by: Krissy Knox, Bowtech Ambassador
The Unicorn. Every hunter has one. That one animal that doesn’t really exist except to torture you in game camera photos and leave you wondering if the Big Guy upstairs is messing with you. For my brother and me, this unattainable beast came in the form of a Blacktail buck on a summer night in 2014. Nothing super extraordinary about this deer, but a nice, solid 4-point with some cool features and LOTS of potential.
Following this digital debut, he appeared regularly on his nocturnal routine. As November approached, our thoughts drifted toward “What if this dude actually takes a walk in the daylight past our stands???” Then there’s always the flip side…..he will be an absolute stud in a year or two if we leave him be! Well, we certainly didn’t have to worry about either option, he refused to show himself that whole season. He turned out to be a brawler, too, having lost half of his right side at the peak of the rut.
Fast forward to the fall of 2015. Guess who’s back, and as elusive as ever?!?! This was it. This would be the year. Our repeat offender had matured into the King of the Hill, and the game was on! Or so we thought. But once again we were reminded, they don’t get big by being stupid. We were completely humbled; this buck was becoming a shadow! By now, we had dubbed him the “Tall Four”. He had a unique 4-point frame with extra points and junk around his eye guards, plus a distinct double neck patch. He was AWESOME!!! As the season ended, we had both taken other bucks, leaving the Tall Four to rule the Blacktail woods once more.
At this point in the game, he was referred to almost as a mythical creature. Ryan and I stopped talking about him as our quarry, and more as a respected equal. We were waving the white flag, and just hoping he was passing his genetics on to the younger bucks that might one day actually give us a chance to send the feathers flying.
The 2016 late season crept up, as once again, the Tall Four began making his moonlit pre-rut rounds to measure up the competition and the “dating” prospects. My gosh, he just kept getting cooler every year! He had taken on much more mass, extra points around his hefty bases, and his left side was now palmated into a blade on the back fork. Forget surrender, I changed my mind on giving up on this buck….I wanted him!!!
My brother had already filled his tag during the early season on a giant Muley, and as soon as the Tall Four showed up in pictures early on, Ryan had taken on the same attitude. “Sis, you gotta kill this buck!!! You just HAVE to!” There were a couple of us in the family hunting the area this season, so if it were to ever happen, this was our best chance!
The first week of season settled in and blew by, with no sightings of our old friend. He didn’t mind showing off that he was nearby, though. An occasional 2:00am stroll showed up on the memory card, and even a mid-day snapshot of him nosing a doe, where I’m certain he paused to stick his tongue out at the camera.
Not to say we didn’t have other decent bucks showing up and even prowling while the sun was up (on the days we weren’t there, of course!). And I truly just love the thrill of the hunt and not knowing when something amazing might happen. I was just as willing to shoot the “Freaky Fork” that was also hanging out by my treestand, and would have been elated to put an arrow in him! (Which, by the way, the love of my life DID the last weekend of season!) But God and Mother Nature had other ideas…
On Day 12, I had settled in to life 20 feet up a tree. This was my fate, until possibly December 11th, when I would have to climb down and hang up the harness for the year. I was okay with this. As hunters, we know tag soup is always a possible and even likely outcome. And one I would still choose even if the hundreds of hours we spend in the stand were never to pay off again. But it’s days like this that leave a bright light shining in a bowhunter’s memory… I had sat through yet another chilly and rainy morning, praying the little buck I had barely been able to make out in my binos before sunrise would come back by on his evening rounds while the pins were still glowing. Ryan and his wife, Shannon, were not far away in her stand, and the afternoon crept on. Ryan eventually left to pick up the kiddos from school, and Shannon and I passed the time texting sisterly stuff back and forth to keep us entertained. Of course, it is in these moments when you have something in your hand, or you’ve dropped your guard just enough, to be completely unprepared for action. All of a sudden, a deer was there…about to pass in front of me, and I didn’t hear a thing! How could my tiny phone that had been my best friend 30 seconds ago, now be a giant elephant that I couldn’t jam into my pocket to save my life?!?! Holy cow! And it’s a buck…a BIG buck! Looking back now, I should probably go check my jacket. I may have actually ripped it to shreds finally shoving the phone out of my way, and simultaneously grabbing my Eva Shockey SS.
“The Unicorn. Every hunter has one.”
In my head, I didn’t let myself believe or even consider that this buck walking 16 yards below me was the ever-present, yet never-attainable Tall Four. It didn’t even cross my mind! Ok, well maybe it did…a little. But my focus was only on the shot and the spot where my top pin would come to rest. I’d celebrate the details after the fletching disappeared. The hours spent deliberating the shot scenarios in my head were not wasted. I watched the perfect arrow make the perfect shot on the perfect buck in the perfect moment….my moment. He took off like a rocket, only to come to a rapid halt 30 yards in front of me, where he swayed slightly and fell over before my very eyes. It was here, in this split second, that I replayed the footage in my mind. Yes, he was a 4X3, and yes, he had a funky palmated fork on at least one side…. Could it be? Was it possible? No!…….No way! ….Maybe?..?..?..?
Who knows how long I actually stood there taking it all in, and looking through the binoculars to try to see his antlers through the brush, and realizing I had just done the impossible. When I finally came back to myself, I reached into my pocket for my phone, which had magically shrunk back to its normal size, and sent that one message that we wait for all season…. Buck. Down. As expected, my phone rang within seconds. Ryan’s excited voice, pretty much the male version of mine, was on the other end barely able to contain itself. And that was before he knew what had really happened. I’m pretty sure I actually saw his face come through the screen when I told him that it wasn’t just any buck that ended my season. Again….a perfect moment….our moment.
We have a bit of an unwritten rule in the Hay family. When possible, we wait for all involved parties to be together before we walk up on a harvest. Normally, this is just Ryan and me. But today was so special! Shannon, a first time bowhunter, was the first to the scene. It was probably good that I had some time to wait for her before descending…it took me at least 20 minutes to calm down enough to even hook my bow to the tow rope. I carefully climbed down, and poor Shanny got hugged every few seconds as I recounted the story….several times. Ryan and my nephews soon arrived, and we all walked the few short yards to our trophy together.
I don’t even have the words to describe putting my hands on this ghost for the first time. It was surreal. I’ve shot bigger bucks, and Lord willing, maybe I will again….but every animal keeps a special place in my heart all to itself. And this guy might just have the biggest room of all.
Thank you to my amazing family for supporting my crazy pursuits and loving me endlessly! My sweetheart, Stacy, couldn’t be there for the hunt, but he was my knight in shining armor who rushed home to help me skin and cape my harvest. My Mom and Dad made sure my sweet kiddo, Jesse, was well taken care of while I did what needed to be done. My adorable Grammy, who had just turned 91 days before, was so excited for me even though she has never hunted a day in her life! And to have Shannon and my two nephews there to share the experience was just awesome, thank you all! And to Ry….here’s to another year of this brother/sister duo! We are far stronger as a team than we could ever be on our own. This is what we do, success or not, and what we’ll always do. But I can honestly tell you, I wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much if you weren’t there at the end of the blood trail. I love you all so much, I am blessed. We are blessed. Hunt Happy!!