The Scoop on Gravedigger

Travis Eckman

As seen on


As with many outdoorsmen in the Midwest, hunting the elusive whitetail deer is what drives my soul and provides the serenity and excitement that I look forward to year in and year out. Thousands of us outdoorsmen look to this special occasion as being our favorite time of the year and many of us travel immeasurable distances preparing immensely to provide what may become a “hunt of a lifetime.” The 2010 early bow hunting season was just that for me – the hunt of a lifetime!

Thursday, October 21st, 2010 presented a hunting opportunity that I could not resist. The 10 degree temperature drop was placed between two unseasonably warm October “lull” days. The west wind was mild and nothing less than perfect for the tree stand I’ve been saving for such an occasion. The stand was located off a ridge among a pinch-point between two standing corn fields. The area was loaded with a plethora of scrapes and rubs with bedding areas placed to my right and rear. My eagerness to hunt this area was enticed even more when I captured two trail cam pictures of a beast working a scrape 12 days prior.

My alarm clock needlessly blared at 5:00 a.m. – I was already awake with anticipation and excitement about the hunt on the 106-acre family farm in Trempealeau County. The early morning consisted of breakfast, showering with scent-free soaps and spraying all of my clothes and equipment with scent-eliminating spray. My plan was to be placed in my stand in the last dark morning hour to ensure I would be ready for what the daylight hours may bring. Daylight seemed to come early as the full moon was near. I had approximately 15 minutes to get to my stand before daybreak.

As I slowly crept toward my targeted stand, which was placed only 300 yards north of the farm buildings, the air brought with it the feeling of a great day to come. Roughly 225 yards into my hike, I quickly questioned my decision to get in the stand early during the darkened hour. I approached the hill that lead to my destination when suddenly I heard what sounded like a herd of cattle busting into the cornfield. The tall grass to my right was a known bedding area – it was holding deer, and they knew I was there! Disgusted with myself, I proceeded up the hill where, inconceivably, I jumped even more deer. This is where I wondered if I should even hunt the area or leave it for another day? Had I not been careful enough in my preparation with scent prevention?  Had I been too loud or did I walk too fast? Should I use my turkey call to mask the fact that it was a human that frightened them? It was then that I told myself to just hunt.

The options were to attempt reaching the stand I intended to hunt or to proceed to a closer stand that presented less risk. I opted for the latter and set up in a tree stand I call the “top stand” as it is located 40 yards into a natural wooded corridor on top of a ridge overlooking a heavily browsed mixed clover field. The morning sit proved to be slower than expected – aside from a yearling buck, two fawns, a curious raccoon, a surplus of squirrels and three large bearded turkeys.

As 11:00 rolled into view, the steady 11 mph west wind was in my favor, so I decided it was a good time to move to the stand I’ve been eager to hunt all week. The stand that I call the “corner stand” is only 70 yards south of my location when, you guessed it, I jumped more deer! Frustrated and questioning yet another one of my “not so brilliant” decisions, I reached my next site and got ready for what seemed like a pointless venture. Sitting and sickened, I contemplated returning to the house to get a bite to eat and to come back later with a full belly. I only brought water with me on the all day sit as I was anticipating being too busy watching all of the deer go by. I guess I didn’t want to take the chance of missing anything.

Deciding to “suck it up” and stay, I sprayed a bit of non-estrous doe pee in the corn field directly in front of me at a distance of 20 yards. The corner of the field displayed little standing corn as much of it was eaten and/or thrashed down by the animals. The next few hours seemed to go by at a turtle’s pace with little or no action – not even from the little critters that always seem to be active.

It was now 5:00 p.m., and my anticipation had heightened. The sun was setting over the ridge to my west, and the area was shadowed. The constant 11 mph west wind suddenly slowed to what seemed like no breeze at all. I was contemplating a blind grunt and rattle sequence when I heard movement to my left. It turned out to be a small buck working a scrape. The young whitetail crossed into the corn field and proceeded to munch on selected cobs directly in front of me for the next 10 minutes. As I watched the unknowing buck fill his belly, I heard a loud crashing through the corn field on my left. It was “Gravedigger!”

The majestic whitetail was nothing less than just that – majestic! His mammoth neck upheld his massive rack, and he seemed to march with a boastful pride of knowing that he was the king of the crops. I was able to calm my nerves and grab my gear when he worked a scrape that was worn only minutes earlier by the younger, less aggressive buck. Thankfully, the beast took the exact same path as the younger deer. As the giant made his way into the corn field, I was given the perfect opportunity to draw back my compound bow.

At 25 yards, I voiced a grunt in an effort to make him halt to a stop to ensure a clean shot. The bruiser did not flinch and kept moving. Another attempt brought nothing, and before I lost my chance, I roared another grunt as loud as I possibly could! He came to a broadside standstill as I let the arrow fly. The freak flinched, swirled around and traveled back to where he entered the field, subsequently traveling just short of 50 yards before thrashing to the ground. The deer lasted mere seconds after the double-lung death punch. Even though I heard my trophy expire, I wanted to make sure by giving him at least 30 minutes of time.

Up until that moment, I had kept my composure. Immediately, I called my mother and father to tell them the news. They were in a house less than 350 yards southwest of my location. As I was on the phone, my entire body started to shake and my whispers were mixed with loud screeches. “I got him!  I’ve got the big one! Send dad – no wait, don’t send dad yet. I need to make sure… I’ll call you back!”

The next 10 minutes were spent looking through my binoculars making sure what I thought had happened was a reality. The area he was in was not visible to me as I was blinded by a narrow, yet thick row of trees. I kept trying anyway. I’m surprised I didn’t fall out of the tree as I tried every angle possible to catch a glimpse. I lowered my bow, loaded and strapped my backpack and impatiently waited for the clock to roll.

As the time to fetch my game came closer, I was shocked to see I was surrounded by whitetails. The bucks were grunting and the does seemed to be playing seek and catch. Now what? I was going wild about getting my hands on the trophy. Shaking and doused with adrenaline, somehow, I waited for the next 30 minutes until the area cleared. Cautiously, I crept toward the animal that was facing me in the first row of corn less than 50 yards from the impact. “Gravedigger” was down!

When one looks at “Gravedigger,” it is hard not to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of his rack. His moose-like shovels at the end of his main beams and thick mass provided his name. He sported 25-inch main beams with a 21-inch inside spread. His 15 points were supported by his bases that are both thicker than his 5-inch circumference. He officially green scored 165 5/8 as a typical main frame eight. His gross non-typical scored well into the 170s.

With that being said, the score and splendor of this deer does not compare to the experience that he has given me. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to harvest him and share the experience. The dragging, pictures, sending and receiving calls and texts, and giving my buck a ride in the back of the truck proved to be nothing short of extraordinary. It’s fascinating to me how the harvest of an animal such as this can bring people together in high spirits to share stories and gratitude towards one another. The best part of the entire experience is being able to share it with family and friends. Being able to share this with my father, mother, relatives and friends has been an uplifting experience, and I thank them all for sharing with me my hunt of a lifetime.

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