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.”
Time: 5pm to dark
Conditions – Partly cloudy light wind out of the north, Temps mid to low 60s
After the excitement of Thursday evening, my anticipation to get back in my stand on my property was running pretty high. I unfortunately had to go out of town Friday through midday Saturday, so my next hunt would have to wait until Saturday evening, which just so happened to also be a good wind. The evening progressed very slowly. A few squirrels barked in the trees behind me, a decent amount of doves and geese flew out in front of me in the main field, but the deer remained fairly quiet. Around 6:45pm, I caught movement at the far end of the back field right around where you would normally enter the back field. I pulled up the binoculars, but was only able to see the back end of a deer moving towards the main field. Fortunately, I have a trail camera sitting right there, so I was later able to determine that it was the browtine-less buck from Thursday evening. After the deer disappeared, I began glassing the cut corn field in the distance and spotted between 5 or 6 deer feeding. They were probably either bedding in the nearby bean fields or my fencerow woods. Pretty soon darkness fell and it was time to call it a night.
Trail camera picture of the buck that I caught a glimpse of tonight
On Sunday, I came back over to the property to assess the deer activity and try to see if I could possibly identify trails that I had not seen in the summer months. A check of the cameras revealed quite the influx of deer activity from the previous week, especially on Thursday morning. Over the course of Thursday, I caught 6 different legal bucks on camera in various locations of the property. The best buck was an 8 point that I assume was the buck I saw running with the 9 point on Thursday, although he definitely looked bigger in person. The camera revealed a 13-14” 8 point with good point length. I think I got the 9 point on camera 20 minutes before the 8 point came through, but all you can see is the body of a decent-sized deer.
Another picture of the browless buck, who is making himself right at home
Additional scouting revealed two trails that I was unaware of that came from the area that I have deemed to be the “off-limits” bedding area on the western end of the property. I set up one of the trail cameras at the junction with my mowed path and decided to see what the results of that would hold at the end of this week. Neither trail was in a spot that would allow me to set up a treestand with good vision of both trails and the mowed path. I followed both new trails to see where they ended up and each of them seemed to end up in either the western edge of the back field, where you can enter the back field, or popped out in my main field just out of sight from my current stand. With this new information, I decided to put up a new hang-on stand where the road from the front field enters the back field. This stand will allow me to catch anything heading into the main field and anything that funnels from the back field to the main field. The only bad thing about this stand is I will have to expose myself to the main field when walking to and from it. I feel like today brought up more questions than answers. Hopefully I can pinpoint things before the rest of the neighboring corn gets cut. I have a feeling once that happens I will need to be pretty precise with every stand setup to avoid spooking deer.
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
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.
Weather: Partly Cloudy, Temperatures in the upper 30s
Wind: 5-15 mph out of the West
Time: Dawn – 7:45am
After the warm temperatures rolled in on Tuesday, I sat Wednesday and Thursday out. However, I got a report on Thursday that the bucks were moving and moving in a big way. While the forecast for Friday wasn’t ideal with midday winds in the teens, I knew that I had to go out. I could only hunt until 9am, so I could get to work in time, so I chose my hang-on in the middle of the property, which is the same stand as Day 2.
It was a fairly slow morning. The wind was blowing pretty hard right from the start. Fortunately, I had plenty of layers on so I was not worried about getting too cold. I scanned the area in front of me constantly hoping to spot movement. With the leaves mostly gone, I was now able to see a good 100 yards out in front of the stand. If anything was going to come up the hill, I was going to see it.
Around 7:40 I caught movement about 80 yards away on the main trail that eventually comes past my stand. I pulled up the binoculars and immediately recognized the rack and patches of missing fur on the back. It was the buck that I shot at on October 18th. I grabbed my bow and turned on the lumenock as he continued to close the gap. As he got into bow range, I soon realized that I was going to need him to pass my stand before I would be able to get a shot since he was quartering towards me. As he got behind a large double maple tree, I drew my bow. He walked past me without ever looking up. I slowly turned and positioned myself for when he hit my opening. As he entered the opening I made a grunt with my voice. He immediately stopped. He was quartering away pretty hard so I aimed around the middle of the body. Once I got my pinned settled, I released the arrow. I watched as the green lumenock went into the center of the body, out the other side and into the ground. I knew immediately that it was a good shot. He ran out across the trail that connects to the trail that he was on and dropped 60 yards from the shot. I didn’t know whether to be excited or relieved to have finally taken this buck after a long 21 days of pursuit. I gave him 30 minutes to ensure that he was down for good. In the meantime, I texted friends, family, and called off of work for the rest of the day.
I climbed down and found my arrow and noticed good blood on the arrow. I walked over and found him piled up. Now that I could see the rack up close I realized I had a little more history with this buck. He was the very first buck to show up on my trail camera back in August and it just happened to be right in front of the treestand I had just taken him from. Going back even further. I had scouted this spot hard since last December and hung this treestand in early July, because I was that confident that this was going to be a go-to spot this season.
Trail Camera Picture
After examining the antlers, I looked over the body to see how well I placed the shot. I noticed a patch of hair missing just behind the shoulder and another patch with fresh blood near the middle of the body. Then it hit me… The front mark was from my shot in October. Upon examining the insides I noticed that I had just barely clipped the back edge of both lungs from the October hit. There were small notches out of the lungs with black and blue marks around them. One inch to the left and I would have had a double lung hit and a dead buck in October. An inch or two to the right and I would have hit the liver. It is pretty remarkable how small the margin of error is in archery hunting. There has always been the debate about whether or not you can hit a deer in the vital area and not actually kill it. I think this proves that you can hit a buck in the lung area and not actually kill it.
The two hits – Which shot would you think was the fatal one?
While skinning the deer, I got to the area of the October hole exit and my knife hit something out of place. I pulled the skin down a little further and noticed a triangle under the skin. I dug around with my knife and pulled out half of one of my broadhead blades. Upon further examination, I noticed that my broadhead had hit a rib, broke the rib (that had since almost fulled healed), and either the blade wedged in the rib or broke off and caused the arrow to not pass through.
What are the chances of this ever happening? When I began this journal at the start of the season, I never could have thought that this sequence of events could have ever occurred. Now that my buck tag has been filled, it is time to chase turkeys and then begin my pursuit of my first deer with a flintlock rifle with my doe tags.
8 point with a 14″ spread