By W. Cary Perkins


If you ask most deer hunters their goal, the answer will most likely be, "to kill a big buck."  But beyond that, it is also enjoyable and a special part of deer hunting to just see a lot of deer even when you don't shoot one.  It makes for long days in the woods when you don't see deer.  Sometimes you pray to just see even one. 


On the magical day that was November 1st, 2012, I saw 21 deer including 13 different bucks...five of which might be considered "shooters."  For me, it was Christmas in November...a Kentucky deer hunter's dream.    


I usually don't get serious about my deer hunting until around October 25th when the bucks begin to stir for the oncoming rut...and the weather is usually cooler. I'm not fond of hunting in hot weather.


My hunting spot is located some 200 yards off the Ohio River between two bluffs at the mouth of a creek in Oldham County, Kentucky.  This year I had put up a new stand based on my experiences with deer movement patterns over the past four seasons.  It seemed almost every deer that I saw came within range of this spot. 



Author Cary Perkins with his 9 point buck of November 1, 2012

I tried out the new stand with my crossbow on October 24th and 27th.  On the 24th I saw 4 does and a spike.  On the 27th, I didn't see anything.  Then Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast bringing Kentucky, on the storm's outer fringe, high wind and some rain. The wind slowly began to abate on October 31st.  I was tempted to hunt that day, but decided to wait until November 1st.  The forecast was for much reduced wind along with frost and a low of 29 degrees. The 29 degrees would be the low so far for what was already a cooler than normal Fall. 


As I began my mile walk before daylight down the Ohio River bluff to my stand, I was immersed in the glow of a gorgeous full moon.  It was so bright that I could have hunted all night long at short distances.  I figured the bright moon was a bad thing.  With a full moon, deer often feed all night and then bed until mid-day.  I'd never had much success during a full moon.  Thankfully, this time was different.


As the moon gave way to daylight, it appeared my moon script was playing out. Everything was quiet.  Then at 8:15 AM it started.  I heard two very loud deer grunts from the bluff across the creek.  I answered both times, wondering how big he was and if he'd come to my call.  At 8:30, two does slipped across the bottom from the direction of the grunts and walked within crossbow range. The lead doe stopped in the shooting lane and stared straight at me 30 feet up in my sycamore.  She stamped her foot once which is a deer's sign that "I see something that alarms me."  I averted my gaze from making eye contact as the books say to do and sat totally still.  She finally gave a flick of her tail to say, "Oh, well; must be nothing." and then the two moseyed on around the bluff toward the river.  Many folks say deer never look up.  It's not so!  I was up 30 feet, and I had the wind in my favor!


A few minutes later I spotted a small four point buck making his way down the bottom from the river.  Minutes later he was followed by a basket-rack eight point.  The four point continued up the bottom but the little eight point circled and came down the trail on which the two does had made their exit.  I thought maybe this was the one who had made the grunts.


I was watching him to my left when I heard leaves rustle to my right.  I glanced over my shoulder.  Coming up onto my knoll from the road that traversed the bottom was what appeared to be a possible shooter.  I quickly raised my binoculars and put them right back down.  He had a chocolate rack with heavy beams and odd points.  In many cases it only takes a glance to tell if a buck is a shooter. This one was.


He began to pass behind me at 15 yards which was dead down-wind.  I tried to turn to my left to get ready for a possible shot as he came out on the other side of the tree.  Then I heard the foot stomps.  He had seen me or winded me...or both.  I sat frozen still and hoped for the best.  The foot stomps continued for maybe a minute.  Then he apparently decided I wasn't a threat and proceeded on. 


He passed to my left at 20 yards but I was still too apprehensive from almost being detected to try to take a shot.  And when I had done my pruning of shooting lanes for this stand, I had missed removing some important branches in that direction.  They complicated any crossbow shot where he was moving.  

The buck continued on behind a thick curtain of branches then started to meander back and forth grazing on some type of vegetation as he went.  He met the basket rack eight point. They sized up each other and even locked antlers once to briefly spar.  As they sparred, I also heard antlers rattling up on the bluff across the creek where the grunts had come from.  Then the chocolate-racked buck began to move off the same way the does went.  Then...he stopped...and came back.  It looked like he was heading for my primary shooting lane.  Excited with anticipation, I took the safety off the crossbow, but he stopped five yards short of where I needed him to be.


