2017 – October 19 – 9 pt.
It was October 19th and I had not yet hunted any of my locations in southern Michigan but had hunted 4 times up north by home and had one nice 8 point pass by me at 6 yards while moving along the edge of a standing cornfield heading to the apple tree I was perched next to in my sling. The great thing about hunting along standing corn during early season and into the lull is that the hunts don’t in any manner interfere or effect my rut phase hunting locations that I don’t hunt until the pre-rut phase which begins in late October.
The October lull was winding down and in the previous 2 days I had a couple friends tell me that they had seen mature bucks chasing does and that meant that in some areas there were some does entering their estrus cycles a bit earlier than when the majority of does do during peak rut, which is normal.
It was still too early however to hunt my best 2 spots up north as I typically begin hunting them around October 25th, so I planned an evening hunt and the plan was to check a secondary location at the back of a standing cornfield that had two scrapes opened up during my pre-season speed tour. I had gone in to hunt this location earlier in the season but the scrapes had become inactive so I went elsewhere, if they were active now, I would hunt there. I would also carry my hip boots and if the scrapes were inactive, cross a nearby river with them and hunt a tree 15 yards from its bank.
Neither location is a destination feeding location but rather secure transition routes from different bedding areas to the same standing cornfield. One transition route leads to the cornfield from the east and the other from the south after it crosses the river and continues about 30 yards through tall marsh grass before butting up to the standing cornfield edge. With my scent control regimen wind direction is irrelevant and of no concern so either location would be fine.
After dressing in my mini-van I grabbed my hip boots and headed through the standing corn perpendicular to the rows towards the large red oak that bordered the cornfield and swamp to the east. It was windy enough to mask my noise of walking through the corn and early enough that I kept my eye out for bedded deer within the rows and about halfway through I saw a big doe securely bedded down a row about 15 yards away. Don’t know what it is about the intrigue of standing corn but it’s always cool to see deer comfortably bedded in it and I watched her for a few moments before moving on.
As I neared the oak the corn began to get a bit sparse as the deer and raccoons had it eaten down pretty good. Once at it the scrapes were still inactive so it was time for plan B. I walked south down the edge of the cornfield and when it turned west I went straight and over the slight bank and through the tall marsh weeds to the river. After changing into my hip boots I crossed the 40 foot wide shallow river and then put my Muck boots back on and folded the hip boots over and laid them under a log next to the river.
While the walk to my tree was only 15 yards, I saw 3 fresh runway scrapes on the main runway to the east of the multi-trunked maple I would be perched in. I had hunted this free permission property for 11 seasons and in all those years there had never been scrapes in this area. This area consisted of about 4 acres of nasty dense bedding area to the southeast and timber with dense understudy and deadfalls to the southwest and the river to the north of them where I was at ran east/west.
I prepared this particular maple in March because over the years these bedding areas were getting denser and attracting and holding more deer and there was a well-used runway 12 yards to the east of it that ran directly south between the 2 bedding areas. When I walked that runway in the spring there were small secondary runways from both bedding areas that fed into it and it continued north to the river and across into the crop field. The maple location was perfect for several reasons. I can access it through the field for an evening hunt without spooking deer, as long as the field is in standing corn I can exit through it without spooking deer, and I wouldn’t intrude with either bedding area because it’s along the river’s edge.
It was a beautiful evening for being on a lake somewhere getting a tan as the temperature was 71 degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I was set-up early enough to take a quick nap, so while nicely perched in my sling, I did just that for about half an hour.
At 4:40 I heard something moving to the south and within moments a big doe came into view and ran by down the 12 yard runway, crossed the river, ran through the 30 yards buffer of tall marsh grasses on the other side and into the standing corn without stopping. She had no fawns with her and I’ve been hunting long enough to know that mature does without fawns are much too cautious to randomly run through areas with reckless abandon unless being chased by something.
While I never expect much action this early in the season or this early on an evening hunt by a mature buck in a pressured area, just to blow my expectations, sure enough a mature buck was in pursuit. Other than noticing he had a descent rack, he didn’t give me any time to scrutinize its size. He approached rapidly and came to an abrupt stop at one of the scrapes. When he stopped so abruptly I couldn’t help but notice his mass of muscles and fat jiggle on his big body.
I had taken my Mathews bow off its hanger and when he momentarily stopped to scent check the scrape he was slightly quartering away. I came to full draw and released the G5 Striker that was attached to a Maxima Red arrow. The hit was perfectly placed about 6 inches behind the shoulder which would angle the arrow right thought the boiler room.
He turned and ran back along the same runway and then broke east and went into the more dense area of brush, tall weeds, briars and deadfalls. It was so early that I went back to my van and took off my ScentLok clothing and changed into some lighter stuff and called a couple buddies to help me get him out. One of them didn’t own waders so he waited by the cornfield with the versa-cart until we hopefully found him and brought him back across the river.
Although he traveled a couple hundred yards before expiring, it only took about 10 minutes to find the 9 point as my 2 year old grandson could have followed his blood trail. Body wise he was big and was at least a 3 ½ year old and in that area not many bucks survive to reach that age bracket but he was a little light on the antler side which is also normal for northern Michigan’s sandy soil areas. This was one of those times when as a hunter I had to make a snap decision between age criteria and antler criteria and this time age won out.
Sadly I have to admit that when I walked up to this beautiful buck that I was taken by his body size but was a bit disappointed in his antler size. What an ungrateful soul I can be as sometimes I tend to forget what hunting is all about and how thankful I should be. It was a great hunt and I needed to be kicked, slapped, punched or had a serious talking to and the property owner was obliging to do so, talking to that is.
2001 State land 8 point
This was likely the strangest kill I’d ever had because it all happened in 4 days.
It was October 12th, 2001 and I was driving southwest down an Interstate Highway for a 9am morning appointment at Lunker’s which was a large independent sporting goods retailer in southern Michigan. As always during season, my attention was partially focused on driving and primarily on looking out the window for deer. At 7:48 (I looked at my watch) I noticed a large deer with its head down moving south along the fence that bordered the northbound lane highway from the private ground to the east. The fencerow had a lot of tall weeds and brush along it and I just happened to be looking as he passed through a gap in the brush.
Instinctively I laid on the horn to get it to raise its head and to my pleasant surprise it was a very nice buck, sometimes timing is everything. I wished I had my fish finder with a GPS so I could just hit the mark waypoint button, but my mini-van isn’t equipped for that so I wrote down the number of the next mile marker and made a mental note to see about acquiring permission to bowhunt on my way back through.
It was near noon when I returned and took the exit about half a mile north of where I saw the buck. I stopped at the stop sign at the end of the exit ramp and casually turned to the east with every intention of driving around the section looking for a house that would appear to belong to that property, knock on their door for permission, and be refused. After all that is the typical mantra in Michigan so I was accustomed to it, but you never know until you ask.
