From Worst Season to Biggest Buck
Considering that my season probably should have been over on the very first day, it is crazy to me that it took twenty-eight hunts to finally score on a good buck. On the archery opener, I messed up badly on a very large buck by rushing my shot and hitting a small sapling. That error stuck with me through much of the season and was pretty difficult to get over. I spent most of October just trying to see one deer. The last week of October I finally found a well-used area and shot under a doe. I could not believe the luck that I was having this year given the amount of preparation and practicing that I do each year. I just kept messing up when the moment of truth came.
Finally on November 1st, I harvested a doe and it felt like my season was finally turning around. I was getting a ton of nice bucks on camera and figured it was only a matter of time until I connected on one. The rest of archery season came and went with my only shot opportunities being a couple different smaller six points. I did see three nice bucks, but they all stayed out of range. Finally on the last evening of the archery season, which I almost didn’t even go out due to being pretty burned out from hunting eleven of the final fourteen days of the season, I tried to hunt a stand that I have scouted hard for the last three years. However, when I got up to the stand, the lock I had on it was either rusted or frozen tight and I couldn’t get it off. Desperate to hunt the final hour or so of light, I rushed down the hill to another stand and climbed into it. I had not hunted this stand in a very long time, but I’ve always seen deer there. I watched a very nice seven point come up the hill, do a lap of the ridge then head back into the hollow. Then I watched a three point browse around. He eventually went up over the hill from me and out of sight. About five minutes after he disappeared, I caught movement over there again, but it didn’t quite look like the same deer. I pulled up the binoculars and saw one of the biggest sets of antlers that I have ever seen on this mountain. From the brief look I got of him in the binoculars, I figured it was a 140 inch 10 point for sure. I grunted as much as possible at him. Finally, he heard me and perked his head up, so I grunted again. I could tell he was interested so I kept going. He eventually worked to within 50 yards, but a doe that had come down the hill to my other side had his interests just a little bit more and he took off after her. Seeing that buck got the juices flowing and gave my season the shot of rejuvenation that it so desperately needed.
Now that I knew that buck was in there, he was all I could think about. Where did he come from? Was that where he was at all of the time or was he just cruising for does in the area? There are two major bedding areas between where I was hunting so I knew it had to be one of them. Thanks to an end of November snowfall, I was able to do some extensive scouting during Thanksgiving vacation. I determined that the deer were heading to both bedding areas in big numbers. I decided to hunt the lower one on opening day since that is typically where the pressured rifle season deer will re-locate.
Opening morning of rifle season I caught movement at first light directly in front of me. A long, hard look with the binoculars revealed a decent six point. I decided to stick to the plan and hunt for a big buck. That buck eventually made it up the mountain, where he crossed paths with my Dad, who was more than thrilled to harvest him. My day ended with me seeing thirty total deer, but no other legal bucks. I spent parts of the next five days in woods and the only buck that I saw was another young six point.
The second week of the season featured bad weather and too many work obligations to be able to get out. Finally with my required amount of hours in for the week, I was able to take off on Friday. The plan was to hunt a large tract of pines that borders several thickets where I always see deer late in rifle season. On Thursday morning, my hunting area received about three inches of snow, so that altered my game plan for the walk in. I arrived at my parking area thirty minutes earlier than normal and decided to scout on the way to my intended destination. I cut multiple deer trails that headed up the mountain as I walked out the ATV path. None of the trails were anything to get too excited about, so I continued on. I finally came to the trail that I was the most interested in seeing and even twenty yards away from the crossing I could see the kicked up snow. The trail was already down to the mud. There were a lot of deer using this trail to go up the mountain. I’ve been scouting this spot hard for three years and I knew exactly where the deer using this trail were heading. Right there and then the game plan changed. I walked the rest of the way out the trail and then took the long, steep trail to the top of the mountain.
I arrived at the top trail about twenty minutes before daylight. Once up there I could not believe the amount of deer tracks in the snow up there. I knew my chances of seeing a few deer today were looking good. I decided to head down the hill a little to an outcrop where I had had a hang-on stand two years ago, but never hunted due to harvesting a buck on opening day that year. I walked about five yards off the trail and found a large birch tree to stand behind that gave me incredible vision of the ridge below. I took off all of my gear, loaded my rifle and got ready for the day. I decided to stay standing until daylight just in case there was something down the hill.
As I waited for daylight, I stood behind the tree and played on my phone. Right as it started to get light out I heard a branch break below me. I put my phone in my pocket and immediately spotted a buck moving on the trail below me in the dim light. At fifty yards away and five minutes into legal shooting light, I didn’t even need the scope or binoculars to know that this was a definite shooter buck. I pulled up the scope and could see three large tines sticking up on his right side. That was all I needed to see to know that this was the buck I’ve been thinking about for the last month. I put the crosshairs on the shoulder and touched off a shot from my Remington model 700 300 win mag. The buck immediately dropped. I could not believe what had just happened. I immediately texted my Dad and several friends the best three letters in hunting, “B-B-D!”
