THREE WEEKS BEFORE the Maryland bow season, I’d gotten a couple of trail-cam pictures of a real nice 8-pointer. The buck’s antlers had a big, wide spread with good character to it—the perfect rack. I figured he’d score between 120 and 130. He was by far the biggest buck on the camera, and I made up my mind that this was the one I’d wait for.

I hung a stand in a strip of woods that funnels deer between two bigger patches of timber. There was a hayfield on one side and standing corn on the other. I’d been out for about an hour on September 17, the second afternoon of the season, and I wasn’t expecting to see much because my uncle was mowing the hayfield only 60 yards away.

Around six o’clock I heard a crack behind me. When I turned around there was a huge buck heading right for my stand. I could see right away this wasn’t the deer I’d planned to hold out for—and that my plans needed to change, fast.

He stopped at about 30 yards. I stood up and my stand creaked. He looked right at me. I froze. For 20 seconds my heart pounded against my chest while he stared. I thought, There goes my whole season. I’ve blown it. I’m not going to see anything better this fall. I may never see anything better.

I couldn’t believe it when he starting eating, casually. By now I was shaking pretty hard, but I clipped my release onto the string and closed my eyes for a few seconds to calm myself down. I drew back, and when I triggered the release the buck trotted off about 20 yards, with his tail up, and I thought for sure I’d missed. Then he stumbled, and I saw that huge 12-point rack—a rack I’d never seen on my scouting cameras, on a buck I never knew existed—hit the ground.

I don’t know that I’ll ever top this. I shot the first buck I saw, only two days into the season, and he turned out to score in the top three for Maryland typicals. When I get my shoulder mount back from the taxidermist, it’s going to be unreal. I’ll probably sleep with it for a while.