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Respecting The Journey

Respecting The Journey:

The Un-Finished Tale of RD

Here at Small Acre Hunting and on the grounds of many of you reading this many bucks plant themselves in our minds as legends of past seasons and are often referred to as “the ones that got away”. For my father and I, those bucks go by the names of Ol’ Pearly, Coppertone and most memorable Bow. It is safe to say though that no matter how 2014 plays out, RD has surpassed all of them and his story is one worth sharing.

2012 – The Beginning and Nearly The Ending

It was the summer of 2012 and we had just gained access to a new property to hunt. It had all the signs of a great spot and if given a POLTS score (Probability of Long Term Survival) out of 10 it would easily garner a 10. This was in large part due to a 200 acre state owned wetlands (no hunting allowed) that borders one side of the new property. Excited…thrilled…pumped for the chances the property could be all fall short of capturing exactly what we felt when we had our first legit BIG buck show up on camera.

That picture (the one used at the top of the page) started it all…and is how the name RD came to be. Upon seeing the picture I remember uttering the words, “Now THAT is the REAL DEAL!”…and the legend of RD was born. I was utterly consumed with harvesting that buck all season and even knew if it meant eating tag soup I would do it without hesitation.

Indiana’s guns season always opens in mid-November and in 2012 by the time November 18th rolled around I had logged over 180 hours on stand (nearly 12 all day sits) FULLY dedicated with only one thing in mind; harvesting RD. There would be two times I would actually come moments away from harvesting him. One such moment is still one I’m not 100% sure was him; however replaying it in my mind I strongly feel it was him the morning I passed up a shot at a GIANT 8 a mere 12 yards from my stand due to being minutes prior to legal time. It crushed me as I watched the moon/rising sun lit body and HUGE rack walk away from me that morning but I knew I wouldn’t have been able to look at the mount on my wall with pride had I taken the illegal shot.

Another chance that year was on another all day sit…this one unfolded like out of a hunting show up until moments prior to the shot that is. Around noon I decided to try and coax RD out of his known bed with some light rattling. Like clockwork I could see a bristled up massive bodied deer coming down the trail and beginning to angle towards my stand (he was a mere 60 yards from me). As I caught sight of his massive main frame 8 rack…I heard a barking noise and like a bolt of lightning he spun and took off. I nearly cried as I watched two dogs (owned by neighbors) run him off and out of sight.

Those would be the only two times that year my eyes were laid on him…however trail cameras would prove there were multiple times (3 if memory serves) where I was less than 100 yards away from him in legal hours…love and hate trail cameras for this very reason.

The 2012 season would come to a close but the trail camera images of RD would keep coming. Many times in late season he was spotted hitting our brassica plot along with other VERY nice bucks…now we would simply pray he survives mother nature and sets up a new chapter to start in 2013.

2013 – The Year We Ran Out of Tags

So knowing full well that RD had made it through the hunting season we fully expected him to show his face at some point on the mineral site we operate on the property from about February through August (regulations make it illegal to operate one year round in Indiana); months of mineral camera pulls yielded the same thing, no RD. There was however a 3 ½ year old buck that seemed to have taken over RD’s bedding area on the property…leading us to believe only one of two things occurred; RD died or was forced out by this younger buck we named Kicks’ (ironic name I guess if you think about it).

The forcing out did not seem possible just by judging the caliber of the two bucks…however it is well documented that just like humans some bucks are more aggressive than others and perhaps this was RD’s way of showing us he’s not extremely aggressive until the rut (we have images of him fighting during that time period) or RD had simply found a spot he preferred to spend his spring/summer months.

October 1st, opening of bow season, found me up a tree at the property hoping but not expecting RD to still be around or possibly alive. It was around the second week of October that we did a card pull of all the cameras and I fully expected to see something…NOPE, no RD. I can remember doing another card pull of some cameras about a week later…NOPE, no RD. Fearing the worst but hoping for the best I found myself hunting a micro plot in late October right when chasing was beginning to happen. That day would be the first day pops or I harvested a buck off the new property. It would be the 3 ½ year old, Kicks’, that had been hitting the mineral and his story can be read HERE.

