It was something I talked about doing for a long time. Shooting a buck with a recurve. Something I talked about a lot, but never did. I’d taken does and pigs with traditional tackle, but never had the confidence to risk a buck tag on a recurve or longbow. Could I tote just a stick, knowing a buck at 30 yards that would be dead on his feet if I had a compound might as well be in Canada with a recurve in my hands? Could I live with the short range limitations of stick and string when a quality buck was just too far?
My 2011 deer season was a good one. I filled a couple of buck tags with my fancy, high-tech Hoyt Carbon Matrix Plus. By late November, the recurve question was still on my mind. As one friend put it to me, “Ray, do you have the stones to hunt with a stick?”
So I practiced with my stick of choice. A 60-inch Hoyt Buffalo recurve pulling 50 pounds at 28-inches. Using carbon shafts fletched with three, 5-inch feathers and weighted on the front for more front of center balance to aid in penetration, my 498 grain arrows shot true at close range. I practiced shooting from my knees, standing, with the bow canted severely; every conceivable angle I might find myself faced with. Ultimately, I figured my effective range was about 15 yards. My dead-on range was 9-12 yards. If I was going to take a shot with the stick, it would have to be close!
Knowing the limitations of my range, the lack of energy of my stickbow compared to my compound and the body size of some of the mature bucks where I hunt in the Texas Panhandle, the shot angle had to be perfect. Only broadside or very slight quartering away would work.
Thanks to a Texas MLD (Managed Lands Deer tag), I could shoot more than one mule deer buck in 2011. To reach management objectives on the ranch, additional tags were available for both mulie does and mature management bucks. I knew of one specific buck that fit the criteria perfectly. There was a super-sized fork horn I nicknamed Beamer. The name because his rack was mostly beams and few points. It was a characteristic his rack carried every year. In the last week, with the mule deer rut starting to intensify, I saw him a couple of times. Could I get him with my stickbow if I was patient?
I tracked Beamer through trail camera pictures and a few daylight sightings over several seasons. He lived in a one mile square area of broken canyon country and CRP grass. He was the boss, backing younger bucks with bigger racks down with just a sideways glance. His rack was never going to be a classic 4x4 trophy mule deer rack, so genetically speaking, he made the hit list for a perfect management buck. His antlers had a big frame every year, but he was basically a big fork horn with a couple of kickers. For three seasons, I tried to put him in front of my nephews for a shot over the Thanksgiving holidays, but he was always sneaky. It never went to plan.
I sat in the Double Bull blind on the fence two evenings without any luck. The first time, Beamer never showed. The second evening, he walked through the gap following his does at last light. I got greedy and tried to snap a couple of photos of him at close range with my Canon camera. The old buck spooked at the clicking shutter, trotting well out of range. Younger bucks stood and stared when I snapped their picture, but not Beamer. That was a hard lesson. And that was exactly why he was as old as he was. But I did not give up.
On the evening of December 3, sitting in the same ground blind near a fence crossing, the old buck I called Beamer followed ten does through the gap at the fence. It was cold, 28 degrees with a wind chill of 16, and I’d been in the blind for three hours. I was shaking bad from the cold and wondered if my numb fingers could handle the shot at close range with my recurve.
At first, he wandered by at 20 yards. That’s too far, I told myself. Be patient. It has to be perfect or you don’t shoot!
Beamer walked in circles, herding his does, lip curling and grunting to keep them in line. Then, my patience was rewarded. The old-timer veered towards my blind to sniff a doe. At 11 yards, the old buck turned broadside. I eased the bowstring of my 50 pound Hoyt Buffalo recurve to the corner of my mouth, hesitated for three seconds, then turned the calf hair tab loose.
The 498 grain carbon arrow led by a scary-sharp, three-bladed NAP Razorcap broadhead hit hard in the crease behind his right shoulder. Half the length of the arrow disappeared. He bolted 150 yards across the CRP field, then sagged to the ground. It was over in seconds. The time was 5:12 PM.
Upon inspection during field-dressing chores, I noticed there was a perfect triangle-shaped hole through the center of both lungs. I’m proud of that shot.
Beamer’s tall rack won’t score much. It was never about score. His teeth were worn to indicate he was 7 ½-years-old and he weighed over 200 pounds. To take such a sneaky, old buck at close range with traditional tackle was the highlight of my deer season. As rewarding as it was to wrap a tag around his thick beam and stroke his white muzzle, I know I’ll miss seeing him in the years to come.
Hunting big bucks with any bow is very challenging. But hunting with a recurve definitely took the challenge up a notch. I guess I did have the stones to do it after all! But it was a long time coming.