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.”