As far back as I can remember my family has always been incredibly passionate about the outdoors. I grew up camping, fishing, and hunting. It was a passion my father instilled in all his sons. But whitetail hunting was by far the greatest bond between my father, my three brothers and me. We fought like dogs growing up, but we always came together for hunting season. My younger brother Joe and I grew up only 18 months apart. We were always on the same team, whether it was against our older brothers or sharing the field in high school sports. Hunting, especially over the past few years, has also been a huge team effort between us. This has led us to kill some great bucks over the years.
This tale started in the early summer months with Joe and I hanging trail cameras and clearing trails with a chainsaw and our oldest brother’s ATV. We also decided this year that we were going to drop supplemental feed in key travel areas. This allowed us to gain very useful intel on which bucks were living on this property. It also gave the doe and fawn in the area a much-needed health boost. Watching the velvet growth through July and August we were certain there were two or three “shooter” bucks on the property. At the time we thought Junior, a split brow 9 point, was going to be our number one. Quickly thereafter, Crooked Tine started to steal the number one spot. He was easy to identify as a clean ten point with a crooked G3 on his left side. As we watched the velvet drop, we were ecstatic to see they were not changing much from their summer patterns.
Here in western Pennsylvania, we had phenomenal cold weather leading up to the state opener. However, as usually happens, a warm front hit the first week of October and all deer movement slowed until after nightfall. I was lucky enough to punch a few doe tags on different properties waiting for the opportunity to chase after Crooked Tine. He was frequently showing up on trail cameras across the property but never in the daylight.
Finally, the first cold front in October hits on Saturday, October 7th. The kind of front us hunters dream about and anxiously wait to be in a tree during. However, fate had different plans because Joe and I were at a wedding in New York. About the time I was giving my best man speech about how I’d rather be hunting, the
first daylight picture of Crooked Tine buzzed on my phone. The next evening once again there was Crooked Tine in front of my camera at last light, 7:23 PM. It was Sunday... no hunting on Sundays in PA. The next night I was going to be in that spot and there was no stopping me! That Monday morning our new number two, Brucie, s showed up at 7:00 AM. He was a brute of an 8 point with mass and tall brows. He honestly was competing more as a one-B option than a two. The Monday evening hunt was eventful with the sighting of a few young bucks, but no sign of Crooked Tine. Tuesday morning at 7:20 AM, there was Brucie again in the same spot posing for the camera.
I had seen enough to know Wednesday morning I needed to be in there no matter what. I only had about an hour of daylight to hunt because I needed to be in my truck for our 8 AM meeting. I slipped in quietly and carefully an hour before daylight just to make sure I was not bumping any deer in the area. This spot lays out perfect for access as the predominant west wind blows my scent over the hill away from the old logging road where I have had all these photos. Once again, no luck seeing either Brucie or Crooked Tine. I decided to give the spot some rest as I felt my window of opportunity had closed. I returned to the property on the following Monday hunting the opposite side after a cool return buck we call Teardrop. Teardrop is a huge 7 point with a drop tine out of his right base covering his eye. That night as I sat under a big oak tree waiting on Teardrop to show, Crooked Tine passed our bedding area camera at 4:40 PM. He was just a couple hundred yards northeast of where I hunted him the week before.
That was Joe’s camera he showed on and this is where our teamwork contributed to success. The next evening, I told him one of us needed to be in that spot. He decided he was going to make it happen after work, but he would be in there much later than the previous night’s picture. As I sat in my tree overlooking the old logging road, I was texting him telling him to hurry up because I had already seen two bucks cruising this road. I jokingly told him I should have just hunted his spot and made him hunt up where I was at. He eventually got settled in and we wished each other “good luck, shoot straight”.
It was roughly 5:45 PM when I glanced to my right and saw a big body deer making a scrape on the bend in the road. I grabbed my binoculars and at first couldn’t see the antlers to know which deer it was. As he put his head down, I quickly identified the five-point side and the crooked G3. My heart started to race! This is the first time we have laid eyes on this deer on the hoof. Just then, another deer appeared behind him and bumped Crooked Tine down the trail towards me. This other buck started to demolish the scrape for the next 10-15 minutes. As he started my way, I identified his long brows and quickly knew it was Brucie. Now I had a decision to make; which buck would I shoot? I have never had a hunt like this in all my years where I had to choose between my top two bucks. I decided whichever buck stepped out first I was going to do my best to make a clean kill shot.
That buck was Crooked Tine. He moseyed his way down the road towards me and I was already in position for the shot. As I drew back, he was only 20 yards and picking up his pace through my shooting lane. I “meeped” at him three times to get him to stop but he couldn’t hear me. After the last one he saw another buck at the same time coming down the trail at him and he jumped back in a startled manner. He started to walk backwards, and I was locked in behind the shoulder.
Once he cleared a small sapling, I let the arrow go. I hit him low right behind the shoulder. At my shot angle I thought it was enough to expire the animal quickly as a low double lung shot.
I tried to celebrate the shot without spooking Brucie. He was very confused as to what had just happened only 20 yards in front of him. My brother was still in the area and there was a chance he could get a crack at Brucie if he retreats that direction. Unfortunately, he did not end up passing my brother, but we had work to do to recover one buck already.
We dropped our stuff off at the bottom of the hill and went in to track around 7:30 PM. Right at the hit site we quickly found blood covering the brush he crashed into. Joe then spotted my arrow about 15 yards further past a large down tree. The initial shot buried to the fletching but needed a little extra to be pulled the rest of the way through. As we approached the arrow, we heard a big deer get up and slowly move away from us. At the time we weren’t convinced it was the deer I just shot. After trailing great “stand-up” blood for roughly a half of a mile we came to a point where we lost the blood trail. It was only 8:30 PM at this time and we were both confused and decided it was best to back out. I had my faithful canine companion, Lucy, on call for the next day if needed. We were confident that with daylight we would pick back up on the blood ourselves. My dad, my oldest brother Russ and I were to meet the next morning after I had finished some work.
That night was a rough one for me mentally. It was a reminder that any time you do not see the deer fall; you need to give proper time for them to expire. It was the ultimate roller coaster ride of emotions that archery hunting commonly offers. I played that shot back in my head a million times as I didn’t fall asleep until roughly 2:00 AM. I knew in my mind where the arrow hit, and I was feeling waves of emotions from confusion to frustration and doubt. Anyone who has left an animal overnight has likely experienced this exact thing.
The next morning, my dad and I were together, and we started to make our way to the last spot of blood. Russ was by himself as he took his ATV in to clear some brush from his trail camera before making his way to us. The game plan was for all of us to work towards the last spot of blood checking game trails for signs of blood. As I am inspecting the last spot and trying to find the deer’s next move, I get a call from Russ. “I found your buck, bud”.
There are no better words to hear from someone at that time of high anticipation and anxiety. I ran over to him, as he was only 100 yards from me.
When I got there, I could not believe my eyes. There was Crooked Tine. Finally, my deer. I had to really take in this moment shared with the two biggest influencers of my hunting passion. We laughed, we gave “twos” (our version of a high five or fist bump after every kill) and we took pictures. It was the first time I had laid hands on a deer we had been targeting since summer. Crooked Tine is tagged.
Pennsylvania is often talked about as a rich traditions and rich hunting culture state. I am glad that I am not an exception to that belief. There is no better lifestyle I could think of for my addictive and competitive personality. Now I shift my focus to Ohio and West Virginia public land. A huge shout out to Locke Wheeler and SKRE for being a part of this wild ride. Best of luck to the whitetail hunters still grinding out there!
Charles Hedland - The Whitetail Distraction Podcast