Within 200 yards from turning off the ramp I had to take a second look before I could believe my eyes. There were state land signs all along the south side of the road which is the property I saw the buck on. To say the least I was shocked because there is very little public land in that area. I’d hunted on 13 different parcels of public land on the other side of the state and up north, but never on the west side of the state.
During season I always carry a freelance fanny pack full of steps so I can prepare a new location for my harness so now all I had to do was look and bear my mini-van to the right to locate one of the guard railed off, state public land parking areas. Almost exactly straight across the section from where I saw the buck along the highway was a parking lot and I couldn’t help but notice how muddy and in disarray the parking area was from so much hunting traffic. There were two trucks in the lot, but being a believer that you never know what to expect until you check it out I put on my loaded freelance fanny pack, grabbed a long bladed camp hand saw and an extension saw and took off through the woods.
Thank god there are no ATVs allowed beyond the parking lot as only halfway through the mile deep section, the sign of human activity dwindled dramatically. I saw several stands within that first half mile of the parking lot, but saw none across the section as I approached the highway.
Sometimes I wonder in circumstances like this why so many hunters don’t venture very deep into a mere one mile section of basic timber. Also why do so many hunters avoid hunting near a main road or highway when the first hundred yards along them can be such hot spots because they are overlooked by others? Mature bucks are phenomenal at locating voids in hunter activity and making them permanent daytime security haunts.
Hunters will hunt along a lane or two-track through the woods, but will shy away from major automobile traffic zones assuming the traffic spooks the deer. This assumption is false and allows bucks to grow to maturity. Deer grow accustom to the sounds of constant traffic and if there is adequate cover will take up daytime residency very close to major highways. I’ve taken several book bucks within short distances of roads and highways.
With the mile long march back to where I spotted the buck behind me, I began walking along the brush lined fence the buck was traveling down in the morning. After covering less than 100 yards the big buck from the morning stood up in a small patch of tall weeds, looked at me for a mili-moment and then casually bounded off into the nearby timber. He was a nice 8 point and the small patch of weeds he was bedded in was surrounded by some red brush and was right next to the fence not forty yards from the busy expressway.
A quick inspection revealed a lot of white belly hair in the bed and the weeds were matted down, so this was his main bedding location for this time of season. It was obvious that even though I was on public land in a very heavily pressured public land area, no hunters had walked along this fencerow. There were no trees big enough to hunt from and a ground blind would have been visible from the highway, so I headed to the nearby timber in hopes of locating his route with some signposts along it. I didn’t walk 150 yards before finding “the spot”. From the tree I chose to prepare there were seventeen rubs and ten scrapes within shooting distance. This was likely the most active primary scrape area I’d ever seen so early in the season and I almost felt like I was cheating as this was unfolding way too easily for public land.
The tree I chose was only eight inches in diameter at the twenty eight foot height I would hunt at, but it was the only tree within shooting distance of all the scrapes and with my sling, and tree works. On short-term hunts, which this would definitely be, I always set up in the middle of the destination area, not on a singular rout leading to it.
This location had every key sign I look for. It had a rub line leading to it from the highway, it was a primary scrape area, it was a staging area due to its location next to an area of oaks to the north that were loaded with and dropping acorns, there was a dense bedding area to the south, believe it or not the security of the freeway to the west and one mile of relatively open and vulnerable mature hardwoods to the east which made this more secure area perfect for daytime activity.
My first opportunity to hunt this location was 4 day later on the evening of October 16th. I didn’t know how the weather might affect movements as there were wind gusts up to 25mph and it was raining. I’d had great success taking mature bucks in the rain, but not so much during high winds. However my old school thought that you can’t kill something if you’re not there and that you should never allow the weather to dictate whether or not you hunt, would be mantra for the evening.
Not surprising with the weather conditions, the parking lot was empty when I got there. During the last 100 yards to the tree I drug a real tarsal gland that I had saved from the previous year, behind me. I then strategically placed it fifteen yards from my tree over one of the scrapes in which I wouldn’t have to move much to take a shot.
I was settled into my sling at 3:30 pm and the first few hours were uneventful. At 6:30 I decided to do a loud rattle sequence, even though it couldn’t be heard from very far due to the heavy winds. Within five minutes a nice 2 ½ year old eight point came into view and with the noise the wind was making when blowing through the weeds and branches, he cautiously moved to within fifteen yards looking for the fighting bucks. When he got directly downwind of the tarsal gland he froze briefly and then spooked and ran back where he’d came from. I guess he didn’t like the smell of the full rut tarsal gland and I was certainly OK with that because he wasn’t the dominant buck I was after.
In fact it’s normal protocol for does and non-dominant bucks in an area to spook from a real tarsal cut from a peak rut dominant buck, however when the dominant buck in the area smells it, now that’s a totally different reaction which has always been positive.
Darkness was starting to settle in as seven does and fawns walked into the scrape area and a downwind button buck’s curiosity got the best of him and he went directly to the tarsal gland to inspect the odor. He was pretty funny to watch as he would take a sniff and then look at mom as though he just found something that she should come over and check out. He did this several times, but mom never gave him the slightest interest. I thought it was unusual that none of the 3 does paid any attention to the tarsal gland. As mentioned, usually does will spook from buck tarsal glands unless there in estrus and with their fawns with them, they were obviously not in estrus.
Within a few minutes I heard a buck grunting and he was coming from the direction of the highway. It was the big 8 point and he had the doe’s attention. When he came within sight they scattered to my downwind side and he went after the lead doe. For the umpteenth time in the past 5 years I was glad to be wearing a properly cared for ScentLok suit because the buck was suddenly twenty yards directly downwind of me.
I immediately drew my Golden Eagle Evolution bow and released the Carbon Express arrow. Bet you’re expecting me to say I hit him perfectly? Not, I shot right over his back. Yep, a total miss, never touched him! Though in a mild state of shock that I missed a twenty yard broadside shot I quickly knocked another arrow.
The buck took three bounds and stopped about 30 yards away and because of the wind and rain I don’t think he knew what happened. The does ran totally out of sight, but he just stood there trying to figure out what made the noise. Now that he was paying attention to his surroundings he winded the tarsal gland and immediately started walking curiously towards it.
When he got to the 15 yard tarsal he sniffed it and I took my second shot (you already know the bow and arrow brands). The second time was a charm and my arrow passed through right behind his shoulder and he didn’t go far before making the unmistakable sound of crashing to the ground while running at full throttle. The tarsal did its job by luring the 18 inch inside spread 8 point back to me after a complete miss.
This public land buck’s core bedding area and staging area were both within a short distance of a major highway and I can only assume that none of the hunters in the area scouted the area or they definitely would have found it. The circumstances that lead to this buck were unusual, but certainly reinforced several beliefs. Mature bucks have no qualms about residing in very close proximity to any area of security cover devoid of human intrusions and they are very comfortable moving during daylight hours during inclement weather conditions.
