked my way, and then began pawing out a scrape. As I watched this amazing sight, my heart raced.

Twice more I grunted. Again, he looked my way, eyes and ears searching. Unable to see his challenger, he walked into the undergrowth, circling downwind of me. With nothing to lose, I continued spouting out deep, challenging grunts in an effort to lure him out in the open before he caught my scent. I was having no success until a large 8-pointer walked out of the thicket and began pawing on the recently made scrape.

Instantly, the dominant 10-pointer charged into the staging area, ears back, hair raised, ready to drive the smaller buck away. With his attention on the now retreating 8-pointer, I came to full draw, settled my 20-yard pin on his vitals, and released. At my exact aiming spot, the arrow buried to the fletching.

Instantly, the buck spun and crashed back into the thicket. As the sound of his running faded, the woods became completely silent as if paying tribute to the monarch that moments earlier had ruled this place.

The longest hour of my life and a few quick phone calls later, my son Travis, brother Eric, and cousin Andy showed up to help in the tracking. For 30 yards the blood trail was light, but the farther we went, the heavier it became. The trail led us across a small creek, and just on the other side we found the buck piled up in what was probably one of his own scrapes. He had run about 150 yards.

As I wrapped my hands around his antlers, I thanked God for blessing me with this awesome animal. And I was thankful that Travis had played such a role in the hunt. God had answered his bedtime prayer.

Photo by the author

AUTHORS NOTES: My buck officially measures 154 2/8 typical P&Y. He weighed 202 pounds, field-dressed, a very nice Ohio farmland buck. I used a Mathews Q2, Competition pro arrows, NAP Thunderhead 100 broadheads, Summit climbing treestand, Scott Mongoose release, Rocky boots, and RedHead Gore-Tex carbon suit.

The author and his son live in Wilmington, Ohio.
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Author:Lamb, Matthew T.
Date:Sep 15, 2007
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