Did you ever have that feeling that it just wasn’t meant to be? Chris Zwart from south-central South Dakota had that feeling during the 2009 deer season. His story from this fall is one of the most incredible stories anyone’s ever shared with me.
It all actually started in 2007 when Zwart saw a young buck that sported two small drop tines. Thinking ahead, Zwart commented to his wife DeEtta, also his hunting partner, “that it would be pretty cool to shoot that deer when it was bigger.” The next year after the buck season Zwart was out hunting does when he saw a buck with drop tines, not just once, but on two different occasions. The buck was within 150 yards and gave Zwart ample time to field-judge him. Although he wasn’t a monster trophy, the buck did sport four points per side, plus 7-inch double drop tines. Surprised that the buck even survived the heavy hunting pressure during buck season, Zwart secretly queried other local hunters to see if they had seen any unusual bucks in the area. To his surprise, nobody seemed to acknowledge the presence of the buck so he kept the buck’s existence to himself.
When the 2009 archery season rolled around, Zwart was of course on the lookout for the buck with the drop tines, but was unable to locate it, much less get a photo of it on a trail camera. On the afternoon of Oct. 2, that all changed when he decided to hunt from a ground blind. Soon, a decent 5×5 buck approached and Zwart felt the buck was worthy of a try. As he drew back his bow preparing to shoot two nearby does spooked causing the 5×5 buck to retreat. Bummed and believing the hunt was over he looked around to check on the does and noticed another buck bedded beneath a nearby cedar tree. As he looked closer he couldn’t believe his luck. It was the drop-tine buck!
Apparently the buck had slipped in and bedded while he was busy watching the other buck. With shooting light fading he had to decide whether to continue to wait out the buck in hopes it would stand and move into shooting range, or slip out of the blind for a bold stalk. Rain had quieted the woods and the day was about to end so Zwart decided to try the stalk. After slipping from the blind undetected he actually drew his arrow and started sneaking into position. At 15 yards the buck unexpectedly stood up so he dropped to one knee aimed and tried to maneuver the arrow past one tree branch crossing the buck’s body. To his surprise, the arrow smacked the buck and dropped it in its tracks. The buck never even twitched. Not taking chances, he nocked another arrow, walked up to the giant buck and marveled at his luck and the gnarly-looking buck now lying at his feet. Unable to contain his excitement he immediately called his wife DeEtta to share the news of the unbelievable hunt. Sitting down on the buck’s back he spewed the tale of the hunt to his bride.
“She told me later that by the sound of my voice she knew this was the deer of a lifetime,” said Zwart. Still resting on the deer’s back he called a close friend living in Kansas City and also related the unique hunt and ending for the drop-tine trophy. During the course of that conversation he started back to his truck to get his ATV for the recovery and once again dialed his wife’s phone number to let her know he was going to stop and show off the buck to some local friends before getting home. Zwart recalls she even joked around that what if the buck got up and ran away while he was getting the ATV and he responded “he is dead.”
Do you see where this is going now? As you might surmise, when Zwart returned with the ATV the buck was nowhere to be found. It had vanished! There was no buck, blood or anything. After a few passes he decided it would be best to come back in the morning. Returning with his wife they searched the entire region including the trees, a dry lakebed and even standing cornfields nearby. There was no sign of the buck or blood. After a week of sporadic searching he finally gave up the effort and started hunting again hoping to catch a glimpse of the buck alive. Even so he asked every group of pheasant hunters and every farmer he met up with to let him know if they saw the buck, dead or alive. Nobody reported anything.
On the opening day of firearm season Zwart and his wife were once again in the area where the drop-tine buck encounter took place. On opening morning they walked many of the same areas half hunting, half hoping to find the buck dead. At midday the pair found themselves between a cornfield and a block of Conservation Reserve Program land seeded to heavy grass. While pointing out to his wife what looked like a buck, there, only 100 yards away the drop-tine buck stood up, but immediately took off on a dead run.
“Drop tine,” Zwart yelled swinging his rifle into action, and dropping the buck with one shot a second later. Looking back at his wife he questioned, “that was the drop-tine buck, wasn’t it?”
DeEtta didn’t get a good look, but when they walked over to the deer there lay the buck and this time he was down for good. Zwart’s first instinct was to immediately find another friend hunting nearby to help drag the buck out, but with his wife’s urging the pair stayed with the buck and called the friend on the phone for assistance. They weren’t taking any chances this time and can you blame them? The buck was a giant and unofficially gross scores 191 points. Three times a charm, but it only took two for Chris Zwart to tag the buck of a lifetime.
So what actually happened?
Zwart’s arrow shot appeared to be in the neck and likely stunned the buck, knocking it out momentarily. What he believed to be the look of death was simply an unconscious buck. When he went to retrieve his ATV the buck awakened and ran off with a nasty neck wound, but not a mortal injury. If you need a moral to the story it would be to check the pulse of your deer before leaving it for retrieval assistance. You can bet Zwart will be checking vital signs much more closely on every deer he shoots.