Once I composed myself I made the steep, slick climb down the snow-covered hill. About 10 yards from the buck, I could see the massive rack sticking up from the ground. I was just speechless. I knew this would definitely be my best buck ever. I got down to him and admired the rack. I could not get over the sheer mass of the antlers. I had never seen anything like it. I tagged him, took a few pictures, send a few more texts, uploaded a photo to social media, and got him ready for the drag out. Once I got him to my parent’s house I put a tape measure to him and found out that he had an 18 ½” spread, 34” of antler mass, should gross score around 143 and net right around 138.
It’s hard to believe that after all of the hours of scouting and preparation and then the roller coaster ride that was this season, it was all over. This buck did not show up on any of my cameras and if it wasn’t for that rusty or frozen lock on the last day of archery, I would have never known this buck even existed. So as the old saying goes, “it only takes a second to change your season.”
2014 PA Archery Season Preamble
Bow season is almost upon us and the preparation for this season began the day after my buck hit the ground last season. I spent the whole day trying to figure out buck movements during the rut in areas that do not normally hunt. I ended up seeing nine different bucks, all but two of which were legal. This got the motor turning in figuring out what areas to focus on the rest of the fall and winter. I went back and checked the different trails about a half dozen times while out collecting maple sap and there were two spots that impressed me more and more each time out. In early spring, before the leaves showed up I found a few treestand worthy spots.
Around the same time, I had the opportunity to purchase a small chunk of woods and field in among thousands of acres of surrounding farm fields. I could not pass on the opportunity and on my second walk around the property I found out just how many deer frequent the small woodlot. After a little scouting and online research, I figured out that I had the only woods with a one-mile radius that were at least 50 yards wide. After talking with some of the neighboring landowners, I found out that once the fields get cut the deer use my property as their home base and there are normally anywhere between 8 and 20 deer in my field each evening. Once I closed on the property, I did a more in-depth scouting trip in the approximately seven-acre woodlot. I found multiple highway-esque trails, rubs, and even a shed from a decent two year old buck. Since then I have been monitoring the deer activity regularly. The deer were there most days while I planted fruit trees and corn, but as the neighboring corn fields grew, the amount of deer sightings decreased fairly quickly. I took that as an opportunity to carve out some new trails that all filtered right to a spot that I planned to put a treestand.
The layout of the new property
The winter deer sign
A look at my treestand tree without leaves
Starting in June, I ran two trail cameras in various locations throughout the property. The pictures showed a few resident deer that were calling my property home, along with the occasional visiting buck. In early-July, I hung a treestand that overlooks the back field along with a few heavy trails that are guided by an old cattle fence inside of the woods.
The best buck on the new property so far.
Once I felt comfortable with my strategies for my new property, I turned my focus to preparing the other area that I hunt. I took one walk to the various spots that I scouted in the fall and spring and identified the trees that would be the best for hanging my stands and what limbs would need to be trimmed.
In late-August, I hung my stands, trimmed my lanes and hung three cameras. I’ve decided to take a very light approach to scouting this year in an effort to reduce my scent in the areas. I waited until last week to finally check my cameras and was pleasantly surprised to find multiple shooter bucks and a curious bear in the area. One of the stands, I have not seen since the day that I hung it and should easily be my most productive stand. The spot features a large oak flat, where I’ve taken early season bucks in the past, and natural funnel that a large amount of does tend to use, which will eventually turn this into a gold-mine once the rut kicks in. This is the same general location that I harvested my 136” 8 point in 2009. So to say that I am pumped about this spot would be an understatement. However, the trail camera pictures from the spot that I harvested my buck from last year has me a little torn.
A couple of decent bucks and a bear:
I have also been pleasantly surprised to see deer activity starting to increase on my property as the area corn fields are cut. There are still a lot of fields left to be cut, so I expect the deer activity on my property to only increase as the season goes on.
It should be another exciting year of bowhunting as I take you along with me on the upcoming journeys. Good luck to everyone heading out!
@theoutdoorcpa on Twitter and Instagram for in-hunt pictures and posts.
Opening day of PA spring turkey season
Up until today, it has been a very quiet spring in the turkey woods. I had not heard a single bird in two scouting trips. I had planned on doing one final scouting trip on Friday morning, but a fairly painful sinus infection curbed that plan. Instead, I spent the day doing everything possible to feel better so I could go out today.
