Last week, before I left for Minnesota, I asked if bloggers should be able to take a week off just because they want to get in a treestand during the rut? You gave me the green light, and thank goodness. Turns out I arrowed the biggest bucks of my life.

Here’s a short photo essay (okay, more of a bunch of hero shots, but I know you guys will be good enough to indulge me):

Davescott_1F&S; contributing editor and whitetail expert Scott Bestul (right) not only hosted me on his home stomping grounds in southeastern Minnesota—something most people would not tolerate two years in a row—but he also put me up at his house and let me sit at the dinner table with his wonderful family, which most people with young children (rightfully worried about what the tots are exposed to) would never allow. I think he was trying to teach them a lesson in forbearance. Many thanks to all.

Davebuck_1Long story reasonably short: On the first evening, wind and snow concentrated the deer, and Scott put me on exactly the right stand. I saw 27 critters—13 bucks and 14 does, including a big 10-pointer that was running girlfriends in every direction and had zero interest in my grunts, bleats, snort-wheezes, or rattling horns. On the next morning, a different, absolutely giant 10 chased three does past my stand. I stopped him for half a second at 32 yards but didn’t have a shot. Five long, slow sits later, I figured I’d used up all my luck for the week, which was fine by me. Then came Tuesday morning.

Scott walked me into a stand overlooking a very small pond and said, “You’re going to like this spot. A couple of guys said they’d seen a big buck coming right through here.” At about 8 a.m., he was coming through again. I’d been rattling and had put down some do-in-heat urine leading to the stand. I can’t say for sure that either helped lead him down the alley so perfectly. I just know that I heard his footsteps and looked up to see legs moving toward me. Then I glimpsed all the bone I needed to see. I never looked at his antlers again. And thank goodness. If I’d known it was a 140-class deer, I’d have been shaking too hard to shoot.

The buck worked a scrape about 40 yards out, then started trotting toward the pond. I drew before he got in the open. He skirted across the far side of the water, slowed down, and turned broadside at 12 yards. I didn’t move or make the slightest sound. But he stopped short, rotated his head to the left and up, and stared right at me. I was going to wait for him to relax, put his head down . . . but he started twitching his face. I had a good shot and I took it. But the instant I did, he ducked and whirled, and instead of taking the arrow behind the front, left shoulder, he took it high and forward. I watched him scramble away with several inches or arrow shaft and bright green-and-orange fletchings sticking out of him. I heard him crash about 70 yards away.

I had to force Scott to let me take a picture of him with this buck. Of course, he deserves most of the credit. All I did was manage not to screw it up, and I made a passable shot. It’s as much his buck as mine (maybe more).

Dave_fourwheelerWhen Scott came with a four-wheeler to get me and the buck, our hunting partner Greg Brush, who’d been sitting in a stand across the valley, was with him. I thought this was odd, but Scott explained it: “Just after you called my cell to tell me you stuck your buck, Greg called to say he was cold, wasn’t in a good spot, and wanted me to pick him up.” I shouldn’t have bought it. Greg doesn’t come out of stand early, and he wouldn’t question any stand location Scott chose. But what can I tell you, I wasn’t quite thinking straight. So I ate it up, we loaded my buck, and on the ride back Greg said, “Looks like you’re buying dinner tonight, Dave.”

“No problem,” I said, still flying high. “You got it.”

Winking at Scott, he added, “I could probably get him to pay for the rental car, too, right now.”

“You probably could,” I admitted.

While he and Scott laughed a little to heartily at this, we turned the corner and I saw Greg’s buck laying on the ground where they’d left it. It took me a full 30 seconds to understand what was going on.

Dave_gregbuckAt almost the same time I arrowed my buck, Greg (who after every long, cold sit kept saying, “All it takes is one”) was surprised to see this one under his stand at 8 yards. He’d been watching a fat doe, waiting for her to step out of a thicket. He kept hearing footsteps. They seemed to be getting louder. But the doe wasn’t getting any closer. Greg was baffled until he turned to his left, caught his breath, drew, and made a perfect shot on this pretty 8 pointer (which would be a 9 but for a broken left G2).

Dave_girlsWhile Scott, Greg, and I were patting each other on the backs and taking pictures, the rancher’s three daughters, Haley, Harper, and Hannah (sorry girls if I spelled any of your names wrong), hiked out to see our bucks. I have to say, Minnesota folks raise their girls up right. Look at these three get right in there. What’s more, Haley, I believe it was (and maybe one of the other girls as well) was proud and excited to tell us that she was going hunting in a week when the second gun season opened. Good luck, Haley.