By Brad Juaire
This is a story of a buck my wife nicknamed “Stealth” and how his life ended.
Back in 2013 I got a few pics of a 2.5 year old eight pointer that had some potential with tall tines. One year later I was able to capture the same buck on camera again and he had grown quite a bit. However, most of his activity was during the night. As the rut approached, the more aggressive I became setting up closer and closer near his core bedding area.
11/4/2014 – 1st Encounter: After an uneventful morning, I decided to rattle at 10 a.m. About 20 seconds into it, he comes crashing in and runs right into my setup to within 30 yards of me while I’m still holding onto the rattling antlers. He was wired and looking for the fight. I was amazed how quickly he came in. I ever so slowly moved when I could, placed the antlers on my seat, grabbed my bow and attached my release. He was now about 35 yards quartering away as I drew my bow. I released my arrow and I zipped one right over the top of his back. He ran off and left me dumbfounded. I had dreamed all year about this opportunity and I just blew it.
11/5/2014: 2nd Encounter: The next morning I set up in a pinch point, this time west of his bedding area. About 8 a.m. I see him and he’s walking right towards me. He gets to within 50 yards and then looks right up at me in the treestand. We have a stare down for about 30 seconds and he’s not going for it. He finally blows at me and runs off. Another heart breaking encounter.
Later that day, I checked a couple of trail cameras and to my amazement he was on one of my mock scrapes at 3:30 p.m. the day before and after I shot at him. As I watched the video I noticed a small mark on the very top of his back. I just thought at the time it was from a fence or from fighting.
11/6/2014: 3rd Encounter: As daylight broke, once again I see him. This time he’s in a picked cornfield about 500 yards away and he’s tending a doe. I watched them for about an hour and finally the doe starts to head towards a long strip of woods that runs adjacent to a swamp. I decided to try and cut them off and moved to another stand about 200 yards away from me. 30 minutes later and I see them both coming! The doe jumps the fence about 40 yards away as I get myself into a shooting position. If I can get him to stop there I would have a pretty good broadside shot. The buck finally jumps the fence and I try to stop him with a mouth bleat but he trots right through the opening and they are now both in some thick brush. The doe mills around for about 5 minutes and all I can do is watch. I tried blowing on my grunt tube but he won’t leave her side. The doe eventually wanders off into the thick swamp and he follows.
Three mornings in a row, I had 3 encounters with this buck, from 3 different stands and he eluded me every time. To add more salt to the wound he was now with that doe and I knew I wouldn’t see him for a while. It was at this point my wife called him “Stealth” and the name stuck.
He finally started showing up on my cameras again at the end of November, but I was busy hunting in other states (WI and IA). On Nov 24th I got a trail camera video of him and I noticed there was a small round hole on top of his back. All of a sudden it hit me, that hole was caused by me when I thought I zipped one over his back! After reviewing all the videos again, there was no doubt in mind that I had caused this and I had actually hit him during my first encounter back on Nov 4th.
I hunted a few times late season but didn’t see him. I was hoping that we would meet again next year.
About 2 weeks into the 2015 bow season I captured him on camera once again. I was happy to see that he put on a few more inches and grew 3 more points on his right beam now making him an 11 pointer. He was also showing himself right before dark but by the time I found out, I had missed my opportunity. Over the next month I captured him on 7 different trail cameras and 50 separate instances. This allowed me to better understand his travel patterns. Two consecutive evenings he showed up on two different cameras during legal shooting hours and we ended up switching places. Talk about frustrating…
11/4/2015: 4th Encounter: I decided to get aggressive and sit in a stand that I had hung in the spring right next to his core bedding area. My plan was to sit until noon and then move 100 yards to another stand that would be better for the evening sit. The morning was uneventful so I packed up my things and decided to move. I get about half way down on my climbing sticks and wouldn’t you know it – here he comes! I can’t believe this is happening! He walks right towards me, eventually gets downwind, catches my scent and immediately bounds off. I was utterly in disbelief. Talk about bad luck! I was crushed and thought I had blown my one and only opportunity.
