In Loving Memory of Clayton Micheal Worthington
Please allow me to tell you about my beloved son, Clay. During the 20 years that I had the privilege to know him, he never drank any alcoholic beverage, smoked a cigarette, said a curse word, talked bad about anyone or told a lie. I am sure most all kids tell a white lie when they are young to get out of trouble (I know I did) but not Clay. Not once in his life did his Mother, Brother or I ever know him to tell a lie. Clay was not an ordinary young man. He told things like they were. I will never have the standards, principles or morals that Clay had. Many people are thought or spoken of as being great after they are dead. I’m proud to tell you Clay was one of the greatest men I have ever known in the short time he was still alive.
I will tell you one story that will point out how honest he was. Clay had started to work at the prison where I work a few months ago. Like most new employees, he started on third shift. He was very saddened that he had to often miss a Church service on Sunday. He always attended one but it was sometimes difficult for him to attend both services. Clay was also having a very hard time sleeping and resting and was always tired. I spoke with someone in upper management who was willing to help him get off third shift. They said if Clay needed to be on first shift because he might consider going back to school and furthering his education, he could help him get off third shift. All Clay needed to do was write that down for him. When I confronted Clay about this, he said there is no way he would write that. I told him that he might consider going back to school someday; maybe taking vocational classes. He said to me, “I am not planning on anything like that right now and you can write that if you want to but don’t ask me to do that again.” He would have quit his job before he would have stretched the truth even a little.
Clay was respectful, polite, reserved and even-keeled. His humble quietness was ever present. He did not go on with a lot of foolishness. He was often content just to look at someone and smile when they spoke. When he spoke, he spoke with wisdom and everyone listened. Clay did not speak a lot with his mouth. We read in the Bible, “Though he be dead he speaketh.” The dead speaks. And Clay speaks volumes by the life he lived. He loved the Lord and treasured attending Church services as much as anything he did. He traveled all over the United States just to attend Bible Camps. He went to camps everywhere from down south, up to northern Indiana.
Even though we homeschooled him and he did not know as many people his age as he would have had if he had attended public school, he had hundreds of friends who loved him very much. He never judged anyone by what they had, their appearance or what they had done in the past. Clay was a big man, 6 foot 3 inches tall, but he had a heart that could not be contained within him. Truly, he did have a heart of gold.
He put his family and others first. Let me tell you this story. Clay loved Mustang cars. From the time he was a young man all he would talk about was getting one. He spent his allowances on hats, toy cars and anything to do with Mustangs. We were finally able to buy him one and he loved that car. He was so proud of it. Our family automobile was wrecked a few months ago. At the time we could not afford to buy another one. Shortly thereafter, Clay came home driving an old model car. When I ask him where his Mustang was, he told me he had traded it for a car with a large back seat because it was a better family car.
Even though Clay was one year younger than A.J., he took care of A.J. and encouraged him to make the right decisions. Clay loved to say funny things and make people laugh. He loved to wear pink shirts. He said only “real men” can wear pink. I will never forget one day he came home with a hot pink shirt and tie. I looked at him and said, Clay that is not just pink - that is hot pink. He said, “I know Dad; I am the only man I know who can pull this off.” Clay was a deep thinker who was always setting goals in life and achieving them. Clay had his whole life planned out, the kind of house he was going to build, right down to how many children he would have and what he would name them. His first son was going to be named, Matthew Bow Worthington.
From the time he was very young he loved holding kids during Church services and playing with them after Church more than anyone I have ever known. He would have made the best husband and father anyone could ever ask for. God must have designed you Clay because I could have never in my most wonderful dream have dreamed up a son as good as you. I spend 20 years and every cent I had trying to make Clay and A.J. happy and help them fulfill their goals. Our hearts were broken Wednesday evening, April 17, 2013 when a raging creek ripped him from us. Tragically, his loving brother, A.J. watched this happen. Clay only lived to be 20 years old but what an impact he left behind. Over 1,300 people from all across the United States came to pay their last respects.
If you have children, give them a big hug from me. Please show them, don’t just tell them, how much you love them. Live everyday as if it will be their last – because, believe me, it may be. I am thankful to God that I did just that. If someone had told me a year ago or a month ago that Clay would soon pass, I do not know anything differently I would or could have done for him. I spent every minute that I could with him. I did everything humanly possible to make him happy and console him when he was sad. I sacrificed things I would have liked to have had and things I needed to give him what he wanted. I never talked down to him and I was never mean or hateful to Clay; although, when he was young I did discipline him out of love and concern when it was called for. I never had to spend one waking hour worrying that Clay might be harmed because he was somewhere he should not be or doing something he should not have been doing.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my beloved son, Clay. I would be more than happy to hear about your children. firstname.lastname@example.org God must have been very short of Angels up there to let me go through this. Clay I love and miss you more than anyone can imagine! Bobby Worthington
The following are emails/posting from those who knew/ had met Clay
I've known Bobby for years and have always considered him a friend and one of the finest whitetail hunters in the world... bar none. Last August when at the QDMA national convention in Nashville, TN Mike Mitten and I had the honor to have dinner with Bobby and Clay one evening. I later told Bobby what an outstanding job he was doing raising Clay. You couldn't ask for a finer, more polite, honest young man than Clay. What a tragedy Clay's death is for The Worthington family to endure. I'm sure his fine Christian upbringing and beliefs will give them strength in these difficult times. Our prayers go out to them all. I also consider Bobby's book "Passionate Quest", the science, art and philosophy of trophy whitetail bowhunting as one of the most complete books ever written on the subject of whitetails. We can all learn from it. Read it and you'll understand why. Barry Wensel
Bobby, My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I met Clay for the first time in Nashville this past summer. What a great young man. I remember his gratitude when I sent him his own copy of my book. I have attached a poem a co-worker wrote for me when I lost my wife Paula. It helped me a lot. I hope you can find it useful .Peace to you my friend, and God Bless you and your family, Mike Mitten
Dear Mr. Worthington, This is Paolo, we met at last year's Traditional World Championships, I was with John and Phil Clouser. You and your boys cooked us a beautiful dinner and I enjoyed the company and conversation. John just told me about your tragic loss, I cannot imagine the pain that you and your family are going through. Now, having children of my own, I could not think of anything more heartbreaking than losing one of my little ones (and I guess to the parent they are always your little ones). Both your boys were incredibly kind and well mannered, and you could see the love between you all. Clay happened to be the son that I talked with the most and he was a young man that left quite an impression even with the limited amount of contact. I don't know what else to say, having lost people that are close to me I know there is nothing that can be said to soften the blow, only time will do that. I know you are a man of great faith and I hope that it brings you comfort in this time of need. Sincerely, Paolo Iannarelli
Bobby, I just looked at your website. My heart is broken for your
loss. I cannot imagine what your going thru, as I have a 10 year old and five
year old son. I did get to meet Clay briefly at Cracker Barrel when I met you
on your way to Kings Island. He left an impression on me. You guys were going
to Kings Island and he was wearing a tucked in Button -up shirt with slacks,
most other kids would've been in tank tops and shorts. It made me think,
"This boy carries himself with pride." I know I don’t know your
family personally, but I feel like I do. You have always been a mentor to me
since your first NAWM article. Tears rolled when I read what was written about
his life. I’m sure if I would've known him, I’d be better off for it. I know I can’t
offer much, but know you are in my families' prayers and we care. I also pray I
can be the type of father you were to him. It showed. "Don’t cry because it's over, Smile because it
happened." Dr. Suess
-- Sincerely, Danny Crain III
Sincerely, Greg Holmes
My Dear Friend, I am so very sorry to hear of your loss. Even though I only met Clay and A.J. the one time I was very impressed by their genuine qualities. The Bible says raise up a child in the ways of the Lord and he shall not depart from them. It is very evident you had planted that seed and from reading the Memoriam of Clay he had grown strong of character through God's wonderful principles. I was looking forward to seeing Clay this year but now will have to wait for that meeting beyond this life. The Bible says we will rule and rein with Christ and Clay most certainly will have a key position. Our thoughts and Prayers are with you and your family. Sincerely with Love, Tim and Shirley Strickland
Mr. Bobby, My wife & I are so sorry to hear about your son Clay. We could only imagine the loss that you and your wife must feel within your heart. Our prayers are with you and your entire family. We read the remembrance that you wrote on your website. It must give you great pleasure to know that Clay was a fine young man. I am sure that he touched the lives of many people throughout his short life, whether they knew it at the time or not. A couple of years ago we were fortunate enough to meet your family at the Cardinal. The two trips that we made to the Cardinal were a true blessing to us. We have spoke of you and your family many times since. We were really impressed at how polite and well mannered your young sons were as they were serving us our food. I noticed how quite and reserved that Clay seemed to be really quickly. I myself am not a big talker and I seem to pick up on others with that nature. As you stated in the remembrance, Clay was quite comfortable to just smile when someone spoke to him. I am certain that Clay was an angel within you and your wife’s heart but, what a great addition to heaven! I appreciate you taking the time to let me know about your loss. Kip & Shannon Clark
Bobby, I have looked at every picture and read everything you have wrote about Clay and what little time I got to share with him I knew him well enough to say that you are truly right when you say he was the kind of man that most of us only strive to be like. I know you have heard this a lot and I can’t begin to know what the lost of a child can be like but for you my friend I will do as you say and always tell my Morgan I love her and give her a kiss good night every night that I am home with her. When I am away we call each other and we always tell each other – (My wife, daughter and me) our love and take care. When I told Tara about Clay she said her and Morgan would take off of school Friday and they would drive down with me and we were planning on doing but I have a grandmother that fell 2 weeks ago and broke her ankle and she had to have surgery and is in the nursing home. She is 89 years old and has been in a lot of pain and I spent most of Friday calling her DR. to make sure they give her something for it. I am the only family member she can count on and when I was in to see her Thursday she was in tears and in a lot of pain so I had to stay and help with her. How is AJ and your wife dealing with it and is there anything that we can do. I want you to know that there has not been a day yet goes by from the day I got your e-mail about Clay that I have not said a prayer for you and your family to be given the strength and understanding of Gods plan. One thing for sure when I first got your e-mail that Clay was taken away from this earth I told some close friends to pray for you and your family and even though they may have not known you by name I told them that this is a family from TN, and when you hear people talk about GOOD OLD Boys that would do anything for anyone that Bobby Worthington and his Family would be the top ones on anyone's list that knows them. Clay was also what helped make me feel that way about not just you be how he was when you both stayed with us his actions showed me that he had to have come from a great family. I know it is hard for you to deal with this and I will keeping preying for you and your family to give you the strength and some understanding to deal with it and let A J and Karen know they too are in our prayers. Wish I knew something that I can do or say to help ease your pain old Buddy cause I would be glad to try and help in any way. Just know that prayers are being lifted up for you and your family. I can always listen if you need to talk and as I may be lost for the correct words to say I will always be able to say I will also miss Clay and I will be thinking of you and praying to. I sure wish we lived closer to each other so that I could be spending some time with you so that I could just be there if you needed me. Your Friend’s Kevin Boyer & family
Bob, Karen, AJ and family, I am so terribly shocked and upset about Clay. Nothing I can say here will bring you much comfort I know but please know all of you will be in my prayers and thoughts. Clay and AJ were two of the most loving and caring kids I ever met and I will always have fond memories of them. I know you're hurting right now as I would be but you were blessed to have him for 20 years and now he is in GODS hands waiting for you. I wish I could come to the funeral but I am in Iowa at a wedding until Sunday. Please give my condolences to Karen and AJ and tell them I will be praying for them. Always your friend, Jim Morrow
Bobby, The flags were displayed at half mast when I entered work. The officer at shakedown remarked, “the Boston bombing must be the cause.” The next day I learned that it was because we had a fallen officer. I began to place the black tape over my badge as he relayed the details of the tragedy. I was in shock. I stopped moving. I had a million thoughts and pictures of the past flash in front of my eyes. How could this have happened? Why did it happen? He was too young, smart and ready to start a family….. It’s just not fair. The tears fell to the black stripe on my badge as I walked down the long corridor thinking of the family that has given me faith to believe in dreams and encourage ambitions. I would have gladly traded my life, if given a chance, to give breath to a man with so much to offer the world. When I read your letter about your son refusing to write an untruth to move to 1st shift, I thought about the word ‘family’ again. It reminded me that family members love us and whip us back in to shape and mold us with knowledge. I think Michael J. Fox said it best, “Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” Even though our time together was cut short, Clay Worthington showed me that no amount of hardship could remove those bonds. May memories of Clay and the love of family surround you and give you strength in the days ahead. Deana Daugherty
Hello Bobby, It’s Tiffani Schoenig Miller, from the restaurant. I went to school with Clay when we were young, but I had just moved to Tennessee from North Carolina, thus I was very shy and didn't talk to many students. However, I had the privilege to work side-by-side with Clay, many weekends, and because of that He was almost like a brother to me... I cannot imagine the pain you are going through as a father, but I know as a friend I am deeply hurt and somewhat angry because I just don't understand. I know I should not question God, I believe everything happens for a reason (although it may be unknown to us). Clay, with all his wisdom, was needed in heaven and we'll see him again. I just wanted to take the time to tell you, Karen, and Aj how much you all mean to me. I really do care about you guys! I have never loved working at any place like I did at the restaurant. It was like our own little work family! I enjoyed the late night music and laughter and joking that Clay shared with all us waitresses, as we were cleaning. His smile and bear hugs were something that would always brighten my day, and I told him that on numerous occasions (I'm so thankful now, that he knew that). I know no words can take away your pain, but please know that I care and I am here for your family if ever needed. Thank you Bobby, Sincerely, Tiffani
Bobby, What a wonderful tribute to your son. And your words were very inspiring. We hug our children and tell them we love them every day, because you never know. Your son was a great young man. I remember him coming into B-Creek when I worked there to borrow supplies. God Bless you all and we are very sorry for your loss. Roy and Kathy Randolph
The Bobby Worthington family would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for the prayers, visits, flowers, food and expressions of sympathy and love during the loss of our beloved son and brother, Clayton Micheal Worthington. I once heard that the author, Henry David Thoreau spent an entire day submerged up to his neck in a pond because he wanted to experience being a frog. Thoreau had the experience but not the reality of being a frog. We have, in the past, had the experience of losing a child or brother by grieving with someone who had such a loss. Now my wife, sons and I have had this heart-wrenching reality. We do not know how we could have gotten through this reality without the love, generosity and support that we received. In the word of William Shakespeare, “I can no other answer make, but, thanks and thanks.” Sincerely, The Bobby Worthington family
Please Note: Following is an article which I submitted to NAWM (North American Whitetail Magazine) for publication. It was published in the 2015 spring issue. Because of editing issues and omissions I have included it here for those of you who have read the magazine article (and for those who have not read it) to reread. Because of its importance to me and my family and because of editing issues which I believe changed and confused my writings in the past, I asked the editor several times to allow me to proofread this article before it went to press. This did not take place.
