I’ve been bowhunting on public land around Mark Twain Lake (northeast Missouri) for several years. My inlaws have a place up there, so it’s a convenient weekend getaway for me and the wife and kids. They usually keep it open until around mid-October, so it overlaps a month of Missouri’s bowhunting season.
I’ve hunted a few areas around the lake, but focused in on a set of timber ridges about 3/4 mile from the house. There’s a spot between these ridges where three creekbeds intersect, and I call it the crossroads:
In September, I set up my digital scouting camera at the crossroads to study the game in that area. From September 22 to October 15, it was triggered 53 times. At least 25 of those events were triggered by whitetails. Most were does, yearlings, or spike bucks. There was exactly one mature buck, an 8 pointer who passed by once at 2 a.m. earlier this month.
Importantly, this is in Monroe County where antler point restrictions (APRs) are in effect. Antlered deer must have at least 4 points on one side to be legally taken. Generally that means you need an 8-pointer. Most of the male deer I’ve encountered in the area are 6 pointers or less. But I took a nice doe in the area a couple of years ago, and hoped to do the same this year.
It was October 18th, my last day to hunt around the lake.
6:15: I set up my ground blind on the southeast corner of the crossroads an hour before sunrise. It was cool, around 55 degrees. The wind was light and out of the WSW. I didn’t spook any deer or turkeys out. The woods are quiet.
9:00: I hadn’t seen a thing all morning. I’d tried a bit of deer calling but with no results. The wind was picking up, so I’d closed two of my blind windows to try to minimize my scent. I was about ready to throw in the towel when I saw a young doe moving on the far ridge (not toward me) so I figured I’d stick it out another half hour or so.
9:15: I saw movement to my right as something came south down the creek bed. I could hardly believe my eyes when I spotted the antlers. It was a big buck (8 pointer) and looking to walk right past my blind. I drew as he came into view, put my 30-yard pin behind his shoulder, and loosed. Wham! It sounded like a good hit, but the buck hardly moved. He kept walking, but out of my sight window, so I grabbed another arrow and slid out of my blind. A minute later I’d crept over a little rise and he saw me.
I drew again, at 20 yards this time. Thwack! My arrow hit the only branch between us and skittered wide. The buck took off up the far ridge to the west of me.I went back to my blind and grabbed some gear: my waist pack, binoculars, and quiver. I nocked another arrow and snuck northwest to sneak up that ridge.
9:30: I was about at the crest when I saw the buck. He’d bedded down near the top of the ridge, which was unusual (and a good sign). He did a little hop over to move a few yards, but wasn’t moving well. He bedded down again. Over the next half hour, I tiptoed closer to him from downwind, using trees for cover and moving only when he was looking the other way.
9:45: I got close enough for a shot. He was laying down but broadside to me. At this point, I wasn’t sure I’d hit him at all, but I felt I had to put a second arrow in him regardless. I loosed and hit ANOTHER branch, a sapling this time. He jumped up but knelt down almost immediately. That was the good news. The bad news is that he turned to face me. Cue another 15 minutes of pretending to be a tree, working my way closer and to the side where I could maybe get a shot.
10:00: I spent a lot of time watching him. He sat up just fine, and kept looking around. Every now and then he closed his eyes a little, but otherwise he looked sound. I’m sure he saw me trying to move around, but there was nothing else I could do. Finally I got close enough to spook him, and he stood. Quartering away. I drew, loosed… and missed. Too low. Damn.
He was still there, and quartering away. I drew my last broadhead, settled myself, and tried to make it count. Wham! Another hit. I could see at least one wound, now, and I was damn sure it was enough. And the collective wisdom of so many deer hunters kept playing in my head: back off and give him time to lie down. So I did just that. I was pretty sure I’d done the deed.
10:30: I went back to my ridge and packed up. Strolled home happy as could be to tell the neighbors and family that I’d gotten one. We put the trailer on the hitch, and I loaded my cart to drive down to the neighbor’s gate.
11:30: I parked and went back into the woods with my bow, small pack, and the deer cart. I retraced my steps to the spot where I’d taken the final shots. I figured that an hour was long enough. But when I got there, the buck was gone. There was definite spoor in two places about 5 yards apart, and the blood looked dark.
I marked these. But I couldn’t get a direction on it or see any more. I started to worry this might be like the time I shot, tracked, and lost a buck.
12:00: I started a grid search, first in the direction he’d been facing (south). The woods ended about 75 yards in that direction, opening up into the flood plain and then the river. I didn’t think it likely he went out in the open, so I circled around west, which seemed the most likely escape route. Nothing.
12:30: More bad news: I found two of my arrows (the low shot and the sapling) which made me second-guess whether I’d hit him at all. By this point, my family had talked to the owner of the adjoining property. He came out looking for me on his ATV, so I went to meet him. He’s familiar with the area, and suggested that the buck might have gone back north into the “safe zone” via the old logging road. That seemed reasonable, so I scouted up that way for a while, with no result.
1:00: At this point, I was utterly exhausted. I’d covered a LOT of ground and had nothing to show for it. My wife was reminding me that we had to pack up to head home. It was just the worst feeling to have spent all day on this failed venture. I thought I’d give it one more shot: I got down on my hands and knees and started blood-tracking. Maybe the light had changed or the desperation helped, but I picked up the trail. A drop of blood or two, every five yards.
Over the next hour I tracked it about 50 yards until the trail ended. All south towards the open ground and the river.
2:00: I pushed out through the brush at the top of the ridge for a glimpse of the flood plain below. And I saw something. Could have been a log, but I swear I saw an antler, too. I climbed down, still not willing to believe. But I stumbled through the waist-high burr-ridden weeds. And there he was.
3:00: I tried to drag him along the river, but even with the cart he’s just too big and heavy for me to drag out alone. My father-in-law raised me on the radio to let me know they were all worried about me back home. He came to help, and we caught a break: some hunters were up scouting the river in a pair of flat-bottom boats, and they offered to run the buck out to the boat ramp. Special thanks to those guys, who also jumped out to help us haul the beast to the shoreline.
5:00: I finally get to take this long-waited photo:
And here’s another picture that I took while my neighbors were taking some photos:
He’s a great 8-pointer and my first buck in northeast Missouri. Persistence pays off!