Waterhole Wallhanger
By Ken W. Taylor
About the hunter...

The author, Ken W. Taylor, is a veteran game warden with the California Department of Fish & Game. He was injured on the job on August 28, 2001 during the Archery Deer Season in northern California while checking an illegal treestand. He went through three surgeries, with complications and was off work 10 1/2 months.

Taylor returned to work on July 1, 2002 and took his buck-of-a-lifetime while hunting alone with his bow on August 28, 2002, one year to the day after his accident. And to make it more memorable, he got it all on video tape.

After taking his buck he hunted one more day in the same stand for bear, seeing and passing on five. The next time he went back to his stand to take it down, he discovered that someone had vandalized his stand by tearing it apart. Further investigation resulted in determining that a bear had taken exception to his stand and torn the seat completely out of it. (Wouldn’t that have made a great video?!?)

Taylor believes all game wardens should hunt and that it is necessary for a good game warden to hunt and fish so that he or she can appreciate what the legal sportsmen and women must go through, and to keep a proper perspective when enforcing the Fish & Game laws.

He also believes hunters and fishermen should take the time to know their local game warden and understand why the job is so difficult. It is equally important that they know the Fish and Game laws exist to protect our wildlife for present and future generations.

Taylor's advice is to hunt legal, hunt fair and pass on our hunting heritage! He says the thrill of a lifetime awaits you!

There I was with the best camo outfit I could afford but I could not fool the keen eyesight of this small and persistent resident in the trees. The pine squirrel ran across the tops of my boots as he dashed down the tree to safety. What a thrill to be so close to this wild creature and see every detail up close, but I did not like the attention he drew to my location. He was really beautiful and so full of it, but annoying while I was trying to stay hidden and silent in a stand and happened to be deer hunting as well.

The experience of hunting from a treestand is like no other hunting experience I know. True, it’s not for everyone, but if you are a treestand hunter, then you know the thrill of watching a hawk take a bath or an owl get a drink or all the other sights that nature has to offer. To watch native wildlife as it really is, when they do not know they are being observed, is truly a blessing worth waiting for.

How do you describe something that happens quicker than the blink of an eye, yet is so spectacular that you are left with your mouth hanging open, wondering if you really saw what you had just witnessed? The small falcon swooped in, grabbed his prey (an unsuspecting sparrow near water’s edge) and was gone quicker than I can tell about it. For those of us who hunt and watch wildlife for hours, we know that it is truly a reward in and of itself. Sometimes you are freezing and sometimes it is too hot, but it is always rewarding in one way or another. The planning and scouting revive the spirit and give me energy as I enjoy the outdoor experience.

In 2001, I did not get drawn to hunt the zone I wanted and kept busy with my job. Then, to make matters worse, I suffered a shoulder injury (dislocation, torn rotator cuff with complications) while on the job and found myself facing three operations and a 10-month recovery; all very much unexpected and unwanted. To add insult to injury, the doctors said it would be two years before I could pull my bow!

In May 2002, out of stubbornness and habit, I put in my zone choices for archery elk and deer in time for the June 3 drawing. I also applied for a bear tag.

I didn’t get drawn for an archery elk tag, but did get drawn for the archery deer X Zone I wanted and got the bear tag, too.

Oh great, but I couldn’t even pull my bow. Now what?

I was working and going to physical therapy three days a week and doing everything I could to rebuild my shoulder. I had to admit, though, that it was going very slowly and was harder than I had imagined.

It hurts, but…
As I tried to slip out the back door with my bow, my wife asked me what I thought I was doing. I told her not to worry, I was just going out back to see if I could pull my bow and shoot one arrow. Being a great wife for 34 years she advised against it, saying I would just hurt myself as it was too soon to even think about shooting my bow.

When I came back inside, she asked me if I hurt myself. I truthfully answered yes, and she started to say I told you so when I stopped her with a grin. I showed her a large, red welt on the inside of my left forearm and said, “I forgot my arm guard... but I can pull the bow back!”

I began by managing to pull my bow back and shoot one arrow a day. The pain in my shoulder was a steady reminder and occasionally made some really weird noises. I kept at it until I worked my way back to shooting 50 arrows a day with the bow set at 60 pounds. I practiced from the ground and treestand as well.

I scouted every chance I got. I finally decided on two locations and set up my treestands with the help of two good friends. I have been hunting from tree-stands for a lot of years and was excited by the promising prospects of my setups. I had seen elk, deer and bear at both locations while scouting the areas.

The hunt
The season ran from August 17 through September 8, but my hunting time would be limited at best. I had to work the opening weekend and then hunted five days over the first two weeks of the season. The weather was hot and dry. I passed on three legal bucks the first day I sat in my stand and enjoyed a wildlife show beyond description.