Here is one example of how the editing of this article changed the meaning of what I wrote. I wrote the following comment about the final morning of my encounter with Andre, “He (writing about Clay) left me so utterly I sometimes wonder if he really liked my presence in the first place.” Sometime before the article went to press the word “alone” was added. In the published article it reads, “He left me so utterly “alone”. Adding the word alone completely changed the meaning of the sentence. Utterly in my original manuscript, of course, means “completely” or “totally”. He left me so “completely” I sometimes wonder if he really liked my presence in the first place. Of course, Clay’s death did not leave me utterly (completely) alone. My wife, Karen and my son, AJ are still living in my home and supporting me. The adding of this additional word by the editor completely changed the meaning and was offensive if not disrespectful to my wife and my son. Because of issues such as this in the past I had already pretty much quit writing. The reason I decided to have this article published in NAWM was so my faithful readers who had watched Clay grow up through my articles and books could learn about his passing and his final year of hunting. I also wanted to give my readers an opportunity to gain insight into such a life-changing event as losing a child.
Following you will read the unadulterated and complete article, along with some additional thoughts.
A Trophy “For Clay”
This is the story of my beloved son, Clay and a Tennessee giant that was to be his first trophy
Text and photos by Bobby Worthington
My youngest son Clay had been following me around in the woods while scouting and checking trail cameras since he was a young boy. He filmed me while I shot one of my greatest bucks and aided in the recovery of many more. I filmed Clay when he shot his first deer, first buck and many others. He had advanced through the steps of apprenticeship and arrowed enough deer that he believed it was time for him to get serious about trophy hunting. I agreed with this assessment and decided to dedicate the 2012 deer hunting season to assisting him in that undertaking and hopefully film him while he arrowed his first trophy whitetail.
In early October we began to scout for a trophy for Clay to hunt in an area where we do not typically concentrate on. Clay wanted to find a special buck that was new to us. As we were walking on the side of a ridge approximately 50 yards from a 20 acre clear-cut we discovered some large sign. There was a large, recently made scrape under a good size sapling which had been ripped to pieces. We placed several cameras in funnels close to the sign. On November 5th we captured photographs of an 8 point that we were not familiar with. Because of the buck’s body mass we knew he was mature. The buck had what appeared to be 12 inch G-2s and a 6 or 7 inch G-3 on his left side. His main beams were long and massive. The only negative thing about this large 8 point was that his right G-3 did not appear to be over 3 inches long. I believed the big 8 point would score close to 150 inches.
This is the first photograph we got of Andre.
I shall enter the woods to see what I might learn of the old buck - or he of me.” Bobby Worthington
Upon viewing the photos, I decided to return to the travel corridor and try to find the buck’s track. After carefully scanning the area where I had gotten the photos, I discovered a 3¼ inch long, heart-shaped depression in the leaves. I told Clay I was not sure but I believe the 8 point was a very large buck. We wondered if it could be “Andre.”
For several years during the rut we occasionally came upon a huge track over a larger range but we were never able to capture this large footed buck’s photograph (that we knew for certain). I had decided the buck had two home ranges and that his summer home range was not in the location where we found his tracks during the winter. I came to this conclusion because we never saw his huge track in mineral licks or anywhere else until late October. We named the phantom buck, “Andre” because we knew from his track sizes he was a giant. We had no idea if we had any photographs of Andre up until now. (With no reference to compare a buck in a photograph size to, a person cannot tell if he is looking at a 140 pound buck or a 240 pound buck.) However, because of the connection of the large track with the big 8 point’s photo, we now believed we may have a picture of Andre. Because of the number of years that we had been seeing the large tracks and the mass on the buck’s body, I believed he was at least 6½ years old and possibly going downhill.
On the morning of November 22, Clay and I were in a big pine tree overlooking a tight funnel close to a doe bedding area. We were approximately ¼ mile from where we had gotten Andre’s photograph on November 5th close to a clear-cut. My son, A.J. and I had witnessed a serious mature buck fight a few days before at the same location. A large mature 8 point had walked past us and engaged another buck on the side of a steep ridge (I believe that the other buck was Andre). However, because of the thick cover they were fighting in, we could not get a good look at either buck.
Clay and I had been in our stands about 45 minutes and had not seen a deer. Then as I looked to the east into the sun, I could see a huge buck with a rack that matched his body coming out of the clear-cut (which was a doe bedding area) and moving in our direction. I was astonished to see such a huge buck in Tennessee. If I had seen this buck in the Midwest I would have considered him large. I whispered to Clay that a giant buck was approaching. After I raised my binoculars and studied the buck, I realized he was the same 8 point we had gotten photographs of on November 5th. There was no doubt - it was Andre. As Clay prepared for a shot, I turned the video camera on and started filming. Yet, instead of entering the funnel we were set up in, Andre chose to go down the steep ridge, cross the path we walked in on and climb another steep ridge (where A.J. and I had seen the two bucks fighting) before disappearing from our sight. Even though we only saw the buck for probably 45 seconds it was apparent that Andre would dress around 200 pounds, which is huge for a Tennessee buck.
Two days later on the evening of November 24, Andre did the same thing in reverse. He came down one steep ridge and headed up the other one and entered the doe bedding area. This time the buck got to Clay. Andre was about 50 yards away facing us. Just when I began to think he might start toward us Clay said, “I’ve got to sit down.” When I told Clay he needed to stay standing because he might be about to get a shot, Clay said, “I cannot help it my knees are gone.” That was the first time a buck had affected Clay like that. Clay and I had often talked about how well he stood up under pressure. Even when it looked like a good buck was about to offer him a shot - Clay stayed calm. But for some reason this was different. Andre pushed Clay’s “buck fever” button! Andre finely eased off without getting any closer than 50 yards.
I was scheduled to leave for a trip to Kentucky a couple of days later. However before I left A.J. and I strategically placed tree stands on the ridge Andre had passed over both times. I felt like this stand location would give Clay a shot at the buck if there was still rut movement taking place when I returned. By the time I got back from Kentucky the rut was winding down and we never saw Andre again. We did manage to capture two more photographs of him. One photograph was taken on the same travel corridor where we had gotten the first one about 50 yards from the clear-cut. The other was in a tight funnel made by a saddle between the clear-cut and the doe bedding area. Even though daylight movement of mature bucks was, for all practical purposes, over this did not discourage Clay. He said, “Dad, no matter what it takes I will get that huge buck next year.” So we started plotting Andre’s demise for the following year even before hunting season was over.
I suggested to Clay that we do something which we had not done in years. I suggested that we plant a couple of food plots in the area. The main objective was to try and increase Andre’s right G-3 for the following year. Even though I believe Andre was in the older age-class, I felt if we could get him nutritious protein all the way through July, his right G-3 might gain an inch or two. Clay was all for it. Even though Andre’s home range was not in the immediate area, I hoped he would find the food plots and start visiting them.
About this same time I decided to get back into traditional archery and see if Clay and A.J. could find a new level of enjoyment in shooting a bow. During the late winter and early spring of 2012/13 we regularly attended an indoor archery range. As they practiced both boys slowly became efficient with their recurve bows. I purchased a custom Tall Tines bow and placed first in the Indoor Tennessee State Championship with that bow. Clay really liked my new bow and decided to order one, not only to shoot targets but also to hunt with. Clay badly wanted to kill his first trophy with a recurve bow. I got all the details about the bow he wanted, called Brian Wessel at Tall Tines and gave him the particulars.
(Note: Up to this point Clay and I worked on this story together anticipating that he might finish the hunt the following fall.)
A few weeks later on April 17 - the unimaginable happened. Clay’s life was cut short when he drowned in a creek in our driveway during a flash flood. My wife Karen and I were forced to endure the heaviest blow known to humanity, the death of a child. This blow is so painful that you cannot understand unless you have experienced it for yourselves because if you are a parent your mind will block you from trying to imagine this tragedy happening to you.
After the initial shock, numbness, grief and some time passed, my thoughts turned to Clay’s plans for the coming deer season. I recalled the day my best friend, beloved son and hunting partner said to me, “No matter what it takes I will get that huge buck next year.” Later that evening I put this question to his mother, Karen and brother, A.J.; “Do you ever remember Clay telling an untruth – even once?” Their answer was as I remembered also. I made an oath to him that day, as only through me now can this take place -- so shall it be. It was our strong bond that sealed my vow and fixed my resolve to shoot Andre for Clay.
As June approached I called my good friend Bren Daugherty and explained to him what Clay and I had in mind concerning planting food plots and asked if he would like to help. He was more than gracious to accept my offer for Clay. As Bren and I sowed the seed that was Clay and my task, tears rolled down my face as if God had opened the flood gates of heaven for the second time.
Planting food plots turned out, for the most part, to be unnecessary because we had an extremely unseasonable wet spring and summer. All the forage remained pliable and nutritious even through late July and into August. The food plots were little utilized or needed as they would have been during typical summers. Also, I and a lot of other hunters were having a very difficult time getting photographs of bucks on mineral licks. I believe it was because the deer had plenty of protein and minerals in the native vegetation which stayed nutritious all summer. Andre never showed up at the food plots and I would be forced to wait until fall to get a look at him.
In late July as I began to plan for the coming deer season and contemplate plans to follow through with the vow I had made to Clay, I decided to give Brian Wessel a call. I asked him to make the custom recurve that Clay wanted, only to make it right handed so I could fulfill Clay’s dream of killing Andre with the bow. As Brian and I discussed the bow and the deer antler tips that Clay wanted, Brian asked if I had a special antler I would like him to make the tips from. I told Brian I had one which Clay had found a few years earlier and I thought it would be great to use that particular antler for the tips. I also sent Brian a flint arrowhead which Clay had found to be inlaid into the riser. I then asked him if he could inscribe the riser, “In loving memory of Clayton Micheal Worthington.” He said absolutely. When I started discussing payment for the bow Brian interrupted and said it would be his privilege to donate the bow in memory of Clay, a gesture I will never forget.
On September 20, I received Clay’s memorial bow from Brian Wessel. It was an absolutely gorgeous 54 pound draw weight Tall Tines bow which included everything Brian and I had talked about and that Clay had dreamed about. It was everything I hoped for and more, both in looks as well as performance. I simply could not put it down. Tears flowed down my face as I thought how proud Clay would be of the bow. And that very day I started shooting Clay’s bow. I practiced relentlessly for Clay all fall.
As mid-October rolled around, I placed trail cameras in all the funnels where we had seen and captured photographs of Andre the previous November. I also started monitoring areas where I believe Andre had made sign the year before. As the first and then the second week of November came and went without any indication that Andre had returned, I began to get concerned. Then on November 19, I discovered that some larger pine trees had been rubbed a day or two before. These trees had been rubbed the previous fall and because of their location and the damage done to them, I felt like Andre had made the rubs. Because I had gotten no photographs of Andre in any of the funnels where I had cameras setup I decided to place a stand right on top of the rubs. This I did in earnest; however, I needed a south wind to hunt the stand and we were in for a few days of a north wind because of a cold front coming in from Canada behind a rain.
Since I now believe Andre had finally shown up, I decided to hunt the funnel in the saddle where we had gotten a photograph of Andre the year before. A north wind would be perfect for this stand. Clay and I had revisited all of the stand locations during the spring and used a chain saw to cut down saplings and small trees where necessary to move deer traffic closer to our stand locations; this we done in anticipation of Clay hunting with a traditional bow. It had worked wonderfully in this saddle and the longest shot would be 18 yards. There were showers and rain scheduled for the next 3 days and with this of course there would be swirling wind; therefore, I would have to wait a few days before conditions would be conducive for a productive hunt.
During the morning hours of November 23, the rain was scheduled to stop and a strong north wind was forecast to be blowing by daylight. Later that night strong winds rolled in combined with the rain. This reminded me of the accursed one of April 17th. But no tempest could have daunted my mission, for this one alone - was sacred.
“I woke from a half sleep with the feeling that a question had been put on me all night by some dreadful demon. Then as I came to myself I realized the question that had been conjured up in my mind was the same as the one from so many nights before. I searched not for the answer because the question is not yet fully known; even so, fathers such as I have earned some right to ask.” Bobby Worthington
As I entered my stand that morning, I knew not if I desired to kill to honor or to revenge. As I sat there in the predawn minutes, thoughts of my absent hunting partner entered my mind. He was a good man, born to be good. He left me so utterly I sometimes wonder if he really liked my presence in the first place. Nevertheless, I loved him until he died and will love him till we are reunited. He was the only person of his kind in the entire world. He cannot be replaced. He now seems as a dream almost but not quite remembered.
By 7:30 the 15 mph winds already began to make its way through my clothes. About that time a 1½ year old buck visited me. He passed by unaware of my presence. At around 9:20, I looked to my right. Coming up over a rise was a tremendous buck. He had a grey face and a mammoth body. I could see a large 8 point rack with a short G-3 on the right side. It was Andre! For a few breaths compassion for the old buck froze my deadly bow but that mood was short lived for I had long ago taken my uncompromising resolution. As I took Clay’s bow off the hanger it found its place in my hand as if it was alive with his spirit.
For a moment I lost the buck as he approached from behind some large trees, however, I did not become concerned because of the preparation Clay and I had made a few months before I had no doubt I was about to get a close shot. When he reappeared he was 30 yards away and walking fast. When he was 5 yards away and broadside to the base of my tree, I came to full draw and grunted to stop him. He stopped and looked straight up at me - but it was too late. The arrow left my bow as if a whirlwind or a mighty breath from a resurrected spirit had swept it from me. I do not remember aiming; indeed I did not aim. I had no need to for that task was done for me. When my arrow impacted the buck’s leg just above the knuckle, he made a giant leap, snapping my arrow in half. Away he sped, soon putting the forest between him and me. But it was not to be; for from my stand I could see an unanswered desire from the past. He had spilled sacred blood on the brown scab of the earth.
He ran about 100 yards and then went out of sight into a deep ravine. Then I saw a patch of white. Nothing could turn the great buck belly up except death. As I looked over at the empty stand beside me where less than 12 months ago stood a great man tears filled my eyes. I then knew it was true; a demon cannot be killed with an arrow.