He was giving me a 30 yard shot at his neck through a notebook-piece-of-paper size opening in the branches.  With a rifle, he would have been mine, but I won't take a neck shot with a crossbow.  I felt sure he would continue into the shooting lane.  He loitered, grazing in that little spot for what seemed like five minutes.  Then...he turned and walked the other way.  He made his way through a thicket before turning again and heading up the bluff to my left. 


Frantically, I hit my grunt call twice.  The first time he stopped to acknowledge it.  Then he continued on.  I tried my snort-wheeze aggression call, but he continued on undeterred.  He vanished into the foliage up on the bluff.  He was gone.  I could only hope he would come back. 


Trail camera picture of chocolate-racked "shooter" that got by the author early in the morning without a shot. Trail Cam Photo by David Burke

Not 15 minutes later, I saw a big deer coming down an old road on that bluff.  I thought, "Here he comes."  A quick look through my binoculars showed it was a different buck.  I watched him through the brush as he headed toward the river.  My hunting buddy, David, was at work but I was keeping him up on everything by text message.  I texted this one was a possible shooter but that I needed a better look.


Maybe a half hour later, the two does that passed me earlier came back from around the bluff, stopping to graze in the shooting lane in front of me.  They were followed by that last buck...and now he had a partner.  The buck which had come down the road...the possible shooter...had a massive body...the biggest I've ever seen on a live deer.  He looked like you could saddle him like a horse.  His antlers were thick but their spread was average and the tines were short. I took the safety off my crossbow for the second time this morning, but put it back on.  I wanted a trophy rack and I didn't think this buck had one although he certainly had a trophy body.  I guessed he'd field dress 225 pounds or more.  I would call him a shooter, but I didn't want to shoot him this morning after having seen the earlier chocolate-racked one. 


The partner buck appeared to be young with a tall rack and moderate width.  At first glance I thought he was a borderline shooter.  I didn't take a good look at him for staring at the monster body of the other one while trying to talk myself into shooting him if I got the chance.  As soon as I firmly decided not to shoot, "The Horse" as I nicknamed him, which hadn't been giving me any kind of a shot, trotted through my shooting lane at 15 yards and proceeded after the does. 


The partner buck then passed just behind me.  I turned my attention to him and wished he'd come back.  He looked young but I had decided he could be a shooter as well.  I wanted a better look. The Horse slowly headed across the bottom and out of sight while his partner walked the mowed road up the bottom and right underneath another stand I had in a boxelder. 


To this point, the day had been ridiculous.  I had already seen three shooters and it wasn't 10 AM yet.  And it didn't slow down.  I was still to see two more does, a spike, two more four pointers, a six point, a basket rack nine point, another decent eight point with a dark rack...and still one more buck where I could only see a glimpse of white antlers.  Deer were still filing through way past noon. 


After 1 PM it started to slow down, and I was getting tired.  I don't normally like to hunt in the evenings but with the deer running crazy and me already hour walk from my vehicle... I decided to stay.  But I needed a break.  I climbed down to walk a quarter mile up the bottom to where I had some water stashed and to lay down in the leaves and rest awhile. 


I almost got to the rest spot when I heard a commotion just on the side of the hill to my right.  What looked to be big ten point crashed through the brush and up the hill. With him were two does. The 10 point stopped broadside at 50 yards and stared at me as though he didn't know what I was.  The does did the same.  The buck was a true trophy and by far the best deer I'd seen this year.  His rack was very wide and the tines were tall.  But I was helpless.


It was a can't miss shot with a rifle.  But my crossbow was on my shoulder with the bolts in the quiver.  My rangefinder was buried in my coat pocket...and I thought he was too far through brush any way for my crossbow.  I knew it was futile.  So I decided to treat this as a chance encounter and nonchalantly keep moving on up the road. Deer seem to have a sixth or seventh sense which discerns intent, and I wanted them to think I was harmless. I've seen deer sometimes ignore coyotes like African plains game often ignore lions. They can sense intent. The does remained frozen and the big buck headed a little further up the bluff and stopped.  I walked out of sight to my rest spot another 50 yards up the bottom. 


