KILEY HARPSTER, 38 – MISSOURI
SADDLE GEAR: Phantom Saddle
As the MO archery season soon crept up on me, beginning Sept 15th, I was confident that I would wrap my tag around a solid 160″ 11 point within 2 weeks. I had been getting this deer pretty regularly on my cams, and as the season was just 2 days away, he was where I needed him to be in some hilly timber that I have permission to hunt. The day before the season started, for some off the wall reason, instead of packing in and hanging my stand opening morning, I decided to sneak in after work that day. I did just that, sneaking in, being still, I looked up.. and on the next ridge over at 60 yards, there he was, laying there licking himself. I immediately dropped, slid everything off of my back and just watched him, I’m 10 yards from the tree I wanted to hang in. A good while goes by, and I’m thinking to myself “what am I doing, there’s no way out of this”, so as I watch him for an hour…I feel, well, gassy. I let out a little tooty toot, and he heard it..I guess it wasn’t so little.
Mistakes have been made in the past, but this one probably took the cake. That deer was pretty scarce on cameras after that, and soon disappeared after a couple of weeks had gone by. Why did I go in there the evening before season even started?! That still remains a mystery to this day.
I have a large group of friends that are by far some of the biggest/smartest buck killers I know, man did they let me have it for that rookie mistake.
As the season progressed, I had been bouncing back and forth between farms, with just a couple of different mature bucks to chase, with several different “hang and bang” stands and sticks in trees, and in the back of my truck. In the same timber that the “toot” buck was in, there was a mature, gnarly 7 point running around. After a couple of encounters with that deer, I decided the next time he came by me, he was toast. Come the evening of November 5th, I headed out to the property after work, and not long after I was settled in, he came across the ridge. I readied my bow after quickly ranging a spot on the trail I thought he might take, so I gave him a grunt, he looked, and headed in my direction. Once he hit the spot I ranged at 35 yards, he stopped, I shot..THWACK! I knew immediately from the sound it wasn’t good, and when I saw most of the arrow flopping around, and later falling out after only running 10 yards, I sighed a bit knowing it was a direct shoulder hit. After getting pictures of him from overnight, I knew he lived on to see better days.
Trying to keep my head up, I keep after it, bouncing around from farm to farm. One of my buddies, who lives in Michigan, from the previously stated group I mentioned earlier asked me, “have you ever thought about saddle hunting?” My response was pretty simple, yes, but man I just really don’t want to spend that much money on a butt hammock. As the season progressed, I kept the saddle idea in mind, and as December rolled around, I had found the deer I was going to set my sights after for the remainder of the season, on my own property, a 5.5 year old 10 point.
As this deer and I were playing the cat and mouse game, of me being here, and him being there.. the 20th comes along, a very high pressure cold front, if there were 20 bucks on the property, I saw ¾ of them that night, I knew the stars HAD to align that night. As I’m sitting in my stand, I saw him jump the fence behind a tribe of does, as they made their way to me, and under me, I ranged their trail, 40 yards on the dot. I was worried that once all of the doe got past me, they were going to hit my wind, but they didn’t. As he approached the 40 yard mark, I drew my bow, got comfy, let out the infamous “brrraaapp” and let it fly. It was nearing low light, and I really felt good with the shot, but he ran and stopped at 100 yards, and looked back, twitching his tail occasionally, and only walking 15-20 yards before it was too dark for me to even see him. So I snuck out of there, and decided to look for him the next morning. Upon further investigation that morning, it was decided, I have wounded this deer as well. I was livid, with only myself to blame.
Remember that Michigan buddy I mentioned? Let’s call him WC. I called my ol pal WC from Michigan, and I told him that it’s time for him to find me a good used tree saddle. I believe about 2 weeks roll by, WC sends me a picture of a good used Tethrd Phantom saddle he found for sale up by him, I told him to pull the trigger. Meanwhile, while I’m waiting on this saddle to arrive, I encounter this 10 point a couple more times, one time he wouldn’t commit to coming my way, and the other was about 3 inches away from the bumper of my truck. I’m not sure if you’ve heard anyone cuss as much and as loud as I did that night.
The evening of January 12th, after I was through hunting, I arrived home to find a box from Michigan on my doorstep, WC came through for me, and I had the perfect wind to plan an ambush attack with this new saddle the next evening! Having never hunted from a saddle, I really wasn’t too concerned with it, because I used to swing from I-beams as an Ironworker several years ago for previous employers.
After work on January 13th, I strapped on the new to me saddle, took a set of sticks with me, and away I went. I didn’t have a platform at all, but the tree that I had in mind, had a fork about 20 feet up, I thought, well I’ll just use the fork and the top step of the stick. So, that’s what I did. The wind was a perfect west, and all that I needed was for him to present himself. Not having his picture for about a week, and with only 2 more days of season left, there wasn’t any holding back now. I got set, did some trial draws with my bow, things felt good. As a couple of small bucks popped out, it got me pumped up. As one of those little bucks made his way past me, and the other one straight out away from me, I looked over, and there he was on the other side of the fence, choosing which way he wanted to go after he hopped it. There’s that familiar feeling of adrenaline, hitting me all at once. He chose the trail of the buck that had gone by me. He closed the distance and once he got behind fork #1, I drew, I had to position myself for the off side, the other side of fork #2! As I was making the transition, I went into a free-spin around the tree, I lost my footing! All I could think about while in the freespin, was “keep the bow drawn Harpster!” Somehow, I did, and when I caught my footing, I put the bow in between the forks, settled the 20 pin, and gave him one last “bbbrraaapp”. I sent the arrow home, he ran 50 yards, and down he went. With 2 days left on the clock, getting a second chance at this buck that I’ve already poked once, with the season that I’ve had full of mistakes, bad shots, stray dogs, hunts ruined by vehicles driving by…I did it. 1 saddle hunt = 1 kill.
Come to find out, coincidentally, WC told me later on, that he had purchased my saddle from a fella that made the Tethrd 10 last season, it must have come with a little luck from Michigan!