Editor’s Note: This article was shared by Tobey Decker, Ken’s brother who resides in Salem. It is the personal account of Ken for a once in a lifetime buck. Witnesses to this event include Dick Woods, Brett Ervin, Dwight Ervin and Larry Owen.
It was Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 just before nightfall. The light was starting to fade when I saw him. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me – he was a buck, for sure but I couldn’t really tell how big he was. I could see the rack of antlers, but he was in hot pursuit of a doe that I could not see. He was chasing her, and I thought to myself, “if he runs back my way and stops in that clearing up ahead, I will take my shot.”
I remember the day distinctly as it was the day before the start of gun season. I don’t gun hunt much anymore. I started hunting about 60 years ago but have been bow hunting for the past 30 years. I have been using a PSE Firestorm 1 bow with Fatellite 75 grain broadhead arrows of late.
I have been hunting on the same 650 acres in Cooper County, MO, about 2 1⁄2 hours from St. Louis, since 1999. It is not too easy to find my spot. I just know where it is. It way back in the woods near what remains of an old house that has to date back to the 1800s. All that is left is a stone foundation – if you didn’t know it was there, you would likely walk right by it and not see anything. None of the guys I hunt with like to hunt in the same area. It an area only fit for wooly boogers -- it is full of trees, dense brush, thorns and briars. There is a natural crossing about 40 yards from where I put my tree stand.
I’ve been using the same old tree stand for years. It is a single stand with a stick ladder I use to climb the tree. I generally put the stand about 16 feet high. I also use a fully body safety harness and a safety rope with a slide knot that comes down to the ground. The last thing I need at my age is to fall out of a tree.
I have killed over 30 deer from this location over the years -- I usually get both of my deer from this same spot every year sometimes with a gun, most times with a bow.
I headed to deer camp on Wednesday, Nov. 8 with one of my best friends. We have a couple of old trailers and an old cabin we use as a camp, a good place to stay warm and dry but not good for much else. We were joined by two more friends on Friday so there were four of us all together in deer camp by Friday night.
I had two bow tags for the 2017 season. I killed what I thought was a doe on Thursday. It turned out to be a button buck. I got a lot of razzing about that, but I was happy because at least I was going to have deer meat.
That Friday had been a beautiful day with temps in the 50s. I had hunted all morning. Mid-morning, I passed on an 8-point buck. I honestly couldn’t figure out why I passed on it... just decided not to take the shot. I saw nothing else the rest of the morning. I got down from the tree stand around noon and went back to camp for lunch. I headed back to my spot in the stand around 1 p.m.
It was approaching 5 p.m. Bow season ended at 5:30 p.m. and I thought about getting down but decided to stay for the final 30 minutes of bow season. And then I saw him. It was about 5:10 p.m. and I saw what I thought was a large black deer. After my experience with the button buck, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t seeing things.... I thought to myself, “Is that a black deer?... I’ve never seen a black deer in all my years of hunting.”
It was in fact a large dark brown deer. He had his head down at the ground and was moving fast. I thought he was going to run down into a hollow behind me but instead he turned and came up toward my tree stand. He was about 40 yards from the tree stand and he was still moving. When I turned to look toward the direction he was moving, I didn’t see anything but suddenly a young doe bolted out of the cedar trees and took off running. The chase was on! That buck was chasing that doe at a full run.
They passed by my tree stand about 40 yards away still at a full run. Then they passed an opening about 20 feet wide between the cedars and the doe turned and slipped under a tree. The buck couldn’t get under the tree, but he stopped and stood there watching her. While he was watching her, I thought to myself, “if he turns and comes back through the opening, I’m going to shoot this arrow at him.”
I was at the ready. I was watching him... waiting. As luck would have it, he did turn and came back into the opening. He stopped and looked down the hill. For the first time I could see the whole deer and he was a big one. He was approximately 40 yards away from me and I had all three pins on his rib cage.
I shot an arrow at him. I couldn’t see if the arrow hit but I did see him mule kick (he kicked both hind feet up in the air) and took off running with his flag up. I grinned and laughed to himself, “I at least made him run.” But then I thought, “wait a minute, he mule kicked as if I hit him in the rib cage. Maybe I did hit him.” I got down out the tree stand, walked toward the clearing and thought I would look for the arrow and blood. While I had a flashlight, it was hard to see. I looked for my arrow or a blood trail, but I couldn’t find either. I decided to go back to the tree stand, gather up my stuff up and head back to deer camp to get help.
When I got back to camp, only one of the guys was there. I told him what happened. We decided to wait for the other two to come in. When the final two arrived, the 4 of us went in search of the deer.
We all walked back to my location in the dark. I climbed up into my tree stand and shined a light down to where I shot him. The guys followed the beam of light and started off down the hill. Within a minute or two, they found the blood trail. They were using a blood light which helped immensely. They told me to get down and come with them to follow the blood trail. The further we went, the more blood we found.
A few minutes later, we found a piece of the arrow with the fletching intact. About 20 feet further we identified a second trail of blood. There were two blood trails which meant he was bleeding from both sides -- out of both lungs. Another 10 feet and there he was. He was magnificent. A 12-point dark brown/black buck with a scar on his shoulder with a perfect shot through the lungs. There were oohs and aahs all around.
One of the guys went back to camp to get the 4-wheeler while the rest of us field dressed the buck. We were able to get the buck on a sled attached to the 4-wheeler. We tied up the antlers, so they wouldn’t get broken and we dragged him over brush and logs and out of the woods in the dark. We got him back to camp. By then it was 9 p.m.
The guys were speechless --all they could say is, “you didn’t shoot that deer, the Lord shot that deer. A 50-yard shot in all that brush through the oaks and cedars at dark by an 80-year-old???? Not possible.”
The following morning, we took him to a processing place and had him cut for a shoulder mount and the meat processed for steaks, deer sausage and hamburger. When I took him to the taxidermist, all he could say was, “WOW. Just WOW.”
I decided to have the buck measured for the Pope & Young Club. To register, the buck must have a typical rack and a score of 125. This buck was awarded a score of 143 6/8– one of the highest on record in Missouri.
Thinking back on it, I wondered if the Lord did in fact shoot that deer. It would help explain why I didn’t take the shot at the 8-point buck I saw earlier that day. It is definitively the deer of a lifetime. I am not a young man. At 80 years old, I wondered if that might be my last buck and my last hunt.
Ken Decker is a Christian man, born in 1937 in Salem. He moved to St. Louis in his early 20s. He spent over 40 years working for Benjamin Moore Paint Co. from which he retired in 1997. He is a Deacon at South County Baptist Church where, among other things, he teaches archery to young and old. All supplies are provided for these lessons free of charge. You will be happy to know that Ken did kill a doe with his bow from his tree stand during the 2018 bow season -- he is still hunting.