I laid myself down and rested for an hour and a half although I didn't sleep and spent a lot of the time sending text messages. Not only was I texting David, but also my friend, Lloyd, who was leading a meeting the following day that I was supposed to attend.  I wanted Lloyd, also an avid deer hunter, to know the bucks were running wild every where and to express my sincere wishes to be excused from the meeting. 


At  4 PM I got up to go back to the stand. Where I had left the big 10 point standing on the hill there were two fresh scrapes in the road that had been made while I was laying down.  I guess I didn't spook him too bad after all.  I had heard leaves rustle a couple of times to where I had even grabbed my crossbow, loaded a bolt, and sat up.  But I didn't see anything. This was just one crazy day in deerdom. 


On the way back to the stand, I jumped a bedded doe who snorted some loud alerts to every other deer in the vicinity as she made her exit.  As I pulled the crossbow up in the stand, a second doe did likewise standing on the hillside above me watching me. She headed up the bluff where the chocolate-racked buck had disappeared in the morning.  These deer had come in while I was gone. 


Things were really slow now. The two snorting does did not help the cause. Then at 5:39 PM, it changed. Coming from the river on the trail going around the hill was a tall, wide buck.  I was immediately impressed by his tall tines.  It appeared he was going to follow the script I'd planned for and walk right through my shooting lane at 28 yards. I quickly put the binoculars on him and decided to shoot. 


At the sound of the shot, he dashed 15 yards and stopped.  His back was slightly arched which is a sign of a liver shot.  He just stood there for maybe 5 minutes.  I slowly re-cocked my crossbow without him seeing me.  This was my first shot at a deer using Rage mechanical broadheads with a 1.75 inch cutting diameter. 


I saw his hind quarters buckle. But he regained his composure.  He gave a tail wag which is a sign that "I'm OK and life is good."  And he started to walk off.  I thought, "Uh-oh."  Then he stopped, and turned and abruptly bedded down.  He was down maybe 5 minutes then got up and started to walk off again.  He was at 50 yards and just out of range of my making a finishing shot.  If I climbed down from my stand to move closer, he'd likely run off.  Right now he was totally unaware of my presence.


The author's 9 point buck just after he was shot but before he bedded down.

He took a few more steps and bedded down again.  He repeated the sequence a couple more times.  The last time, it looked like he tried to run...and then he fell, breaking brush in the process.  He was now at 60 yards.  Gradually, he became still.  When I was sure it was over, I climbed down and slowly approached. He was the 13th buck I'd seen today.  Thirteen is often considered an unlucky number, so I'll call him "Lucky 13."  Later when I checked my trail camera, I found I had a photograph of him between the shot and when he bedded down. That picture is included above. The mussed spot in the hair on his flank is where the bolt entered.


It appeared he had taken a step as I released the trigger on the crossbow and instead of a lung/heart shot, the bolt hit too far back.  But the Rage broadhead did an admirable job.  He was a mainframe eight point with a small kicker off the back to make nine points.  His G2 tines measured 10 inches long and his antler spread was two inches outside his ears.  He was a good deer, but he was young.  I might have let him walk had I gotten a better look, hoping for an older deer like the chocolate-racked one since this was still very early in the season.  But hunting travel lanes, unlike food sources where deer often linger and can be inspected, requires snap decisions.  And I was mesmerized by his tall G2 tines. You make your best assessment and go with it.  He's still a very good buck. 


I called the property owner and got permission to use his ATV, and David, who had come out to squirrel hunt after work that evening, drove it to me the mile down the bluff road and up the bottom to the river.  It was well after dark when we got the buck loaded onto the hitch-haul on the back of my SUV.


It had been one of the most magical days I had ever experienced deer hunting.  I was very tired but still sorry that it was over.  And I was doubly sorry because I had to stop hunting bucks in Kentucky in 2012 due to the state's one buck annual limit.  It was almost like teasing me to see that many bucks and have to stop now.  I'd seen a season's worth of bucks in four hours.  I was to later spend opening weekend of firearms season sitting on stand with David's teenage son, Alex, hoping to help him get a buck. Yes, I would still be hunting does and even coyotes...but as much as I love deer have a day like this and have to wait until next year to chase another buck of my own with so many good ones still around...well...that part was a little depressing.