During those five days, I left the house at 4 a.m. and got back after 10 p.m., spending around 12 hours a day in the stand. A typical day for me was eight hours in the stand, hike out to the truck and eat lunch, take a quick nap and go back in the stand for four more hours, then hike out in the dark. I also passed up a couple of bears during the same time frame and heard one bull elk that wouldn’t come in.

I had to go to the Bay Area for a doctor’s appointment about my shoulder and had returned late on the night of August 27, and got to bed around 11 p.m. The alarm went off at 3 a.m. and I shut it off, not wanting to get up, but I did and made it out to my stand.

The morning was cold and dark as I eased into the waterhole where my stand was set. As dawn came and went without any sign of a deer — much less a buck — I started to drift off to sleep as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I stayed awake by watching the wildlife around me, enjoying the hunt and taking video of the animals and birds. I began to think that maybe I shouldn’t have passed up one of the three bucks I had seen previously.

As the day warmed and it became harder and harder to keep my eyes open, I was about to slip off to sleep when the loud, rapid-fire chatter of the pine squirrel brought me back to life. The squirrel was telling me that something was coming to the waterhole. About 100 yards out I caught movement and saw two of the three bucks that I had passed on previously headed my way. They still had not showed up 45 minutes later and I wondered what had happened to them. The wind was in my favor and yet they just left without coming into the water.

In the blink of an eye the falcon was there, caught his prey and was gone. This time it was an unsuspecting timber tiger (chipmunk) that I saw it fly off with in its talons. I was stunned by the speed and precision the falcon used while it darted in and out of the trees as it departed.

That woke me up and got my attention. I sensed something else was there. I scanned the area and could not find what it was. Then out of nowhere, 50 yards out and closing, a huge buck approached the waterhole. He stayed in heavy cover and made no sound as he approached and surveyed the surrounding area.

How did a buck that big, get that close without me seeing him?

I could see he was legal, very legal, at least four or five points on each side and a drop tine as well. Yes, I would definitely shoot this buck if I had the right shot.

At this point I do not look at the antlers again, I go over a mental checklist and try to stay calm. (Well, maybe one more quick look at those antlers — another one of those things that is easy to say but hard to do under pressure…) Control breathing and pick a spot. Stay calm.

The buck went behind some trees and I slowly came to my feet. I felt my knees start to shake. At 30 yards he stopped to check the area and stood there for what seemed like forever. I kept telling myself to calm down and breathe. The buck stepped out and continued to the water, stopping to drink 23 yards from me and in the open. The buck lowered his head to drink and had his ears laid back listening behind him.

The shot was true and the buck jumped forward out into the waterhole with a huge splash. I watched in disbelief as he lunged part way across the water, then ran back the way he had come. At 50 yards he stopped when he reached the trees and all I could see was his butt. I was afraid to move and hardly took a breath. I knew this was really, really good or really, really bad.

He stood in the trees for a few seconds, and then just walked off out of sight. I listened intently for any sound or sign, but there was nothing. I was about to pass out when I realized I had stopped breathing and took in a big breath of fresh air.

I would like to tell you that I remained calm. The truth is, though, that I was shaking uncontrollably from the experience and an adrenalin rush. I knew it was a good shot and kept playing it back again and again in my mind. I looked at my watch, it was 9 a.m. I forced myself to wait an hour and then came down the tree. My knees and hands were still shaking as I took up the trail one full hour after I had taken the shot.

As I moved slowly and quietly, I was on high alert, looking in every direction at once trying to spot the buck. There he is!

I wish all hunters could experience that once-in-a-lifetime feeling, and know what I felt when I found my buck. For the first time in my life, the buck kept getting bigger as I walked closer. There was no ground shrinkage! The buck was huge. A 5x6 mule deer with a drop tine, and mass like you can’t believe. Forked eye guards and sticker points going every which way. Boy, did this buck have character!

Then I really got the shakes when I realized what a trophy buck I had just taken. This is a buck that any deer hunter would have taken on any out-of-state hunt with a rifle, much less a bow.

I got the tag filled out and on the deer and sat down on the ground next to him with a feeling of emotion that I can’t explain. I was so happy and yet somewhat sad for having taken this great buck out of the gene pool. Thank you, Lord!

I believe things happen for a reason. Call it fate, hunter’s luck or whatever; it happens. This buck could have been killed by an automobile on the highway, or by a lion, bear or coyotes. It could have been poached in the middle of the night with a spotlight. But it wasn’t. It was taken in fair chase, on his ground. I thank the Lord for a chance of a lifetime, and for a clean kill.

Note: The buck went only 15 yards farther after it walked out of sight, having gone approximately 65 total yards after being shot with the one arrow. Taylor believes the buck died within two minutes or less of being shot. The bucks rack was 25 1/2 inches wide and 20 inches high. It scored 196 7/8 SCI.

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