Chad Gaines of Goldston, N.C., patrols the roads of Chatham County as a sheriff’s deputy, and he patrols for deer on his family farm. Late on the afternoon of Sept. 15, he put permanent handcuffs on a 156 5/8-inch whitetail buck he’d been investigating since the end of the 2015 season.
Gaines, who arrowed a 140-inch 9-point buck last year that he nicknamed “Brows” for its huge brow tines, had as his primary 2016 target a huge 10-pointer his wife, Amber, had nicknamed “Blade.”
“I have hundreds of photos of Blade, and I couldn’t wait to see this deer on camera this year,” Gaines said. “I have been watching this deer for the past several years. He was traveling with Brows last year in a bachelor group, and I was excited to see him blow up into something huge.”
Just as he’d hoped, Blade started showing up in trail-camera photos two weeks before the Sept. 10 opening of bow season, and he was a regular nighttime visitor for a while.
“Several days before the season came in, he finally showed himself on camera 45 minutes before dark on a regular basis,” Gaines said.
On opening day, his brother visited Charlotte, and the Gaines boys played to try and get Blade in bow range, but a wind shift only 20 minutes into the hunt forced an early breakfast run to prevent a catastrophe.
“I wasn’t going to booger him up on the first day of the season. These mature bucks learn quick, and I sure didn’t want him to smell me on the first day of the season,” Gaines said.
Gaines finally got a day when the northerly winds he needed showed up in the weather forecast. On the afternoon of Sept. 15, Gaines slipped into his stand, hoping Blade would stick to his routine. He hadn’t been there long before he saw a big buck step into a roadbed that meandered in his direction from the west. He identified the buck as his target, but Blade made an unusual vocal sound that Gaines said resembled a growl, then trotted back into the cover of the woods.
“I think he scented the area on the roadbed and smelled something he didn’t like. I felt it was pretty much over at this point,” said Gaines, who was worried because the wind wasn’t perfect, but it was blowing from the direction that deer often come from.
About an hour later, a family of raccoons showed up and scampered back and forth, making so much noise that Gaines was momentarily distracted. As the sun fell below the horizon, he heard leaves crackling from almost under his stand and assumed it was the raccoons doing their thing.
“I looked down in the pine saplings and realized it wasn’t the raccoons at all. It was Blade at 15 yards. I could see his rack and then my heart started beating hard,” Gaines said.
The buck began to meander around and got even closer. With only a few minutes of shooting light and legal shooting time left, Gaines had to make his move.
“I was 25 feet up the tree and shooting down at a deer only 10 yards away. It was a tough angle, but it was all I had,” said Gaines, who aimed right between the buck’s shoulder blades and let fly.
The buck ran off, appearing to be uninjured, and Gaines never heard the deer crash to the ground. He got down after a few minutes and started looking for his arrow and signs of blood.
“My arrow was missing, and there were only a couple of very small drops of blood on the ground. I immediately became concerned and steadily got sicker and sicker as I realized I might have made a bad shot on this deer,” he said.
Gaines left and came back two hours later with a friend in hopes of finding something more definitive. And after a 30-minute search, Gaines found his buck 30 yards past the last spot of blood he’d found. Even though the arrow didn’t pass through, he had made a good solid shot right in the lungs.
“I went from the lows of lows to Cloud Nine in a matter of seconds. It’s nice being able to watch a buck grow for several years (and) then harvest him at his peak,” Gaines said.