Like some of you, I go through withdrawals when whitetail season comes to a close. Yes, I like ice fishing, but a slab crappie or bull gill just doesn’t get my heart racing the same way as a mature buck within bow range. So, as the end of the 2016 South Dakota whitetail season approached, the three of us in my hunting party with deer tags were hopeful for a strong finish.

First up was my 14-year-old son, Elliott. He had a youth nonresident deer tag that allowed him to kill one antlerless deer with a rifle, and thankfully he was able to fill that tag on December 24. I sat next to him on the ground as he made a perfectly placed shot from a comfortable distance of 50 yards.

The author’s son, Elliott, and wife, Jodi, with the young hunter’s Christmas Eve whitetail.
The author’s son, Elliott, and wife, Jodi, with the young hunter’s Christmas Eve whitetail.

Next up was my friend Scott. He spent at least 30 days bowhunting with me in SoDak, and he’d passed on untold numbers of deer during September, October, November and December. In fact, he let a 2-year-old 5×5 walk through his shooting lane at 15 yards on December 22 in hopes of having a chance at a bigger buck, but unfortunately that never happened. The good news is Scott arrowed a mature doe on the morning of December 27, so his freezer is now filled with delicious venison until next deer season.

Scott Gulden with a mature doe arrowed on December 27. The deer looks wet because she died in the creek.
Scott Gulden with a mature doe arrowed on December 27. The deer looks wet because she died in the creek.

I went into the field on the final available morning based on my schedule, December 28, with hopes of following in Scott’s footsteps. I, too, had passed on many bucks during the lengthy archery season (click here to read about a close big buck encounter in November 2016), and like Scott I wanted to let an arrow fly. After all, I’d spent 200-plus hours in treestands and groundblinds in SD during the 2016 season, and while I don’t need to kill something each year, I hadn’t tagged a deer in a couple of SD archery seasons. I wanted that thrill of drawing my Mathews on a deer!

As the title of this story implies, I was successful. And all of the thanks goes to Scott. You see, I watched the 5×4 shown in these pics bed down 150 yards across a creek. The buck shared the same south-facing slope with a dozen other deer, and at 9:30 a.m., the plan was for Scott to walk the northern edge of the riverbottom, hoping to push any deer bedded on the hillside below him south toward me. Well before I could spot Scott in the distance, the hillside erupted with running deer, but none of them crossed the narrow, shallow creek. Instead of coming south to me, they all went west. And for quite a while it looked like the 5×4 would do the same.

However, the deer gods smiled on me when the buck paused and stood looking to the north. He didn’t know whether he should hide or flee. After all, he was a safe distance from Scott – about 100 yards. But that’s when my hunting partner confidently rolled the final-day dice and pushed just a bit harder, stepping down the snow-covered hillside several strides to force the buck’s hand/hoof. The 5×4 had no choice but to move, and he quickly trotted south across the creek. Deep snow in the bottom steered the buck to a well-worn deer trail – one I’d checked out with my rangefinder at daybreak. And as the buck quickly walked by broadside at 26 yards, I bleated to stop him, aimed and then shot.

I’d like to tell you my arrow struck exactly where I was aiming, but that would be a lie. I don’t know if cold weather and excitement wreaked havoc with my shooting form, or the many layers of winter clothes (including a neck gaiter and facemask) affected my shooting, but my arrow hit much farther back than intended. In addition – and perhaps this was the biggest culprit of all – I’d made a rookie mistake and failed to factor in a 25-mph crosswind. You’d think that after 40 years of bowhunting that I’d know better, but hey . . . we all make mistakes.

Happiness is an easy-to-follow blood-trail.
Happiness is an easy-to-follow blood-trail.

The good news is my large, fixed-blade broadhead bailed me out. If this sounds like an endorsement for 4-blade, 125-grain Magnus Stinger Buzzcuts, then so be it, but the buck sprinted 50 yards across the riverbottom and tipped over, laying his antlers back in the snow as if to take one last gasp of the cold December air. The total time between broadhead impact and death was 5 or 6 seconds. I could hardly believe my eyes.

After a winter storm blanketed the landscape with a heavy layer of ice, the author found success on this fine 5x4.
After a winter storm blanketed the landscape with a heavy layer of ice, the author found success on this fine South Dakota 5×4.

After climbing down from my treestand and retrieving my arrow, I walked the short distance to my buck. The blood-trail wasn’t hard to follow. The Buzzcut caught the buck in the far back of both lungs; as the saying goes, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

The author’s 2016 archery gear list included: Mathews Z7 bow (drawing 54 pounds at 27.5 inches), Schaffer GEN II drop-away arrow rest, Black Gold fixed-pin bowsight, KTECH stabilizer, Scott Little Goose release, Beman 400 arrows, 125-grain 4-Blade Magnus Stinger Buzzcut broadhead, and Bushnell “The Truth” rangefinder.
The author’s 2016 archery gear list included: Mathews Z7 bow (drawing 54 pounds at 27.5 inches), Schaffer GEN II drop-away arrow rest, Black Gold fixed-pin bowsight, KTECH stabilizer, Scott Little Goose release, Beman 400 arrows, 125-grain 4-Blade Magnus Stinger Buzzcut broadhead, and Bushnell “The Truth” rangefinder.

I’m already looking forward to the 2017 archery deer season. I certainly didn’t kill the biggest buck on our SD property, and if the region doesn’t have a tough winter, the number of 3-year-old bucks should be outstanding. Sure, they’ll be smarter, but maybe I will be, too.

Images by Dave Maas

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