I could follow the old rank buck to his resting place by scent as much as by sight. I found him lying on his back with his rack buried in the earth. My Strickland Helix broadhead had passed through the center of his heart. His rack was not quite as large as it was the year before. He, like myself, is only a shell of what he once was. But it is not and never was about the buck’s size. I know Clay is more than pleased with his first trophy. I laid my son’s bow across the old buck’s chest and reached down and touched his rack taken from him the “savage liberty” that was his birth right. As I lifted his mighty head a chill shook me. I reflected a shadow -- it was not my own. Now my spiritual promise of blood is finished excepting for one that remains. And that bargain was decided when I first cradled him. It will be realized when at last I slay the relentlessly tormenting demon never dared to be named and résumé my role as rightful guardian.
When I returned home I unstrung Clay’s bow and lay it across his bed. As always before his word was kept, his hunt was over.
Clay, with my hands and my mind, I have done all I know to do for you except continue to shed tears of sorrow. I miss you terribly and I am lonelier for your presence than anyone can imagine. Rest In Peace my beloved Son – Rest In Peace.
As for me, I don’t like the world much some days. I no longer hunt for the challenge. I now hunt for freedom.
Here is a hunting tip for you: You do not always have to kill a trophy buck or even see one to have a successful hunt. This fall find a nice place with an enjoyable view away from houses, traffic and barking dogs; a place where life is quiet and peaceful. Wait for the fall leaves to turn golden. And when the timing is right, go there, sit quietly and enjoy the tranquility of the woods. Hang your bow on a limb and take in the fall colors and the pleasures of nature. Enjoy the songs of colorful birds as they forage in the trees. Watch the red leaf fall from the maple, float slowly to the earth. Smell the fragrance of the maturing leaves and the clean air. Take time to taste the wild grape and the sweet nectar of the honeysuckle. Appreciate the small things because as time ripens you, you may come to realize that they were the big things all along. Appreciate nature while you can; you never know how long you will be able to do so. Your eyes will someday become cloudy, your hearing will diminish and your intellect will waiver. There may even come a time when the beauty in things fade from your mind and life no longer make sense to you.
“As you contemplate your future - give equal thought to your fate.” Bobby Worthington
Andre, arrowed on November 23, 2013
Clay’s first “bow.” He was 9 months old in this photo.
Clay arrowed his first deer at the age of 11 years old.
A Side Note:
The death of a child is the most devastating thing that can happen to a human being.
I watched on the television as the devastated, mad and grieving father rocked back and forth in a Knoxville, Tennessee Court room. His daughter had been viciously tortured and murdered. I knew how devastated he was - I could see it in his eyes. To some degree, being a father myself, I understood how mad he was and why - I knew the circumstances of what had happened. But try as I might to empathize with him in his grief over the loss of his child - I could not possibly, at that time, feel “The pain.”
I was fully mature before I became enlightened in two aspects of human existence. You would think, perhaps, as a person grew up and matured into his twenties and thirties, he would have a fairly good understanding of all areas of human existence. However, I discovered this is not the case. Around 20 years ago when I became an employee for the Tennessee Dept of Corrections, I became aware that there was a society of human activity that I had no true idea about. It was something that was so new and foreign to me that for the first few weeks after I was employed, I had a difficult time sleeping because of all the new and strange things that were running through my mind. Those incarcerated in a penal institution do not exist quite as we do who live on the outside. Those incarcerated have their own society, their own way of talking, their own currency and their own lifestyle. It is truly an interesting study to observe human nature in such an environment.
Sadly, this past spring I became aware of another aspect of human existence that I did not have a full comprehension of. On April 17, 2013 my beloved, 20 year old son, Clay died in a tragic accident when he was swept away in our driveway by flood waters. I can now say without hesitation that the death of a child is the most devastating thing that can happen to a human being. It is so devastating that there is no way to possibly relate to it unless you have lost a child. We cannot know what we cannot feel. I should have been more in tune with how devastating the loss of a child is and how different it is from the lost of a parent or other family member. I should have known this aspect of human relations as I watched proud, doting parents standing at nursing room windows pointing their newborns out to anyone who cared to look. I should have realized this as I watched loving parents interact with their children. I should have realized this because of the deep concern and love I have for my own sons. Even nature should have told me this. Wild animals will die protecting their offspring. And normal parents in a normal loving family environment will do the same. As difficult as it is I will try to put in words how devastating the loss of a child is. This may help you to relate more than you can now if someone close to you is forced to go through this devastation.
There is no stronger bond than the bond between a parent and a child. We are created, among other things, to be parents. Once this happens our children become the reference point of our lives. We are their educator, friend and protector. It is our job to keep them safe and alive until we pass. When they die before we do we sometimes feel like we have failed to keep them safe even though their death may have been a tragic, unavoidable accident.
I have many times, while visiting with someone who had lost a child tried to relate to them by imagining that the same thing had happened to one of my children but the pain is so devastating that my mind immediately blocked me from imagining that one of my children had died. As devastating as the loss of a parent, sibling or mate is it is totally different. I lost my father who I was extremely close to and loved dearly. As painful as that was to endure it was a totally different pain than losing my son. When your biological child dies, a part of you dies – literally. You can never be a family again. Only those who have lost a child can understand this inhumane level of pain. We are preconditioned our entire lives to lose our parents, our mates and possibly our siblings but no one is preconditioned to bury their own child.
Since I lost my son there have been many parents come up to me with a deep sadness in their eyes and state, “I am a member of your group” or “I am a member of your club.” They understand - only someone in our shoes can feel “the pain.” Recently while I was at a hunting show where I had a memorial to Clay set up, a lady came up to me and stated, “I know the pain.” She went on to say, “I do not know your pain but I know the pain.” She had lost a 26 year old son in an accident at work and she was at the show giving a shotgun away in his memory. This she did annually.
No matter the circumstances of their death or the relationship you had with the child, if you have lost a child you know, “the pain.” Each parent who has lost a child will grieve differently. Some of the things which will determine how a person grieves are: the relationship the parent had with the child, the age of the child, and the circumstances of his/her death. Whenever the thought of your lost child unexpectedly enters your mind you hold your breath and brace for the pain. Yet, on the other hand, you want others to bring up your child and call him by name. In doing so they acknowledge that he existed and honors him.
Grief is the price we must sometimes pay for our love of a child. A person’s life will totally be changed forever from the point they lose their child. Unlike other things, missing a child never diminishes or goes away. No matter what you are doing or who you are with, there is a numbness to your existence that never leaves. Your future is forever changed. Everything in life will be tempered to a new level of existence. Any happiness or excitement you began to enjoy will be short lived as you realize how much your child would have enjoyed that experience. Your enjoyment, excitement and daily life will be tempered lower than before you lost the child. Your grief, emotional pain and mental anguish will be tempered to a new low – a low you never knew was possible. This inhumane grief will be ever lurking, ready to rear its ugly head at the simplest things. Sometimes you will see someone who looks like your child, sometimes it is an event that brings it on. There will be many “firsts” in your life after you lose your child. His first birthday without him there to celebrate; the first Thanksgiving and Christmas without him all these things are devastating.
Most of the time you will feel like life is meaningless because of a huge gaping hole that has been opened up in your heart. The pain may subside at times. It will change as the years go by; but “The pain” will never, never go away.
Following is a song that I wrote about losing my beloved son Clay.
No chance to say goodbye
Author Bobby Worthington
I said see you soon then I hung up the phone
Never dreamed he wouldn’t make it home
Still see my precious little boy
Hiding in a corner playing with his toy
I need to see him one more time
Because there’s something on my mind
I can’t chase the demons from my head
Can’t forget the words I never said
You’ll never dry the tears from your eyes
If you miss the chance to say goodbye
I sit and wonder the reason why
And I long for a chance to say goodbye
He didn’t want to leave his brother there alone
But the raging waters were way too strong
The Lord knows I’d rather cried alone
Than tell his mother her baby was gone
I can’t hide from the blackness of the day
That my son’s life was swept away
I can’t chase the demons from my head
Can’t forget the words I never said
You’ll never dry the tears from your eyes
If you miss the chance to say goodbye
I sit and wonder the reason why
And I long for a chance to say goodbye
Today I woke with a bleeding heart
Begging the truth to depart
For the first time I had to see
Found a rescue rope left in a tree
I cried to the heavens and fell to my knees
Why can’t that rope set me free - set me free
I can’t chase the demons from my head
Can’t forget the words I never said
You’ll never dry the tears from your eyes
When you live on the wrong side of goodbye
Clay loved his family and the father in the sky
A man of few words he never knew a lie
As I ponder all the living I’ve done
I wonder why not me instead of my son
If I could I’d climb my tears to the sky
And shout to the heavens goodbye
I said see you soon then I hung up the phone
I still can’t believe that you never made it home
Bobby works into his schedule a few seminars on bowhunting mature bucks as time is available. Pricing varies depending upon the distance traveled, length of the seminar and other considerations. Please contact us for available dates and pricing.
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"When I was young and naive I would give as much credibility to one author as the next, I just loved reading anything about Whitetail deer. Now, decades later, and having written about the animal we all love myself, I appreciate much more, the differences in our teachers. In my mind, there has never been a collection of advice so complete and through as between the covers of "Quest". Bobby has a way of making his writing as entertaining as it is informative, and sometimes even enlightening. The only better teacher I know is the Whitetail himself." Scott Whitlock
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…in Their Own Words
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Hunting Ethics in a Cyber World
It happens all of the time. Someone shows a picture of a great buck to a group of hunters, and even before the proud hunter gets out of sight, the conjectures start. “Well, that was a nice buck but you know where he hunts don’t you.” Someone else offers, “Even a blind hog can find an acorn once in a while.” The next guy puts his 2¢ worth in, “If I lived in the woods like he does I could shoot big bucks also.” “He probably shot it at night or out of his truck window,” someone else says, even though the hunter has never been given a game violation citation in his life. We see it all the time, but do we recognize it for what it is? It is jealousy, plain and simple. The problem is, such allegations are no longer just whispered among small groups off in a corner. What a handful of people say used to be insignificant, not anymore. This world has changed - a lot. Hunting gossip has gone viral.
It is a sad fact; some among us use the world-wide web to cast contempt toward successful hunters, as if the antis are not doing a good enough job. It takes little energy for a person to hide behind a computer screen and foolishly criticize someone who he does not even know. As it is with all things, technology can have an adverse side to it. Unwarranted negative posts about successful individuals are nothing more than the shady side of the cyber world illuminating the dark side of humanity.
We as hunters should not be at each other’s throats for the entire world to see. Unlike a lot of fields that have the same problem, there are well funded, well organized and determined organizations trying to put a stop to hunting - forever. It is a shameful fact that the anti-hunters can save their money and take a break because jealous hunters are waging war on other hunters. Unjustified negative posts about successful hunters are nothing more than old fashioned girly gossip gone viral. And if you think these jealous joy killers, when given the opportunity, will not use means other than words to de-rail the hard work of others who receive recognition - think again. It happens all the time. We see it in the work place, at sporting events and at any competitive occurrence. Hunting to me is not a competition against other hunters. The ones I challenge are honorable.
We as sportsmen are under a microscope by the media and non-hunting community. I know the anti-hunters get great satisfaction from watching hunters go at each other and they may very well be able to use some of this against us in the future.
I guess it is easy to get caught up in the feeding frenzy after someone takes the first bite. The old “kick him when he is down” syndrome all too often manifests itself. There is jealousy hidden inside all of us. As we mature we must learn to suppress harmful things in our lives. Bad people do good things and good people occasionally commit bad acts. Maybe, just maybe some of the points I make here will give reason for honest reflection. When an honest person discovers he is wrong he will either stop being wrong or stop being honest.
Until recently I was naïve about the unwarranted, ambushes hunters are posting about other hunters on hunting chat sites. I am simply too busy to keep up with what is taking place on the web as I should. Of course, some hunters do things they should not and some of these things need to be brought out in the open and discussed. That is not what I am referring to in this work. I am talking about unjustified negative posts about successful hunters.
While this writing is not about defending me, I think it would be beneficial to use posts about myself as examples. Hopefully this will show the ridiculous things and outright lies that are being posted and blogged.
On a site which recently showed up on the first page when my name is googled this statement is made: “Bobby Worthington is a nut.”
While looking at this, I discovered a few hunters feel I am a nut because I don’t smile in trophy photos. Can you believe that? I don’t like to smile in photos when it doesn’t turn out natural. After all, it is not like I shot a rabbit running in the eye 200 yards away with my homemade longbow. Why should I flash a big prideful smile when I shoot a big buck? It is not like I didn’t expect to do so.
Another hunter commented that I am “full of myself” because I work hard to kill big bucks? Right - I can see where he gets that. I do not know about other successful hunters but for me it takes a lot of effort to be successful. And I even tell my boys if they want to succeed, they must work hard. (Shame on me for trying to make them “full of themselves.”) If jealous individuals do not know a successful person well enough to come up with anything reasonable to ambush him with, they will use the old catch all, “He is arrogant.” If not smiling and working hard is the best these individuals can come up with, they should talk to my wife; believe me, I have many faults just like everyone else does.
Such previously mentioned comments often lead to postings of outright lies: Someone posted the lie that hunting is my job and that I don’t have to work 40 hours to week like they do. The truth is I work and have always worked a regular 40 hour a week job plus part time at another job just to make ends meet. I also discovered that I am a professional hunter and get paid to hunt. The truth is I am not a professional hunter (whatever that is). No one has ever paid me a penny to hunt. I guess these people just cannot figure out how I shoot so many big bucks if I work for a living and do not have a lot of money at my disposal as I would if I got paid to hunt. (It is the old “if I can’t do it nobody can” syndrome.) Have they ever considered it could be that I am successful because of all that hard work they make fun of me for?
Could these ridiculous comments and outrageous lies hurt me? Of course they could. If someone who is considering purchasing one of my books google my name and read these negative comments they might decide not to buy a book. The fact that I am a successful hunter does not give anyone the right to hide and ambush me with negative comments and outright lies. This is slander plain and simple. Because a person can hide and post such things does not make it less than slander. Because “everyone” does it does not make it something less than slander. And the last time I checked - slander is against the law. These naysayers have also posted just as ridiculous comments about many other successful hunters.
