My quest for a buck that I named Optimus started in the rut of 2014 here in North Dakota. A buddy and I were driving home from work one evening and spotted a nice buck on the side of the road tending his does. I already filled my tag earlier in the season on a beautiful 193” buck that I watched all summer long. My buddy wanted to chase this new buck and I was all for it. We hunted him and he eluded us all season long.
Fast forward to summer of 2015. I scouted hard and covered a lot of ground looking for the summer range of the buck I named Optimus. I was able to find Optimus one rainy morning in July. I spent countless miles and time watching him. Figuring out his feeding patterns. Keeping tabs on the other bucks he liked to hang out with. Fast forward to opening week of the 2015 ND archery season. I was able to find Optimus with 3 does and 2 small bucks feeding on an open hillside between draws. I made short order and was able to get in front of him and down wind. The perfect setup. Optimus fed to 30 yards from me. I was able to draw my bow undetected, settle my pin, and released my arrow. I heard it him and as he turned to run away I noticed that my arrow had very little penetration and was really high. I had to make sure and follow his blood trail. I found my arrow and had only 3” of penetration. The blades were bent back like I hit solid bone. I followed the blood until it disappeared and I ran out of light. The next morning I searched all the draws and possible hiding spots with no sign of Optimus. Over the course of the next 2 weeks I searched long and hard for him. I did not know if he was dead or if he was alive. I looked for crows, coyotes, magpies, anything that would lead me to Optimus. About 2 weeks after hitting him high in the shoulder I given relief when I glassed Optimus up alive and well with a 3x3 that he hung out with all summer. I could see where I hit him and he looked like he was healing well. He shed his velvet and was dark and heavy horned buck. He grew substantially that summer. I was guessing him to be a mid 180 inch deer.
I pursued Optimus every chance I could get. He was an elusive buck and kept me on my toes. It wasn’t until the rut in November that I would get another opportunity at him. This opportunity came when I was able to watch him leave private land and bed on public. I spend 3 hours laying down inching my way towards him and his does that were bedded. My opportunity came when Optimus stood up at 50 yards to stretch. I drew back, settled my pin, and squeezed the trigger. Optimus bolted across the draw with not a scratch on him. To this day, I still don’t know where I shot or how I missed.
During the season of 2015, I drew my bow back on Optimus 2 other times without getting a shot off. He either kept moving by me or spooked when I drew. I kept tabs on him all spring long hoping to find his sheds. I bet money he dropped them on the private and have no access to that land.
The summer of 2016 found me back in his summer range waiting to find him and see how he was growing. He was easily found and was growing even better than the year before. All summer I spend watching him and patterning his every move. I learned soo much from the year before about him and his tendencies. He was always the last deer to come out of bedding cover to feed. Opening week of the 2016 ND archery season I was hot on his trail. I found him in the bottom of a draw with several other bucks. A plan was in place and I soon was closing the distance. An hour before dark Optimus and the other bucks were bedded on a hillside with the wind in their face which would be a fatal mistake. Across the draw, I had a target bush that I needed to get to and that would put me well within range of him in his bed. It took me no time at all to cover the ground to my target bush. I was only stopped 35 yards from my target bush because I spotted antler tip just over the crest of the hill. It was a 3x3 that was with the group. They were all up feeding again. He had me pinned down at 30 yards and I couldn’t get any closer. I had to wait him out and hope that Optimus would show himself. A short time later my dreams came true when Optimus’s antler tips were seen feeding towards me. I was able to range several bushes and if he presented me any shot opportunities it would be 30-35 yards. All my time and effort was coming down to this. Optimus fed to a bush that was 35 yards. His vitals were completely exposed and the wind was in my face. I glanced at the 3x3 that was still 30 yards from me. He had his head in a bush and couldn’t see me. I looked back at Optimus and he had is head in a bush too. This was my opportunity after 3 years! I drew back undetected. I split my 30 and 40 yard pins on his vitals and touched my release. THWACK!!! I watched my arrow hit perfectly where I was aiming right behind the shoulder and it buried up to the crest wrapping. Optimus mule kicked and turned away from me and ran over the edge out of sight. As he turned I could see my arrow was perfect placement but it seemed like he was quartering towards me more than I thought but I was confident in my shot.
I sat there for the 30 minutes that I thought was ample time to let him expire. He ran up the drainage which ends with prairie grass. I never once saw him come out of the drainages. I picked up the blood trail and soon found my arrow. Blood soaked up the fletching. My confidence was at all time high with my shot but would soon turn 180 degrees very soon. After about 75 yards the blood stopped. I was not able to find a drop and I was running out of light fast. I backed out and went back to the truck to get better light and help from my buddy. As I sat in the truck watching a storm approach that would wipe out any blood trail, I got nervous and worried. I replayed the shot over and over in my head. I know that I hit the sweet spot and at least one lunged him and liver if he was quartering towards me.
My buddy showed up and we gathered our gear and picked up the trail. We lost the blood trail on a cattle trail in the bottom of the draw. The draw only went 100 yards before it went into the prairie. I proceeded to work the bottom of the draw as my buddy was up near the top seeing if we could find him dead. Near the end of the draw my buddy said those words that will make your heart sink. “There he is, he is alive!”. We spooked him out of his bed and he headed out into the prairie toward some other draws. My buddy said he could not see where I hit him but he was not running. He acted hurt. Our only option was to back out for the night and look in the morning.
After a sleepless night of me replaying the shot over and over in my head. We worked into the area we saw him last glassing before we started walking the draws. We dropped our packs near a pond and worked our way up the draws. The first draw came up empty. No Optimus. If he was in there we would find him. My stomach was turning the whole time. The quest and respect for this deer was eating at me. Maybe I was cursed?
Coming into the second draw on a cattle trial I noticed that there was blood drops on the ground. It appeared to be going up the draw. My hopes were renewed with the blood. The only thing was that this blood smelled like a gut shot. We were sure that leaving him overnight he would expire even with a gut shot. It was just finding him at that point. We worked that draw up and down with no luck. No deer. No sign of him. I decided to try to figure out his blood trail or if I could see tracks where he went. My buddy went back to the packs to get some water while I went around the edge of the pond. I just told my buddy across the small cow pond that I see blood in the cow trail I was walking when I watched him put up his binos looking down the draw and yelled “THERE HE IS. HE IS DEAD.” I took two steps forward and also was able to see Optimus expired about 100 yards away. My heart was racing now. As we walked up on him he grew. There is no ground shrinkage to this buck. I finally was able to put my hands on him and finish the quest for this magnificent animal.
He was bigger than we all thought. All my friends and family were guessing him to be the high 180s class. We taped him out at 205” gross with 4” of kickers. He will net in the low 190’s with 50” of mass. A true trophy!