The Swamp Buck
It was Saturday, December 9th, just after 4pm, the daylight was beginning to wane, when I decided to put my trusty True Talker grunt call to work. Considering the date, I was a bit hesitant about the effectiveness of using the True Talker. However earlier that day my hunting buddy, John “Black Bear” Hoffman encouraged me to get in the stand because he had a feeling that the 2nd phase of the rut was just about to kick in. The first eight days of December, had been extremely cold, windy, and we had been smacked with an early wet heavy snowstorm. It was Johns thought that with the improving weather and the 2nd phase of the rut beginning the bucks would be on the move. His instinct would soon become reality.
Earlier in the season it became my general practice to aggressively grunt 15-20 minutes before the end of the hunting day. Remarkably this practice proved to be incredibly effective for calling in bruiser bucks. Since opening day the 2006 season I saw and missed so many big bucks that I could write a short novel on how not to hunt whitetail. Almost without exception, I can attest that every close encounter with these Midwestern monsters was directly related to the effectiveness of the True Talker. For example, on a hunt along the Illinois River in late October I exchanged grunts with a huge 10 pointer for fifteen minutes. When he finally got within 20 yards of my stand, he circled downwind behind me, winded me, and in a flash he was gone. After he bolted, I realized I just had my first conversation with a buck. Not many people can say that! Episodes like that solidified my confidence in the True Talker.
On Dec 9th, within 10 minutes of the aggressive grunt call, a large mature buck appeared 200 yards in the frozen swamp headed my way. At first glance I knew he was a shooter, from that point on I stopped looking at his magnificent rack and concentrated on the deer. When the buck got within 50 yards of the stand he stopped dead in his tracks, and appeared to be looking straight at me in my stand. Two weeks earlier I had a similar “standoff “with another monster I was hunting from the ground. I lost that standoff so I was determined not to get picked off. After standing still, with my eyes closed for what seemed like eternity, I slowly opened my eyes and saw he was on the move. He was headed straight for my stand. I had won this standoff!
At 30 yards plus, the buck turned broadside and stopped. I contemplated taking a shot, but as I began to draw my bow he was on the move again, slowly walking straight at me. At close range this stand provided excellent coverage due to a large crab tree directly in front. Other hunt’s deer would go left or right of the stand because of the crab tree. Not this time. Instead the bruiser walked directly under my stand. As he passed behind my stand at very close range but an awkward angle, I released my arrow. Upon impact the buck kicked and ran a few more yards into the woods. It appeared as though the arrow exited through the front of his chest. A second later the buck took off like a bat out of hell.
With my heart pounding like a race horse, I managed to call my buddy John “Black Bear” Hoffman. His immediate response was, “ Don’t move.....,do not get out of the stand for at least a half hour, if you do I will kill you”. John was very blunt; he made his point, so I waited. Although after the 31st minute I climbed down to get a glimpse of the blood trail before I backed out. At this point it was dark, but because we had snow on the ground I found blood within a few feet of my stand. With that, I backed out and found my buddy John, and waited. Two hours later, our plan was to find the blood trail and then determine whether to track him that night or wait until morning. Since the blood trail was decent, we decided to continue. The trail meandered through the woods and then circled back to the swamp from which he emerged. When we entered the swamp, I began to worry that my shot was not fatal and this deer would be maimed or die a slow death, every sportsman’s nightmare. I thought we would find the deer in the next clumps of reeds. We did not find the buck, but we did see where he was bedded down in a pool of blood. We had pushed the buck, big mistake. It was time to back out and return in the morning.
After a sleepless night, we met back at the crack of dawn and continued tracking from where we left off the night before. Tracking the buck in the frozen swamp was relatively easy compared to the open fields and woods, until we started to break through the melting ice. We knew that we had to move fast. The day was going to be unseasonably warm and the snow and ice would be melting rapidly as the day worn on. We were determined to find this deer. Unfortunately, this buck had an equal amount of determination and will to survive. We pushed on and followed the trail across a field and into another frozen swamp. This swamp is massive, 500 acres . We followed the trail in circles in the swamp. The deer exited the swamp and began traveling on a small strip of land that separates the swamps. As I was trying to keep up with Black Bear Hoffman, he yelled out that he saw the buck, he was still alive!
Much to our amazement this buck had lost copious amounts of blood, traveled several miles and was not ready to give up. Shortly thereafter the blood trail stopped. It appeared as though the buck had collapsed but a blood trail was gone, we were dumbfounded. We figured that he had doubled back, so we doubled back as well. However John’s keen tracking ability told him that the blood was old and we were following the old trail. With that we returned to the spot where the trail stopped. From there we did find another trail that broke off, into the swamp with fresh blood. Twenty yards into the swamp we found the buck bedded down, he was done, and we figured he would expire within an hour. Unfortunately, I had left my bow in my truck, thinking we were going to find a dead buck. Without a bow we considered our options. Wait it out, or go for my bow. John volunteered to get my bow. An hour later he returned with my bow, where I had been waiting within 10 yards of the buck. As I drew back the buck jumped up and took off. I took a feeble shot which flew over his back. I was shocked that the deer could move. We could not believe what we had just witnessed. This bruiser refused to give up. I began to think that I would never recover this deer. As I gathered my composure, John took off on the trail again. The buck crossed another field and back into another swamp. When I caught up to John, he instructed me to take the lead and prepare to shoot. The buck was exhausted and near death. Moments later I delivered the final arrow.
Nearly seven hours later we came face to face with the beautiful mature northern Illinois Buck I arrowed the evening before. This hunt was filled with lessons I will never forget. Without the patience, stamina, determination and raw instinct of my buddy John I would have never recovered this deer. I would also not have shared this experience with my good friend who introduced me to the wonder of bow hunting whitetail deer. This was the real reward.