Apparently, a handful of jealous hunters sit in front of a computer looking for any little thing to slander successful hunters for. My question is who made these individuals our watchdogs? The attacks they level at successful hunters are nothing more than spreading petty gossip in an astronomical proportion. Successful people who are the target of malice sometimes feel powerless. Of course, we can defend ourselves but what we say will often be twisted around (as I am sure this writing will be). People - successful hunters are not professional politicians. We should be held accountable for every action and every little word that comes out of our mouths. I am not running for anything (except possibly for the county line). I am a country fellow who lives in a rural area. I have simple ways and speak common language. I will, and often do, make mistakes.
The only thing that I have done to have my name slandered by other hunters is to be so successful at killing big bucks that I have received recognition. Some hunters are so entirely envious they cannot stand the thought of someone else getting credit for killing a big buck. I honestly believe there are individuals living in my county who would shoot the last deer on earth for fear that someone else might shoot it first and get the credit.
These individuals may not realize it and/or won’t admit it to themselves, but their outlandish comments are motivated by soul-destroying jealousy. They do this as a means to try and vindicate their lack of skill. Have you ever noticed that almost without exception, the naysayers have not accomplished what those they are ridiculing have? This should leave no reservations in your mind to the reason for such comments.
Jealousy is a problem in all areas of human endeavors. It hinders the advancement of success by keeping advanced knowledge from being shared by those who have such. There are joy killing naysayers everywhere and it just so happens some of them like to hunt. Now that I have become aware of the constant stare of jealousy in cyber space I write less and have become more conscious about what I do write and say. Because of this problem, some knowledgeable writers have dropped out completely.
There are those who will always endeavor to rise above others. Jealous individuals have an appetite for fame but they lack the drive it takes to earn it. They will not seek achievement by personal sacrifice and hard work. Instead, they will use ridicule and lies to try to pull all those around them down lower than they are. Man - don’t they have anything better to do with their time?
Do they not understand - what a successful person does has absolutely nothing to do with them. The only way to achieve the type of true success that will give a person deserved recognition above the norm is through a tremendous amount of drive, self-sacrifice and hard work.
When my kind-hearted boys came of age I hated to inform them this cold hard fact about human nature: If you work hard and long enough to become successful some individuals will absolutely despise you; especially those in your field of expertise.” I have always heard that love is the strongest emotion. The older I get, the more I doubt this is the case. I believe jealousy is the emotion that rules most people’s lives and robs their chances for happiness.
Jealousy is a powerful, destructive thing. Throughout the ages jealousy has destroyed more lives and killed more people than the vilest weapon ever conceived in the human mind, the atomic bomb. It has the ability to make life almost unbearable for those who hold onto it, and they in turn will try to make those closest to them miserable. There is no doubt that misery truly does love company.
“The longer I live the more I come to believe that jealousy, not love, is the strongest emotion to obsess the human mind. Jealousy victimizes in more ways than one.–It recently occurred to me, one thing worse -- much worse, than to be the recipient of malice conceived in the bosom of covetousness would be to live such a non-sacrificial and mediocre life that I would be envious of the accomplishments of others! As the character Dr. Lecter so correctly set forth as the underlying theme of Silence of the Lambs; what does the miserable, villain Buffalo Bill do? – He covets!” Bobby Worthington
For the most part, the hunting community is very supportive of accomplished hunters, and it is greatly appreciated. I receive hundreds of e-mails congratulating me when I kill a good buck and I appreciate it very much. I can tell by reading such e-mails that the sender is genuinely happy for me. And I, in return, am very happy for hunters who legally shoot trophies and I always make an effort to tell them so. Support is very important in any endeavor. One common characteristic that you will find in people who achieve sustained success is that they have a nucleus of friends around them who want to see them succeed.
I realize that the number of jealous hunters who post negative comments is small. I hear from sensible hunters all the time that say how outlandish these negative posting are, and how ridiculous it makes those who post them look. The handful of jealous hunters who post such may not realize it but they are bearing false witness against themselves.
As Hannah Arendt so well put it: “As witnesses not of our intentions, but of our conduct, we can be true or false, and the hypocrite’s crime is that he bears false witness against himself. What makes it so plausible to assure that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can, indeed, exist under the cover of all other vices except this one…” I guess we should feel sorry for the person that gauges his hunting accomplishments by how well he words a negative blog about a successful hunter.
It is not possible for everyone to like you, especially if you’re successful. A highly acclaimed British cabinet officer’s wife kept this motto on her living room wall: “To Escape Criticism, Say Nothing, Do Nothing, Be Nothing.” The more successful a person is, the more he will be ridiculed by others. Addison said; “There is no defense against reproach except obscurity.” Jonathan Swift also commented, “Censure is the tax a man pays for being eminent.” It is often said, “You can’t please everybody.” I think it is harder than that. I don’t think you can please anybody most of the time. So the best we can do is to live a life that pleases ourselves; regrettably, most do not.
Even if no one else does, evidently some people really enjoy reading their own negative post. They have the gift of gab and want to show it by attempting to make a mockery of successful hunters. Their only motivation is to attempt to vindicate their own inadequacy by belittling successful people. The cardinal man’s nature is odd. Unsuccessful individuals are felt sorry for while most successful people are disliked and even despised.
Can you imagine what the “Fathers of bowhunting” would think about the assaults some hunters are raging on other hunters. I am glad that Pope and Young, “Chief” Compton, Howard Hill, Mr. Bear and Ben Pearson are not still around to see what is taking place. These pioneers who passed down the legacy of bowhunting would be ashamed of the hunting community. (And I am sure if for no other reason than their success some nameless person would hide in front of a computer screen and blog negative comments about all of these great men. [This very well may be taking place now].)
There are issues about hunting that should be intelligently discussed. And there are other things that are nothing more than personal attacks, lies and gossip. Most thinking individuals know the difference. People now days can spin anything to justify their actions. However, they cannot justify the outrageous attacks that are launched on successful hunters. There is definitely the need for legitimate, discussions on issues were bowhunting is concerned. This type of discussions should be kept to the actions under consideration and should not turn into personal attacks and outright lies. If we cannot intelligently discuss the pros and cons of an issue such as baiting or the use of crossbows during bow season without making childish, personal attacks - let us remain silent.
I do not believe there will ever be a standard of ethics that all sportsmen will agree on. Moreover, I do not believe that the legality of an act constitutes ethics. A group of game and fish department individuals who set hunting laws may not have the same ethics as I do. If we used legality as a standard then our ethics would be required to change when we go from one state to another to hunt. For instance, some states allow baiting, others do not. Also, an individual cannot decide for himself what is ethical. I know some scrupulous people who believe that anything in hunting goes as long as it does not physically harm someone else or they do not get caught. The main thing is, we must realize that discussions on hunting issues and ethics are healthy if done in good taste and for the right reason. However, we must know that there will be a lot of opinions about such topics and we should discuss the action, not belittle the actors or those who do not agree with us.
What can we do to combat the problem of jealous hunters posting negative comments? While I do not have all of the answers, here are a few thoughts that seem reasonable: Hunting web-site host need to slow down and review posts for negative, personal attacks before comments are put on-line. Anyone found unjustly verbally assaulting someone should be banned from posting in the future. I believe google and on-line site host will eventually be held responsible by the courts for providing an unchecked medium for slander.
We can also use peer pressure to police ourselves. I realize, many times, we cannot change what a person does. We can, however, give encouragement for either right or wrong by our influence. The old saying, “birds of a feather flock together” is so true. A true sportsman is not the kind of person who stands by and says nothing when a jealous person ambushes hunters for no other reason than their success. If you do so, it is an indictment on you, because you are condoning their actions and by default encouraging them.
Next, those of us who have time for such should not allow unwarranted ridicule, gossip and known lies to go unchecked. Even though our words may be twisted and we might be attacked ourselves, there should be 20 of us waiting in line to defend someone who has been irrationally attacked.
We as conscientious hunters should not allow a small handful of disgruntled, unsuccessful individuals turn a successful hunt or hunter into something negative. I realize most successful hunters do not have much time to set around on the computer because being successful requires a great deal of time and effort. However, I believe we can do better than what we are now doing. One or two sentences telling someone to get off their jealous band wagon would be all that is needed.
Vicious, unwarranted verbal attacks put forth for the entire world to see, represents all that is wrong with humanity. It violates that sacred, divinely delivered world-wide code of ethics – The Golden Rule. “Whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”
“The emotion that will keep me from chasing after compromise is fear; fear that while I am running in the dark I might find myself hopelessly sinking in the quicksand of my own illusions!” Bobby Worthington
From the pages of “Passionate Quest”
The following few pages are taken from Bobby’s new book, Passionate Quest. This will give you some insight into the deep passion from which this book was written.
“My nature must be the spirit of a hunter. What else would prompt me to so readily take to the bow and to the woods in pursuit of a cunning old buck? If I could help myself surely I would have engaged in an endeavor wherein more often I would have indulged in the delight of success!” Bobby Worthington
"My friends, there is not a more difficult or rewarding feat in the outdoor world than to target and then arrow an older age-class buck (a phantom of the forest). This - and this alone, is what hunting has become to me. And this is what “Quest” is centered around; read, learn, enjoy.” Bobby Worthington
© Quest for Phantoms of the Forest: Copyright 2012 by Bobby Worthington.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used or reproduced in any form or by any means, electronically or mechanically, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission from the author.
In this book I share my insights and opinions on, among other things, archery and bowhunting techniques. The purpose of Quest is to educate and entertain. I shall neither be liable nor responsible to any person with respect to any loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused, directly or indirectly, by the information contained in this book. Bobby Worthington
Phantoms of the Forest
By Bobby Clay Worthington
Clayton Michael [Clay] Worthington
Arlis James [A.J.] Worthington
Bobby Clay Worthington
Webster says passion is zeal that implies energetic and unflagging pursuit of an aim or devotion to a cause. I submit to you - it is only through passion that we can find the zeal and energy needed to succeed in our quest of older-age-class bucks.
Quest: the act of seeking or pursuing. In medieval romance usage it involved “an adventurous journey.” This definition may best describe the quest we who are passionate about hunting mature bucks have undertaken.
For: A preposition which in this context indicates the object of the quest.
Phantoms of the Forest
Phantoms of the forest – the object of our quest: What are phantoms of the forest? Well, I’ll tell you. In the context of this book it’s those very rare bucks that have been hunted by the human predator and survived to reach the age of 5½ years old and older. The 3½ and 4½ year old bucks are tough to get. This age-class is plenty tough enough to challenge any hunter. They are mostly nocturnal, have learned to work the wind and have finely honed survival instincts. But, I’m telling you, once a buck makes it to 5½ he is sure enough a remarkable animal. It takes a buck with superior intelligence and cunning to reach this age-class. Unlike a 4½ year old or younger buck, you cannot pattern a 5½ year old at all, because there is no pattern to his movement. He does not move a lot compared to the movement of a 3½ or 4½ year old and when he does move he is a wide-ranging, reclusive nomad. A high percentage of older age-class bucks will die of natural causes. They are 98 percent nocturnal, and they know how to play the game of survival and win against all odds. Old bucks dwell in the shadows of the forest and in the twilight of our minds. They have won the game of life by living long enough to become the fabled - PHANTOMS OF THE FOREST.
“This book is dedicated to my late father, Arlis Clay Worthington. I can still remember five little boys standing at the kitchen table. We were watching our father sitting on an empty upside-down lard can (we could not afford store-bought chairs) practicing writing his name over and over with large steady hands. I can still remember Dad desperately trying to spell out the simplest four-letter words on road signs in an attempt to learn to read while he drove down a dusty country road. I can also remember throughout my life how people marveled at the things he could draw, build, and fix with those same steady hands. Most of all, I remember a man who loved his sons very much.
This was the man who instilled in me a love for the outdoors. He made my first bow, a hickory recurve, when I was 10 years old. My father was always ready and willing to take me hunting every time I wanted to go. For the many, many hunts I had with him I will always be thankful. I would gladly give all I have and know to go on just one more hunt with him. In this thought lies the most profound lesson in this work. If you do not learn anything else from this book - learn this!”
Arlis Clay Worthington, February. 12, 1928 - April. 30, 1999
Part I The Archery Section. Introduction
Chapter I Setting Up The Bow: The mechanical side of archery
Chapter II The Archery Shot: The human side of archery
Part II Shot Preparation Section: Introduction
Chapter III Mechanical Preparation: A close look at sight pin setting
Chapter IV Mental Preparation: Point of aim and shot placement
Part III The Hunting Section. Introduction
Chapter V Stand Selection: Looking for a productive stand location
Chapter VI Hunting The Rut: Hunt when mature bucks are moving
Chapter VII Persistence: Nothing means as much as time in the woods
Chapter VIII High-tech Information: Using cameras to locate core areas
Chapter IX Concealment: Points on scent control and camouflage
Chapter X Buck sign: An in-depth look at scrapes and rubs
Chapter XI The Buck Growl: Amazing deer vocalization
Chapter XII Stand Hunting: Fine points on deer movement and hunting
Chapter XIII The Phantom That Lived Between Two Roads
Chapter XIV The Tennessee Monarch
Chapter XV It Was Fate
Chapter XVI The Mountain Mike Story
Chapter XVII There’s a Rattlesnake
Chapter XVIII Dagger’s Diary
Part IV Reflections. Introduction
Chapter IXX My Greatest Trophy: How do you measure a trophy
Chapter XX The Game Poacher: Selfishness and greed drives them
Chapter XXI The Changing Face Of Hunting: Hunting is changing
Chapter XXII The Future of Hunting: The days of Andy and Mayberry are gone
Chapter XXIII A Human Interest Story: A personal memorable event
“I wouldn’t usually write something about a book that I haven’t even had a chance to finish reading. As I pen this, Bobby’s new book is in the final stages of publication. Normally I would hesitate before encouraging any reader, but in this case, I know Bobby Worthington. He has been a friend of mine for many years. I know how he thinks and how he feels about things. In a world full of instant experts, Bobby is what many, myself included, would call “the real deal.” A finely tuned woodsman extraordinaire and a very unique human being. Before bowhunting sadly became an industry, before the act of deer hunting was somehow transformed from an instinct to that of competition, before sponsored, egotistical, celebrity bow-hunters traveled in tour buses, long before reality hunting shows came to television, before people misunderstood the differences between love and lust in the outdoors, there was Bobby Worthington, quietly pursuing his passion. That he lives and does much of his hunting in Tennessee, a state not noted as the best place to hunt big deer, adds even more to his credibility.