1983 muzzleloader 10 point
My bowhunting season in 1983 had been relatively uneventful and it was time to switch gears and head to southern Michigan to hunt with something with a bit more range, my T/C Renegade .54 caliber, side lock, pumpkin throwing muzzleloader with a William’s peep sight. I loved this gun and had taken some good bucks with it including a state record in 1981.
The plan was to hunt public land for the first 3 days of season and then head home. After three days of gun season on public land in Michigan’s zone 3, most of the deer have buried themselves in a swamp and don’t move during daylight anyway.
As is most public lands in southern Michigan this area is comprised of rolling hills with mature timber on the high grounds and cattail marshes, swamps and tall weed fields in the low grounds. There are literally hundreds of acres of dense security cover that deer in this area could bed in but most of them were accessible with knee high rubber boots and during gun season, hunters would be back in those areas.
My plan was to hunt the opener on a long ridge about three quarters a mile from the parking lot in a 2 mile by 2 mile section and then hunt days 2 and 3 on the same small island within the cattail marsh where I took my state record buck in 1981 as it got better after opening day.
The ridge had a lot of mature white and red oaks and the acorns they dropped were the primary daytime browse as the closest crop fields the deer went to at night were about a mile and a half away. The end of the ridge dropped off into the cattail marsh and on either side of the ridge were swampy and marshy areas with interspersed brush. Because Michigan’s gun opener is smack dab in the peak of the rut, the ridge was not only a browsing area for does it was a frenzy area for searching and chasing by bucks because of all the security cover on the sides.
I got back to my makeshift ground blind located at the base of an oak on the highest point of the ridge about an hour and a half before dawn and after clearing all the leaves and debris to the bare dirt, hunkered down for the day. I’d hunted here several times in previous seasons and took a big half rack 8 point the previous year from the same spot on opening morning.
From about half an hour before dawn until daybreak I would occasionally hear deer moving past me on the ridge and to the sides through the wet marshy areas as the onslaught of distant flashlights moved in and staked their ground between me and the parking lot.
At daylight the shotgun and muzzleloader shots began ringing out as if a war was ensuing. There were few times in the first hour and a half of light where more than 30 seconds would pass between the sounds of gunfire someplace within my several miles hearing distance and it was times like this that kept pushing my interest in gun hunting farther away. All I could think of is how in the world do deer survive through this, they should be extinct. When you really think about it, whitetails are the most evasive and amazing creatures because if as many hunters were allowed to openly hunt bear or elk as they do whitetails, they would definitely be wiped out.
On public land most hunters back then were targeting any legal antlered buck and most had doe permits and even though I couldn’t imagine any age class or sex of deer casually browsing with all the surrounding gunfire, they were. In the first two hours I had several does and fawns at different times and a 6 point come up on the ridge and feed on acorns as if it were just another day and eventually and casually walk over the ridge into one of the adjoining bedding areas.
By 9:30 it began quieting down and so did the deer movements. At around 11:45 I heard a deer moving through the marsh and brush to the side of the ridge and once out it began moving up the side of the ridge through the dry leaves. It was coming with a steady cadence making me think it was a buck in search and not a doe browsing, so I stood up and moved into a ready position using the tree as my shooting stick to hold the gun steady.
As the deer topped the ridge at about 80 yards a set of large, dark heavy antlers came into view and then his body appeared and it was huge. It was a good thing I had the tree as a solid rest because off hand, with my adrenaline pumping, the outcome may have been different.
He was quartering hard at me as he was steadily moving across the ridge with his nose to the ground. His route would put him much closer and broadside in just a few moments so I waited. When he got straight broadside I took the shot and as like every other deer I’d shot with that black powder gun, I couldn’t see anything through the lingering smoke.
Within a couple seconds however, I saw him go back over the ridge from exactly where he had come and heard him go into the marsh. I hadn’t seen any flashlights in that direction prior to daylight nor heard any human noises down there afterward it so I felt pretty comfortable waiting for a while before searching.
Shooting a deer with an old round ball and patch is totally different than with a jacketed sabot bullet from a modern in-line muzzleloader using modern powders. Round balls had a lot of tin in them to hold their shape and the tin made them hard and they didn’t expand. Guns didn’t have the velocity they do now either and shooting a deer with a muzzleloader was like pushing a round dowel rod through them and typically the blood trails were pretty lame.
1997 Midday Monster
Depending on the weather, sitting relatively motionless in a tree from 1 /12 hour before daybreak until after dark can be a gut wrenching test of self-discipline and want. That’s likely the reason the least hunted phase of the day is midday between 11am and 4 pm. My personal rut phase bowhunting kill statistics show that I’ve spent less than 15% of my rut phase hunting time on stand during midday, yet 35% of the mature bucks I’ve taken during the rut phases have been during that 5 hour midday period.
In areas receiving heavy consequential hunting pressure where no matter the weapon, most deer hunters are targeting any legal antlered buck and those with doe permits target baldies, it’s rare for a buck to reach 3 ½ years of age. This kill story is about one of those rare creatures.
During the 9 years I had permission on this 80 acre parcel, there were other hunters that I never met that had permission as well. On the south end of the property there’s some low swamp ground and north of that is a woodlot with dense understudy and as it went north it narrowed into a tight pinch point of high ground with a lake on the east side. North of the funnel it dropped down into some mature timber with extremely dense understudy comprised mostly of briars and autumn olive bushes.
The timber then made a gradual uphill incline and north of the timberline was a large crop field. About halfway down the timberline edge was a 60 yard wide draw of low timber ground that protruded well into the crop field.
No matter what crops were planted, there were always scrapes and rubs along their perimeters and as usual that’s where the other hunters hung their stands. I guess they just watched a lot of the misleading TV shows and videos and thought they could replicate the personalities and have similar results. They obviously weren’t aware how actual consequential hunting pressure affects a mature bucks daytime movement habits and I was OK with that.
I’ve always been attracted to draws that protrude into crop fields as they are there because they’re too low or too wet for the farmer to plant. In either instance, vegetation grows faster and taller in low ground because it holds more moisture and because the vegetation is denser it’s a more secure area for mature bucks to transition through.
I remember being excited when I first saw and scouted the draw. It was dry, the ground cover was dense with autumn olive and briars, there were scrapes and rubs along both sides and a primary scrape area at its point.
For the first two seasons I had 4 locations prepared for my sling. One at the end of the draw within shooting distance of the scrape area, one in the middle of the draw where it met the timber, one down in the timber south of the crop field, and the other was in the pinch point between the two stands of timber near the lake. I forgot to mention, the pinch point by the lake also had 3 apple trees with scrapes and rubs around them and I set up in a tree that allowed a shot to each.
1995 was my 3rd season on the property and one thing I noticed was some of the rubs in the area were unique in that they were higher than normal and the rubbed area was severely frayed with double gouges on each side of center. The buck was definitely older and taller and my best guess he had heavy pearling, stickers near his antler bases or had forked brow tines.
