As a Pennsylvania whitetail hunter, you just don’t expect to shoot a Boone and Crockett deer. Pennsylvania is far from both Iowa and Wisconsin, but since the state implemented an antler point restriction in 2002, it feels like that distance has closed, at least, in the deer woods.
Still, in this state, you don’t much plan for Booners, especially public land Booners, which made my dad’s five-year hunt for this 170-inch giant all the more unique and meaningful.
A young 10-point buck showed up on one of my dad’s trail cameras in 2016. It was summer, and the deer had a lot of potential. Every summer, he would show up once or twice and then disappear again. Every year, he got bigger and bigger. Joe Martonik, my dad, would shift trail cameras, but as soon as fall came, he’d vanish. My dad would hike around and look for his sheds in the spring but never found much. Then, in 2021, everything changed.
“Great, he’s still alive!” my dad shouted. “The trail camera picture I got in July was the first I got of him since last year during the same timeframe. This is the year I need to figure out where he goes once he sheds his velvet.”
The now heavy, main-framed 11-point specimen had more abnormal points than we could count, and he soon started popping up in trail camera pictures. My dad knew this was the season. He dedicated every day to finding and hunting this deer he named Stickers.
One thing that helped locate Stickers was that my dad knew where he wasn’t living. We had five years of camera data and long days in treestands to know where he wasn’t going to be. So, my dad went to the ground. Still hunting means moving at a painfully slow pace with the wind in your face; it can double as a scouting mission.
Early in the season, while still hunting an area more than a mile from where he got summer photos of Stickers, my dad jumped a giant buck from his bed inside an old logging cut. He placed multiple trail cameras surrounding the spot but had no luck over the next few weeks. He didn’t capture a photo of a single deer. It was time to shift tactics again.
Going to the Ground
“I’ve been able to kill many bucks on the ground over the years by still hunting,” my dad explained. “My grunts and bleats sound more realistic because they’re at ground level. In addition to calling, I like rustling the leaves and breaking branches, which mimics another deer. Still hunting is a tactic that seems like a lost art and allows for me to effectively scout while hunting.”
Inside another old logging cut on a still-hunting mission, my dad located an enormous, car hood–size community scrape along with a thumb-size licking branch snapped at a 90-degree angle. Within a couple of days, Stickers showed up in the final moments of shooting light while my dad was hunting in a different area. It was Oct. 23.
A few days later, we went in and hung a treestand 25 yards from the scrape in a spot where multiple trails intersected. On Oct. 27, walking into the stand in the afternoon, dad jumped a yearling doe and followed up with a grunt. Stickers showed up immediately after. He weaved in and out of the beech thicket while chasing a doe. My dad went to full draw but couldn’t get a clean shot.
He assumed the jig was up. Stickers was on to him. He kept moving cameras and still hunting areas where does liked to bed. Stickers stayed tight to this core area, only walking in front of the cameras under cover of darkness.
On Nov. 12, while still hunting a logging cut, my dad pulled out his grunt tube to give a few calls. Suddenly, Stickers appeared under some hemlock trees. He was coming right toward him. Dad drew his bow back; Stickers changed direction and moved off the line to the call. Dad knew he had the wind. Maybe a hot doe was pulling on him? Stickers disappeared. Dad followed his tracks some, then heard a deep grunt and a roar.
“Shit! It was obvious he wasn’t spooked by me, but I couldn’t tell if he didn’t see what he wanted to see after hearing my call or if he got the scent of a doe he was trailing and moved along.”
My dad worked his way back to the encounter location and climbed a tree with his Tethrd saddle and sticks, only to hear the unmistakable sound of bells — a bird dog. The dog and hunter worked right under his tree until the hunter noticed him, waved, and went back in the direction he had come from. The following day, he sat in the tree from dark to dark. I texted him that night, asking him how his hunt went.
“Nothin…” is all he wrote.
Stickers Runs Out of Luck
The morning of Nov. 14 was cold. My dad got in his tree and …
“I heard a grunt that sounded like the deep sound I heard just a few days earlier,” my dad reminisced. “I immediately responded with a series of aggressive grunts. In what felt like an eternity, but was, in reality, was only a few minutes, a large body appeared under the hemlock branches about 60 yards in front of me to my left. It ended up only being a doe followed by another doe on the same path. Both disappeared into the thick beech brush and hemlock canopy.
“I grunted again and waited. Minutes later, the does come busting out of the beech thicket at about 50 or 60 yards and ran into another thicket to my right. Shortly after, Stickers appeared and ran in front of me, disappearing into the same thicket.
“Silence… I grunted again. The does came back out of that thicket and ran in front of me at a mere 35 yards this time. I used my rangefinder to get an idea of shot distances at first light. I frantically tried to adjust in my saddle to shoot off of the ‘weak side,’ anticipating that Stickers would follow. My lack of experience in a saddle had me panicking about making the shot happen. But I didn’t have much time.
“Stickers appeared on the path of the doe and stopped about 10 feet short of my shooting lane. As soon as he started moving again, I went to full draw. Once he hit the opening and crossed into my sight picture, I executed the shot.”
The shot felt great, but my dad didn’t hear the deer crash, which was worrisome. Doubt started creeping in as he saw hair lying on the log below where Stickers had been standing. The does he was chasing showed up again, but there was no Stickers.
There were low odds that he would’ve left those does if the shot had been a miss. After two hours, my dad got out of the tree and carefully recovered the dark-colored bloody arrow. Based on the color of the blood, he assumed it was a liver hit and slowly crept out of there to meet me.
“I was texting people and searching on Google for ‘dark blood-covered arrows’ to try to figure out where the impact of the arrow was,” he said. “Everything I read showed either liver or muscle wound. With that thought, my mind immediately turned to the worst-case scenario, and I worried about a low muscle hit. Recalling the shot, I watched the lighted nock hit further back than I would’ve liked but had trouble telling where it went up or down.
“That’s where my first thought of liver came into play. Beau and my brother, Mike, reassured me that where I thought the arrow went sounded promising, and after looking at the arrow, the deer would be dead. It was just a matter of time.”
After a liver hit, it’s best to wait at least six hours before taking up the trail to make sure that the buck expired. Just under the six-hour mark, snow started blowing in fast and hard, so we began blood trailing. It didn’t take long to realize that the dark blood on the arrow was only dark because it had dried. The leaves we were seeing showed a lung hit with frothy, bubbly, bright red blood.
Within about 80 yards of the shot, my dad yelled, “There he is!”
The shot he took ended up being slightly quartering away, which is why my dad assumed he’d hit the liver. In reality, it was a double-lung shot that most likely killed Stickers in a matter of seconds.
After dragging the deer back to the truck, we went to our family camp, where we celebrated with many drinks with good friends and family. The camp road was buzzing with truck traffic full of hunters wanting to see Stickers.
The next day, my dad was already back in the woods checking his other cameras and trying to find Stickers’ shed antlers from the previous year. That pretty much sums up his love and dedication to hunting big woods whitetails. No one deserved this opportunity at a once-in-a-lifetime mountain buck more than my dad.