What’s a “trophy” whitetail, anyhow? To me, it’s defined by much more than inches of antler, body mass or age. Yet, on the same note, it could be all of those things. One thing’s for certain: At the end of every blood trail is an animal that should be revered, all the way from the field to the freezer and eventually to a hungry mouth.
My recent trophy was a year-and-a-half-old buck that sported three points; he would’ve had four, but he broke a point off. Maybe he was a young rutting scrapper, or maybe he clumsily shattered it while rubbing on a small tree. None of that mattered when he stepped into bow range and I sent a Carbon Express through his rib cage. Minutes later, he quietly bedded down under a pine and died. Then he was mine. As I ran my hand across his head and patted his back, I marveled at his wild beauty and gave thanks.
He was young, he wasn’t huge, and he didn’t have much bone on his head. But he was a special trophy because of everything it took to tie my archery tag on him.
I’ve hunted hard this year, racking up 40 or more sits—mainly on public land. However, my uncle managed to score us a 3-acre private piece to hang a stand just 10 minutes from both of our homes. It’s a meager little plot of land to try and poke a whitetail, but two regularly used trails offered some promise. More than anything, it gave us something to babble about during our regular evening, hunting-focused phone calls.
I visited the property to set up a game camera once in October, and returned a week later with bow in hand for an evening hunt. The property was an undeveloped lot wedged between a couple of high-dollar homes on the outskirts of suburbia—just close enough to “the country” to offer some solitude for a desperate hunter and habitat for resilient whitetails. It’s small enough to walk from end to end in a minute. On that same walk, you might see a swimming pool, a man eating dinner in front of his TV … or a giant buck. You never know.
When I returned last Sunday, a bed of crushed rock had been put in place for a driveway and the foundation for a new home was built. Tracks in the dirt from heavy machinery covered an area where whitetail tracks were just days before. Things didn’t look great for a guy hoping to find a deer, but a fresh trail by our treestand and a strong southwest wind—perfect for that stand—gave me enough reason to stick it out for 2 hours until sunset.
I climbed into the stand and immediately began a chorus of grunts and estrus bleats. I’ve never called-in and killed a deer (for myself), but I know it works if the conditions are right. And right they were, because within an hour I spotted movement to the west. It was a buck, and there was no question he would soon end up in front of me.
The buck wasted no time, undoubtedly hoping to find the source of the sweet sounds that had caught his ear. There he stood, at 10 yards. He looked up at me, as if he knew something was out of place. I didn’t move an inch … until he continued his stroll and two trunk-to-trunk trees masked my draw. I squeezed my Hot Shot and watched the buck react in confusion as he trotted away with an illuminated nock protruding from his vitals. Game over.
My uncle and I shook hands as we stood over the buck and cleared a warm place in our minds for a special memory. This was a trophy we could share—and that’s one of the best kinds.