That year the field was in standing corn and there was a primary scrape area along its perimeter on the north edge of the timber. While I never hunt short or picked corn crop field edges in Michigan, I definitely will hunt a field edge while the field is in standing corn. However I stayed away from the scrapes because I was certain the other hunters pre-season scouting ventures would cause any mature buck to avoid it during daylight. Their stands were also so low and exposed that there was no way of hem not getting picked by a mature deer.
Due to a wet fall the corn stood well into November due to the high moisture in it. In late October during a hard rain which is perfect for in-season scouting and since I hadn’t been back to the draw since February, I went in to re-check it for signposts, new summer growth and see if the other hunters had set anything up.
Nobody had been down the draw since me in the spring and with it now being surrounded by a sea of tall security cover in the form of standing corn, the likelihood of a daytime visit to the point was very possible. After trimming a little new summer growth vegetation, I looked around and thought, all I had to do now was be here when it happened.
It was about noon when I headed back and all I could think about was getting out of my soaking wet cold clothing. Hurriedly walking the edge of the draw and corn in the still torrential downpour, when I hit the timberline and turned right around the corner of the cornfield I came to an abrupt halt. Not forty yards down the corns edge was a huge buck working a licking branch and the scrape below it in the pouring rain.
Within a millisecond his peripheral vision picked up my body silhouette and we stared at each other for what seemed like minutes but probably were not more than a few seconds. I was certain he would exit into the standing corn a couple yards in front of him, but instead he wheeled and bounded through the narrow buffer of weeds into the timber.
He was a big animal and with the downward force of each landing during his exit, water jarred in every direction from his soaked coat. Its unforgettable moments like those that add to the mystique of bowhunting. To my best judgment he had ten typical points, unmistakable tall forked brow tines, and good mass.
On this property I pursued only this buck the remainder of the 95 and all of the 96 season and despite not seeing him again, he continued to leave his unmistakable rubs and work scrapes in the same places each year.
On November 5th 1997 with the weather forecast calling for an all-day drizzle of light rain I planned an all-day sit along a rub line that was obviously traveled by Mr. forked brow tine. After sitting motionless in the dark for an hour and a half, as daylight broke I could make out two scrapes along the same runway as the rubs.
After sitting all day without seeing a single deer, as it was getting dark I caught a movement. Sneaking through some dense brush about thirty yards away was a big doe and she was panting and moving rapidly as if trying to escape a pursuer. Not far behind her was the phantom buck and this would be our first encounter in a hunting situation and only the second encounter in 4 seasons of seeing his signposts.
Moving his antlers from side to side in a manner to allow them to pass through the dense brush, he smoothly slithered through the brush in rapid pursuit of the hot doe. The brush was so dense and it was just too dark to find a hole in which to shoot through so he passed without incident.
Although near darkness I could still make out his forked brows and many tines protruding from each main beam. However the tines appeared shorter, the spread narrower, and his antler mass seemed much greater than when sighted in 95. While his antlers were more impressive in a different way they led me to believe he was past his prime and beginning to decline.
November 11th was my next visit to the area. It was a cold crisp overcast morning and my plan was hunt until at least noon in the apple tree primary scrape area. The closest apple tree still had apples and shortly after daybreak two does and three fawns came in to munch a few before heading to the marsh to the south to bed. Not much later twin six points did the same.
There was a front moving in and between 10 and 10:30 it dumped nearly 2 inches of damp snow on what was bare ground. What happened next nearly caused me to cut my hunt short.
A man in jeans, plaid jacket, leather boots and toting a bow appeared and was walking right at me from the timber to the north. I had no idea if he had permission and was about to find out. At about 5 yards distance I quietly got his attention and asked him who he was and who granted him permission. He didn’t know the name of the property owner and said he was turned around which I knew wasn’t true, so I told him to leave.
Taking the path of least resistance, he exited right down my main shooting lane leaving his human scent ribbon in each footprint via his breathable leather boots. If an opportunity arose in that lane a shot would have to be taken before his footprints were crossed. Moist snow holds scent extremely well as any rabbit hunter who hunts behind dogs can testify. Though extremely disappointed I decided to stick it out until at least noon.
Just before noon I noticed a large deer moving towards me through the snow covered brush. He was moving from the marsh towards the timber which was exactly opposite of what the previous deer had done. I had begun using ScentLok garments that season and while concerned about it functioning properly, this was going to test it because he was coming in from directly downwind.
While weaving through the brush the loose snow fell from every branch the deer’s body rubbed against. Passing through a small opening I instantly recognized his massive headgear and as he neared and I readied myself, his many points, large forked brows and mass were unmistakable. His current course would pass him through the shooting lane the hunter walked less than an hour earlier. I drew my 62 pound Golden Eagle Evolution just prior to him entering the lane and the instant his chest was exposed I vocally blatted to stop his determined pace. He abruptly halted just a few steps before cutting the plaid hunters boot prints and he was a mere ten yards away and broadside.
I opened my fingers to release the feathered Carbon Express arrow tipped with a Rocket Sidewinder head and watched as it disappeared perfectly into the crease of his shoulder. In an instant flash of survival instinct he bolted, ran full tilt about fifty yards and fell. He struggled to get back up, fell again and expired.
I think if there were one of those pole climbing contests going on, I could have beat any of them with my tree departure time. Lifting his head from the tall weeds I began counting points, what a buck! He had 12 typical points with large forked brows making him a 14 point. His beams were thick and his spread was narrow. It was obvious upon opening his mouth that he was an old buck because his teeth were severely worn.
I had known of and hunted this buck for several seasons yet it was only the third time I’d seen him, twice while hunting and once while scouting. What’s extremely interesting is that our first encounter was at straight up noon during a driving rain storm, our second was while pursuing a doe at dusk while raining, and the third was at noon just after a heavy snow squall.
This buck survived many years in a highly pressured area by primarily only moving during the security of darkness. When he did move during daylight he had learned when, where and under what weather conditions to do so to avoid hunters. In all those years he had remained as true to his survival instinct lessons as his testosterone levels would allow as sex was to blame for his demise.
The lessons I took from this remarkable buck reconfirmed to never be comfortable with status quo morning and evening hunting practices and secondly to never allow weather conditions to influence when I hunt. These lessons have been engrained in my hunting strategy when hunting heavily pressured areas and have proven effective on many other occasions.
2000 – “WHEEZER” posted August-2017
I had been Bowhunting for 37 years and had taken 16 book bucks from eight different counties in Michigan and in all those years had never encountered a buck as smart, cautious, and definitely as lucky as this guy. This buck became known to my hunting acquaintances as the Wheezer due to his uncharacteristic social habits with the matriarch does in the area.