Bobby is what I call a “gentleman predator.” In a world of fast food, Bobby is apple pie made from scratch. Like I said, I know how he thinks; I know how he feels; I know how he hunts. I’ve also watched and listened to him interact with his family. I’ve noted how he routinely unravels clues to singular mature buck movement. I’ve seen how he handles and trains guard dogs, how he deals with confrontations from jealous people, how methodical he is with his hunting equipment, how he relates to things spiritual.
Bobby Worthington’s ways and means have always impressed me as those of a rare but unique breed of human being who learned a whole lot more outdoors than indoors. I’ve never asked him, but I would venture to guess a lot of his knowledge was self-taught. I doubt he has very many diplomas on the wall, but I feel safe in saying he’s already earned a masters degree in life. Although his personality is “down home,” his wisdom has always been far beyond his years.
In reading this book, you might not agree with everything Bobby says. That’s one of the pitfalls of learning from someone who has not only put a lot of time and effort into their journey, but also did a lot of reasoning along the trail. In my opinion, the finest teachers are always philosophers of sorts. Bobby is not only a meat and potatoes woodsman, but he’s also a philosopher. I know if I were a big buck, I wouldn’t want him hunting me!
I can’t believe anyone, no matter how experienced, will finish this book without learning a great many secrets concerning mature whitetail deer and how to hunt them. But more than that, I think you will acquire a lot more of the gift many define as wisdom.”
“It is a sad fact that there is presently a growing number of unthinking clientele that are being victimized by the hunting “Industry” promoting for cash sale “Quick and Easy” ways to kill game animals. Fortunately there are still a few folks around who understand that the “real” satisfaction of hunting success results from the hunter’s use of his knowledge of the game animal hunted as well as its environment along with his time and determination spent patiently waiting that reward of opportunity. Bobby Worthington is one of those rare individuals who has come to realize that the enjoyment derived of the “journey” will assure the satisfaction of reaching the “destination.” This printed compilation of his hunting philosophies and strategies are an expression of his exceptional understanding of whitetail deer and their world and are certain to make any hunter more successful.”
“Have you ever met a whitetail bow-hunter who is entirely self sufficient? A hunter who can do everything that it takes to harvest big, mature whitetail bucks with archery equipment and do it well. This individual has few peers in all aspects of trophy whitetail bowhunting from setting up and shooting a bow, to finding, patterning and killing mature bucks. He knows how to find big, mature whitetail bucks wherever he hunts. He has the uncanny ability to figure out the big bucks that he locates and hang the perfect tree stands in the perfect locations. He consistently harvests mature bucks even on public land. Furthermore, this bow-hunter has never hunted with an outfitter or been on a hunting lease. He is self-taught and has learned how to bowhunt big bucks through his own experiences by trial and error. This bow-hunter is truly at a level of hunting that very few bow-hunters will reach in a lifetime. He is a coach, a mentor, a great role model, and a true best friend. Bobby Worthington is one such bow-hunter.
Bobby is willing to share his bowhunting knowledge with other ethical bow-hunters and he enjoys seeing other ethical hunters succeed. He is so finely tuned to bowhunting big mature bucks, that every time you have a conversation with him about the subject you will walk away having gained a wealth of knowledge. He limits himself each season by targeting one particular mature buck. He has the discipline to hunt all season long for that one buck, even if it means passing on other mature bucks.
He is also a well known, master woodsman. Every time I go into the woods with him I learn something new. I have been on many scouting trips with Bobby Worthington. It is an amazing thing to enter the woods with him and watch him interpret sign and unravel deer movement. After we have walked on a new piece of property for a while, Bobby will say, “I see what is going on here.” He will begin to point out where the individual family groups of deer are bedding and how they move across the terrain. If a mature buck is in the area, Bobby will soon know it and methodically unravel his travel pattern. Bobby will narrow his scouting down to a smaller and smaller area, many times asking me to stand over here, and then over there, as he walks around me. Finally he will say, “That tree. That is the only tree on this property I would hunt from.” And believe me, if you are going to hunt that piece of property, you would be well advised not to second guess him and hunt from another tree; not even one 10 yards away.
Bobby is also an outstanding archer who is known for his ability to make great shots with a bow. I have seen him make some unbelievable shots, especially on moving game. He can shoot rabbits running in front of beagles, shoot quail on the rise, hit clay pigeons flying 35 yards away, and strike matches with an arrow.
He has shot in four NFAA, Tennessee State Indoor Championships and has placed first in each one. In one of these tournaments, he set an all-time state high record score which still stands today. Bobby also won the only National Sectional Indoor that he ever participated in and placed second in his class in the only IBO World Championship he ever attended. Bobby has also placed first in many large traditional shoots, the most recent being The Tennessee Classic in May of 2012.
Bobby has had more bucks featured in North American Whitetail Magazine than anyone else hunting with gun or bow. To date, he has arrowed six bucks large enough to be featured in this magazine. These six bucks gross 1,024 inches of bone. Even more remarkable, four of these were taken in Tennessee and four were shot on public ground. Bobby has accomplished this while working two or more jobs.
I met Bobby Worthington in 2001 through my work as an agriculture extension agent. I was attending a 4-H shooting sports camp in Middle Tennessee. Bobby and one of his sons, A.J., also attended the camp. Bobby was there to help teach archery to a group of kids. I was just starting to get back into bowhunting and I quickly realized that I had just met someone who could teach me a lot about bowhunting big bucks.
During camp, I asked Bobby every question that I could think of about bowhunting big, mature bucks. I became a sponge and absorbed all of the information I could from this extraordinary source of bowhunting knowledge. I must say, I learned more about bowhunting big bucks during that week than I had learned in the previous fifteen years of my deer hunting career.
As Bobby and I exchanged contact information on the last day of the camp, we realized that we lived only about an hour and a half from each other. Bobby invited me to his home the following weekend to shoot bows and I took him up on his offer. We have been best friends ever since that camp.
Bobby Worthington may not be as well known as some of the “hunting actors” that are often talked about today. However, he will go down in bowhunting history as one of the great legendary whitetail bowhunters of all time.
Above all else, Bobby is the kind of man who says what he means and means what he says. There is no in between with Bobby Worthington. What you see is what you get. I am truly grateful that Bobby Worthington is my friend.
In his new book, “Quest for Phantoms of the Forest,” Bobby discusses in detail some of the techniques that he uses to locate and shoot big, mature bucks in the “real world”. He discusses topics such as bow tuning, shot placement, scouting, tree stand placement, deer movement, scent control, and many other topics related to bowhunting mature bucks. Along with these topics, Bobby also shares the stories of some of the biggest bucks he has harvested. These are some of the greatest whitetail hunting stories ever told.
Quest is so profound, it is timeless. It will be the book other deer hunting books are judged by for ages to come!”
First, I want to thank my wife Karen for her unwavering support. Without the help and encouragement of your spouse it is very difficult to accomplish anything in life. This work is a direct result of her encouragement.
I want to also acknowledge my four brothers, Glen, Wendell, Ronny and Allan, who were brought up, like many of our generation, in a rural area with many hardships. Although our father did his best, he struggled to provide the necessities of life. Dad worked jobs such as farming, carrying cross-ties in a lumberyard, building bridges for the county bridge crew and carpentry.
I want to also acknowledge my poor, aged and worn down mother who, with few provisions, did her best to raise five boys (basically a year apart in age) while at the same time trying to deal with a husband who fought alcoholism most of his life. (Thankfully, before the end Dad won the battle against his addiction and “walked the straight and narrow.”) The struggles of life have been extremely difficult on my mother, Iris June (Agee) Worthington.
I also want to acknowledge my friends and family who have supported and continue to stand behind me. Most people do not realize the importance of support in any endeavor. One common characteristic that you will find in people who achieve sustained success is that they have a nucleus of friends around them who want to see them succeed.
When because of hard work and dedication you begin to get recognized, there will be jealous and petty individuals standing in line to diminish you and your efforts. It takes a lot of support to overcome the negativity that will be thrown at you. My immediate family has always stood by me. So have many good friends too numerous to mention. However, I do want to mention my two closest friends and constant hunting partners, my sons, Clayton Michael and Arlis James Worthington, two outstanding young Christian men whom I am very proud to know. I also want to acknowledge my oldest son, Bobby Ray Worthington, an outstanding deer hunter in his own right.
In the event that a few hunters will hopefully learn something from this book, I would like to throw my chest out, smile and take full credit for Quest. However, this would give a false impression that I came up with all this knowledge on my own. I would be remiss and think it most inappropriate not to acknowledge the pioneers and true great soldiers of the art of bowhunting trophy whitetail. Roger Rothhaar and Gene and Barry Wensel come to mind first. The early writings of these bowhunting icons, along with their success, inspired me, placed me on and guided me down the path that led to my accomplishments and ultimately to the writing of this book. I salute these great thinkers of our sport! They are as strong wanasi as any saldu living today. It is an honor to call these true “whitetail men” my friends.
To acknowledge and appreciate bowhunting as we should, we must look to great men in the past. I believe along with learning how to bowhunt, students of the art should be taught about the history of bowhunting in general. They should learn about Ishi, Dr. Saxton Pope II and Art Young Jr.; Will “Chief” Compton, Glenn St. Charles, Howard Hill and Fred Bear. These great pioneers passed down the legacy which evolved into present day bowhunting.
“Our heritage is not to be found in some ancient tangible shrine that is locked away somewhere in a dark vault. Our legacy is preserved in the aisles of human history. From this rich history emerges true, larger than life legends of skilled and distinguished pioneers from the past. Because of their love for the bowed stick and the chase our lives have changed forever!” Bobby Worthington
Next, I would like to acknowledge the poor ladies who were unfortunate enough to have me as an English student in high school (there were many). Yes Miss Swafford, it was I who killed your pretty potted plants with chewing tobacco juice in freshman English class - please forgive me!
I also apologize to my other English teachers for my antics which for fear of legal action I won’t go into here. (I understand some crimes are so bad there is no statute of limitations on them.) I know this is no excuse, but when you cannot comprehend the subject matter you will find ways to entertain yourself.
It took me eight courses of high school English to graduate. I had to repeat English every year of high school after my freshman year. Carrying the burden of two English classes plus a summer school course each year of this dreaded subject was very hard on me - I still have not fully recovered.
I am sorry to say, all that English did me no good at all. I can barely spell my last name. My feeling is that once I reached high school, I had already been educated beyond my intelligence. I was full - no room left. I was fearful that if they forced any more of that English in my head it might push something useful out, such as my name or where I lived. Many of my other teachers realized I had fulfilled my majority and they passed me on to simply get rid of me. I do not know why my English teachers could not understand this. (I guess all that English had an effect on their minds as well.) I know they realize it now; they should have given up on me.
After I wrote my first book, I ran into one of my former English teachers in the grocery store. With the thought of letting her know that all of her efforts trying to teach English to me did not fall by the wayside, I decided to tell her I had written a book. She is quite elderly and it took a few minutes for her to recognize me. Once she realized who I was, I told her I had written a book. She became very excited and wanted to know all about it. She ask what the subject was, how many pages were in it and how long it took me. As we discussed my book, I came to realize that she thought I said - I had read a book! I answered her questions and left it at that.
I also want to acknowledge the real hero of all trophy whitetail hunts, an animal I truly love, “the mature whitetail buck.” My life has been interwoven with the whitetails’ for 42 years now and I am still in awe of these fascinating creatures. Whenever I am lucky enough to harvest a mature buck, I am not the actor in the narrative who deserves the credit; it is the buck. He is the animal that has the instinct and cunning to reach maturity against unbelievable odds.
The lifetime of a man, even a long-lived man, is barely enough time to learn how to consistently succeed in the quest of 4½ year olds, let alone old bucks. The whitetail is without a doubt one of the most magnificent specimens of the created world. It is on bended knees that I give homage to the great whitetail deer.
He is the creature that fuels our passion. Remove him from the hunt and most of our lives would change drastically, I fear - for the worst.
Most of all, I want to acknowledge the Creator of all things, the GOD of the Bible for giving me the physical and mental abilities I have, and the passion to apply my abilities. “For in Him we live, and move and have our being....” (Acts 17:28)
Lastly, I want to acknowledge those lazy, selfish, do-nothing people who, because of petty jealousy, ridicule and spread outrageous lies to diminish the hard work and sacrifices others put forth to achieve success. Do they not understand - what a successful person does has absolutely nothing to do with them. When my kind-hearted boys came of age I hated to inform them this cold, hard fact about human nature: If you work hard and long enough to become successful, some individuals will absolutely despise you; especially those in your field of expertise.
It is evident by the fact that you purchased this book; you are not jealous. A jealous person will not admit someone knows more than he does about a certain subject. Therefore, he would not purchase a how-to book such as this one. Those who do not mine the precious ore of written knowledge from those who have acquired such will always be shallow and mediocre in their endeavors. I know I am preaching to the choir here because of your effort to purchase and/or read this work; however these thoughts may help you when you occasionally become the victim of jealousy.
Jealousy from others is a side-effect of being somewhat successful in my chosen sport that I never fathomed when I started. I have always heard that love is the strongest emotion. The older I get the more I doubt this is the case. I believe jealousy is the emotion that rules most people’s lives and robs their chances for happiness. Jealousy is a powerful, destructive thing. Throughout the ages jealousy has destroyed more lives and killed more people than the vilest weapon ever conceived in the human mind, the atomic bomb. It has the ability to make life almost unbearable for those who hold onto it, and they in turn will try to make those closest to them miserable. There is no doubt that misery truly does love company.
For the most part, the hunting community is very supportive of me, and I greatly appreciate their support. However, I, like most people who through sacrifice and hard work achieve recognition, am sometimes a victim of jealousy. There are hunters who just do not like me, even though they do not know me and cannot express any reason for their dislike. I am no politician - I am not running for anything (except maybe for the county line). The only thing that I have done to be ridiculed for by other hunters is to be successful enough to receive recognition. These individuals may not realize it and/or will not admit it to themselves, but many with such feelings are motivated strictly by their soul-destroying jealousy.
One thing about hunting chat sites that until recently I was naïve about (I just do not have the time to indulge) is that some among us use them to cast contempt toward successful hunters. (Are the antis not doing a good enough job?) This they do as a means to try and vindicate their lack of skill. Have you ever noticed that almost without exception the naysayers have not accomplished what those they are ridiculing have? This should leave no reservations in your mind to the reason for such actions.
The fact that I am a successful hunter does not give anyone the right to hide and ambush me with negative comments and outright lies. This is slander plain and simple. Because a person can hide and post such things does not make it less than slander. Because “everyone else” does it does not make it something less than slander. And the last time I checked - slander is against the law.