That day we made the decision to pull the cards on all the cameras due to the commotion made on the property anyways…and wouldn’t you know it, RD was back! I had not even cleaned up from my hunt yet that evening and I was staring at our first image of the buck I’d thought we would never see or hear from again. I had never felt such mixed emotions about an awesome and successful hunt.

My father would simply have to be the one to close the book on RD and while many an attempt was made, sadly though nothing of the sort would occur prior to the gun season that year. Gun season - the dreaded words uttered in mid-November bring fear to our minds because on this property that means our hunting is suspended and the landowner and a few others hit the woods. All we could do is hope and pray RD would, just like the years prior, escape and elude the army of gun hunters hitting the woods. The sad fact of the matter though was in this area not just legal hunters were our worries but also road-hunters or night-hunters have been a known issue.

I would spend the 2013 gun opener setting on the ground at the family’s 9-acre Homestead property I grew up on hoping a doe would waltz by…but my mind was thinking of RD and hoping he’d just curl up into a bed and not think of rising for a couple weeks till dad could chase him again. Fortunately for RD though pops would not be chasing RD the late season of 2013…because on the opener of gun season an arrow would zip out of my dad’s bow on solid 8-pointer.

I was possibly more estatic for my father than even he was for himself…however when it sank in what this meant some serious doubts began to creep in about whether or not RD would ever fall to one of us. Not only did I now need RD to survive gun season, I would need him to survive muzzleloader season as well as the entire second half of bow season…oh and make it through one of the harshest winters known to hit my area of Indiana in years!

That winter with every card pull from the cameras the hope grew and the chance that 2014 could be special became more and more likely. RD would become a regular at the brassica plot again just like the year prior, gorging himself on purple top turnip bulbs and the green tops buried beneath at times 12 inches of snow. Needless to say if either pops or I had a tag that winter he would have been ours, as he was seen feeding well into light and after light at times daily. Then once the winter broke and the antlers dropped all signs of RD disappeared and for the second year in a row no sheds were found…so the waiting commenced again.

2014 – The New Chapter

As I type this the season hasn’t even started yet, but the biggest question mark has finally been answered. You see, just like in the spring and summer of 2013 RD would not visit the mineral or any of the other 5 spots with cameras on them…no it would appear for yet another year he was either dead or summer bedding elsewhere, the question was which was true….the winter was brutal and maybe the toll was too great. Perhaps our attention would need to be shifted elsewhere in 2014.

As the summer drew towards it’s end camera pull after camera pull began to get us excited for the 2014 season…but not for the reason of RD, but because of other bucks. The Homestead property and its neighboring river bottom for the first time in years had the best bucks on camera. Not just a couple but 3 bonafide P&Y contenders were on camera…making the Swamp Property (RD’s place) take a backseat going into the 2014 season.

Then it happened, the pull that changed everything. Doing some last minute trail prepping at the Swamp Property on September 13 we decided to pull the cards and see what was happening. A really nice young 9 pointer as well as an apparently older 6 pointer were regulars but as we’d learned anything could pop up at any given moment. Then with one click of the mouse another chapter in the RD story began, RD was alive and the journey was set to continue again for yet another season.

The picture wasn’t the best but those 10-inch plus (honestly 12 is probably more likely) browtines cannot be mistaken for any other deer besides him…shoot hunt a deer long enough you don’t even need to see the rack to know it’s him.

Now the script of 2014, which I thought had the stage set, was scrapped and thrown in the trash. RD just flipped the entire plan upside down for the year and has me questioning what approach to the season will be used. Can I hold back my release finger if one of the P&Y bucks presents a shot…knowing full well if I hunt smart and long enough RD could potentially happen?!

I don’t know what I will do or how the chapter which will unfold in 2014 will go…but I do know one thing. RD is one of the best examples of why I hunt. It is the journey…the story which is added to with every climb of a tree and snap of a twig in hopes of writing that ending chapter. In the end though realizing I have no clue how the story will go or if I will even play a part in its closing statements. What a chance to at least be a character in the story being told, a role which molds us into the hunter we will be at the start of the next season or the next chapter.

Perhaps 2014 will be the final chapter of this saga and perhaps not…I know I for one plan on finding out with every tree step climbed and “page flipped”.

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