Our first encounter was in October 1997 while hunting from a large red oak. Two yards east of the oak was a mucky drainage ditch that went north and south and was just wide enough that it couldn’t be jumped over, east of the ditch line was a 5 yard wide buffer of shorter grasses, east of the grass buffer and running along the ditch line was a 20 or so yard wide patch of red brush and east of brush was a large CRP field with tall weeds, and west of the ditch was a crop field that was in standing corn. There was also an active scrape area about 15 yards up the tree line to the north.
As a side note the section he resided in was likely the most heavily pressured private property I’ve ever hunted as there were at least 30 bowhunters sitting in trees in that 640 acre section every opening day of archery season and likely double that amount of gun hunters on the gun opener.
Just as it was cracking daylight I decided to perform a couple light rattling sequences, but the first sequence was all it took as I immediately heard a deer moving through the corn in my direction. Within 30 seconds an 8 point stepped out of the corn and offered me a 10 yard broadside shot.
As the cams rolled over while drawing my bow one of them made a slight tick noise and he heard it, ran down the side of the corn, and stopped out of range. At that time I had no clue as to just how much frustration this buck was going to cause me over the next 3 seasons.
Not once during all my practice sessions was that sound ever made and that day I took the bow in and had both axles cleaned and lubricated.
On a hunt from the same tree in 1998 a friend that has permission on the property rattled in the same buck just prior to dark. He had a decoy set out which in all likelihood cost him an opportunity because when the buck crossed the ditch from the tall weed field into what was now a soybean field, he had a mature doe with him.
The doe walked towards the decoy as he waited along the edge of the ditch about 50 yards to the south. Does are more curious and tend to figure out decoys much quicker than bucks and when she got within 10 yards she spooked back across the ditch and he went with her. Now a 3½ year old, he was about 16 inches wide and was still sporting 8 points.
On an evening hunt during the pre-rut and out of the same oak tree, I could see antlers moving above the weeds and they were coming directly towards me. As he entered the red brush which now had lost its foliage I could tell he was our buck.
He slowly moved through the red brush and stopped just prior to exposing his body into the grassy buffer, which would have given me a 20 yard shot. What happened next not only floored me, it also gave him his name. The buck stood there like a rock gazing into the now picked soybean field until it was just about dark and then for no good reason he wheezed. Now I’ve heard bucks wheeze on several occasions, but there was always less dominant bucks around, and done to show dominance. This was definitely different and was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen while hunting.
Within seconds of him wheezing, three large does that had been feeding in the beans, crossed the ditch within twenty yards of me and started scent checking up and down the grassy buffer. They were so close I could hear them sniffing air through their nostrils in an attempt to smell any danger. It reminded me of body guards checking to see if it was safe for the President to pass through.
They never confronted him but walked by him several times as if it were routine and once satisfied that it was safe, the does crossed back across into the beans. My full ScentLok suit and rubber boots had kept them from winding me or smelling where I had walked to my tree as they crossed my entry route several times.
Unfortunately, it was now too dark to make out anything close except dark shadows and I never heard or seen him leave the red brush. So as not to spook anything close with my departure I waited for an hour and a half before exiting my tree.
All the way back to the van I kept thinking how cool that experience was and that nobody would believe me. I was also excited to have a worthy opponent to brainstorm against and that opponent would become known as the “Wheezer”
I waited a week until my last hunt of the season at that location and it was uneventful. I was told that on the gun opener he was shot at and missed by two hunters as he ran across the weed field with a doe.
The next year the crops were rotated into corn and on opening morning as I walked down the edge of the standing corn towards my tree two hours prior to daybreak, I could hear bucks sparring across the ditch in the weed field. As the bucks kept sparring about 75 yards away I quietly ascended the oak and into my tree sling.
The bucks kept sparring and taking long breaks until the crack of dawn and as my eyes adjusted to the light I could make out Wheezer having sparring matches with two smaller bucks. Shortly after daybreak and while sparring, Wheezer stopped, let out a long loud wheeze, and the two subordinate bucks immediately headed back across the ditch and passed below me into the standing corn.
Wheezer slowly walked away and disappeared into the tall weeds and later that morning my friend took one of the 8-points that had passed by me. Wheezer was now 4 ½ years old and was still an 8 point, but had grown to about an 18 inch spread. It was gratifying to see him still alive but depressing to know how nocturnal he was beyond the confines of the tall weed field which was now his main bedding area.
Michigan is a 2 buck state and my friend had what we think was the next encounter with wheezer. He had set up in a red oak along the edge of a small marsh that separated the cornfield to the north from a large woodlot to the south and it was late October and the pre-rut was in full swing.
The woods to the south had a lot of oaks and there was quite a bit of doe traffic that passed through it in the mornings and evenings. It was a dead quiet, frosty morning and a while before daybreak he heard a deer walking through the marsh from the cornfield. The deer stopped about 10 to 15 yards from the oak and it was still dark so he sat still and didn’t turn around to look.
It was assumed that he had stopped and staged to listen for other deer moving in the oaks. They both remained motionless until it was just cracking daylight at which time he slowly turned his head to see, absolutely nothing. After hearing that deer move through over 100 yards of frost covered marsh grass, he left without making a sound. We both felt fairly positive that he had again encountered Wheezer. He now believed what I had told him about this deer.
In early November I was back in the oak for only the third time of the season as I didn’t want to overhunt it and totally alter his routine. That hunt was a carbon copy of the hunt in 1998 that rightfully earned wheezer his name. He came through the weeds, entered the red brush, stopped at the edge, wheezed, and this time four does (one was a fawn) came out of the standing corn, crossed the ditch and ditto, it was after dark again with nothing but frustration to drag out of the woods with my seemingly crappy hunting plan. That was my last hunt for him of the season.
Year 2000, new century and hopefully the Wheezer made it through gun season again. My hope was that he lost some brain cells because so far I had not been a worthy adversary. The farmer planted corn again which I preferred due to the secure transition from bedding area to feeding area/standing corn security cover for mature deer.
At 4:30 a.m. on opening morning as I was approaching the red oak I spooked 2 deer standing beneath the annual primary scrape tree 15 yards up the edge of the corn. All I could do was sigh as my flashlight beam crossed paths with the Wheezer as he splashed across the ditch heading into the weed field. Yep, he made it another season but damn, it was 2-1/2 hours before daybreak and he was already staged at the scrape area. I reluctantly climbed into my sling to take on the now morning task of basically birdwatching.
That evening I passed up a 2-1/2 year old 8 point while awaiting another confrontation with the Wheezer, which as I knew beforehand would never happen. One thing I couldn’t figure out was why he continued bedding in the weed field when there was at least 100 acres of standing corn to bed in with total security, and no chance of danger with a transition from a bedding to feeding area. This puzzled me, because usually that much standing corn attracts the dominant bucks to bed in. Oh well.