Hunting web-site host need to slow down and review posts for negative, personal attacks before comments are put on-line. Anyone found unjustly verbally assaulting someone should be banded from posting in the future. I believe on-line site host will eventually be held responsible by the courts for providing an unchecked medium for slander.
I guess it is easy to get caught up in the feeding frenzy after someone takes the first bite. The old “kick him when he is down” syndrome all too often manifests itself. There is jealousy hidden inside all of us. As we mature we must learn to suppress harmful things in our lives. Bad people do good things and good people occasionally commit bad acts. Maybe, just maybe, some of the points I make here will give reason for honest reflection. When an honest person discovers he is wrong, he will either stop being wrong or stop being honest.
Without exception, the poachers who live in my area dislike me. Recently someone felt it necessary to roll the entrance to my driveway with several rolls of toilet paper. They finished off the décor with a dead fawn. My family and I often watched the doe and her two young ones hanging around our driveway. For several days after the fawn was killed we ran the mother off the carcass of her baby as we drove out the road. It’s not my strong stance against the poacher’s illegal acts that fuels their contempt toward me as much as it is their jealousy over my success and recognition.
Jealousy is the motive that causes poachers to cheat. They are so entirely jealous they cannot stand the thought of someone else getting credit for killing a big buck (more on this in Chapter 20). I honesty believe there are individuals living in my county who would poach the last deer on earth for fear that someone else might shoot it and get the credit. I am glad these types of individuals dislike me. If a poacher liked me, and if I in return liked him, that would put me in the same boat he is in. If I hear a person with low morals who commits unethical and illegal acts talking good about a person, the person whom they are talking about is suspect in my mind. So, do not let it bother you if a sorry-type person dislikes you and talks bad about you. If you have high ethics and moral standards, your lifestyle is an indictment on him and by default he will not like you.
Small-minded, lazy, jealous individuals will always endeavor to rise above others. But they will not attempt to accomplish this by personal sacrifice and hard work. Instead, they will use ridicule and lies to try and pull all those around them down lower than they are. Jealous individuals have an appetite for glory or they would not be jealous of success; however, their craving is fettered, by among other things, their lack of drive. The only passion they process is belittling those who are successful. And, a man’s passion is his fate. The only way to achieve the type of true success that will give a person deserved recognition above the norm is by a tremendous amount of drive, self-sacrifice and hard work.
It is not possible for everyone to like you, especially if you’re successful. A highly acclaimed British cabinet officer’s wife kept this motto on her living room wall: “To Escape Criticism, Say Nothing, Do Nothing, Be Nothing.” The more successful a person is, the more he will be ridiculed by others. These who accomplish great things will suffer greatly. Addison said, “There is no defense against reproach except obscurity.” Jonathan Swift also commented, “Censure is the tax a man pays for being eminent.” Someone else well said, “The thermometer of success is merely the jealousy of the malcontents.” It is often said, “You can’t please everybody.” I think it is harder than that. I do not think you can please anybody most of the time. So the best we can do is to live a life that pleases ourselves; regrettably - most do not.
Vicious, unwarranted verbal attacks put forth for the entire world to see, represents all that is wrong with humanity. It violates that sacred, Divinely delivered, world-wide code of ethics – The Golden Rule. “Whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”
“The longer I live the more I come to believe that jealousy, not love, is the strongest emotion to obsess the human mind. Jealousy victimizes in more ways than one.–It recently occurred to me, one thing worse -- much worse, than to be the recipient of malice conceived in the bosom of covetousness would be to live such a non-sacrificial and mediocre life that I would be envious of the accomplishments of others! As the character Dr. Lecter so correctly set forth as the underlying theme of Silence of the Lambs; what does the miserable, villain Buffalo Bill do? – He covets!” Bobby Worthington
I guess this would be a good place to answer a question that I am often asked. People wonder why I do not smile in photographs. Quite frankly, I do not look natural when I must smile in front of a camera on cue. My family, friends and acquaintances can tell you that I am an upbeat person and always cracking jokes. However, unless it is a candid moment my smiles do not look natural; therefore, I quit trying to force myself to smile in hero photos because it too often does not turn out so well. Why should I flash a big prideful smile anyway? After all, it is not like I shot a rabbit running in the eye, 200 yards away with my homemade longbow. Why should I smile from ear to ear when I shoot a big buck? It is not like I didn’t expect to do so.
I guess the writing of this, my second hunting book, sure enough makes it official - my role as a bow-hunter has changed. Although I'm not certain when this transition took place, I do know when it was conceived. My passion for bowhunting was fueled in the late '60s as I watched Fred Bear bowhunting on The American Sportsman TV Show. In those early years of bowhunting, I devoured every word of books such as The Archer‘s Bible and The Bow Hunter Digest, learning from every page. A short few years later, I found myself reading just hoping to find one or two tidbits of knowledge. As time passed, I read primarily to travel with the writer on an enjoyable and exciting hunt. Then one day it dawned on me that a large number of the phone calls coming into my home were from strangers telling me how much they enjoyed reading my writings in outdoor magazines. It has been a lifetime romance which has established my intimacy with the flight of the arrow and the chase of monster bucks. Sometime during that courtship my role changed. When? - I cannot say for certain.
You should not know my name, that is if you live outside my area of residence. You should not be reading this book because, as you already know after reading the acknowledgments, I am not supposed to have written one book, let alone two. And because I am a working man who lives from paycheck to paycheck, neither should I have had the finances to print a book (North American Whitetail Magazine had my first book printed) but, somehow, since you are reading this, by the grace of God - I guess it happened.
Quest is not only a how-to book, it is a narrative spanning over 40 years of my hunting career; and since I have been an avid bow-hunter all of my adult life, this book is sort of an autobiography.
I started out intending to write volume two of my first book, Bowhunting Trophy Whitetails. However, even though it has much of my first book in it, (mostly in the first half) this book has turned into a work of its own and will no doubt, be the last book I ever write - at least on this subject.
Looking back at my life, I guess I would do things somewhat differently if I could. I would have dedicated myself more often to beneficial endeavors such as helping those who are in need, especially children. Serving and helping those in need makes a person more useful than being famous - it makes him important. There are many little ones stricken by misfortune and health problems who need help. Many children are in need of something as simple as a few kind and loving words. The precious and innocent of our society should not have to endure hardship. There are enough disappointments and sadness waiting on them when they reach adulthood. They should be shown love and kindness while they are young. As Plato well said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
If I could start over, I would as Mary of Bethany (whom we read about in the Bible) in the long ago did, “choose the good part” to dedicate my life to. Do not misunderstand me; we all need recreation and pastime activities. If I could start over, bowhunting mature bucks would still be the pastime I would choose. It is in my blood; a bow-hunter is what I am. The legendary Sioux leader, Sitting Bull once said, “When there is no buffalo we will hunt mice for we are hunters and want our freedom.” That is my sentiment, as I am certain it is many of my readers. Likewise, I would have written about bowhunting if I could do it all over. Hopefully, by doing so, I will pass down some of what I have learned to future generations. Bowhunting will teach patience, discipline and diligence. It will teach how to handle disappointments as well as achievements. Bowhunting puts a person to the test and it brings out the greatest levels of both good and bad in him. The ups and downs of bowhunting will teach those involved as much about life as it does hunting.
I am a traditionalist, a hard-core bow-hunter who is passionate about bowhunting. To me bowhunting is about something much greater than I. Until you understand this, you cannot truly grasp the deep passion from which this book was written. Nothing great has ever been accomplished without passion. This book was not written to accrue monetary gain; it is primarily about teaching and preserving the rich, American, cultural and heritage of bowhunting for future generations. This book is my stewardship of trophy whitetail bowhunting. By passing on my knowledge and respect for whitetails hopefully more hunters will stay involved and introduce others to bowhunting. You can not uphold trophy bowhunting by marketing and advertising the kill more than the hunt or more than the game animal hunted, as some “commercial hunters” do.
Along these lines, I want to speak on Chapter 22 first. I think this is the most vital and needed chapter in this book. In Chapter 22, I go in-depth into the future of hunting by addressing animal rights activism, atheism, the liberal media, and the state of our country, evolution and the existence of God. The teaching of evolution is affecting our right to hunt more than any other one thing. In my opinion, sport hunting will be over if society as a whole comes to believe the lie that we are merely an evolved animal. I make this statement because, if we are nothing but an evolved animal then a good point could be made that it is just as wrong to kill 30 cockroaches as it would be to walk into a school and shoot 30 students. When hunters, through media outlets such as television and print, make comments (such as I occasionally see) about certain animals evolving through millions of years, they are promoting the godless theory of evolution that is so detrimental to our sport. It is a condition which confronts us – not a theory. I hope the information I have compiled in Chapter 22 will aid in deterring this.
When I decided to place this chapter in my book, I was looking beyond today at the big and important picture. I would rather convince one child that atheism is a lie than to teach thousands of you how to kill a big buck; because the future of hunting is more important than this generation’s hunting ability.
If I had not made the decision to write Chapter 22 most of you, my readers, would not have this vital information available to read. Most Americans only get one side of the origin issue in school classrooms and from the liberal, mainstream media. With the liberal media challenging our beliefs at every corner, we believers sometimes need to reassure ourselves that what we have believed all our lives about creation is true. And most importantly, we need this information because many of us have children who are entering high school and college. Please, parents listen to me - if you do not have the knowledge to teach your young’uns the truth about creation, they will be consumed by the evolutionists. It is not enough these days just to tell them there is a God, because lies and fabricated evidence will be forced on them everywhere they turn.
I have spent a lot of time to put this research together and include it in my book. Please, do not criticize me for writing it because it does not deal directly with hunting techniques until you read it (not just read over it). When you have completely read Chapter 22, I believe you will find it is the most needed, informative, and useful part of this work.
The first few pages of Chapter 22 will show that all pure animal activists are atheists. It will show why you cannot believe the Bible and be an anti-hunter (although you may choose to be a non-hunter).
In the remaining part of Chapter 22, the information which I have put together will show that evolution is mathematically and scientifically impossible. I am not trying to convert or influence anyone to be religious in this chapter. What I am doing is revealing information on the other side of the evolution issue; information other than what most people hear. The only way we can know the truth about the creation/evolution issue is by examining both sides of the evidence. Any time we have two opposing points (or in any human endeavor for that matter) there are basic rules that should govern the thought process. The philosophical law of rationality states that a person should draw only conclusions substantiated by adequate evidence. In other words, there is no way a person can know the truth about the evolution issue without adequate evidence. Emotions and hunches are not adequate evidence. Neither are half truths, complete lies and the one-sided picture that have been force-fed to Americans.
In Chapter 22, I will tell you why I believe (and give you the information to make up your own mind) that evolution is the greatest hoax to ever be hoisted upon the human mind. It is destructive to the future of hunting and to the future of our society. This chapter is my “good part” that I give to all who choose to read it.
Now about the rest of my book: Quest takes you beyond the basics. While the beginner can gain a wealth of knowledge from reading this book, it was not written to be a primer for the beginning bow-hunter. This book goes beyond that. It was written to enable the average bow-hunter to take his/her hunting to the next level.
Although Quest is somewhat advanced, the information is still practical. I believe a great deal of material written on this subject is not useful and sometimes adds confusion and mystery to the sport. However, as I see it, there is no mystery to trophy bowhunting. Mystery simply fills the void created by the absence of practical knowledge. I realize it is easy to get lost in all of the technical and scientific information which many writers put into the mix. Therefore, my intent is to strip trophy bowhunting of the cosmetic modifiers and to simplify it where the average hunter can understand it.
Sometimes I wonder what separates successful mature buck hunters from those who are not. Anyone can get lucky and shoot one trophy-class buck in his lifetime. He can simply be in the right place at the right time. It is different for those who have legally taken multiple mature bucks. It is my belief that foremost, all great trophy hunters have a passionate desire about hunting mature bucks. There is no way a person can sacrifice everything that he must to be successful without passion. As Struthers Burt so well put it “Men are failures, not because they are stupid, but because they are not sufficiently impassioned.” It is not passion for the kill that drives successful trophy hunters but passion for the quest – and passion for the greatest game animal of them all.
“My thirst for knowledge, zeal for learning and passion for the whitetail has brought me to the door where I now stand.” Bobby Worthington
While it is essential, you must reach beyond passion. Passion may live within you, but advanced skills must be obtained and practiced. While conceived by passion these skills must be cultivated and nourished by knowledge. Only knowledge will increase your success. Tangible objects (a faster bow, another tree stand) will not make you more successful. All successful trophy hunters are knowledgeable naturalists and woodsmen. They are dedicated, life-long students of the whitetails’ life style and behavior. I guess to some degree, successful hunters have begun to understand how deer think. It is impossible to know what deer are thinking, but perhaps they understand what senses they used to govern their thought process as it relates to their desires, priorities, comfort zone, survival, movement and fears. When these “woods savvy” hunters walk outdoors, nothing goes unnoticed because they are sticklers for detail. They see the landscape differently than unskilled hunters.
Sometimes success has a lot to do with the location hunted. There is nothing a hunter can do to improve his odds more on mature bucks than to hunt in an area where deer have reached maturity while becoming accustom to non-threatening human presence. Whether you hunt in this situation or not (most of us do not), I believe the information in this book, and the specific techniques outlined in the hunting section will improve your odds.
Keep in mind, no technique will work outside forced movement (which is not the way I choose to hunt) when deer are not moving. There are periods consisting of days and sometimes weeks when the majority of deer just simply do not move. A lot of people will blame their lack of success on their stand location or their hunting knowledge when this is not always the case. Many times deer simply are not on their feet moving day or night. If this happens to coincide with the particular time you are hunting, it would be easy to misunderstand why you are not seeing deer. I do not think we will ever be able to unlock all the mysteries that surround whitetail movement as it pertains to their lifestyle. However, in Chapter 12 we will, among other things, take a very in-depth look at the subject of whitetail movement. I believe this will be the most detailed discussion put forth on this subject to date.
We will, in the four parts of this book, cover a broad range of study. I believe by reading this work you can go from having a basic knowledge of bowhunting, to becoming a hunter who has a better than average chance of harvesting a mature buck - if - you will put forth the effort to apply this information.
This work is a culmination of a lifetime spent in the deer woods as well put to paper as the laboring pen of my illiterate soul and untrained hand is able. I pray it is easier read than written.