11/5/2015: I pondered my next move and decided that I needed to hang another set right in the middle of his core bedding area – a 4 acre thicket surrounded by big open woods. It was a perfect day for it with rain and high winds. At this point I felt I had nothing to lose. When I arrived I was amazed to see so many big rubs he had made from this year and last year. This was definitely the spot! I hung the set, hunted until dark but I only saw one little buck. My plan was to sit dark to dark the next day no matter what.
11/6/2015: 5th Encounter: The next morning I once again climbed into my new stand. I saw a few deer in the morning but from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. I didn’t see anything. Shortly after 3 p.m. I caught movement behind me and a buck my son calls “Buffy” (because he’s built like a cape buffalo) comes strolling by. Buffy is a mature 8 pointer and he’s at least 4.5 years old but he’s not the reason why I was out there. He walks perfectly broadside to me, stops in the open at 10 yards and then continues on his way. It was a great encounter and it lifted my spirits.
About an hour later I see a doe running hard towards me in the open woods and right behind her is a buck! It didn’t take me long to realize it was Stealth! They jump into the thicket to my left, make a big circle around me and end up running right under the other stand that I got busted in 2 days earlier. Ugh! I should have been over there! The doe makes another turn and now they’re headed back towards me! They’ve been running the entire time. But instead of running by my stand, the doe jumps into the thicket again about 40 yards away. I pull my bow back thinking I may get a chance at that distance if he follows and if I can get him to stop. Right before he jumps into the thicket, I grunt at him with my voice and he stops! I can’t see his head nor his hind legs but I can see his vitals. I settle my 40 yard pin on him and release my arrow. It hits him hard but I’m not sure exactly where. He immediately does a 180 degree turn and goes on a death run for about 100 yards until I can no longer see him.
I sat down and wondered if I had done the right thing. It happened so fast and then I started to second guess myself on whether or not that shot was too risky. The last thing I wanted was to wound this deer. I sat there trembling in my stand as I replayed the events over and over.
I waited about 30 minutes and then finally climbed down. I found my arrow about 30 yards away. It was broke off about half way up. I saw a couple drops of blood but not knowing where I hit him and as light was fading I decided to back out.
11/6/2015: The Recovery: It was a restless night and I didn’t get much sleep. My wife who understands my crazy deer hunting obsession drove up 2 hours to support me and to help in the morning search. She’s not a deer hunter herself but certainly understands what deer hunting means to me. With the help of some friends we headed out at daybreak. We started tracking and found drops of blood here and there. The more we tracked the easier it was to see the blood. We only went about 60 yards and my buddy suddenly yells – THERE HE IS! He could see him in his binoculars lying about 50 yards away. As we approached the deer it finally sunk in. Stealth was dead and I started to break down. My wife hugged me as I tried to wipe the tears away. Everyone stood back in silence knowing the emotions that I was feeling. It was kind of a surreal moment as I approached him. Night after night, I had dreamed about putting my hands on him and now that I could – I didn’t want to. He was lying there covered in blood – his antlers, his face, his neck – blood was everywhere. I started to feel sorry for him and somewhat guilty knowing that I had done this to him. He had eluded me so many times and now the hunt was finally over. I guess the older I get I’m starting to realize more that the pursuit and the chase is way better than actually killing the animal.
Stealth will be forever etched in my memory. We played cat and mouse for over 3 years. He certainly knew me a lot better than I knew him. I feel very grateful and thankful it was me who ended his life. I also think about all the things I did just to have a chance of seeing this buck: creating mineral licks, hanging tree stands, planting food plots, checking trail cameras, making mock scrapes, practice shooting… the list goes on and on and on… I also want to point out that there were many sacrifices made by my wife and our children because they allow me to spend a lot of time away from home chasing these magnificent creatures.
Hunt each day like it’s your last one. Never ever give up! Savor every moment of the hunt – the highs and the lows. It feels so much better when you do it that way and when your turn finally comes.