Jackpots story began last year around the third week of October. I was sitting in my bow stand one morning hunting a 5 year old 10 point I had named Goliath. Goliath was a no show that morning and it was about 9am so I started to pack up my stuff when I looked up and saw a buck with a tall rack coming my way. Any movement on this ranch at 9am is pretty rare and to see a decent 10 point at that time of morning is even more rare. I knew right away I didn’t recognize this deer and quickly grabbed a arrow from my quiver and got nocked and loaded for a shot if I were to get a one. As he was closing the distance between me and him I was watching him through the scope of the crossbow and when he stopped at 40 yards and fed for about 20 minutes I had plenty of time to pin a age on him. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get him past 3 years old so I backed off and proceeded to watch him feed in front of me for over an hour and a lot of that time was at less than 20 yards. I was confident that he wouldn’t make it through the season without someone letting the air out of him because I have seen it happen way to many times with our best 3 year olds. I just refused to be “that guy”.
As bow season began to fade away he had become a regular and I had many encounters with him. Once rifle season rolled around though I knew his days were numbered and I was just waiting for the day I pulled into camp to find him hanging.
As rifle season progressed I learned more and more about this deer and I became slightly obsessed with learning even more about him. I started to move cameras around to track his movements and it became clear that he was traveling one specific ridge and the odds of him wandering into the path of another hunter were not all that good. That’s when I started to get serious about this deer becoming my #1 prospect for the 2018-19 season.
Since I had ended up finally getting Goliath in bow season last year I had plenty of time to devote to studying this new 10 point. I leaned that he was pretty much a afternoon only buck and would rarely be seen in the mornings neither on camera or in person, but if he did show up in the mornings it was always late morning well after most other deer activity had ceased. What I needed to know now was where he was bedding.
I got home and pulled out some maps and aerial photos and studied how he was moving along that ridge and was able to pinpoint a likely bedding area for him. The next weekend I set out in the middle of the day to creep through that area and see if I could catch him in there. It was almost too easy!!! Not only did I spot him bedded in there but he got up and walked right by me at less than 30 yards and had no clue I was there. I even snapped a picture with my phone as he walked by. Now the puzzle was almost complete. I just needed to know where the heck he was hanging out in the mornings cuz he sure as heck wasn’t at any of my feeders or in front of any of my cameras.
It wasn’t until the last weekend of rifle season that I put the last piece of the puzzle together and it was rather strange how it happened. What happened is I had found a 7 point that had gotten hung in the fence as he tried to jump it on my south fence and the Coyotes had picked him clean. As I was working on removing the carcass I look up and that buck I had been following all year was standing about 40 yards away watching me. I reached in my pocket and grabbed my phone and took a few pics as he jumped the fence and walked way. Turns out what the buck was doing in the morning was feeding and watering on the ranch to my south (that’s the closest water to where I hunt). He would then return to my area to bed or go for a late morning snack on the rare occasion he were to be seen in the morning. Even better news than seeing him do this was the fact that it was the last weekend of the season and he had survived.
Now fast forward to August 2018. I already knew which deer I was likely going to be hunting but he didn’t have a name yet. I decided to call him Jackpot because for our place he had hit the lottery when it came to genetics. We don’t have a lot of tall tine deer and when you start to see them showing that kind of promise at 3 years old then you can bet at 4 they might be something special.
I don’t remember the exact date but around mid to late August me and Dad made the trip out to the lease to get the feeders rolling and get the cameras going. I went big this year with cameras setting out 17 of them trying to track down Jackpot! I even went so far as to move one of my feeders for him to call his own and allow me to hunt him with a north wind. (Told you I was obsessed with him)
We let the cameras run for about 6 weeks I guess and then went back to fill feeders and check cameras. Think I ended up with around 40K pictures and guess what…….not one picture of Jackpot!!!! While disappointed I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. I have had deer in the past flat vanish just before the rut and then return afterwards and I have had deer I only see during the rut and never before or after. Since Jackpot didn’t show up until the third week of October last year I figured he might do the same again this year.
Opening weekend of bow season I had zero plans of going. I hardly ever do and when I do go opening weekend its usually just a work weekend and I never hunt because deer movement usually sucks. However the previous weekend I didn’t really get everything done that I wanted to do. Dad had forgot to pull one of the camera cards at his bow stand the previous weekend, and I needed to prepare to hunt a buck named Blade just in case Jackpot continued to no show on me, and I also wanted to move some cameras into Jackpots bedding area to see if I could catch a glimpse of him in there since he wasn’t hitting the feeders. So I had plenty of excuses to go this past weekend and made a last minute decision to do it.
Opening morning was pretty much a bust. One deer came by. It was a young pretty 8 point who inadvertently got the name Cheeseburger from another lease/forum member. It reaffirmed why I don’t hunt the bow opener.
Midday I set out to do the work I needed to do and noticed quite a bit of deer movement which surprised me. I told myself I might need to get in the stand early since I was seeing so many in the middle of the day. I made the decision to head to the stand at 5pm and do some sweating and swatting at the Mosquitos. With the southeast wind it was perfect for hunting Jackpots favorite stand and where I saw him for the first time ever so that’s where I went.
