Today's Paper Obits Today's Photos HomeStyle MOVIE REVIEW: 'Into the Spider-Verse' NWA EDITORIAL: Pat, pat, pat Best of Northwest Arkansas Crime Puzzles

My muzzleloader slump is over.

Muzzleloader season is my favorite deer season. The weather is ideal, deer numbers are at their highest, and deer are in various stages of the pre-rut phase, making it an excellent time to encounter a mature buck.

I've already explained my disdain for morning hunting, but my afternoon and evening hunts were fruitless. Part of that was my fault.

On Oct. 23, I hunted a stand with an unscoped muzzleloader which limits my range to about 75 yards. At sunset, a big-bodied deer and a smaller deer appeared in a lane about 130 yards away. The bigger deer looked like a buck, and I believed I saw the glint of antler once when it dipped its head.

It so happens that I have a pop-up blind about 15 yards from where they were. I slipped away well after dark and hunted the pop-up the day after.

When I sat down, I noticed a little oak tree that posed an obstruction. I got out and tore it down, which of course made a lot of noise. I zipped the blind closed when I got back inside, which also made a lot of noise.

No sooner was I back in the seat when a doe trotted out of a nearby draw. She was oblivious to my presence until she looked at the blind. The open window creates a big, black blot on what previously was an unbroken camouflage structure.

"That window is open," her eyes seemed to say. "It wasn't open the last time I was here."

With that, she spun and walked stiffly back into the draw, and she didn't return.

From then on I hunted another stand in a hollow. Deer had cleaned up an abundance of acorns, but I didn't know if they visited in the day or night. A nearby camera had photographed two bucks. One was a spike, and the other had a tall, wide six-point rack. The pine thicket to the south was thinned last year. It is thick and brushy, and that entire expanse of woods looks very "deery."

I arrived Sunday afternoon, the last day of the season. To pass the idle hours, I read John Steinbeck's Log from the Sea of Cortez, a gift from my friend Connie Meskimen. I highly recommend it.

As the sun dipped, the woods grew darker. Night sounds began to fill the air. The season would be over in about 30 minutes, and I would console myself on the long walk back to camp with the thought of not having to spend the night processing a deer.

I've missed five deer with a muzzleloader since 2015, so my confidence was very low. I shoot muzzleloaders great in practice, but when I shoot at a deer, I jerk my head to try to see around the smoke plume.

As I considered leaving, I heard a twig crack behind me. My ears had already been enraptured by a squirrel and armadillo, but this was different. It sounded "deery."

Moments later, a big body drifted through the trees. I steadied my stock on a rail. As the deer stepped into the clearing, I noticed a one long main beam of an antler with four tall points. I centered the crosshair right behind the shoulder and told myself, "Head down!"

I squeezed the trigger and watched the smoke plume fill the scope. Instead of the sharp jolt I feel when I flinch, I felt the strong, steady push of a proper follow-through. The buck was gone when the smoke cleared, but I knew I did it right.

Far in the distance, I heard a big body go down hard.

I found no hair nor blood, and I slightly misjudged the direction of the collapse. On the ground, amid the tangle of brush and vines, I couldn't get my bearings. I searched for hours in the dark and finally decided it was futile to continue.

At first light I returned. I covered the area where I thought the buck went and then coursed an area farther north. I found him 110 yards away. The shot was near perfect, but I found nary a drop of blood.

He was a pretty 8-point with a 13-inch inside spread. His beams measured 17 3/4 inches and 16 3/4 inches, with 4- and 3-inch circumferences. He was a good piney woods buck that Mike Romine estimated to be about 3 1/2 years old.

One of his backstraps graced Miss Laura's Halloween chili. I think it was her best yet, the perfect supper to end my best October in many years.

Sports on 11/02/2017

Print Headline: Last-minute buck ends slump

Sponsor Content