Alex Templeton didn’t know if her buck had made it through rifle season.
She’d been watching him for nearly two years at that point, seeing him mature over the years on trail camera photos from her family’s Missouri farm. She’d decided long ago that this was the buck she wanted to hunt, but she hadn’t seen him at all through early, pre-rut archery season, and he’d dropped off her cams for the entirety of the mid-November rifle season.
“When you get so focused on hunting one animal instead of hunting any animal, it’s draining, honestly, because you’re just so worried about where that animal is,” she says. “Is he OK? Is he wounded? Did he get run off by another deer? Did he go nocturnal? It was crazy how emotionally attached I was to pursuing this deer. During rifle season I would hear a gunshot from a neighbor and just be sick to my stomach.”
For several years running, Templeton had early-season success. She’d made her pursuit of mature whitetail bucks a year-round effort, putting chores like checking trail cams and managing food plots right up there with the tasks associated with running a large-scale farming and ranching operation. Each year, she’d scouted a particular deer, and managed to find him early in the season.
This was new territory for her and also a blow to her confidence. But then, with the frigid temps of December, her buck started showing up again.
“When I got that first trail camera picture of him, I was just elated,” she says. “I was losing sleep over this. I’d spent so much time and effort pursuing one single deer, and then he dropped off the face of the earth. I was incredibly excited.”
While she was tempted by several good young bucks, Templeton knew deep down that if it wasn’t on this particular deer, she wasn’t going to notch her tag. With the season winding down, she took a close look at her strategies.
“I did some research and some soul searching, honestly,” she says. “I tried to reevaluate what I knew about deer hunting and tried to apply it in a new way. I tried to hunt as much as I could, but really, I wanted to hunt as smart as I could.”
One cold and silent afternoon in mid-December, things felt right.
“It was 10 degrees outside, and there was not a bit of wind. It was quiet, quiet. I knew that I was going to have to be in the tree, dialed in and warm and focused. He’d been coming in on the cameras a little more regularly at that point, so I felt like he was going to show up.”
During a long sit with no deer, one of those sits where it’s easy to get complacent, to get sloppy as Templeton puts it, she kept her focus. And that’s when her buck appeared at the edge of the woods to the north—an impressive sight: full body, tall tines. He looked and smelled around for trouble and then slowly made his way to the standing corn and beans that Templeton had planted for him many months ago.
“I’d been working for that moment for almost two years,” she says. “It’s so cool when you see a mature whitetail like that walking in because they really do walk in like they own the place. They instantly command your respect. Everything that I’ve done before this, managing cameras for years and food plots for years, every time I set foot in that area I had that end goal in mind. It felt like a full-circle moment. To have him come in when you’re in the stand is just an incredible feeling. I was shaking like a leaf.”
His walk in from the trees took about 90 seconds but felt like much longer. Templeton calmed her nerves. She waited until he came just past her stand at about 30 yards. She took a breath, and then she came to full draw.