NAME: Bransen Shelton
SADDLE GEAR: Tethrd Phantom, Predator Platform
The hunt for the buck that would turn out to be my largest ever officially started in February 2021 during a quail/shed hunt on a large swathe of public land. I was working my dogs on a second year clear cut on a south facing hillside. I was working towards a lone cedar tree, about the size of a basketball in diameter, thinking to myself “it would be awesome if there was a rub on that tree”. As luck would have it, there was. Nothing gets my blood pumping more than
finding a cedar just absolutely worked over by a buck and this one was just that. I walked away from the rub hoping the buck that made that rub would have survived the hunting season, the onslaught of public land rifle hunters, poachers and the winter to have a chance at him the
Flash forward to the fall. I was eager to focus on that area. Near the rub was a small sycamore, offering the only setup over that rub if and when he comes back. It was perfect for the saddle.
Two weeks before the archery opener I was involved in a car wreck that left me with a spinal cord injury. Shooting pain, numbness and weakness had me down physically, mentally and
spiritually. Being confined to a bed and couch during the fall just had me down in the dumps. I had just bought a brand new Mathews V3X. Merely trying to lift it up would leave me in a sweat and out of breath. I missed all of October, starting in November I began physical therapy and I slowly began getting my strength back. I eventually got to where I could lift and pull my bow back again, albeit with the most ridiculous looking draw movement you can fathom. I finally got comfortable enough to try and get back in the saddle (pun intended). I could get two sticks up comfortably. Still not released from physical therapy, I would hunt around my appointments. I would hunt in the morning, drive to the doctor and hustle back to the woods. I was being very aggressive, feeling the pressure. I would often hunt the area of the large rub but here it was the waning days of November, the prime time for rut activity and the tree hasn’t been hit once.
Maybe the buck didn’t survive.
November in the rearview, in a highly pressurized public hunting area I felt like my best chances at success were behind me for a mature buck.
December 6th, I’m still hunting around midday physical therapy appointments but now they’re every other day, spending a day scouting for fresh sign I go and check the rub once again. I can see from some distance that it is absolutely trashed and bleeding sap, it’s fresh.
It’s my style of hunting that if you see a buck, or find absolute fresh sign, you have three, maybe four days to seal the deal. So that’s what I did.
Two days later I’m in my saddle hunting just North of the rub on a trail crossing in some high winds. Call it divine intervention, it’s just not the spot today I can just tell. I get down about 9:45, I have a therapy appointment at 1:30, let’s go check the other side. Once I get there, I’m slipping through with my saddle gear anticipating a hang and hunt, keeping my eyes on the edge of the clearing and a thicker pine plantation that has vines and underbrush climbing up the tree trunks and hanging off limbs. I first see a doe that is clearly being chased by a buck come down and into the pine plantation. Not far behind her, just a thick horn, big bodied brute of a buck hot on her trail. I knew this was the day. I needed to get back around, get in front of them and get the wind in my favor. I back tracked out, sent a text to my wife telling her I’m on a buck, and I’m not sure if I’ll make the therapy appointment which she didn’t approve of.
Gear on my back and wearing my saddle, I start slip hunting into the plantation from the south, a hard wind from the north is covering the sound of my footsteps hitting the pine needles layering the ground (which is nearly as quiet as walking on shag carpet already) and weaving through the rows of pine limbs that touch the ground, holding my bow and trying not to let the climbing sticks attached to my backpack get hung up on the limbs. Every few steps I’d blow my grunt tube and wait and watch. The terrain starts sloping downward, I can see a good distance
through the natural lanes of the pines plantings. I hoped to find a terrain feature to make a good setup to sit and wait but it wasn’t coming. Luckily, it didn’t need to.
I caught movement up ahead, it was the doe working from my left to right broadside. Now
working a little slower but still it appears she’s being pushed. With all my gear on my back, bow in my hand arrow already knocked and ready, I knelt down and ranged her at 43 yards in a clear lane. Heart beating out of my chest and a dry throat I waited for what seemed like an hour on the buck to make his approach on the does trail but in reality it took only seconds. He stepped into the lane and stopped perfectly broadside after I gave the perfectly timed “meh”. I settled my pin in the boilermaker and let my arrow fly. He attempted to duck down but it was too late. I watched my fletching disappear behind his hide, perfect left to right, just a touch high but still I felt good.
The moments after the shot were like a dream, you know it happened but you can’t recall the exact details but I do know there were some fist bumps in the air. I don’t even look for my arrow. I just back out and head to the truck. I go on into town for my appointment giving him plenty of time before I go back, I am just anxious as all get out. I go home, load up my Deutsch Drahthaar Lorrie to handle the blood tracking just in case.
She made light work of an easy track, first finding an arrow covered in blood and onto leading me to the largest buck of my life. 19 scorable points in total, just a heavy horned bruiser of a buck. Public land, late season archery. It just doesn’t get any better.