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"Bitter Sweet"
Written by Ladd Darley

Bitter Sweet
Ladd's 2002 Trophy Archery Buck
It all began when a month prior to my 2002 Utah archery hunt I was given the opportunity to hunt some private property. In return, we agreed to help the landowner with some fence building and repair and the posting of the property. We really felt fortunate to hunt the property, as we were sure we'd find some great bucks.

We made our first scouting trip in late July and were able to locate two good four point bucks. One was a little bigger with eyeguards and some good mass. The widest buck had only four inches of antler on the left side, so we knew that one had another year to live. With the Utah archery hunt beginning in mid-August, we were only able to make a couple scouting trips, but we found the bucks in the same hollow each time. And, they used the same travel route each time. Our plan was to take advantage of their habit.

The Friday night before the opener, I went up to find the bucks, but they were nowhere to be found. I spoke to three other guys who were also going to be hunting the ranch. They told me about a few of the bucks they had seen that evening, but they had not seen the bigger buck.

On opening morning, we decided just to drive the ranch until we found some bucks. We sat at the gate for a half hour waiting for light and at 6:08 a.m., we were off.
I joined the Dedicated Hunter program here in Utah this year, and was going to be picky at what I would shoot. I was looking forward to the muzzleloader and rifle hunts. My friend Mike asked me if I would take the 4x4, I told him, "Only if I was given a good 20 - 30 yard shot".
We drove past the hollow we usually saw them in, but there was nothing in it. We went up on top of the main ridge running through the ranch and spotted some deer, a big group of doe's with one spike at 25 yards. In the next ten minutes we spotted more doe's. Then, down on the eastside of the ranch, we spotted four deer out feeding, so off we went.

We drove back down by the gate and up another hollow to find the feeding deer. But, before we made it far, we spotted deer on the hillside south of the hollow. Mike identified them as bucks, and then told me that the good four-point was there! We took some quick video footage and then planned our stalk.
The bucks were feeding up on the ridge and were about to drop off the backside. Mike said he would wait 20 minutes for me to get setup, and then push them towards the hollow where I would be waiting.
I drove back down, parked, and then proceeded up to the hollow where I hoped they would be. There was a big hill between the two roads and the deer were on the south side.
Down off the North side was the other road, then the hollow heading off up to the Northwest. I setup in the mouth of the hollow by a small 3 foot tall juniper tree.

I had only been waiting about 5 minutes when I spotted the bucks heading my way. They were feeding in a clearing only 80 yards away; obviously Mike hadn't spooked them yet. A few minutes later, the big 3x4 came onto the road about 50 yards away. I thought about taking the shot at the four-point when he hit the road, but I decided to stick to my 20-yard shot plan (if he gave it to me).
I lost sight of all the big bucks when they feed behind a large juniper tree. I watched the smaller bucks cross the road at this point and began to think that the group of bucks would head west and not up the hollow where I was hoping.
I was getting nervous, before finally, the big 3x4 walked out from behind the Juniper, followed by the 4x4 and the one antlered buck.

He was only 20 yards away, just stepping from behind a maple tree when I grunted at him. The big 3x4 stopped to investigate the sound, but the buck I wanted, the 4x4, just kept walking. I was at full draw and grunted two more times before he came to a stop. He was only 20 yards away when I touched the trigger of my release and watched as my arrow hit the buck. He took off like he had been shot out of a cannon heading straight up the hollow. Thirty seconds later he reappeared stumbling down the road, then walked slowly back toward me and died only 60 yards away.

We found that my G5 broadhead had hit a little far back, but still cut through both lungs. What a hunt! It began and ended within the first hour of opening morning, it was bittersweet!