I had my alarm set for 4:30am, but oddly enough I woke up wide awake at 4:15am finally able to somewhat breath through my nose for the first time in three days. I figured that was good enough and got up, got ready, and headed out the door. I pulled into the parking area at 5am and was the first vehicle there. From there I made the 20 minute walk to the spot that I had planned to listen for gobbling birds. When I arrived at the spot, I pulled out my phone and typed up a Facebook post about it being opening day. Just as I hit the “post” button I heard my first two gobbles of the day up the hill. I put my phone away and began my trek up the mountain. As I closed in on the area that I figured they were roosted, I paused to listen for their next gobbles so I could position myself for a calling setup. Right on queue four birds sounded off, but instead of being a hundred or so yards out the ridge, they were about 200 yards straight up the hill on the very top of the mountain. My sinuses were already closing up and I could no longer breath out of my nose, but with multiple gobbling birds, I knew this would be my best chance at a bird today.
I took off up the hill, stopping occasionally to catch my breath and listen for gobbles. Every time the birds did not disappoint with each of the four birds gobbling at the same time. Just as I got to the last bench before the top of the mountain, I realized that there was no easy way to go straight up and instead would now have to rock hop the rest of the way up. Just as I got to the edge of the top, I realized I was inside of one hundred yards of the closest bird. I found a tree and began to get set up. No sooner did get my face mask on and I could hear the birds pitching off of the roost. They flew further out the mountain, but having deer hunted this area countless times over the years, I could tell they were still on the bench. My new plan was to head over the top, circle around them and try to cut them off before they got to the top. Just as I got up to the very top, the birds sounded off again, only this time I could tell they had moved up the hill and we’re heading to the top.
My new new plan was to try to get myself to the edge of an opening that I new was up ahead. As I was about twenty yards from the spot, three birds gobbled. This time they were definitely on top and getting closer to my location. I did not want to risk spooking them, so I looked for the closest tree and plopped down. I replaced my orange hat with a camouflage face mask and hat. Then turned on my go pro camera and put that on top of my hat. I placed my H.S. strut “Raspy Old Hen” call in my mouth, took a deep breath and made my first call. The birds did not respond. However, thirty seconds later they gobbled again from the same location as before. I decided to call again figuring that my first call may have been too soft. I made a much louder call and they responded immediately, including a fourth bird that was down the mountain in the area near where I had just come from to get here. Now that I knew that they knew I was there, I would let them come find me. They continued to gobble as they got closer and closer until the gobbling stopped getting closer and the birds hung up in the opening that I was trying to get to earlier. I waited them out for another five minutes before deciding that I needed to make another call or they could move away from me. I turned my head, facing the opposite direction, put hand over my mouth to make my sound like it was coming from behind me, and made a soft call. All three birds responded immediately. Thirty seconds later I could hear them walking out in front of me. I got ready for them to appear and lined my eye up with the bead on the end of my barrel. I could hear them fanning out and spitting as they got closer. Finally, a red head appeared 30 yards in front of me in an opening. I could see a good beard on him and knew that was enough for me to see. I sent a load of hevi-shot 6 shot his direction and he went right down. I darted over to the bird and watched the other two gobblers fly down the mountain. As I was filling out my tag, I could hear several gobbles down the mountain in different areas, including right around where I had originally stopped to listen (it figures). I noted their location in hopes of locating one of those birds for tag #2.
My 6th spring gobbler in 6 years using the “Raspy Old Hen.” This bird went 18lbs with a 10″ beard and 3/4″ spurs. Unfortunately, the video from the Go-Pro did not turn out too well due to a poor angle, low lighting, and the cameras inability to pick up sound at a distance. Still an extremely exciting opening day!
Good luck to everyone venturing out this spring.
PA Spring Gobbler Opener
When the alarm sounded off at 4:30am, I found no problem getting out of bed as I anticipated the morning ahead. I gathered all of my gear, loaded it into the truck, and then headed for my spring gobbler area. I arrived to the parking area around 5:15am and noticed that I was the first person to arrive. I decided to head to a spot where I had heard a bird sounding off a few days earlier. I arrived to my listening area about 1 mile from the truck just as the daylight began to appear. I no sooner sat down on my usual log when the sound that I had longed to hear that morning could be heard and heard often. I quickly moved down the mountain trail and closed to within 100 yards of the gobbling bird. I set up underneath a large oak tree that had excellent vision in front of it. The bird continued to sound off as I put on my gloves and facemask. Once fully set up, I pulled out my Ring Zone slate call and made a few soft yelps. The bird sounded off in response. He now knew right where I was located. I decided to set the call down and wait to see what he did once he flew down. Within 2 minutes of making my call, the woods went silent as the bird apparently had flown down and found some real hens to accompany him. I sat at the spot for another hour as I made a few more calls and watched a curious raccoon climb a nearby tree.
