Half of a trophy?

On the last day of the year 2000, I pointed my well traveled
pickup south and made the 325-mile drive to my friend Tony Knight’s
place just west of Centerville, Iowa.

Tony and his wife, Rose, let me bunk in their pole shed when I’m
hunting their neck of the woods, but it’s not as bad as it sounds
since the rear third of the shed has been partitioned off into
living quarters complete with bunks, stove, ‘frig and even a TV.
Rose usually feels sorry for me having to eat my own cooking, so
she always invites me in for supper.

The living is easy, but the hunting was tough.

Actually, I thought it might be fairly easy to hang my tag on a
good buck this season. We had the snow and cold, which is exactly
what I wish for when hunting late season whitetails. The
combination of snow and cold forces deer to concentrate on
remaining food sources, and that provides a pattern.

But this year, things just did not work out that way. Tony
wisely asked me not to hunt his farm because four dandy bucks
already had been taken on it by Tony, his son, Billy, and a couple
of friends.

Even though I had the assistance of the “Maddy Boys,” Stan,
Keane and Jason, and my old friend Bruce Watley, I just could not
get on a buck. In fact, after hunting a solid week, I had yet to
lay eyes on a buck. So I drove home and spent a couple of days
catching up on business in the office.

I actually gave some thought to just calling it quits. The
weather had warmed, and I knew that my chances of seeing a good
buck were slim. Indeed, they were getting slimmer with each passing
day, since a good number of the bucks already had shed their
antlers and more were dropping every day. But persistence pays, so
on Monday, Jan. 8, with only a couple of days to hunt before the
season ended (on Jan. 10), I threw my sleeping bag, muzzleloader,
and some grub in the pickup and headed south.

The first evening was a bust not a single deer. The next morning
was a repeat performance, and I was beginning to feel like I did
not know much about whitetail deer. But I believe in sticking with
it and hunting hard and smart until the final bell, so that
afternoon found me prowling the hardwood ridges. A well-trafficked
trail appeared about mid-afternoon, and I settled over it for what
I expected would be another long, cold vigil.

A stray hound made short work of this stand site. I heard it
barking down in the valley, and pretty soon a group of five does
came hurrying down the trail. They had just disappeared into the
timber when a big-bodied deer broke across the ridge, then stopped
50 yards in front of me to look back in the direction from which it
had come.

Just by the shape of the deer’s body and his square head, I
figured I was looking at a buck that had shed his antlers. My
binoculars confirmed my suspicions. The barking grew louder and two
more bucks joined the antlerless buck. One was an 8-point, the
other a 10-point. Both were 21/2-year-old bucks. Next year, both
will be in their prime.

With all of the hound activity in that valley, I decided to move
out and backtrack to another valley. Normally, I love to
still-hunt, but the warm spell had left the snow crusted and noisy,
and even with a fairly stiff wind blowing, there was no way I could
slip up on a deer without it hearing me first. But out of habit,
when I came to the crest of a ridge, I just naturally slowed down
and snuck slowly over the lip. The buck below me must have been
pawing through the crusted snow for acorns and making so much noise
in the process that he did not hear me.

There was nothing wrong with his eyes. When I popped into view,
he blew out of there at full speed, raced down the side of the
hill, crossed a deep ditch and started up the far side. I grabbed
the dog whistle I wear around my neck just for such occasions and
gave a loud, sharp blast on the whistle. Usually, a deer will stop
when it hears the whistle. This one skidded to a stop right behind
a clump of trees. I could see his butt sticking out one side and
his head from the eye forward sticking out the other.

Through my binoculars I could see a long main beam jutting out
towards the end of his nose, a sure sign of a mature buck. I knew
he would not stand still for more than a few seconds and when he
departed, it would likely be at full tilt. There were a lot of tree
limbs between me and the buck, but with the 2X6 Pentax scope
cranked up to maximum magnification, I found a small opening in
front of the buck.

I put the crosshairs in front of his black nose and a
nano-second later when the buck bolted, I hit the trigger. I was
shooting one of the new Knight Super DISC .45 caliber muzzleloaders
and feeding it a 165-grain Barnes saboted bullet pushed along by
150 grains of Pyrodex. This is the flattest shooting frontloader
I’ve ever stoked and that flat trajectory was key for making the
shot. The buck died instantly with a broken neck.

Seventy-five yards from the buck, I knew something was not
right. His head was laying too flat. My trophy only had one antler.
Judging by the freshness of the blood on the buck’s forehead, he
had probably shed the other antler that day. I spent a half hour
searching the sidehill and retracing his route in case the antler
had dropped during his escape, but no luck.

As you can see by the picture, the buck is a mature animal,
probably 31/2 years old. The single antler scores 66 inches, which
means that if the other antler matches and given an 18-inch spread,
the buck would gross around 152 inches.

At first, I was disappointed. I felt cheated. And had I known
that the buck only had one side, I would not have pulled the
trigger. But on the long drive home, I realized that one antler or
two, the buck was still a mature whitetail. He still possessed the
same uncanny sense of smell, the keen ears, and the good eyes. He
was still the same magician at appearing and disappearing,
something his kind does better than any other big game animal of my
acquaintance.

And for my part, I had hunted him as well and as hard as I knew
how, and in the end, the gods of the hunt had smiled on me once
again.

So if one day you should visit my cluttered office, you will
notice that on the wall, surrounded by more perfect specimens, is
the mount of a one-antlered buck. Go ahead and snicker, it won’t
bother me, because that half-rack is a trophy in every respect.

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