Not long after settling in I caught some movement about 50 yards to my right. The first thing I noticed was some insanely long G3’s and my first thought was “Jackpot”! As he cleared the brush line his rack started to take shape and there was pretty much no doubt I was staring at the buck I had waited all year to see. I reached for my binoculars to look him over real good and make sure nothing was broken and all looked good to go so I put them down and got the bow ready to rock n roll. There were a few times with my naked eye that I thought I saw a small drop tine on his left beam but then again I thought I may just be imagining things. By now he had started to close the distance even more but ended up hanging up right at 30 yards. I have a self imposed limit of 30 yards with a cross bow because of how well they can string jump them due to how loud they are. I have seen it first hand and its incredible how fast they can react. So while he was in range I knew I only had one chance to get this right so I waited to see if he would get closer.
Early that morning while it was still dark I had spread some corn at about 25 yards in front of this stand. After watching him for about 15 minutes or so he found the corn and had turned almost broadside but slightly quartering away. By now my nerves had calmed down and I felt comfortable enough to take the shot. I judged him right at 25 yards so I put the 20 yard mark in the scope slightly high and back and slowly squeezed the trigger. While I didn’t see the arrow strike him I dang sure heard the unmistakable “THWACK” and he high tailed it out of there. I couldn’t have felt better about how calm I was and how solid my rest was. I knew I had probably just arrowed the best buck ever killed on the place and would have my deer shortly.
As he was running to the east I could hear the rocks and brush come alive as he bulldozed his way along and then he started hooking back to the south west where he had come from. I kept thinking I was going to hear him crash but he kept going for what sounded like 100 yards and then complete silence. I assumed the silence was because he was down but I kept thinking to myself he should not have went that far to begin with so doubt was creeping in on me. I kept replaying everything in my head and I felt great about the shot. I was even sure I saw the entrance on him as he was running just a little far back and little high but over all still a kill shot.
I began to pack up my stuff and then headed back to get the ATV and give him time to bleed out. When I returned I stepped off the distance and it was 23 yards to where he was standing. Problem was there was no blood and no arrow to be found. I began to kind of crisscross the trail he took off on looking for blood but no luck at all. I then decided to head the direction I last heard him and look for a body. No luck with that either but did find a few drops of blood so I now had a confirmed hit.
The blood I had to go on was heading due south towards my creek bottom but it petered out quickly before I could determine if he actually did drop off into the bottom or headed west along the rim of it towards the ridge he was known to travel so often. This is where everything I had learned about him came into play. I knew with him being hit he was going to seek out thick stuff and nothing was thicker than his bedding area so I decided to drop off in the creek bed and search for any signs there where he liked to bed.
As I walked the rim of the creek looking for the most logical way a deer would go in and out of it I noticed some thick maybe 3’ tall scrub oak looking stuff kind of pushed down. I started inspecting the leaves and noticed a few of the branches were freshly broken. Then I noticed some itty bitty blood specks on them so I now knew where he was headed. Once I made it to the bottom of the gully I was able to pick up the blood trail again and it became obvious he was headed due east towards what I call my bow feeder, but more importantly he was headed for his bedding area.
Along the way there were several times when the blood would get fairly heavy and I knew at any moment I was going to walk up on him only to be let down when the blood would start to peter out again. After about 250 yards I was in the heart of his bedding area but he was still going east. Another 200 yards and he had exited his bedding area and was now approaching my bow feeder. To my surprise he passed right by my feeder within 5’ of it and I bet I even have a pic of him on the game camera there but I haven’t checked yet. Next up on that path he was taking would be what I call my lower tower feeder probably another 400 yards away. The problem is everything I knew about this deer told me once he passed my bow feeder he was in uncharted waters for him because he had never been seen or caught on camera in that bottom east of that feeder.
As I continued along (at some points on my hands and knees) I came up on my lower tower feeder and lost the blood right there in the muddy road that I use to fill that feeder. I knew the game trail continued east along that creek and I had planned to go blindly that way if I couldn’t find anymore blood to point me in the right direction. As I crossed the muddy road I stood there at my feeder looking at the corn that was still on the ground and then turned back around to where I had just walked through and I just about fell on the ground when I saw what I saw. The buck I had spent almost a year tracking his every move and just blood trailed for 1000 yards at least was laying under the Cedar tree I just walked by and he was no more than 7 yards from my feeder nearly laying on the muddy road I just crossed.
The arrow was still in him and just as I thought I had seen as he was running off the shot had caught him a few inches high and back. However the exit was just under the spine above the shoulder on the opposite side. It looks like what happened is when he heard the shot he dropped to take off causing the high entry. The kicker though is it appears the arrow struck the top third of the shoulder blade causing it to deflect up and exit under the spine on the other side. Had the arrow continued on its original entry path I would have had a high double lung hit and pretty quick recovery. As it turned out I was lucky to find him at all. Oddly enough this nearly same exact thing happened last year when I shot Goliath except the arrow exiting caught the spine and dropped him right there. In that case the arrow went through the vitals before making a detour and clipping the spine though and he bled out in seconds.
He ended up having 11 scorable points including the drop I thought I saw that is about 2” long. He also has 3 smaller points that don’t make the 1” minimum but if you are old school and count a point if its big enough to hang a ring then he could be called a 14 point.
Now that my season is over dang near as soon as it started, I will be looking for another buck to follow through the season and hopefully drag out of the brush in 2019.