The One that Got Away: NDA Members Share their Heartbreaking Stories

August 6, 2019 | by Nick Pinizzotto

I’m not one to focus on a particular buck during a hunting season and instead select a few that I’d be happy with and would take a shot at if given an opportunity. This has worked out well for me over the years and I never felt like I was missing out considering there’s always a bigger one out there somewhere anyway. Despite this approach, there is one deer that I’ll never forget, and one shot I took that I wish I had back. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, I’m reminded of the deer daily as his shed antlers from that season adorn my fireplace mantle.

It was the 2014 season and I was hunting whitetails in Ohio. I was aware of an exceptional buck in the area that was pushing Boone and Crockett record book status. The rut was starting to heat up, and just two days prior I saw the old bruiser working a scrape just out of range. Knowing that he was comfortable on his feet during daylight hours made me confident that we would meet again.

Look closely. There is a hole in the buck's ear that you can see through. Eventually the ear became floppy and remained that way.

It was a cold and blustery Saturday morning as I climbed into my stand overlooking the edge of a field of still standing corn. I was getting hit in the face with snow and rain intermittently, but through experience I learned that these were the best days. It wasn’t long before I spotted a good 10-point dogging a group of does about 40 yards to my left without offering a shot. I knew this buck, and he was one that I was willing to shoot. He disappeared for about a half hour before returning, and he ultimately ended up standing 15 yards in front of me. I made a textbook shot and watched the buck drop about 50 yards away just inside the woods.

I sat down to gather my thoughts and allow the adrenaline rush to dissipate a bit before attempting to climb down. As I looked back toward my downed buck, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The monster buck I had seen two days earlier marched directly to him and began to work over his lifeless body. As astonished as I was, I realized that I needed to chase him off before my buck’s rack got dismantled. While you can never predict the outcome of a hunt, I feel confident that had I shown a little more patience, I would have had the chance to shoot the beautiful typical 12-point.

As it turned out, I saw the deer several more times and got dozens of photos of him during the winter as I was trying to fill a couple of antlerless tags. On my first outing to look for shed antlers the following spring, I walked up on his headgear, both sides laying together. Collecting them was bittersweet, but I’m glad that I have them. The sheds scored just over 160 inches.

We recently asked our members to tell us their own stories about the one that got away, and here are a few that caught our eye:

This happened 3 times with the largest buck on our property last year. We called him Curly. The first missed chance I was hunting in a treestand only 100 yards away. I checked the camera only to find Curly was in the food plot all evening while I was so close. The second time my son walked past a box blind stand to get to a ladder stand deeper in the property only to find Curly was in the plot where the box blind was just an hour or so after my son walked by. The third time we missed our chance was when I decided not to hunt the same stand I hunted the previous evening only to find out that Curly was in that stand at 8:00 a.m. the next morning! A neighbor shot Curly a couple days later. It frustrates me to this day the missed opportunities we had at him during bow season last year.

  • Steve C., Michigan

I had just shot a decent buck in Alabama and climbed down. I laid my gun across a log and turned to take a leak. Halfway into the process two bucks came from nowhere chasing a hot doe, crashing through the woods with abandon and oblivious to my presence. The biggest, prettiest typical buck I have ever seen in person then stopped five yards from me and stared. You have probably heard the phrase “left holding the bag.”  Well, I just had to watch him trot away as I was left holding something equally as useless!

  • Brent G., Alabama

A few years ago I had a couple pictures of a great buck on my main hunting property. I waited until November and started hunting all day sits. After three or four days of 12 hour sits with zero sightings I convinced myself that I needed to move my setup 80-100 yards deeper in the woods to be closer to the thick bedding area. Around 11:00 a.m. I dropped my gear to the ground and walked out to my truck to grab my climber. As I was sneaking back into the area about 25 minutes later I look up to see that buck standing about 20 yards from the tree I had just been in. He was tending a doe and they were just milling around. I dropped to the ground and waited them out so I didn't get busted. Eventually he chased her back into the thicket so I left my climber on the ground and slipped back in to that stand. I never saw that buck again.

  • Tim A., Michigan

I got to my stand much later than I wanted to, the sun was already up.  I get my climbing stand to the desired point on the tree trunk, strap it in and haul my bow up.  At this point, the biggest buck I'd ever seen chases a doe into the wooded creek bed that I'm in.  A blind deer could have seen all of my movement in the tree as I was scrambling to get my act together and load an arrow, but fortunately they were focused on each other rather than me.  The buck made the last couple of steps necessary to clear the brush and stopped, giving me a perfect broadside shot at 25 yds.  In my haste to get ready, I forgot to put my arm guard on.  When I release the string, it caught the sleeve of my jacket and slowed the string down enough that the arrow flew low and the broadhead just nicked the buck's brisket.  He made it away with just a scratch and I ended up with a crushed ego.

  • Maxie B., North Carolina

I glassed a beautiful muley buck from about 500 yards away and the wind and his position aligned for a perfect stalk opportunity. After nearly two hours of painstaking care, I finally got into position for the shot. Just as I was drawing my bow I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see a mountain lion also stalking the mule deer. I didn’t know whether to shoot the deer before the cat got there or run for my own life! It turns out I didn’t do either because the cat saw me and bolted, which then alerted the giant buck causing him to flee. I just stood there and thought to myself, “Nobody will ever believe this story.”

  • Brian H., Colorado