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  • TOO Hall of Fame Inductee: "Deuce Revisited"

    Plain and simple: This deer taught me more about myself than he did about hunting big, mature whitetails. For someone who doesn't understand what the hunt for one specific buck is like, this story probably seems overdramatized. The same can be said for those who don't understand the spiritual aspect of hunting. From late June 2007 until November 15th 2008, I was emotionally invested in this deer and this day, there is a not a story I would rather share. I'm very proud to be able to pay respect to this deer via a channel such as TOO. Despite the ending of the story being one that haunts me to this day, what follows is the story of stories for me...

    “Nice buck… Wow! Great spread… Cool drop-tine on that buck… Oh my God!!! It’s him…”Those were the thoughts running through my head one Saturday night in mid-November as I admired the bucks on the check station “Trophy Wall” just down the road from our farm. The last picture was of a deer I would know anywhere. It was Deuce…

    The Beginning

    The thoughts running through my head at that moment were eerily similar to the ones that ran through my head at a photo kiosk at the Wal-Mart in Ripley, WV in late June of 2007. “Good potential… Great doe! And healthy fawns… Oh my God! It’s him…”
    I had spent the evening before checking cameras and getting my food plots lined out. I decided to stop at Wal-Mart to review my pictures and print off any that were worth keeping. I was hoping to see pictures of a buck I caught crossing through my original food plot early in May. I noticed in those pictures, that he had two scars on his front-left knee. On the newest picture, I was able to see that he had a split brow-tine on one side and a triple split on the other. It wasn’t long before I decided that “Deuce” would be the deer I would hunt during my 2007 season.

    The hunt is on…

    It was a long, hot summer after that picture and to make matters worse, my new friend never visited the mineral site during the remainder of the summer. I was beginning to rethink my new found “quest” when he walked back into my life on the opening week of bow season. It was late September and there he was in all his glory posing for the Cuddeback. Everything looked in tack and I could count 12 scorable points. And if I was not already excited enough, I could see my treestand in the background of the picture! I was certain the shredded trees all around the area surrounding my best stand, belonged to him. I felt it was just starting to come together.

    For the next two months, he avoided the camera. I had made every move that I felt was safe to make and here I was sitting empty handed. It was now mid-December and our second gun-season had just concluded the day before. I headed to the farm to pull the cards from all my cameras and replenish my winter feed site. As I was checking the first camera, my four-wheeler ran out of gas. It proved to be an unfortunate set of circumstances that created a chance encounter...

    As I walked around the head of a brushy draw I had just driven by, I caught movement below. Holding nothing but a memory card, I watched as he bounded away from his bed and stopped broadside at 50 yards. The first thought that ran through my head, “Oh my God. It’s him.” Then it quickly turned to, “Where was he when we pushed that yesterday?!?” I was dumbfounded and upset at the same time due to the fact that I had bumped him. But he gave me a new piece to the puzzle and it would prove to come in handy down the road. When I returned to the four-wheeler, I bumped him from the sanctuary next to where I was stranded. This second encounter, seemed like it was purely just to rub it in! But if that wasn’t enough… When I checked the pictures on that camera, I was “blessed” with the only daytime picture of his career under my stand the day prior. Thanks to 20mph winds and freezing rain, I had stayed home to spend time with my then fiancé, now wife Tracie. Had I hunted, that was the stand I was hunting. It was a mistake that still haunts me.

    Just flaunting himself a mere 30 yards from my stand…

    At this point, I felt he was using the brushy draw to bed in when the weather was nasty. I hung a stand and a camera at the main creek-crossing where everything pinches down. I hunted 17 evenings in January and endured nearly 50 hours of brutal cold, wind, sleet, and general misery and was left with a hearty bowl of tag-soup when it was all said and done. Over the month of January, he walked within 25 yards of my stand no less than 21 times. At his closest, he showed up 5 minutes before legal shooting light and I was nowhere to be found. Out of that series of pictures, I was left with what will always be my favorite…

    What will 2008 bring?

