A model sportsman is distinguished on the odd day when something goes wrong and he must make it right.
The Internet was buzzing in whitetail circles last week as a photo circulated of Colville-area bowhunter Jim Ebel with a buck speculators rumored to be world class.
“It’s not that big,” he said, chuckling at how the story grew. But the rack has a gross score of about 186, which still ranks as huge and certainly one of the largest whitetails taken in Washington this year.
“This is my biggest buck and I’ve been bowhunting since I was 14,” he said. “I climbed a tree and sat on a branch on that first hunt in Wisconsin. No tree stand. I just sat in the tree.”
Ebel, 59, who retired as the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department’s Colville Fish Hatchery manager in 2009, has been bowhunting in Washington and Idaho since 1987.
“A buck like this is in every bowhunter’s dreams, but I didn’t know this one existed,” he said. “I don’t do a lot of baiting and remote camera stuff. Mostly, I sit on a scrape in a place I know they like to run.”
One of his favorite spots is in Ferry County. “It had been logged and some of it sold off and there were more people in the area,” he said. “I’d become disenchanted; left it alone for five years.”
But he got nostalgic this year for the area at the edge of private land and the Colville National Forest. “The landowner gave me permission to go through his place and set up for Thanksgiving morning,” he said. “I saw very little activity other than a spike and a litte two-point pushing each other around. Nothing was working the scrapes.”
Two days later, he returned. “Conditions were ideal,” he said, noting the inch of new snow. “The mist from my breath went straight up in the air from my tree stand. No wind. You could hear a pin drop.”
About 7:15, he heard hooves running on frozen ground and two deer sprinted over a rise.
“The doe’s head was low and she was running for all she was worth,” he said. “I’ve never seen a deer running faster in my life, and a buck was on her tail. I didn’t get a good look other than when she would dodge he would mirror every turn and move.”
Ebel sat still as the deer thundered into brush behind him: “The buck was grunting and did a snort wheeze – only the second time I’ve heard it in my life.”
A nice five-by-five buck also was in the chase, but it stopped 20 yards in front the Ebel. “He was watching the show I could hear going on behind me,” he said.
The five pointer would have been a gimme, but Ebel would sooner go home with an unnotched tag than give up a chance to at least see the buck commanding the action behind him.
“Thank God the buck in front finally moved after 20 minutes. I lifted one cheek enough to let blood into my left leg. It was going to sleep and I was aching.”
But the drama was far from over.
Soon a small buck came in with its tail up as a warning flag and faced off with a coyote. The coyote decided to move out, but the smaller buck was on high alert.
Credit Ebel for taking a stand in a productive spot because minutes later a spike came to the scrape under his tree blind.
“Then I saw the doe moving around toward the little buck. I figured a bigger buck isn’t going to stand for that and sure enough, out he came.
“His rack didn’t look real. It was way too big. The eye guards really stood out, 8 or 9 inches tall. It was so cool.”
Ebel was patient, letting the big buck work into range as it focused on the spike. When he came broadside at 30 yards, Ebel let his arrow fly.
“Unfortunately, just as I released the buck took off toward the doe,” he said. “I missed my mark a little and hit the shoulder as he quartered away. Off he went.”
Ebel followed bowhunter protocol and waited for a long while before following the buck into the thick creek bottom.
“It wasn’t bleeding much and a swing mark in the tracks indicated his leg was bad. I called my friend Tim Vaughn. We’ve helped each other in tough situations for years and I knew I’d need help.”
Vaughn arrived within two hours with Trenton Welton and the three men followed the buck through a jungle of brush for five hours.
“I’d loop around and try to get in front of the buck and block it as Tim tracked it,” Ebel said. “At 2 p.m. we were losing snow and the buck wasn’t bleeding anymore. Tim did a great job tracking. We’d jumped the buck 10 different times, but we never lost the track. That was the key.”
The exhausted whitetail with a shattered shoulder finally lay down long enough for Ebel to deliver the coup de grâce.
“You don’t see deer like that much less get a chance to put one on your wall,” he said of the gruelling day.
In some parts of country, he says, big bucks are known, photographed, scored on the hoof, catalogued, perhaps nutrition-boosted and maybe even given a name.
“I hate those hunting shows where the hunters know the deer are coming to their cameras. They’re all the same,” he said.
“It’s not like that here. Even the guys who put out cameras and bait eventually will see a monster nobody’s ever seen.”
Ebel said he doesn’t need bait or remote cameras to know trophy bucks are in his neck of the woods.
“I hunt because I love hunting, not necessarily killing,” he said. “The possibilities are what keep me going.”