It was August 30, 2014, the opening day of Oregon’s archery season, and my dad and I started hiking from the trailhead at 3:00 a.m. The trek took us along an old burn scar from the mid 1990s, around a couple points, and over two ridgelines. Upon stopping halfway up the second ridge to catch my breath, I made the comment that the wallow where we’d been getting pictures of the wide 4-point buck was only about 100 yards away. I hardly finished my sentence when I caught the reflection of eyes looking down at me. We adjusted our headlamps and looked toward the eyes. The big, heavy buck was standing less than 30 yards in front of us. It was at least an hour before shooting light, so all we could do was watch. He stood there in the wide open and then gracefully walked out of sight. From that moment on, hunting that particular deer became my all-consuming obsession.
Fast forward to the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Each month from March until the season, I made several trips to check my trail cameras. In each of those years, the buck showed up towards the end of June. He’d materialize at random times and leave for good the week before season. I was really looking forward to the 2016 season because I had decided not to guide so I could devote the entire month to locating and killing this buck. I searched for him day after day but never once laid eyes on him. I was convinced that I would never have the chance to hunt this amazing buck again.
The months leading up to the 2017 season were hectic. Hunting season was always on my mind, but I didn’t know how it was going to happen. My dad and I were talking about how much of a bummer it was going to be that we weren’t going to have trail cameras up that year. We were both thinking the same thing – there was no way we could let that happen.
We made a quick trip over to our hunting area to hang the cameras. When we looked in our packs, we saw that we had grabbed a couple extra cameras. We hung one of them on a random tree where two game trails came together. That camera ended up making all the difference in the world.
Almost a month went by before my dad went over to check the cameras. He called me when he got home and said, “Your buck is back, and he’s put on some extras.”
I was beyond happy! My wife kept asking what was going on. I just said, “He’s alive, and I need to go look at him.”
I got in my truck and drove the 20 minutes to my parent’s house. My dad’s laptop was sitting on the kitchen table, and there he was. He was everything I could ever want in a mule deer. He had put on three extras, small kickers off of his right G2 and G3, and an inline between his left G2 and G3.
The day before season started, my dad and I made the fourhour drive to camp. The topic came up about which stands we were going to sit for opening weekend. We both knew that I was going to sit in the “deer stand” and that he would sit in a stand one ridge over. He mentioned that he wanted to sit in the deer stand the second day of season. I asked him if I could have it the whole weekend because I had some friends coming out from Michigan to hunt with me and I wasn’t going to have very much time to hunt for myself this season. It didn’t take him very long to come up with his response, “Of course. You don’t understand it yet, but someday you will. Watching your son harvest an animal of that caliber would be better than doing it yourself.” That selfless love is the only reason I got the opportunity that I did.
We got to camp and prepared for the weekend and then grabbed the SD cards to look through the year’s pictures one more time. We loaded the card that we had put on the random tree where the trails intersected and I noticed a weird file. I clicked on it, and it was like winning the lottery. For some reason, the camera was storing pictures in two separate files and we had completely missed one of them. My buck appeared dozens of times in the daylight. I looked at my dad and said, “I think I know where he lives.” I couldn’t wait to see what the next morning would bring.
We started hiking hours before daylight and got to the stand at 4 a.m. I took the card out of the camera and put it in my reader. The buck had been there twice in the past 24 hours. We knew he was close, it was just a matter of whether he’d come to water or not. We told each other good luck and parted ways. I got up in the tree and started daydreaming about what was to come.
At 10 a.m., I heard some crunching about 100 yards up the hill from me. I could see it was a beautiful 170" buck followed by a 140" buck crossing up ahead of me, going directly to where I thought the big buck was living. That was the only action I had all day. My dad and I met up and headed back to camp. We knew that we would only be able to hunt the morning of the following day because we needed to get home at a reasonable hour. We decided that we’d get in our stands at 4 a.m. and meet up at 10 a.m.
I got out of my stand at about 9:00 because I wanted to take it really slow and sneak through their bedding area to hopefully catch him in there. I got to the crest of the hill and started glassing. I didn’t see anything, but I was feeling optimistic. About 10 minutes later, I was walking through a marshy area that had a big downed ponderosa. I climbed over the tree, took a few steps, and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked down the hill and saw an ear flick. A buck stood up and turned his head, and I noticed the inline on his left side. He turned and started walking up the hill in my direction.
I nocked an arrow and cow called softly to try and stop him. He didn’t even acknowledge the sound, so I cow called much louder. He stopped and turned so that he was quartering to me. I settled my 40-yard pin on the crease behind his shoulder and touched the shot off. My arrow impact was about six inches back from where it needed to be. He acted like he wasn’t even hit! He just slowly walked over the point. Thankfully, I never lost sight of his rack. I raced up to the crest of the hill and came to full draw. He was standing at 25 yards. The second shot hit its mark. He bounded down the hill and expired 60 yards from my location.
I went down to him and had a multitude of emotions happening all at once. I was elated, but at the same time I felt remorse like I had never felt while taking an animal. The hunt was over, and it was like saying goodbye to an old friend. Once I regained my composure, I tried calling my dad. With no answer, I texted him my location and said that I’d taken the buck. Then I tried calling anyone who would listen. Not a single person would pick up their phone, so I just sat there mesmerized by the size of his antlers, how perfect his velvet was, and how big his body was. Ten minutes passed before my dad made it to my location. It was all high fives and hugs once he arrived. We took photos and quartered the magnificent buck. Then came the moment of truth. I was taping while my dad was typing the numbers into his calculator. I had taped out everything except his width measurement because I knew I was only going to get his main beam length. I asked my dad where we were at with our number, and he replied 164 7/8".
The buck ended up grossing 188 3/8". He was a perfect 180" main frame Oregon 4x4 with eight inches of extras. He is an animal for which I will always be grateful. I would not have had the chance to take this magnificent animal if it wasn’t for the help of my dad. His selfless actions made my dream come true.