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My Black Tail Quandary

By Paul Askew

Archery season can never seem to start soon enough and this year was no exception. Especially, considering that I had a nice velvet buck on camera almost daily during the months of July and August. Excited and hopeful, I struggled with a dilemma.

After saving points and gaining permission on some private land, this year I put in for and drew the Willamette tag, which means an additional opportunity to fill a tag on a blacktail buck. I wasted no time familiarizing myself with the property and set up trail cams starting in June. I used Purina deer blocks to give the deer added nutrition and get them to stop for photos. I had 6 deer consistently on camera. Two forked in horns, two does, a fawn, and a nice 2x3 with an eye guard on the 2 point side.

I was always excited to check the cams and see if there were other deer, but it appeared the 2x3 was the largest buck in the area. He was a beautiful velvet buck and I had a feeling by the time the Willamette season opener rolled around he would have rubbed his velvet off. I contemplated harvesting the buck on my general season archery tag which opened August 24th, so I could have a nice velvet mount. However, with the dilemma of no other bucks of equal or larger size as prospects in this area and being limited to hunting only the Willamette unit if I were to use my general season tag, I opted to save my general season tag and wait for the September 1st Willamette unit opener.

The week leading up to the hunt was full of anguish. The buck went off of his pattern and disappeared for a couple of days.  Then I got a couple of day time pictures of the buck two days prior to the opener which helped ease my anxiety a bit. However, even as a seasoned bow hunter, doubts still lingered in my brain like “is he going to hard horn and go nocturnal”. Even if I didn't get him early; I still might have a shot later in the season during the rut so I decided to take that chance.

Dressed in blue jeans and a black fleece upper, September 1st found me in my ground blind an hour and a half before first light. I wanted to get in early, because the buck had a tendency to show up just before first light or just after first light. So I arrived early so as not to spook him. As I sat in my blind listening to the subtle sounds of the darken forest, I started to day dreamed about the buck showing up and I visually placed an arrow in the perfect spot behind the shoulder. Occasionally, I would check my cell phone for the time and started counting down the minutes until first light.

Tired and fighting a flu bug, I started to doze when the shuffle of hooves beckoned my attention. A quick jolt of adrenaline filled my body and I was on full alert. Although, my heart beat was filling my ear drums, I could hear deer movement from the trail leading to my blind. A few minutes passed and I could hear a deer crossing the small creek just out of sight of my blind. A few seconds later, one of the regular forked horns showed up to visited the deer block for a few minutes and then moved on.

The excitement of seeing the forked horn started to wear off, and I sat for another hour before calling it quits for the morning hunt, because the 2x3 had usually shown up by now. Later that evening, I went back into my blind a few hours before last light, but the evening hunt was uneventful. I was worried that the buck had changed his patterns and was not going to return. The next morning was Labor Day and once again, I was back in my blind an hour and a half before first light.

Struck with the fatigue and illness accompanying the flu, I just relaxed and tried to nap the best I could in an upright position on a small stool. As daylight approached, I was doing my best to listen for movement similar to what I had heard the previous day when the fork in horn showed up. Per usual on a clear September day, the sun wasted no time brightening up the forest. I was feeling a bit defeated and my interest was starting to wane.

Although the morning was young, the buck’s schedule was nearing the latter part of when he could possible show up. Having been 3 days since he was last on trail cam, I was starting to worry that he was off of his summer pattern and my window of opportunity may have passed.

Suddenly, the snap of a twig and rustle of some leaves depicted deer movement. I listened intently as a deer worked its way down the trail into the creek crossing. I waited for the deer to show itself. It was a doe. I watched the doe and thought to myself that the buck would often accompanied a doe. Several seconds passed so I thought she was alone. That was until I heard the ruckus of another deer coming down the trail.

Without hesitation, I knocked an arrow on my trusty old Hoyt Ultratech. As the deer worked its way into view, I realized it was the buck I had been watching for months now. This was the very moment I had gone over and over in my mind and it was unfolding like a script that the buck had read and was now playing out. The buck approached the deer block and pushed the doe away. I admired this animal that had given me such interest and recreation over the last couple of months. The time was at hand. With the buck standing broadside at 17 yards, I eased the string back on my bow, picked a spot behind the shoulder, settled the pin, and dropped the string. With speed and efficiency, the arrow found its mark and passed completely through the buck. On impact, the buck kicked, jumped, and then ran up the opposing ravine about 30 yards before coming to a stop. I lost sight of the buck when he toppled over but could hear the rustling of the leaves telling the tale of a successful harvest.

Adrenaline still flowing, I gathered myself together and reflected. The harvest was bitter sweet as it put an end to the intrigue of my pursuit of this magnificent animal. Having such interaction with this deer made for a special experience.