Everything went south as Tracy Groves settled into his tree stand at Liberty Reservoir.
First, he broke two calls on the climb. Then the late-afternoon breeze shifted and pushed his scent into the line of fire. Another hunter tried to set up 50 yards away. Finally, a jogger crossed beneath him.
"I debated whether to get down or stay," he said. "Then I said to myself, `You know what, I'll just sit here and enjoy the evening,' and I started making business calls."
It's a good thing he waited.
As the sun was setting, a 12-point buck sauntered out of the underbrush 22 feet below Groves and 5 yards out.
"I was going nuts," Groves said, replaying the moment from Nov. 9. "I didn't get to watch him long. I knew if I spooked him, I'd never see him again."
The shot was difficult, with a small tunnel of clearance among the evergreens.
The hunter drew his bow and released. The arrow ran true.
"If I had jerked the bow or torqued, he would have been gone," Groves said. "I didn't."
The Eldersburg resident got his trophy, a 4 1/2 -year-old buck that weighed 200 pounds, 163 pounds field-dressed.
"That's a lot of burgers," the father of two said.
It's a lot of bragging rights, too, and Groves deserves it.
Even though he's just 39, he's one of those old-school hunters who scouts for months before the season, looking for rubs on trees and other signs of deer activity. He marks potential hot spots on a 3-by-4-foot map he keeps in his basement.
As the season nears, he revisits those rubs to see if the deer are still hanging around.
"If I have a spare hour in June, July or August, I'm out in the woods, looking and learning. There's nothing more rewarding than hunting a deer you scouted and you set the stand for," he said. "You played the whole game."
Groves, who works at Bass Pro Shops Outdoors World, prefers hunting public land, even though he admits it's tougher than having a pre-arranged spot on private property.
In 22 years, he has killed 115 deer with a bow and arrow, 25 of them last year. When the family freezer reaches capacity, Groves helps fill the freezers of charities and food pantries, such as Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry.
Groves said he belongs to the hunting group, "Heart of the Outdoors," whose motto is, "Success is not found in the size of the animal. Success is found in the heart of the hunter."
It's a philosophy he's trying to instill in his young daughters as they learn to hunt.
"I've told them, `If a guy shoots a spike [buck] and it's his first deer, he's just as excited as I was with this one,' " he said.
Groves said he'll be back out in the woods the rest of the season, continuing to sharpen his skills.
"The question is, `Where do you go from here?' " he said, a smile spreading across his face. "That's what I've been asking myself. ... I'll just have to set a higher goal."
Maryland hunters killed 23,428 deer during the early bow, crossbow and muzzleloader hunting seasons in September and October, an increase of 1.4 percent over the same period last year.
The Department of Natural Resources said bow hunters took 3,173 antlered deer (65 sika) and 6,319 antlerless deer (86 sika) during the Sept. 15-to-Oct. 28 season. Crossbow hunters killed 252 antlered deer (eight sika) and 510 antlerless deer (four sika) during their season, Sept. 30 to Oct. 14.
During the October muzzleloader season, hunters killed 13,174 deer - 4,814 antlered deer (243 sika) and 8,360 antlerless deer (150 sika) - a 1 percent decrease from last year.
Fall turkey hunters reported taking 205 wild turkeys in the three western-most counties during the one-week season that ended on Nov. 4. The total is 50 percent greater than the 2005 harvest of 137 turkeys.
Allegany and Garrett counties had harvests of 80 turkeys each; Washington County had 45 turkeys reported. DNR attributes the success to good weather and above-average reproduction last summer.
The weather for the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association 14th Annual Chesapeake Bay Fall Tournament on Sunday was right out of Gilligan's Island. The "tiny ship was tossed" part, not the "uncharted desert isle" part.
Organizers pegged the southerlies at 15 to 20 knots, with whitecaps running 2 to 5 feet high.
Craig Teuber of Annapolis took first place and $5,888 with a 47-inch striped bass. Teuber caught the fish while trolling a tandem parachute rig in 70 feet of water near Buoy No. 78.
But because of the side bets - or skill levels, as tournament types call them - Teuber didn't win the most money.
Wilson Ford of Pasadena took third place and $8,815 in prize and skill-level money with a 42 1/2 -inch striper. Second place and $8,373 went to Matt Marlowe of Huntington, who caught a 43 1/4 -inch striper while trolling near Point Lookout.
4-H Turkey Shoot
When something has been around for more than 35 years, it takes more than monsoonal rains to keep folks away. Sixty or so marksmen and archers showed up last Sunday at Buz Meyer's nature preserve in Anne Arundel County for the annual 4-H Turkey Shoot.
In the archery division, the winners were: Harry Slattery of Severna Park (ages 11-13); Danielle Kahler of Pasadena (ages 14-18); and Mary Thomas of Pasadena (adult women).
The winners in the .22-caliber rifle contest were: Michael Anderson of Millersville (ages 8-10); Jonathan Nichols of Glen Burnie (ages 11-13); William Reece of Harmans (ages 14-18); Sharon Anderson of Gambrills (adult women); and Mark Hartley of Glen Burnie (adult men).