Matt Ornes shares the story of his first bowhunting experience when he just happened to kill a 200″ buck.
After the sudden unexpected passing of my father-in-law, Dave Eckes, last November, my mother-in-law Donna and brother-in-law, Dustin presented me with the bow that Dave had hunted with years past. Dustin, my brother in law, invited me to join him in preparing the land owned by the Stone family for bow hunting the following year. I was excited to take on a new hobby.
The next several months consisted of heading to “Dave’s Lodge,” named after my father-in-law for all his hard work he put into preserving the hunting location. We prepared deer stands, food plots, checked game cameras, and saw what the woods had to offer us for the hunt; increasing our excitement for opening weekend.
It was a beautiful weekend for opening bow season and my first experience bow hunting. Equipped with my late father-in-laws Mathews Drenalin bow and anticipation, I was ready to enjoy the thrill of the hunt. My hunting partners Dustin Eckes, Dave Schultz, and John Schmitt had taught me as much as they could and had plans to get me in the best locations to see some deer.
As we woke up in the early hours of the morning to head to our stands, I felt like a kid in a candy store. I was so happy to be sitting in a stand taking on this new hobby and couldn’t wait to see some deer. The sun came up, and the morning turned into evening with no sight of a deer anywhere. That evening back at “Dave’s Lodge” my hunting partners told stories of the deer they saw that day. Dustin showed me a video of two little bucks sparring in front of him. John said he saw some does and fawns. Dave said he didn’t see a single thing.
I tried to think of what I could have been doing wrong that I didn’t see a deer. I asked the guys for some advice and came up with a plan to head to a different stand the following morning. The stand I was headed to was the stand Dustin had sat in the day before. I was excited to get some movement around me and possibly get a shot.
Sunday morning came quickly, and I was in my stand ready to see some deer. The fog was settling in, and there was not a leaf on a tree that was moving. I sat there and waited – and waited. Nothing came around. The woods were silent, not even a movement from the squirrels. The feeling was eerie. I headed back to “Dave’s Lodge” mid morning and was ready to go home. I was convinced that I had bad luck, and my excitement was drained. The guys did everything they could to get me to stay for one more time out. My wife even encouraged me to stay a few more hours.
The guys all decided to take a nap, but I couldn’t fall asleep. Something was telling me to get out in the woods. I kept checking the time and had a feeling to just go back to the woods. I headed to the stand near the water hole. The weather was warmer than usual, and the sun was shining. I decided I was going to walk instead of driving the four-wheeler out to prevent the deer from hearing me coming. After getting in my stand, I could feel the wind blowing and the tree swaying. I sat there for about three and a half hours before I finally got the glimpse of my first deer of the season, a little fork-horned buck. Shortly after that, a few more came out. First, another buck, then a few does all coming to drink water. My adrenaline was finally going. I decided with the deer on the move, I should probably get my bow in hand.
Just down the trail, a big doe popped out in the open. My adrenaline now had me shaking bad. I had every intention of taking a shot at her but in the corner of my eye I noticed more movement behind her, further up the hill. I suddenly stopped shaking as I saw the bigger bodied deer coming towards the water. It walked slower and with more authority than any of the other deer I had seen that night. As it got closer I could see glimpses of antlers through the saplings. About fifteen yards out he finally cleared the saplings, and I could see tall beams. My body remained calm. I knew this was my chance. I got my late father-in-law’s bow in hand, drew back, lined up the sights on the deer, and as soon as he stepped towards the water, I let the arrow fly! I could see the arrow heading towards him and making impact. Oh my! What just happened??? I sat there for a few minutes to gather myself before climbing down to check it out. I tried to call Dustin to tell him I shot a buck. He didn’t believe me, and it took some convincing. He told me to get out of the tree and head to “Dave’s Lodge” to get the other guys, and we would track him.
After rounding up the guys, and lights, we went back out to the watering hole and started to look for the blood trail. John picked up the trail, and we began to track. After about a hundred yards of zig-zagging through the briars, we saw a massive deer laying right in front of us. We all began to shove each other out of the way to get a better look at what he was. We quickly realized he was the big one we had seen on camera. Everyone was speechless. Dustin broke the silence and congratulated me, and Dave and John followed suit. We drug him out of the briars to a clearing to get a better look at his mass and count up the 21 points. We loaded the deer up to take to show the landowners. Everyone was smiling, beers were consumed, and I was still in shock of what had just happened. I just couldn’t believe this beast that lay in front of me was the result of my first time bowhunting.
I know my father-in-law was with me in that stand. All I remember is the feeling I had back at “Dave’s Lodge” earlier in the afternoon. Something was telling me to get out to the stand. As the deer had approached I wasn’t even shaking. Something was keeping me calm. When the earlier deer came out I was nervous and shaking, but this buck didn’t trigger any adrenaline as I anticipated the shot. It is hard to explain the feelings, but I stayed calm and collected and was able to line up my sights on this massive deer standing in front of me without a tremble. I know my father-in-law was with me in the stand that afternoon, teaching me the sport of bowhunting, with his bow in my grasp.
I can’t thank everyone enough for all their help and guidance – my brother-in-law, Dustin and hunting partners, Dave and John, as well as the landowners, Rock & Dawn. Their generosity is second to none. I also wish I could thank my late father-in-law, Dave, for his guidance that day. Without all of them, this experience would have never happened.
My first bow buck is a 21 point, 200 2/8” green score. I am ruined! I will never top this once in a lifetime buck, but I will be back in the stand again, and I can’t wait.