On October 21st, on an evening hunt I decided to try and rattle him in as I hadn’t performed a rattle sequence in that location for 2 years. As the sun was dipping beneath the horizon I began the first sequence and within moments I could not only hear, I could also see the tops of the cornstalks wiggling as a deer was moving through the corn in my direction.
I tied my rattle bag to my bow rope and lowered it to the ground and jiggled it to give the deer the exact location as he was closing the distance. When he reached about 8 rows in where I could see his headgear, my anticipation stopped. It was a cute little six point and after a few minutes of looking, listening, and sniffing the air, he went back into the cornfield.
As nightfall was creeping in and I began preparing to get down, I heard a deer moving towards me down the ditch line. Could it be, absolutely, Wheezer was moving through the grass buffer down the other side of the ditch towards me. There was still enough light to make a shot but before he came within range, he stopped, wheezed, two does came out of the corn, crossed the ditch and started scent checking for him.
After lowering my rattle bag to the ground earlier I had tied a loop in my bow rope and hung it on an empty bow holder and forgot to raise it back up and of course one of the does walked under the tree and winded the fabric. She snorted and that was the end of that.
The reality of me ever taking Wheezer was becoming very bleak. How could a buck that kept such a tight and routine pattern be so difficult to kill? The reason was obvious as he never entered my small kill zone during daylight hours, at least not on the days I hunted there. I also felt that if that oak were hunted more than 3 or 4 times per season that he would either find another entry location into the crop field or simply make the transition later after dark. Also there was just way too much deer activity going on in that field for me to hunt that spot with any more regularity.
Thank God that on the evening of November 2nd it was very windy otherwise what ended up happening next never would have happened. It was around 3pm by the time I was in the red oak and once settled in I couldn’t help but notice that two of the nearby scrapes had obvious wet spots in them from fresh urine. At 4:40, I about fell out of my tree when Wheezer stood up in the red brush and walked out the side of it. I ranged him at 41 yards and as he moved at a slight angle towards the ditch, I drew my bow.
I had anticipated this moment for so long that I had a momentary brain fart, and actually thought about taking the very poor quartering forward shot opportunity. Fortunately I let back down. The scrapes were fresh and I figured he would cross the ditch to check them, giving me a 15 yard shot.
As Wheezer slowly and quietly crossed and exited the muddy ditch I couldn’t help but notice his legs being covered in black muck well above his knees. It brought back memories of a couple other mature bucks I had taken during the early 1980’s from a small island in the middle of a mucky cattail marsh.
Wheezer followed the heavy cover along the ditch to get downwind of the scrapes, putting him directly downwind of me. Yes, even then I had enough confidence in my ScentLok garments and scent control regimen that the thought of him winding me never entered my mind.
The opportunity I had been waiting for was finally going to take place. He stopped momentarily 20 yards from the scrapes and raised his snout in the air to scent check them. He then dropped his head and slowly moved towards the standing corn. It was now or never! I had spent 4 years and umpteen hours in preparation for this one mili-moment that was about to take place.
At 35 yards and quartering slightly away, I drew my Golden Eagle bow and made a vocal doe matt to stop him. I put my 35 yard pin behind his shoulder, opened my fingers to release the Carbon Express arrow and watched as it disappeared into his chest cavity. He wheeled and plowed back through the ditch and into his security blanket of tall weeds. After watching his antlers moving above the tall weeds for about 60 yards, they took a nosedive forward and out of sight.
There was a feeling of great respect for this magnificent animal and after walking up to him lying motionless in the tall weeds, I knelt down and stroked his chest which was something I never did previously or since. During my bow hunting years I’ve taken several bucks in which several hunting seasons were required, but never have I hunted a buck with such a strange social network and that was so awesome at evading hunters.
When I dressed out Wheezer I discovered why he was so smart in his later years. Wheezer had a 12 gauge slug in his right hind quarter, two double 00 buck shot pellets in the front of his neck, and a 2-3/4 inch cut Vortex broad head with two inches of aluminum shaft on it buried in his left shoulder. The Vortex head had entered above his right shoulder just below the spine and through the tenderloin before slicing the top of his left lung and getting buried in his left shoulder. The broad head was covered with cartilage and the wound was likely made when he was 1 ½ years old and I’m quite sure that whoever took that shot, assumed that they had killed him, just never recovered him.
He dressed out at 178 pounds and only carried a 130 inch gross, 8 point rack. I have taken many bigger bucks in Michigan but never one remotely as rewarding as Wheezer.
2009 busted up Kansas 9 point posted August-2017
2009 had been an eventful yet unsuccessful season and even though I hadn’t taken a buck yet, for the first time since 1999 I had seen 2 Pope and Young bucks in Michigan before gun season.
My annual plan is to bowhunt in the heavily pressured state of Michigan and then leave for an out of state hunt during Michigan’s gun season to bowhunt a lightly pressured state where I’ll typically see 5 or more bucks in the 125 to 160 range in a week and there much easier to kill.
Early in the morning on November 15th my son Jon and I took off and we met up with good friend Bryan Schupbach in Kansas that night.
On the last day of our 2008 Kansas trip Jon and I drove around and knocked on some doors for free permission and acquired three new properties to hunt for 2009 but were not able to scout them before we left.
Immediately upon our arrival we quickly prepped some of our old stand by locations and then began scouting the new properties. The new location we were most excited about was a wide draw with a creek running through it. The draw consisted primarily of dense brush, tall weeds, wild cannabis, plum thickets, a lot of locust trees and a few scattered mature cottonwoods.
For miles on either side of the draw there was nothing but picked crop fields, making this draw the only available cover in the area in which deer could bed and have ample security cover to transition through.
We separated and followed both sides of its edges, and about a half mile off the road it funneled down to its tightest pinch point. At the eighty yard wide funnel we found active scrapes and fresh rubs literally everywhere. This was definitely the spot, and to make things even better there was a large multi trunked cottonwood located exactly in the center.
We spent about two hours getting this spot as perfect as possible because we knew this narrow pinch point was going to offer some opportunities, there were just too many signposts for it not to.
After all the shooting lanes were cut and the brush drug away, we hung a Lone Wolf stand about eighteen feet up the straightest trunk of the cottonwood for Bryan and prepared a location for our sling harnesses about 28 foot up another trunk that was too big a diameter and too crooked for any treestand.
Bryan was in his stand well before first light the very next morning and as it was breaking light a wide racked buck came down the draw as planned and walked right in on him. The buck’s twenty plus inch inside spread rack with many tines was all Bryan needed to see for confirmation as a shooter.
At a distance of 20 yards Bryan made a perfect double lung shot and watched as the buck ran a mere thirty five yards before tipping over. He took out his binoculars and glassed the expired buck. The buck had 12 typical points, but very short tines. Being just after daylight, Bryan decided to sit for a while and enjoy the scenery, after all it was his first morning hunt and he was tagged out.
