The Journey of a Buck we called “Denny”

James Shelby
Aiken, SC
Deer killed in Monetta, SC (Aiken Co.)
140” Gross green score

On Saturday October 7th, my alarm went off as usual to start waking up to get my things together to go deer hunting. This morning was no different than any other morning except my Spypoint Trail cam had a picture of a new buck on our Aiken Co. property in Monetta, SC, and a good one at that. Of course like any hunter looking to bag a nice wall hanger, my gears shifted immediately to wanting to hunt this buck.

Fast-forward over the next few weeks. I continually got pictures of this buck every few days, but only in the dark. Of the five cameras we had out on this property, he would occasionally show up at each spot. There was no rhyme or reason to when or why. There was no pattern and still no daylight pictures.

One morning in late October, I slipped into my stand with no light, trying my best to go in unnoticed. As it began to get daylight, I could see dark figures in the opening in front of me about 80 yards. I pulled up my binoculars and was pretty confident one of the deer was him. I quickly pulled up my rifle to look through the scope, but he was already headed downhill through some broomstraw and dog fennel. I could barely make out his rack and his neck, and didn’t want to take that shot. That was the first onset of disappointment.

About a week later on an evening sit in the same stand, I had a group of five doe come about 10 minutes before dark, feeding along the acorn trees at the edge of the opening. My stand is facing nearly west, and the sky was a bright hue of orange. At this point, the deer were barely silhouettes because of the light being so strong in the sky. To the left, I noticed a bigger deer step into the opening. I could barely make out his rack, but I knew it was him. The bright orange sky and the shadows made it difficult to get the crosshairs on him. He stepped out into a sandy spot, which made it easier for me to see him, but the bright sky casted a glare into my scope. There was nothing I could do to get a shot. He soon trotted off, chasing a doe into the pines. That was the first time I felt sick to my stomach about a buck.

This cat and mouse game went on where he would show up on camera a few days, and then go a week without being seen, but he finally messed up. Several times in a four day period he daylighted, and it gave me a better idea of where he was coming from and where he was going consistently. Just like a textbook love/hate deer relationship, I’d sit in one stand, and he show up at another. I’d skip a day from hunting to go to an appointment or to sleep in, and he would show up on camera at my stand almost like he was laughing at me. By this point I’m frustrated, aggravated, disappointed, and a little heartbroken to say the least.

My patience was wearing thin. But after spending countless hours looking at trail cam pics and looking at the map of the property, it finally clicked. I called my dad, and said “hey, I want to move one of the ground blinds to the draw in the pines”. This is a draw that leads to the tip of the swamp, the same swamp that the buck has been coming from when we get the majority of pictures of him. Of course my dad being the dad he is said “Come on, let’s go set it up”. I picked him up and we made our way to the property. We drove to the back of the property where we already had a blind set up previously, took it down, and moved it to that draw. We brushed it in a little and decided to stay out for a couple of days.

On the afternoon of December 6th, I decided to put a camera in the bottom of the draw right at the edge of the swamp. Got a few pics that night of some random deer, and then the buck daylighted the next morning, December 7th. I got pictures of him going both directions around the tip of that swamp. It all started coming together. My intuition is as correct. Over the next 2 days he daylighted there again and at another stand, this time around noon. Then like clockwork, he went nocturnal. December 10th and 11th I got pics of him from midnight to 3 AM. Not exactly what I wanted to see, as I had been excited for a while and my hopes were high. At that moment I kind of gave up because it seemed as if he was going back to his nighttime pattern once again.

On December 13th, my dad calls and says “ I think I want to go hunting in the morning do you want to go?” I’m not gonna pass up a chance to spend time with my 70 year old dad, so I immediately said “yeah I’ll go, guess I’ll sit in that draw”. The next morning, I made my way to his house and got everything loaded up in the truck (it was his turn to drive) and headed out to the property. We were discussing this season and were already talking about what we wanted to do next season. We pretty much both agreed that this was probably going to be our last hunt for the year. We were both tired and frustrated, and those early mornings and cold sits were wearing us thin.

We get to the property and he dropped me off at the road bed that leads to the top of the draw. As I see his headlights disappear along the edge of the field through the pines, all I could do was hope that the big buck would show up for him. I stood there taking it all in. All the years he’s taken me hunting when I was young turned into me taking him. But today was different. It was like he was taking me again. My 70 year old dad was taking me hunting.. I felt youthful. I knew that morning was just going to be different.

I slipped down the old curvy road bed to the blind and made my way in. I got all of my stuff situated and started waiting for daylight. Unfortunately I had a bad wind. The wind was blowing out of the north east straight down the draw towards where the buck had been traveling. Feeling a little disappointed once again, I thought to myself “ Maybe that old buck will smell me and push out of that finger of the swamp and make his way past my dad‘s stand. All I could do was hope.

About 7:15 AM I spotted two does making their way down the ridge towards the bottom of the draw, straight down wind from where I was sitting. I caught a glimpse of another deer behind them and noticed it was a bigger doe. The first two made their way in front of me, and I glanced back to find the third doe, but she disappeared. I scanned through the pines with my binoculars and caught movement in the direction I last saw the doe. I saw tines. I saw main beams. They were long. It was him. My nerves instantly got the best of me. He was behind a clump of pine trees, and all I could see was his nose and part of his rack. He stood there with seemed an eternity, but finally took a turn to his right to make his way to the bottom of the hill. I had my rifle up and ready, but he just wouldn’t quite come out all the way. I knew my wind was blowing down that draw, and I knew it was only a matter of time before he got wind of me and spooked. I’m watching him through the scope and see his left foot move forward. I’m thinking to myself as I’m almost shaking uncontrollably, “just one more step”. He made that last step and turned his head quickly, looking straight towards me. I knew it was almost over. He was about to bolt. I pulled the trigger, but with the muzzle flash, the buck disappeared. I had no idea the direction he ran. At that point my nerves were so shot I wasn’t even sure if I hit him. Emotions were running high.

I called my dad to let him know that I shot “Denny” but I was unsure of where he went. My dad proceeded to tell me he heard a loud crash in the woods to the right of where he was sitting. Me not thinking the deer ran that direction, didn’t think much about it. The buck was facing the swamp and I assumed that’s the direction he went. After some time passed, my dad text me to let me know he was getting out of his stand and making his way towards me to see if we could find blood. I started heading towards him to meet him halfway, and after a few minutes, I see his orange stocking cap coming through the pines. As I see him getting closer I see him stop and he’s just standing there. Then I get a notification on my phone. He sends me a picture of a white belly laying in the pines. That crash he heard was what he thought it was. It was my buck. It was “Denny”. My emotions were overflowing by this point. Who would think a forty two year old man would cry like a baby over a deer? It wasn’t just any deer. It was all of the work, all the time and money spent, all of the heartache all of the disappointment. It was the patience that ran thin, knowing I was ready to throw in the towel. It was all worth it. It was the buck of a lifetime.

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