“Knowledge is the refuge of my skills. An embodiment of the mind, knowledge realizes nothing greater than itself. Before you is the knowledge through which my skills are offered – bring your own container.” Bobby Worthington
The following chapter is Chapter 17 from Passionate Quest. While the story is the same as in Bobby’s book, a few trail photographs have been taken out here that are included in the book because of space restraints.
There’s a Rattlesnake
There is more than one kind of Rattlesnake in the hills of East Tennessee.
"Me and Clay didn’t catch us a deer, but Bobby he caught him one.” Well, I guess there’s different ways to say things. After our Saturday evening hunt, this is how my youngest son Clay‘s lady friend, Krystal disclosed to her face-book friends that I had killed a 7½ year old patriarch that I had been keeping tabs on for years.
Discovering a young 10 point
“Dad, we got a photograph of a nice 3½ year old 10 point,” Clay said as he stopped scrolling to examine a photo on the viewer. The date was Aug 18, 2007. My camera was overlooking a mineral lick on top of a 50 foot mountain bluff in southeastern Tennessee. “I do not think I know this deer but he is really even,” Clay continued.
I told Clay it did not surprise me that he did not recognize the buck if he was just 3½ years old. I explained that most bucks are usually 3½ before they get distinguishable enough to recognize from one year to the next.
As I examined the buck’s rack, I realized he was nothing spectacular even though he matched well from one side to the other. This young 10 point’s main beams turned in considerably. This characteristic is typically known as a “basket rack.” I felt like it would take at least two more years before he reached trophy status. His rack was compact, his main beams were short and he was narrow on the inside. His strongest point was that he was almost perfectly symmetrical. I estimated that he would score between 135 and 140 inches. This is about average for a 3½ year old, Tennessee 10 point. Many Tennessee 8 points never get out of the 140s. Most Tennessee 10 points never exceed 150. I was looking forward to watching him mature if he managed to stay alive, which is always a big if in a heavily hunted area.
We continued to get the 10 point’s photos on the mineral lick for the next few weeks. As we looked over his pictures, we began to notice when there were other deer present, he approached the licks with his ears pinned back and his hackles raised. Other bucks, even older ones, would give way to him as he approached. We decided that this 3½ year old was an aggressive buck and if and when I decided to hunt him I believed rattling and calling could be affective.
In the early fall, about 400 yards from the mineral lick, I discovered a velvet shedding rub. White oak acorns were dropping in the area and I believed the young 10 point could have been the buck which used the sapling to strip his velvet while he was in the area feeding on acorns. We placed a camera in a funnel made by a downed tree close to the white oaks. After a couple of weeks we began to get photographs of the young 10 point.
The snake bit
On the third Friday in September, my son Clay and I decided to check the trail camera to see if we had captured any more photos of the 3½ year old. Clay was wearing knee length shorts on this warm, fall evening. Even though Clay wanted to go to the camera with me to look at the photographs first, he thought better of it. Clay is extremely allergic to poison ivy, and the woods around the camera were covered with it; therefore, he stayed about 50 yards back on an old dim road.
When I approached the camera, I noticed a timber rattler on the ground in some ivy. As I checked the camera, I yelled and told Clay that a pretty rattlesnake was close to me. He said he would like to see it but he did not want to wade through the poison ivy to get to me. I told him that after I pulled the camera card, I would catch the snake and carry it out so he could look at it.
I came walking up to Clay with the rattler in one hand and a camera card in the other. After Clay looked the snake over, he put the card into the viewer. As we were looking over the photographs of the 3½ year old 10 point, I got careless and relaxed my grip on the rattler’s neck. He got his head around and sank a fang into my left thumb. Because he was a young snake and had only hit me with one fang, I was not overly concerned. However, by the time I returned the flash card to the camera, my hand had begun to swell. After checking the remainder of the cameras in the area, I drove to the hospital in Pikeville.
The doctor on duty said the procedure was to admit a venomous snakebite victim for 12 hours and give him anti-venom through an I V. Since bow season opened the following morning and I had my heart set on taking my boys hunting, I told the doctor that it was not possible for me to stay overnight. After some discussion, I agreed to stay for a couple of hours to be monitored. The swelling never extended past my hand and wrist and I was able to leave the hospital that same evening.
While lying in the hospital bed, I told Clay I had come up with a name for the 3½ year old, 10 point. (We were already trying to think of a name that reflected his aggressive nature.) I told Clay I believed “Rattlesnake” fit him pretty well considering his nature and the fact that I was bitten while looking at his photographs. Clay said he liked the name also and that is when we started calling the young 10 point, “Rattlesnake.”
We were occasionally able to get Rattlesnake’s photograph through the fall and winter in funnels. I made a mental or otherwise note of every photograph location just in case Rattlesnake later became what I considered a trophy. It is helpful to watch a buck mature and develop a travel pattern if you are going to hunt him at a later date. By the end of the year, it became apparent that he was a homebody and did not stray far from his core area, even during the rut.
In March, on a ridge in his core area, Clay found the left side of Rattlesnake’s rack. From the measurements on the shed, I estimated he would have scored about 143 inches.
Rattlesnake at 4½ years old
The following summer, on a mineral lick in his core area, Rattlesnake showed up again. At 4½ years old, he had grown considerably and his rack still appeared to be nearly perfectly symmetrical. (From the age of 3½ to 4½ is when a buck normally makes his largest jump in rack size.) If he had an average body size for his age, it was my guess he would score in the high 140s. His net and gross score was about the same because he was quite symmetrical.
Rattlesnake needed at least one more year to become what I considered a trophy. All during the fall and winter we occasionally got his photograph. As he had the year previous, he stayed in a fairly small area. To my knowledge, no one saw Rattlesnake during the 2008/2009 deer season even though several hunters were hunting the woods where he lived. We again found the left side of his shed the following spring. He scored about 153 as a 4½ year old.
The following summer (2009), when Rattlesnake was 5½ years old, we once again started getting his photos on the same mineral lick. His main frame did not appear to be much larger than it was the year previous. However, he had put a sixth point on his right side. He was now a 5 by 6. I still did not target him because I believed, at best, he would gross about 160 inches and I had my sights on another 5½ year old buck I called Dagger. I was curious to see what Rattlesnake would become when he reached the age of 6½.
I got photos of Rattlesnake in his core area tending a pretty doe very early in November. He showed up in quite a number of locations where he had not been seen or photographed the prior year. I noted all of these locations for future references. I saw him a couple of times during the rut while I was hunting Dagger. The last time I saw Rattlesnake he was as poor as a whippoorwill, and gore marks were present on his shoulders. It was obvious that he was rutting hard and fighting a lot. I guess you might say he is as mean as a rattle snake. One frosty November morning, my son A.J. saw him as well. A.J. did not get a shot opportunity even though Rattlesnake was 7 yards away at one time. In early 2010 we captured photos of Rattlesnake up until he cast his rack. He was in great shape by the end of the year in 2009.
I knew the chances were low, but I hoped he would grow a sixth point on his left side in 2010 when he got to the age of 6½ years old. If he grew into a 6 by 6, Rattlesnake would be one of the all time best typical Tennessee bucks. Although A.J., Clay and I searched diligently, we did not find either side of Rattlesnake’s cast in the spring of 2010.
The following year, in late July, I placed several cameras on mineral licks in Rattlesnake’s core area. A couple of weeks later, I got a photograph of him. His main frame had increased noticeably. His brow tines were approximately 5 inches in length. His G-2s and G-3s appeared to be 11 and 12 inches long respectively. And his G-4s were longer than average for a 10 point. I believed they were 7 or 8 inches long; this really increased his score. Rattlesnake dropped the sixth point on his right side; however, he grew a sticker on the right G-2 that appeared to be around 5 inches long. Of course, rack size is relative to body size. If he was an average 6½ year old, Tennessee, big woods buck that would field-dress between 170 and 190 pounds in his prime fall weight, he would score around170 inches!
I continued to capture photos of Rattlesnake throughout the fall. I even got a few daylight photos in late September after bow season had opened. He has never been a totally nocturnal buck outside of the rut. This is the kind of information that is beneficial to collect as you watch a buck mature.
During the first week of October I got a photograph of Rattlesnake and his left G-4 was broken off close to the base. I felt like it was too early for mature bucks to be fighting. I pondered for quite some time over what could have broken his tine. A few weeks later, the mystery was solved when I heard that someone in the area had been bragging about shooting a large buck’s point off one night with a .17 caliber rifle.
In the presence of two monarchs
In 2010 I had an extremely tight schedule because I was working toward opening a restaurant for my boys. I had pretty much given up on hunting that season because of my schedule. However, on October 21, which was unseasonably cool, I had an opportunity to go out for a morning hunt. My target was Dagger. I knew from trail photos that Dagger and Rattlesnake were still running together.
About 15 minutes before legal shooting light, I heard deer approaching the ditch funnel I was overlooking. From their cadence it was apparent that two bucks were coming in at a steady pace. It ended up being Rattlesnake and Dagger! They circled down wind of the funnel I was hunting. I had set up to one side enough that my scent stream would pass their location. After they scent checked the funnel, the two old monarchs cautiously approach my location.
In the dim light I could see the two huge bucks. It was a humbling experience to be in the presence of two 6½ year old phantoms at one time. There was no receptive doe or other deer in the area to distract them. The bucks were extremely cautious and hyper-sensitive. They seemed to devour all the energy around them. I could feel their alertness, their presence and their sixth sense in the air about me. It was one of the most intense situations I have ever been in. Their demeanor was what one would have expected from creatures of their status. I slowly leaned forward and took in their air. I tasted their sharp senses; this I did to understand them, to own them, to become them. But their wild nature overpowered and consumed me.
I sat like a concrete statue and watched in humble awe. Rattlesnake was in the lead as they passed underneath my stand at a distance of 5 yards. He made a scrape 10 yards away while Dagger stood just behind him in the shadows. I was amazed at how large Rattlesnake was. His head looked like it belonged to a young Hereford bull. I now knew he was one of those rare 200 + pound (field-dressed) Tennessee bucks. As it approached legal shooting light, I kept glancing at my watch as if it would help to move the minute hand faster. Although it was light enough to shoot, I refuse to reach for my bow until legal shooting time.
As it got closer to shooting time, I realized Dagger was not going to follow Rattlesnake into the opening. Even though Dagger was my number one target, because of Rattlesnake’s size, I decided to shoot him if Dagger did not step out. Then I noticed Rattlesnake’s broken tine which had slipped my mind. Because he had a 7 inch tine broken off, I felt it would be a shame to kill him. Dagger was once again my target.
About this time, both bucks begin to get increasingly nervous. They had been in my presence too long. They sensed my presents and moved off. I knew this would more than likely happen; this is why I always shoot an old buck as soon as I have the chance.
I had opportunities to hunt only two other times in 2010. I never saw either of the old bucks again. (Dagger disappeared after that encounter and has not been seen or photographed since. The story about this remarkable buck is told in Chapter 18.)
By the end of 2010 Rattlesnake was back in good shape all but for the fight marks on his body.
Rattlesnake in 2011
On July 24, 2011, I again placed trail cameras on several mineral licks and summer food sources. Seven days later I checked my camera. On the one which I placed in Rattlesnake’s core area, I had captured two photographs of him. Rattlesnake was again a 5 by 6. He grew the same frame rack that he had in 2010, only it was larger. There was also a small G-5 which had started to form on his left main beam; however, with only a few weeks of growing time remaining, I did not believe it would reach the 1 inch length required to count as a point. While his main frame did not look as large as in 2010, I believed this was his best “net” rack ever. As would be expected, his mass appeared to be the best he has ever had. Rattlesnake had a few weak points. His spread appeared to be somewhat narrower than the year before. His left G-2 and his right G-4 did not quite matched the length of their corresponding tines. Even considering this, after I added everything up, I believed at 7½ years old, Rattlesnake would net very close to the coveted 170 mark. He was a remarkable Tennessee mountain buck.
By the third week of August, I had obtained no photographs of Dagger. It was obvious that he was gone. Therefore, Rattlesnake was my target buck in 2011. Because we started closing the restaurant three days a week, I had more time to hunt than I did the previous season.
On August 21, 2011, I decided to check a woods pond. It had been extremely hot and dry for several weeks and I wanted to see if there were any large tracks around the pond. After I checked the water’s edge, I made a small circle looking for sheds. Not 60 yards from the pond, I walked up on the left cast that Rattlesnake carried in 2010. The antler had little rodent damage. After measuring the antler, and giving an estimate to the tine that was shot off, and his spread, I came up with a total net score of 168 inches before the deductions for the sticker.
Stand locations for Rattlesnake
I decided on three stand locations from which to hunt Rattlesnake. In each of these locations Rattlesnake had either been seen or photographed.
1) Stand location number one was where I believed I had the best chance for a shot at the huge buck, especially early in deer season. This location was in some remote ridges on the edge of his sanctuary nearly two miles from the nearest road. This 100 to 150 acre piece of real estate where Rattlesnake was spending most of his time had it all: steep ridges, bluffs, thickets and flowing water. Here is where I got most of the photographs of Rattlesnake before and after the rut. This is the location where I had the encounter with Rattlesnake and Dagger in 2010. This was also where I often captured daylight photos of him late in September. Because of its remoteness, this area received very little hunting pressure.
I had two stand sites for different wind directions picked out within location number one. The first stand site was for a S to SW wind (the wind blowing anywhere out of the south to southwest). This site was located where two major corridors merge together to pass through a saddle which crossed a ridge back-bone. (Clay found Rattlesnake’s 2007 shed on this ridge.) My tree stand location was 22 feet up a large white oak tree.
My second stand site in location number one was for N to NNW wind directions. My tree stand was 23 feet up a northern red oak, on the opposite side of the saddle from stand site number one. This stand was 30 yards from stand site number one.
2) Stand location number two was in Rattlesnake’s home range. It was about ¼ mile from stand location number one. Stand location number two was on a 30 yard wide flat. I saw Rattlesnake from this stand in 2009. The main restriction which causes the deer to funnel to the flat is a very steep, 100 yard drop-off on the side of a ridge. When the ridge side becomes too steep for deer to walk without difficulty, they travel uphill to the flat. Deer move along this flat (above the steep ridge side) for about 50 yards before the terrain below levels out enough for them to drop down on the side of the ridge again. About 30 yards on the opposite side (the north side) of the flat from the steep ridge side is a drainage that cuts into the flat. This drainage is the restriction which pushes some, but not all, of the deer to the flat from the north.
