Several years ago, I mentioned the culvert pipe buck in a Webb article and promised that someday I would tell the story. Well, I’ve been stuck in COVID quarantine for ten days during deer season. I can’t think of a better time than now to keep my promise!
The year was 1993. A new hunting buddy invited me to hunt with him at a buck honey-hole his brother had been developing in West Chester County, New York. When I say developing, I mean this: His brother had found a large tract of ground near his house, hundreds of acres, that had an absent and out-of-state owner. He bought a stack of No Trespassing signs and posted the property. He signed the name P. A. Young on every sign. That’s right, Pope and Young (Google it). For years he policed that ground and hunted it like it was his own.
West Chester County was designated an archery-only county. With no gun pressure, and few hunters on that “private” ground, the bucks grew big. I was really blessed to be able to tag along for a four-day hunt.
Man, did we see big bucks — and I missed easy shots at several of them. It’s hard to shoot accurately when you’re looking at antlers instead of aiming at the vitals.
Shortly after daylight on the third day of the hunt, a beautiful eight-point came trotting down the ridge. I was so enamored by his rack that I pulled up and shot without trying to get him to stop. It was a solid hit but too far back. I watched that deer run all the way down the mountain and out of sight. It was the last time I ever shot an arrow at a moving deer.
I had been archery hunting long enough to know that you don’t push wounded deer. So, I waited. When a grueling hour had passed, I began tracking.
The trail was initially easy to follow, but then it got tough. By lunchtime, I had covered maybe three hundred yards. The deer was heading directly toward our truck. I daydreamed about how cool it would be to find it lying next to our ride — an easy drag! The trail led to within 20 yards of the truck and then disappeared.
I dropped some of my gear and pondered on what to do next. I could imagine my buck standing right there. Was it possible the deer saw the truck and then backtracked? If so, the blood trail would branch off at some point and go in a new direction. I started circling back, and that’s exactly what I found. The trail split off to the left and headed for a line of houses at the base of the mountain.
Being just outside New York City, West Chester County has some very expensive estates. The buck decided, for whatever reason, that sheltering near mansions was a good idea. It wasn’t. I found myself trailing my buck through meticulously manicured yards and around expansive swimming pools. At one point, the trail headed down a driveway and within ten feet of an open garage door. It just wasn’t a good scene for a guy dressed in full camo and carrying a weapon.
The buck meandered through a front yard and then down to a small creek that flowed through a culvert pipe under the driveway. I could find where the buck had approached the creek, but I couldn’t pick up the trail on the other side. I covered both sides of that little creek for quite a distance. Nothing. The trail had once again disappeared.
I couldn’t imagine a deer crawling through a culvert pipe, so I didn’t bother to look. Finally, out of desperation, I crawled up into the pipe and turned on my flashlight. Blood. That crazy buck had crawled through the pipe and was following the stream up the other side of the driveway. Now you know the reason behind his nickname.
Then things got nuts. While I was tracking the deer on the other side of the pipe, one of the homeowners spotted me. He let me know, in classic New York fashion, that he had already called the police. They would arrive at any moment. I did what any self-respecting preacher-man would do — I ran. I headed up the mountain and into thick brush. In full camo, there was no way they could find me. It was now 2:00 p.m., six hours after the shot.
Again, I pondered on what to do. Giving up on my first trophy buck was not an option. I knew the buck was following the creek, so I snuck down the mountain and along the back of the houses until I came to the last one. From there, I was able to gain covert access to the creek. As soon as I got to it, I found blood on a rock. I was back on the trail.
That drop of blood was the last drop I found. I tracked upstream on both sides of the creek and just couldn’t pick up the trail. With daylight beginning to wane, I figured my hunt was over, and my buck was lost forever. If you’ve ever trailed a deer, you know exactly how I was feeling.
So, I prayed a hunter’s desperate prayer, “God, if you’ll help me find this buck, I’ll give you the glory every time I tell the story.” I walked back to the last drop of blood and started searching upstream one last time. That’s when I felt something telling me to turn around and walk the creek back toward the houses. The thought didn’t make sense — it was risky — and I was running out of daylight. Reluctantly, I turned around and started walking downstream.
And there he was, lying dead in the water about fifty yards downstream of that last drop. He had backtracked again — and without a little nudge from God — I would never have found him. It reminds me of the time Jesus told Peter to throw his fishing net on the other side of the boat (see John 21). Sometimes God gives us a little extra help. Peter gave Jesus the glory, and I’m doing the same.
By the time I finished field dressing my trophy, it was dark. It had been quite a day in the woods of West Chester County, New York.