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"The Prairie Ghost"
Written by Jace M. Bauserman

The Prairie Ghost
I had watched him for months, strolling across the open prairie, munching the fresh grass without a care in the world. Each day he would repeat this process as he made the long journey through the blinding heat to access his favorite waterhole. As luck would have it this was his only waterhole. The weeks of hundred-degree heat on the Colorado prairies had sucked every ounce of pond water into the earth. The only water available was to be found in rancher's stock tanks. It was the perfect scenario for any archery hunter. I would set-up my Ameristep blind by the tank a few days before the season. Then on opening morning I would quietly slip into the blind well before light and wait for the massive fifteen-inch buck to approach the tank. It was the perfect plan, but as with most perfect plans it was about to be spoiled.

Three days before the season something came to Southeastern Colorado that had not been seen in months. The sky blackened, lightning flashed, and rain poured down on the dry prairie. Ranchers and farmers watched with delight as their crops were watered, and their ponds filled. I watched with terror stricken across my face. With each drop that plummeted to the earth I could see in my mind every little hole on the prairie filling up with water. I spent a sleepless night listening to the tap-tap-tap of the rain splatter against my window.

The next morning I drove out to the area where I had been watching the buck. I spent hours glassing the prairie for my giant. Then my worst fears were confirmed. I saw him and his harem of does traveling to a natural waterhole right in the middle of the prairie. The ensuing days only got worse as I watched him water in a new spot everyday. It was now the day before season and all I could think about was how my months of scouting and anticipation had been spoiled by one bad rain. I did however manage to go check on my buck. On this day I never even caught a glimpse of him. It was the first time in over sixty days that I had not seen him. I tried to stay positive and went to scout some other bucks that I had been watching. I saw several nice bucks that were in good position for spot and stalk, but not one of them even compared to my monster.

Day 1 - I positioned myself at the top of a small knoll where I could see the vast majority of the prairie that the buck had been frequenting. I could also glass several different waterholes from this concealed position. Just as it was getting light enough to start glassing a noise, which sounded like running water, grabbed my attention. Slowly, I turned my head and saw a nice ten inch buck making a scrape in the dry creek bed just twenty yards away. I turned and got myself into position. I knew he wasn't the monster I had been watching, but he would be a very respectable bow kill. After several minutes of debating with myself I decided to let the buck walk. This close encounter had left my heart in my throat, and my hands shaking like leaves. The rest of the day consisted of a few busted stalks, lots of cactus for my wife to dig out of my body when I got home, and not a single trace of my big buck.

Day 2 - My father-in-law Garry joined me for the hunt on this day. The plan was to try and locate Mr. Big at first light and then go try some spot and stalk. Once again the buck didn't show himself. It was like he was a ghost that had drifted away on the prairie winds. Disappointed, I told Garry I had been seeing some other bucks a few miles away. We decided we would go and see if we could make something happen. It wasn't long before I glassed a lone buck dipping down behind some hills. We watched for a few minutes and the buck never reappeared. We figured he had bedded down, and was in great position for decoying. Very slowly we slipped through the swaying grass with my homemade decoy. As we crawled closer to the crest of the hill I could see the coal black horns of the buck coming into view. I realized the buck was looking away from me, which was a perfect time to set-up the decoy.
The buck didn't respond at first having not become alert to the intruder, but before long his keen senses turned his sharp eyes directly towards the decoy. This caused him to rise out of his bed and move towards us at a slow trot. He closed the distance to within fifty yards. Just as he turned broadside Garry drew over the decoys back. A few seconds later his Mathews Outback released an arrow that sailed just over the bucks back. We were both very discouraged with the outcome, but very optimistic after having two close calls in two days of hunting.

Day 3 - Having not seen my buck again the previous afternoon or evening we were back to our spot and stalk methods. This day it was not so easy. It seemed every buck we found was smack in the middle of the open plains. This left us driving around glassing new areas for other bucks. We did manage to get in a few stalks that took us miles out on the prairie and left our clothes soaked with sweat, but that was about it. Around noon we decided to head in for some food and ice cold water. On the way in I told Garry to swing by so we could see if the big guy was out. I truly didn't expect to see him, but I always had to check. As we approached the area I saw the buck out the truck window. I was in shock at first having not even caught a glimpse of him in several days. I soon noticed that he was making his way toward a watering hole. Scanning the prairie, evaluating my options it became clear that there was just enough hills and cover between my position and the watering hole that I just might have a chance. Like a flash I was out of the truck racing across the open prairie heading directly towards the watering hole. When I ran out of room to run and was in position for the final stalk. I found myself crawling the last hundred yards to a Yucca bush. Just as I got into position the buck came around the base of a hill and headed straight for me. I knew the moment I had been longing for was about to present itself. The buck was only forty yards away at this point, and had stopped to munch on some grass. Silently I drew my Mathews Bow and rose up from behind the Yucca. I settled my forty-yard pin right behind the buck's front shoulder and started to squeeze the trigger when the buck startled and quartered to me. Still having a clear view of one lung I sent my arrow into flight. The orange fletching disappeared just behind the front shoulder, and then reappeared as they exited through the opposite hip. The buck went only thirty yards out onto the prairie and then piled up. I just sat there in silence for a few moments taking in all that happened. I couldn't talk, or breathe. The only thing I could bring my body to do was smile as I sat shaking. The buck I had worked so long and hard for was lying in plain sight right in front of me. I was truly the hunt of a lifetime and a moment that I never wanted to end.