I had two stand sites at location number two. Site number one could be hunted with a N to NW wind direction, which would blow my scent over the steep ridge side. My tree stand was in a small post oak on the south side of the flat. I could get no higher than 16 feet up this small tree; however, because the stand placement was critical, I had to be in that particular tree.
Site number two was straight across the flat, 30 yards from site number one, at the location where the drainage cut into the ridge. I hunted this site with an S to SW wind direction; this stand tree was a huge, red oak with large limbs.
3) My last stand location, stand location number three, was on the back-bone of a primary ridge which deer use as a travel corridor to travel from some remote ridges into a big holler. This location was also in Rattlesnake’s home range; however, it was nearly ½ mile from his core area, and ¼ mile from stand location number two. I also had two stand sites at location number three which allowed me to hunt a northerly or southerly wind direction.
Stand site number one was on the south side of the primarily ridge, on the edge of a steep drop-off. It was within 20 yards of a secondary ridge which runs into the main ridge. The secondary ridge also has several deer moving up and down it. From this stand I could shoot to both the travel corridor on the secondary ridge and to most of the trails on the primary ridge. I hunt this stand site with a NW to NNW wind direction. However, a pure north wind would blow my scent too close to the secondary ridge for me to chance.
Stand site number two was about 70 yards up the primary ridge from site number one. It was on the north side of the back-bone at a location where a drainage cuts into it.
Whenever possible, I like to place my southerly and northerly wind direction stands straight across from each other. This makes it easier to hop from one stand to the other without much disturbance when the wind changes direction around midmorning. If the ridge is narrow enough with the stands placed across from each other, I can also use the same shooting lanes and mock scrape for each stand. The reason I could not place the stands close to each other in this situation is because the drainages and the secondary ridge do not intersect the main ridge across from one other; they are approximately 70 yards apart.
Rattlesnake goes missing
I had a little scare around the last week of August. All through August, at least once every three days, I had captured Rattlesnake’s photograph at a mineral lick. However, for 12 days I got no photographs of him. Needless to say, I was concerned that something may have happened. Then on September 3, I checked my cameras and had gotten photographs of Rattlesnake several times during the week. One photograph was in the evening before dark. I made a mental note of this; normally when I get daylight photographs of Rattlesnake in September it is in the morning.
On August 12, I again checked a trail camera at a mineral lick in Rattlesnake’s core area. At 1:20 a.m. on September 10, I captured a photograph of Rattlesnake just as he finished shedding his velvet. His rack was bloody and there was velvet hanging off of it.
I watched Rattlesnake grow from a young deer to an old buck (a true phantom of the forest). I had a strong desire to introduce him to my patiently waiting family. Because he sometimes moved during daylight in late September and early October, I decided to hunt him early in bow season in his sanctuary. I knew hunting him early would be an aggressive move that if miscalculated would certainly result in him becoming next to impossible to kill. I realized the task at hand would be one of the greatest hunting challenges I had ever faced. He was the first 7½ year old that I ever hunted this early.
Even though he occasionally moved in daylight hours, I knew Rattlesnake would not be easy to kill. The nocturnal nature of old bucks is only part of the difficulty in shooting them. Another problem is their keen senses. During the breeding season, rut crazed bucks with high doses of testosterone coursing through their veins are not as alert to dangers around them as they are before and after the rut. Early during deer season with no rut to distract them it is very difficult to get an arrow into one of these old, woods savvy bucks. These old patriarchs of the forest have senses that are whetted keen by the abrasive edge of time.
I decided to hunt Rattlesnake at stand site number one in stand location number one. This was in the heart of his core area at the edge of his sanctuary. There was another travel corridor that Rattlesnake sometimes used to enter and exit his sanctuary. I discovered this last spring by reading and following his sign and I later confirmed it with trail photos. This corridor was on another ridge backbone about 100 yards from site number one. If he traveled this corridor while I was hunting site one, he would smell me if a southerly wind direction was blowing. To discourage him from using this corridor, I walked the ridge backbone, scenting it up with my odor. Over the years Rattlesnake has become somewhat accustomed to my scent, so this move was not overly intrusive. However, I felt like it would discourage his movements there for a few days, thereby doubling my chances for a shot in the corridor I would be hunting.
By mid-September I was still getting Rattlesnake’s picture every three or four mornings in his travel corridor close to his sanctuary. Most of the photographs were taken right at the break of day. I decided not to enter his core area again until Saturday, September 24, the opening day of bow season. Contemplating hunting an older-age-class buck this early in the season is very risky. However, because of Rattlesnake’s tendencies to move around during daylight this time of year, I felt it was worth the risk.
My final hunt for Rattlesnake
I could not have asked for better weather conditions for the opening weekend of archery season. It rained on Thursday and Friday and was scheduled to turn cool Friday night through Sunday. Because of Rattlesnake’s aggressive nature, I carried my horns to my stand with me in case conditions were right to rattle.
I saw no sign of Rattlesnake that opening morning. When I exited my tree, I checked the cameras that were overlooking the ditch funnel. I had gotten no photographs of Rattlesnake in nearly two weeks. This did not concern me as much as it did when he went missing a few weeks earlier because at that time he was still using minerals. The acorns were beginning to fall and I decided Rattlesnake must have found some sweet white oak fruit to munch on. I could not afford to wait until rut movement started to hunt him. I knew he sometimes ventured into unsafe territory because of the close call he had last year when someone shot off one of his tines.
I knew Rattlesnake’s main sanctuary this time of year was in a 100 acre, thick ivy covered area close to a bluff. I decided to use extreme stealth and circle the outer perimeters of his sanctuary and tried to find a new wrinkle that he might be using. During my scouting trip, I discovered a small grove of young white oak acorn trees that were dropping a lot of fruit. Deer were hitting the acorns hard and I found a cluster rub 50 yards from the oaks. There was a small ridge backbone leading from Rattlesnake’s sanctuary to the oaks. I decided to put the trail camera I had carried in with me on the ridge. Two days later at noon, I snuck in and checked the camera. I had captured Rattlesnake’s photograph. The picture was taken about 15 minutes after dark. I knew I had a shot at him. I placed a Lone Wolf tree stand 23 feet up in a big white oak just off the east side of the ridge and quickly vacated the area. That photograph was all I needed to see. I decided not to return to the area until conditions were right to hunt.
The next time we encountered unseasonably cool temperatures, I was going after him. I did not have long to wait. It was predicted to turn cool Thursday evening the 29th and remain unseasonably cool through Sunday. I decided I would try Rattlesnake again Saturday evening, which was predicted to be unbelievably cold for this time of year. The temperatures were going to drop down into the mid thirties in the mountains on Friday and not get out of the 50s all day on Saturday, before dropping back down into the mid thirties again on Saturday night.
During the middle of the day Saturday, I heard from an acquaintance that a friend of his had seen a buck that morning with some age on him trailing a doe and grunting. While this was unusual, I did not doubt the story. Unseasonably cold temperatures will often get bucks cranked up.
Saturday evening October 1 at 3:30, I began a 45 minute walk into the mountains looking for a side-winder. Just as the sun set, I heard a deer approaching from the direction of Rattlesnake’s sanctuary. A big doe was cautiously approaching my stand location. Within 15 seconds she was joined by another doe. A couple of minutes later, I heard another deer coming. When I looked around, I saw a 1½ year old 3 point approaching the does. He was quickly followed by a large main framed 10 point that I had been keeping tabs on. This young buck has great potential and may become my target in a couple of years.
A few short minutes later, I heard another deer coming down the ridge. He was walking at a steady pace and by the time I turned to my right to look for him, he had already gotten behind
me. I turn my head to the left, and for some strange reason I was not surprised to see the mighty Rattlesnake standing 17 yards away looking in the direction of the other deer. He then raised his head to smell what was in the wind.
“Try as I may, I cannot read his thoughts – but of this I am certain, he has no idea I am about to require of him the remainder of his existence. This I will do if for no other reason than to confirm my own reality. I shall now ask my impatient shaft to collect a long awaited debt. --- For now – I remain.”
He was a noble buck, high of head and proud of step. I took my Mathew’s Switchback LD off the bow hanger and slowly came to full draw. I settled the sight pin on the mammoth body and liberated my feathered friend from its restraints. It pierced the air like a javelin. Although I lost track of my arrow, the sound was a familiar one. I believed my arrow entered his chest, not only because of the sound at impact, but because he did the familiar bucking bronco high leap and hind leg kick upon impact. He headed down the ridge and was out of sight in seconds. As I replayed what had taken place in my mind, I began to wonder if my arrow placement had been a little far back. I decided to sit in my tree for about four hours before I exited. So I lowered my bow to the ground and sat back and listened to the primeval language of the old east Tennessee Mountains. While the forest gave up its night voices, I used the opportunity I had to recall and reflect on the encounters I had over the years with my old friend.
After I exited the tree at 9:15, I became somewhat concerned. I did not find the usual blood soaked arrow and spraying blood trail. My arrow had not passed through. I circled for about 10 yards and did not find the arrow and only found one small spot of blood. Because my arrow did not blow threw, I knew I had not punch shot him. That was somewhat of a relief. I decided to head home for supper and return about 1:00 in the morning.
My son Clay returned with me in the early morning hours of October 2. After a 15 to 20 minute search we had only found one other spot of blood, and that was within 10 yards of the first spot I had found close to where he had been standing. We decided to wait until the next morning to continue our search.
A.J., Clay and I returned to the woods about 8:00 Sunday morning. After a few minutes, I found a decent blood trail. I followed it for about 30 feet and then it abruptly ended. The blood trail somewhat concerned me; blood had dripped along on the leaves as if someone had poured it out close to the ground. It appeared to me I may have hit him in a leg muscle. Try as we may, we could not pick up the blood trail from that spot. We walked down the ridge in the direction that the blood trail indicated he had traveled for several 100 yards and found nothing. While I was making a circle, I ask my boys to return to where we had found blood and look closely for my arrow. I had come to think that the short blood trail was a result of the arrow coming out of Rattlesnake. I circled back around to my boys; they could not find my arrow. I realized they were probably looking for an arrow like they were accustomed to seeing, not a brown, blood soaked one with matted feathers. I returned to the blood trail and quickly found my arrow. It was covered in dried blood. I told my boys that the arrow looked like it had went through the chest of Rattlesnake.
I decided it was time to spread out from the last blood sign and start circling to look for him. We walked about 75 yards down the ridge at a 45 degree angle from the blood. I then asked A.J. and Clay to continue on to the bottom of the holler and then spread out about 75 more yards apart. A.J. had only traveled about 30 yards when he looked down in the center of the drainage and said –“There he is!” The old monarch had traveled less than 75 yards. A.J. and Clay ran to Rattlesnake with me close behind. The double lung hit had laid down a mammoth, 7½ year old patriarch. The huge body was so thick that my arrow did not pass completely through him even though my Striker G-5 broadhead had only contacted ribs.
I have mixed feelings, as I always do when I shoot a buck that I have become so familiar with over such a long period of time. One of us had to win - it was my time. I had enjoyed the challenge, and the chase and introducing him to my family and friends. I keep up with him for 4 years and I believe he had no idea that the boogie-man was watching him. I must give homage to such a cunning survivor. Most bucks will never reach his age-class, especially where there are several people hunting. Rattlesnake was a special buck with a lot of character. He was aggressive around other bucks and not very sociable. Dagger was the only buck he hung around with. During the summer and early fall these two bucks were closer than flees on a two dollar dog. But once the pre rut started, Rattlesnake was a reclusive loner. He was very cautious and attentive to his surroundings. His curiosity had long since left him. He would flee at the first hint of danger.
I shot Rattlesnake the second time I hunted him. Because of my knowledge of his personality and movements, and my familiarity with the land where he lived, I felt I was always a half step ahead of him. Even though he was 7½ years old, when the time was right for me to hunt him, I was confident of the outcome.
Rattlesnake grosses 173 and nets a little over 166 inches. He is a little short of the Boone and Crockett mark, but who cares; he will always be a Booner in my book.
Now that I can look at the great buck backwards I understand him more fully. However, I think it is good that we can only hunt one forward so the learning that we so crave can enhance each step of our pursuit. Now that my quest for Rattlesnake has ended I must look forward. The sport that is in trophy hunting recommends I do it again.
“Thank you for the years of memories and for the great adventure - my old friend.”
“The old war-lord has unsheathed his sword for the last time. He is now following a faint trail to the land of his ancestors.” Bobby Worthington
I arrowed this net 166 inch,7½ year old Tennessee patriarch on October 1, 2011.
Personal note: You are probably curious about me catching the rattlesnake I mentioned earlier in this chapter. As you probably allowed that was not my first “snake handling.” Before I go any further, let me say rattlesnakes are very deadly and should be respected. I have done many foolish things which I do not recommend. Now here is the rest of the story:
I have always had a fascination with snakes. As a teenager, I often caught rattlesnakes and copperheads around my East Tennessee home. A few years back my brother Ronny got careless with a big timber rattler I had caught and was bitten. The big snake hit him with one fang on the index finger. Quite a bit of time lapsed before we got him out of the rural area where we lived and to the hospital in Crossville, Tennessee. Ronny had a rough go of it for about a week. He spent four days in intensive care. His hand and arm swelled to about three times its normal size and turned black. He eventually recovered and from that time on, I have not turned snakes loose in my home.
I had an interesting experience with some snakes while I was attending college at Freed-Hardeman in West Tennessee. During first-aid class while my teacher was showing pictures of venomous snakes native to Tennessee, I told her I could bring some real snakes for the class to see. Most everyone at the college knew I was a taxidermist and I now assume they thought I meant I would bring some mounted snakes.
The following week the dormitory cleaning lady found a cage under my bed containing several live copperheads and rattlesnakes. The administration at the college absolutely panicked. I nearly got expelled from school. I did not understand what the big fuss was about.
From what I have been told there are stories floating around the college even to this day about rattlesnakes living in the walls of that particular room. It is rumored that they are offspring from a pair which escaped an East Tennessee mountain man who once roomed there.
I learned many interesting things while in college. For instance: I discovered how badly a person could get bitten by a possum while trimming its long hair with an electric pair of hair clippers so it would pass as a giant gopher rat to the city slickers at the school. I also discovered how fast one of them city boys could run from my room when he discovered me standing beside my tub stripped down to my underwear with a skinning knife in my hand covered with blood. Of course, if he had taken time to look he would have seen the deer I was butchering lying in the tub. I could spend an entire chapter talking about school days, as I am certain you could; but I should return to the subject at hand.