Sometimes patience truly is a virtue.
Just ask David Miller. He waited six long years to hunt one particular buck.
All that self-restraint paid off handsomely on Nov. 4, when Miller finally put an arrow into the grizzled old 17-pointer.
“I first became aware of that buck’s presence in 2013, when he was a typical 10-pointer,” said the Boone County resident. “At that time, he had started to develop some antler points that made him identifiable from year to year.”
The deer roamed a remote hillside in Mingo County. Miller and several friends had a lease on the property, where they maintained a network of game cameras to keep an eye on any big bucks that might show up.
“The funny thing about that buck was that, in the six years I followed him, I only ever saw him one time in the daylight,” Miller said. “All the pictures we had of him were at night. He had learned early on how to avoid hunters.”
The deer grew steadily through the years.
“In 2013, he had maybe a 120-inch rack,” Miller recalled. “Last year’s rack was in the 160-inch class. He definitely had our attention.”
Miller took his wife, Christina, to hunt for the buck.
“She got a shot at him, but he moved at the last instant,” Miller said. “The arrow hit a bone in his shoulder and didn’t penetrate. The buck ran off and we couldn’t trail him.”
All through last winter, Miller wondered if the old deer had survived the shot. “Cole Mitchell and I walked about 50 miles apiece, looking for his skeleton or his shed antlers. We didn’t find anything, and we didn’t see any evidence of him on our cameras, so we know if he was still around.”
That changed a few weeks ago, when the buck showed up unexpectedly on one of Miller’s cameras.
“I had most of my cameras up on the ridges, where bucks tend to go during the rut,” he said. “When he showed up, it was on one camera that I’d set about halfway down the mountain. All the pictures I got of him were at night.”
The buck’s already-sizable rack had grown even more impressive.
“He had developed some kicker and trash points, characteristics you often find in older bucks,” Miller said. “His tines had grown, and his main beams had grown. When I first saw him, I thought he was a different buck. Then it dawned on me — ‘Oh my gosh, that’s that old buck we’ve been watching for years.’ ”
When the whitetail rut started, Miller focused his hunting efforts on the aged deer.
“It dawned on me that the buck was avoiding the ridges and was staying down low,” he said. “So I put a camera down low to test my theory. He showed up at daylight with some other pretty nice bucks. Two days later, I went back to hunt for him.”
Miller arrived at 5 a.m. to check his camera. The buck had been there earlier, at 2:30 a.m.
“I noticed the direction he was heading,” Miller said. “I figured I could backtrack about half a mile down an old railroad grade and head him off.”
Just before daylight, Miller found a flat with several buck scrapes and decided to hunt nearby. His portable stand wouldn’t fit onto the only available tree, so he decided to hunt from the ground. He found a high bank overlooking the buck’s likely travel route and sat down to wait.
“The wind was good, and I felt good about the setup,” he said.
An hour later, a nice nine-pointer came by and checked the scrapes. Miller let it walk. Another hour passed.
“I caught a movement at one of the scrapes,” Miller said. “The old buck had slipped in. He lowered his head to go under a branch, and I could see it was him. He stepped out into the open about 18 yards away. When his head went behind a tree, I shot him.”
Miller waited a while, then recruited a friend, Steve Boraz, to help track the deer. They found it about 200 yards away.
The rack had 17 scorable points. “We rough-scored it at 179 2/8 inches, gross,” Miller said. “Its official score will be less than that, because there will be deductions for about 11 inches’ worth of odd points.”
The buck turned out to be 9 ½ years old. For Miller, who had shared a lease on the Mingo County tract for 11 years, the trophy represents the value of patience.
“Up to this year, I’d never even carried a bow there,” he said. “I had hoped the day would come when an opportunity would present itself. It finally did.
“People used to ask me why I continued to lease a property when I wasn’t getting big bucks. Really, it’s because I [shared the lease] with some friends. I could count on that property bringing me back in touch with those guys each year. That carries more value than any buck ever could.”