I moved down the trail in the direction of where the bird had been roosted, when I could hear the faint sound of a bird gobbling on a property that I did not have access to hunt. However, PA State Game Lands border the property on the very top of the mountain. My new plan was to circle up to the top of the mountain and work my way out to where I figured the bird was hanging out. I made the 3/4 of a mile hike to the top of the mountain, where I could pick up the State Game Lands trail that goes out across the top. Just as I arrived at the top I watched a few deer feed in front of me. While watching them I decided that I would go down over the other side of the mountain to see if there were any birds hanging on that side. Once the deer moved out of sight, I walked down over the mountain and found a nice area to make a few locator calls. I slipped the HS Strut Raspy Old Hen call into my mouth and directed my first call towards my left. Silence… I then turned to my right and started with a few purrs then just as I got into my yelps, I was cut off by sound of a red hot gobbler that couldn’t have been more than 80 yards away. I found the closest tree and quickly got set up. About two minutes after getting fully set up I figured I would give another call to let the bird know that I was still here and to see if he had closed the distance. I got the call positioned in my mouth when I spotted a turkey fan spinning around about 50 yards away. At that point I moved the call to the side of my mouth because I would not need to make another call. The bird continued to close in fanning out, strutting, spitting, and drumming. Whenever he would get to full strut, he would do a 360 degree spin as he looked for the hen that he thought he had heard. He continued to close the gap and got to about 20 yards into a clear opening. I decided that as soon as he broke strut I would send a shot in his direction. After making another spin, he broke strut and began acting as if he were no longer interested in finding the hen. I knew it was now or never so I sent the 3 1/2″ Hevi 13 5 shot in 2 1/4 oz from my Remington 870 Super Magnum his direction. The shot found its mark and the bird piled up. When I got over to him I knew that this could very well be my best bird to date. I filled out my tag, loaded him into my vest, and began the 1 mile trek back to the truck.
4th gobbler in 4 years for the Raspy Old Hen.
10 1/2″ beard, 1″ broken spurs (downside of hunting turkeys in rocky terrain), and 20lb 6oz, which is more than enough to make this my best gobbler. Now it’s time to see if I can fill tag number two.
New additions to the house
Having a harvested animal mounted is not only a trophy on the wall, but also a preservation of the memories experienced during a particular hunt. Memories that will last a lifetime. Today I added my 2008 New York 6 point and 2009 Pennsylvania 8 point to the collection (The slow turnaround time is due to my Dad, who is an amateur taxidermist with little spare time, doing the work).
To some the 6 point wouldn’t be a trophy at all because he only scored in the 90s, but to me the experience of the hunt was enough reason for me to have it mounted. That weekend I had the privilege to hunt and spent quality time with my cousin, who I don’t get to see often enough. The first day and a half of the 3 day hunt were pretty rough with 30+ mph winds and heavy rains. During the 2nd evening of the hunt, I had the honor of being on the farm when my cousin harvested her first buck. For as much time as she had put into hunting over the years, it was incredible to finally see her connect. Since she was tagged out, she then offered her stand to me for the following morning. After two challenging/frustrating hunts in the area of the farm that I was hunting, I decided to take her up on her offer.
The opening weekend of the New York gun season just happened to fall during the peak of rut in 2008. The morning was cold and frosty as I sat bundled 16 feet up a split oak tree in my cousins’ stand. One hours into daylight I spotted a doe moving behind me. Even though I had a doe tag, I decided to hold off to see what the rest of the morning would hold. A few minutes later I notice two deer moving 100 yards to my left through the brush. Upon further inspection with my binoculars, I noticed antlers on both of them. There was just too much brush in the way to even consider a shot. I decided to go for broke and use my “can” bleat call. On the first turn of the “can” they both stopped. On the second turn, the smaller of the two turned and started heading towards me. He was only a 5 point, so I wasn’t too anxious to take him if he were to give me an opportunity. Once he started coming, the other buck came trotting through the brush to about 75 yards where I could clearly make out that it was a very wide rack, but could only make out 6 points. The 5 point paused at about 80 yards and would stay there for the rest of the hunt. The bigger buck started shredding every piece of brush in sight, followed by a few grunts. I sat in the stand anxiously awaiting a shot opportunity. While watching the show he was putting on, I suddenly realized the doe from earlier was 10 feet from my tree heading towards the bigger buck. As she moved closer, he turned and started to head towards her. He went about 5 yards, hit an opening in the brush, turned, and started wreaking havoc on the brush again. I knew this was my chance for a shot, so I slowly raised my TC Omega to the railing, cocked the hammer, and found his shoulder. After the smoked cleared, I could tell the Powerbelt bullet had done its job. The buck went 20 yards and crashed. After texting my cousin to tell her I had got one, the celebration was on. Once she arrived, we both walked over and admired the deer. In my eyes, the score of this buck is irrelevant, because you can’t put a score on a memory like this one.