By Deborah Weisberg
Pittsburgh — Archery deer season opened on an unforgettable note for Sam Musi, a Beaver County man who killed the 14-point buck he had been scouting for three years.
Musi, 38, first saw his trophy prey on a trail cam in thick woods near his newly-built home in 2018 and became intrigued by its stealth as much as its size.
Soon, the ghost, as he came to call it, was the only deer he wanted to harvest.
“I’ve never been this serious about tracking one single deer in my life. It’s all I ever talked about,” said Musi, who has used a compound bow almost exclusively since he was 12 and target-shoots every day.
“I told my wife I’m not hunting anything else.”
Early images of the deer were nocturnal — “he was a very smart 3½-year old,” Musi said — until he posted more cameras and got permission to scout a neighbor’s land.
“I got to see images of him in velvet early in the season, which hadn’t happened before,” Musi said.
He collected daylight pictures of the buck checking a scrape in a spot too difficult to get to, and hung another camera about 60 yards from the scrape in a more accessible area on the edge of a thicket near where the buck appeared to be bedding. He saw that the deer went there regularly, including Oct 1, the eve of opening day, just after dark.
His wife and two kids had been under orders for a month to stay out of the woods, “because I didn’t want anyone spooking him,” Musi said.
He skipped the next morning’s hunt, and at 2 p.m. rigged a saddle about 17 feet up a tree he had selected ahead of time, and waited. The temperature was 75 degrees and winds were out of the south, southeast.
“I was super-stressed about spooking him myself,” Musi recalled.
At 4:30, two does came through and one of them got “sketchy,” Musi said. “She didn’t like something or she sensed something and I thought I may as well just get down, it must be game over for me.”
But he decided to stay and at around 6:20 the buck — “which looked 10 times bigger than in the trail cam pictures,” he said — appeared. Realizing the opportunity might never come again, he drew back an arrow and fired, making a clean shot from 12 yards away.
“I was so focused and it happened so fast, I didn’t have time to think,” he said, recalling how calm he felt in the moment. “My dad taught me as a kid ‘don’t even look at the horns,’ so I didn’t look.”
It was only after the deer dropped about 35 yards away that Musi was overcome with emotion. “I cried tears of joy,” he said. “The adrenaline rush was ridiculous.”
He had no cell service, so he ran home to get his wife, who was preparing their daughter’s birthday party, and his son, Zander, 7, and they returned with him to the woods.
“My son found the arrow before I spotted it and he found the deer before I did, which was surreal for me,” Musi said. “He has the same passion I did at his age, which brings it full circle.”
Musi was grateful that the deer died immediately and he didn’t have to shoot it again. “A deer of that caliber, I didn’t want it to suffer,” he said.
The experience, which he has relived every day since, was “humbling,” said Musi, and the culmination of a passion he has nurtured for 27 years.
“I think of how much time I’ve put into the woods, of the hundreds of hours in a treestand,” he said. “I try to evolve as a hunter every year and think about what I can do differently.”
The buck has 15 “scoreable” points, and is unofficially green-scored at 179 inches gross.