Within an hour an absolute bruiser ten pointer sauntered in. Bryan said it would have made an excellent magazine cover photo because it was perfectly symmetrical with tall white tines and he hung around the area and worked a scrape and made a new rub all within 30 yards. The buck caught wind of the downed twelve pointer and bee-lined to him, sniffed him for a few seconds and casually meandered away.
This area was so hot with sign that even though we had disturbed it a couple hours preparing it and dragged a buck out the next morning, I decided to hunt there again the following morning. I would never ever consider doing that at home.
Sitting in my sling well before first light I could hear deer passing through the area and I hadn’t asked Bryan if had heard anything prior to daybreak so of course I thought our disturbance caused the deer to move back earlier than normal and I had made the wrong choice.
That wasn’t the case as just after daybreak a couple six points came in and began sparring about 40 yards away. They put on quite a show that gave me some brush up points for future fake sparring sequences. I paid very close attention to how frequently they took breaks, how loud they were, how long the quiet gaps were between antler sparring, and how much ground noise they made during the pushing segments. Bowhunting is always a learning experience.
Before they finished another buck came on the scene. He was walking down the outside edge of the funnel on the other side of the draw from where the bucks were sparring, but he heard them and casually changed course in our direction. I was dead center between the big antlered buck and the youngsters. On the side of the rack I could see there were a couple large tines and his rack was bone white.
This had to be the buck Bryan saw the morning before because it’s just not in my Michigan DNA to even think there could be three big bucks using the same travel corridor. I had a brief lapse in reality and remembered I was not at home, but in Kansas.
The buck moved at a steady pace towards the subordinate bucks and I had totally gone into kill mode and never looked at his antlers again. Within several seconds he was at eight yards quartering to me and I was at full draw. He then stopped and looked up at me and was quartering to me hard enough that it was not a shot I wanted to take. Oh well I thought, this hunt is over. Nope, again I forgot I was not at home, but in Kansas.
Within moments he lowered his head and kept walking and as he passed in front of me offering a more broadside shot which I took. The Carbon Express arrow tipped with a G5 head launched from my Mathews bow had found its mark and I watched as he ran about fifty yards and collapsed. I packed by gear, lowered my bow and walked over to see just how perfect that 10-point Bryan saw was. The buck Bryan saw may have been perfect, but this busted down antlered buck only had 9 scorable points.
His rack was heavy but he had the most busted up antlers I’d ever seen in the field. There were three points broken off either flush at the beam or off an antler point and one of the main beams had at least 6 inches missing and originally there was likely a point or two on it.
For a brief moment I was extremely disappointed because I thought I had taken the perfect ten-point. What an ass I was. I had just taken an old mature buck and the more I looked at him, the more I liked what I had just accomplished. This buck was in fact a warrior and had the head, neck and body scars and busted rack to prove it.
I sat there pondering about all the different bucks he had battled with over the years and this year to break his antlers like that. I’ve taken 27 ten points and all of them are relatively symmetrical. When I look at this 9 point mixed amongst all my other head mounts, he stands out big time and I get asked about him a lot. He’s one of my favorites.
1978 – 8 point in the oaks posted August 2017
I can remember this hunt as if it were yesterday because it took place the evening after taking the kids trick or treating in 1978.
A good friend had asked me to help him scout and prepare a location for a big 10 point he had been seeing. I was managing the archery department at Jay’s Sporting Goods at the time and agreed to help him on the condition that he gets permission for me to hunt the property with him.
This specific piece of property was the largest private parcel and likely the best hunting property in Clare County and even though he only had access to a small portion of it, I really wanted to hunt there. He did manage to land me permission to hunt the last couple days of October as long as I was with him as the property owners didn’t allow any bowhunting in November because they were gun hunters and wanted a two week quiet period prior to the November 15th gun opener.
The property consisted of a huge extremely dense swamp with knee to chest high water, scattered brush throughout, small dry humps for deer to bed on and two rather large islands. Just north of the swamp were two large weed fields divided by a ¼ mile wide strip of high ground hardwoods that extended nearly half a mile north from the swamp to an east/west road.
The hardwoods consisted of poplar, beech, maple, birch, and chokecherry, red oak and white oak food bearing trees. There were no crops for miles, so other than browse, at this time of year the deer primarily fed on acorns and chokecherries.
He wasn’t really up to snuff on the differences in bitter tannins between white oak and red oak acorns and had previously gravitated to hunting trees within the hardwoods that simply had the most comfortable crotches to sit in as back then there wasn’t much in the form of treestands. Hunting trees with adequate and somewhat comfortable crotches meant that luck would play a huge role in him receiving an opportunity at the big 10 point because those types of trees were rarely in the right locations.
On a single scouting venture we set-up a location in the crotch of a huge white oak within 20 yards of a large chokecherry tree. This was a magnificent location that had a rub-lined runway leading to it, several other runways converging at it, white oak acorns and chokecherries which were a primary food source, and a mass of droppings under each tree.
The branches on the trees were too high off the ground to be utilized as licking branches for a scrape, but I believed there would have been scrapes there had the branches had hung lower. While I tried not to show my excitement in front of him, I knew this would be the location the dominant buck would gravitate to once out of the swamp bedding area, there was just too much buck and doe sign for it not to be.
On the opposite side of the hardwoods from him and much closer to the swamp we set-up a location for me. About 28-feet up a small acorn laden white oak, I nailed a chunk of 2 X 4 in a small crotch to sit on and a 2 X6 in another to put my feet on and stand on. This location had three well-used runways passing by it that were well within my comfortable shooting range.
This location was a good transition area for deer to pass through and munch a few acorns as they headed farther north into the wooded area. On our way out I had him bite into a red oak and a white oak acorn and due to their bitter tannins, he spit the red oak acorn out immediately and actually ate the white oak acorn and knew from then on why deer always prefer white’s over red’s when it comes to eating acorns.
On his previous hunts he had been seeing deer as early as 3:30pm so on the evening after Halloween we were in our trees by 2:00pm. I remember the date because I was excited about both of our locations and wanted to hunt there the day after we prepped them, but it was Halloween and I did the daddy thing and took the kids trick or treating instead.
It was a clear sunny afternoon with the temperature hovering around the 45 degree mark when we left the house. He had a spike and some does come in very early and watched as they fed on both chokecherries and acorns beneath around him. This was a tough situation because he had only killed a couple deer with his bow to that point, and under any other circumstances that spike would have had an arrow flung at him.
In the seventies there was no such thing as a whitetail trophy hunter, particularly with archery equipment. Back then passing up on any legal antlered buck with a bow was unheard of and according to DNR surveys, on average only 2% of bowhunter’s took a buck and only 7% took a deer with a bow. Trophies were most frequently by mishap and times have obviously changed as now nearly 30% of bowhunter’s take bucks and if all bowhunter’s targeted any legal antlered buck, that percentage would be much higher. It’s simply a different time.