    I was able to get pictures of Deuce into February of 2008 before the well went dry. It was another long, grueling off-season with plenty of practice, new food plots, all new set-ups, more cameras, increased feeding, and a steady supply of fresh minerals. I planted a new food plot of turnips and brassicas just for the late-season and hung two new set-ups that were right in what I was coming to believe was his “core-area”. I anxiously waited all spring for that first velvet picture to pop up on my computer screen. I had a gut feeling he would be back. And as he had done three times before, he did not let me down. By mid-May, he had stopped to pay me a visit…

    The addition of a BuckEye Cam wireless system to the arsenal that summer made it much easier for me to stay out of his core area. One mistake I took from the 2007 season was that I was too anxious to get a hold of the latest picture and I pressed myself to stay off the farm in 2008, and out of the minerals, unless I needed to be there. I only replenished my minerals when I could do it in the rain and all the effort paid off with a series of photos that allowed me to watch him grow throughout the summer…




    Let the hunt continue…

    By this point, the hunt for Deuce had reached a level I had never expected. I had developed a profound respect for this deer. I struggled with whether or not I should continue to hold out for him. I had other properties that could produce deer of this caliber at any moment. "But what about the story?" It was now all about the story. One of my life’s mottos is: “Anything that makes a good story is worth doing.” I wanted to write the final chapter to this “fairytale” and it would be one that would allow me to show him the respect he deserved. I was hoping to play a role in one of the best stories I would ever be apart of. But the hunt that led me to actually hold his rack in my hands was not the one I hoped to write home about…

    Prior to leaving for our honeymoon this September, I heard rumors of a giant deer that had been hit down the road from our farm. I could not bring myself to believe it was him. "What was he doing down there?" There was a small part of me that hoped it was him so I could move on and rid myself of this “demon”. But at same time, I hoped he would walk back into my life like he had always done in the past.

    Over the course of the first month of our season, I continued to hunt where I thought I would see him. I was running four cameras at this point and moving them every 7-10 days trying my hardest to get back on him. As my fears of his unlikely demise began to grow, he did what he was now becoming famous for doing and on October 29, 2008, he stepped in front of a camera for the last time while he was alive. He was crossing the bottom directly between my two new set-ups and he walked within 25 yards of the one I expected to kill him from; and no more than an hour after I had climbed out of that very stand. I was getting ‘o so close!!! This was the last of over 200 pictures taken of him in 8 different locations on our farm…

    The end of an era…

    I turned to my buddy and said, “It’s him. Dude, it’s him.” The clerk behind the counter gave me a strange look and went on to tell me that the young man in the photo with “my deer”, lived up the road. The deer had been hit by a car on October 31st and his dad brought the photo in earlier that week. All I could do was shake my head. I was numb. For the rest of the weekend, I wrestled with what I should do. Is buying the rack the wrong/right thing to do? Do I really want to see him stuffed in a freezer or just the skull cap? It was like I had lost an old friend and I was at a loss for a way to cope. And then another turn of fate paved the road for him to come back into my life for one more picture…

    “Bad news”, I said as I walked into my uncle’s house later that night. “This kid found Deuce on the side of the road on Halloween.” I handed the camera to my uncle and he said: “I know that boy. I coached him during football last year. I’ll just give his dad a call and see if you can go over there and see the rack.”

    Photo from the Ohio State Highway Patrol report on the accident…

    Immediately my uncle started calling around to get their number, and it wasn't long before I was talking to the boy’s father telling him my storied past with this great buck. He invited me over and I graciously accepted. I made an offer to buy the rack over the phone and I really felt he was going to accept it when I got to their house. We stood in the garage for an hour and I left an offer of cash and a brand new shotgun on the table. His stance was that he had lived there for 30 years and he had never seen a deer that big before. They were keeping him. My story did not matter to them. And to make matters worse, they took cheesy photos of Deuce with a bow draped across his body, then proceeded to post picture on MySpace saying the boy killed him during bow season; they ruined the cape by parading him around for a week in the back of the truck; and took him to a guy to have him mounted that had only mounted one deer before and he screwed it up. Not the respect I wanted to see him get. Tough to tell from this pic, but the mount is horrendous…

    Saying goodbye…

    If you have never immersed yourself in the hunt for a particular animal, then you probably cannot grasp the emotions that I felt during this entire saga. I engaged in one of the greatest battles of my life hunting this deer. The passion and fire I possess for the sport of bowhunting, was taken to a new level during my hunt for Deuce. I’m sure that every villain respects his worst enemy in some way; I think you must in order to survive the conflict. For two years of my life, Deuce was my worst enemy and my best friend all at once. I have the deepest respect for what he was as a whitetail and I like to think that I can respect him on a deeper level. This was an interestingly cerebral war and it taught me a great deal about me as a person and as a bowhunter. I feel like I know him the way I would I know a good friend. And a small part of me thinks that maybe he had come to know me on that level as well.

    So once again, I say goodbye old friend. I tried to buy you the lifetime of respect I felt you deserved. But unlike all the photos you blessed me with over the years; I will only be able to offer you this particular moment of respect. One picture is all I wanted for old time’s sake and one picture is all I got. Thank you for the memories. And don’t worry… When the story ended, I cried like I thought I would.