Depending on how you look at it, his decision to hold off turned out to be a good one as the next deer he saw was the big 10-point. It was the pre-rut and as the buck casually followed the rub-lined runway towards his tree, the other deer fled the scene.
At a distance of only fifteen yards the buck stopped and started feeding on chokecherries. By the time he turned broadside to present a shot, he was shaking so bad that he had a hard time drawing his bow, not to mention holding his pin on the buck’s chest.
He opened his fingers to release the arrow and watched as it flew over the buck’s back. Without hesitation the buck promptly disappeared back in the direction from which it came. He did get to see that buck one more time, in the back of the property owner’s pick-up on opening morning of gun season.
My first and only deer sighting was at 5:30 and it was a nice 2 ½ year old buck, which at the time was a rarity as well because Michigan had 1,000,000 gun hunters that shot mostly any legal antlered buck making 2 ½ year olds very rare.
He had come out of the swamp and was browsing along one of the runways that led to my tree. It didn’t take long before he was within 10-yards and broadside. I drew my 60-pound Bear Polar II bow, blatted to stop him, and released the arrow. I also had a small case of the shakes but did manage to hit the buck, but the arrow went in a little farther back than where I had aimed.
He wheeled and headed back into the swamp. I could see my arrow sticking out of the ground and back then you could only take one buck with a bow, so I got down to inspect it. A quick glance confirmed my thoughts about the shot placement. There was brown gritty matter mixed with blood covering the arrow, but there was a descent blood trail. I had likely passed through the liver and stomach.
We met up after dark to exchange stories and although he missed he was very excited, no he was exhilarated about the opportunity he had, in fact he wouldn’t shut up so I just stood there grinning about his excitement and listening. After listening for about 5 minutes he finally started to slow down and once he cooled his jets I told him about the buck I had hit.
It was the first time ever that I had been on a hunt where both parties shot at a 2 ½ year old or older buck; that just didn’t happen back then. When he asked how many points mine had, I thought about it for a second, but couldn’t tell him. Interestingly, all I had seen was a good rack, and then tried to concentrate on the shot.
Although there were a ton of coyotes and bobcats in the area, I didn’t want to push the buck deep into the swamp where a recovery would be nearly impossible, so we decided to wait until morning to search for him. Later that night he called and informed me he had to work the next morning as he was a construction worker that worked when called.
The next morning, with another friend to hopefully help drag, we followed the dried up blood trail. It was easy to follow the blood on top of the yellow and brown leaves and even easier through the light beige tall weeds that buffered the woods from the swamp.
We found him dead in a bedded position in some tall weeds just inside the swamp. The beautiful little 8 point had traveled about 200-yards before bedding and eventually expiring. He was facing his backtrack, which confirmed our decision to wait until morning. When I gutted him out, he was still very warm which meant he had survived well into the night.
Our hunt definitely aided in the continuation of my learning process. It reaffirmed that concentrating my scouting efforts on destination feeding locations, areas where several runways merge in a transition zone, and holding out for specific locations as opposed to setting up on the first well used sporadic singular sign, was the way to go.
This hunt also reaffirmed my blood trailing practices of being patient and waiting before trailing any questionable hit deer. There is no doubt that 8-point would have been pushed far into the swamp had we trailed him that night, and likely never been recovered. We had weighed the likelihood of coyotes and or bobcats getting to him before daybreak against our odds of him being dead and easily recovered that night, and his warm insides coupled with him being in a bedded position the next morning definitely confirmed we made the right decision.
This information may seem trivial and self-explanatory but back then you had to learn on your own which I personally prefer over all the misinformation in today’s micro-managed property, media driven, mass personal opinion information marketplace.
2006 Election Day 10 point posted August 2017
My Michigan season hadn’t been going very well as during the first five weeks I had only seen one 3 ½ year old buck that would exceed 100 inches. There’s one thing about deer hunting, things can change at a moment’s notice.
November 7th, 2006 was the mid-term Election Day and my plans were to hunt near home in the morning, go vote, and then drive a couple hours to another location and hunt the midday/evening shift.
After being perched in my sling for an hour and a half prior to first light, shortly after it I caught sight of a doe running into a nearby weed field with a cute young 6-point buck closely in pursuit. Even though the doe wanted nothing to do with him he kept up the chase, until it seemed they covered every inch of the small field.
He didn’t seem to care that she was unwilling to stop, he was just a subordinate buck doing what they do best, chase every doe that wanders within sight. After several minutes another doe came into view and the little guy gave up on the first doe and took off after her. It must be nice to have so much energy.
By 8 am I was questioning my original plan of hunting until 9 am and decided to leave, go vote, and head downstate. Like most other hunters, while on stand I am constantly contemplating all my options of what I could do to capitalize on a good buck.
Every tree I have prepared for the rut phases runs through my mind, where should I hunt next, what tactics might I use, what might I have done wrong so far this season, the thoughts just never end. The odds of taking a larger antlered buck in southern Michigan are much greater than in northern Michigan and that was the clincher that made me get down early.
The downstate location was a 40-acre parcel with the property owners home and yard squarely located in the center. Beside myself, there were three other bowhunter’s on this parcel, but they all hunted strictly mornings or evenings, never midday, and mostly on weekends.
A unique feature on this small parcel was the dense transition cover that lay between the paved road and owner’s home. Earlier that spring when scouting the property I found that transition zone, found a primary scrape area in its tightest pinch point, and prepared a location at it.
The transition cover closely paralleled the road and ran the full length of the property frontage, and beyond, in both directions. The front edge of the travel corridor was a mere 15-yards from the road and was likely the reason the other hunters never even considered checking it out. In fact, one of the other hunters later told me that he never even considered scouting that close to the road, and he had been hunting there for years.
I arrived at the property shortly after noon and on my way to the tree I drug a real buck tarsal gland which I had cut off a mature buck I had taken the year before. I lifted the tarsal and went past the tree for quite a distance and then drug the tarsal along the runway on my way back to the tree. I figured that if a dominant mature buck were scent checking and crossed either route that he would follow the scent of this new intruder mature buck that he had never smelled before.
By the time I ascended my tree to my 28-foot perch, attached the lead strap of my hybrid sling harness around the tree and began my get ready process, it was pushing 1:15 pm. My get ready process typically takes about 15 minutes, but due to the light rain that was falling, it was taking a bit longer.
No sooner had I put on my Rivers West jacket over my layering garments and Scent Lok jacket I noticed a nice buck moving directly towards me with nose to the ground following the scent trail I had just laid. My scent control regiment is such that I never pay attention to wind direction, nor am concerned about a deer spooking from cutting or following my entry route.
The buck was moving at a rapid rate as bucks most often do when moving during midday and as he approached I hurried to put on my armguard and slide my middle finger into my calf hide tab. I was barely ready before he was within range.
The buck was following my entry drag route perfectly and because that runway passed directly under the tree which would have created a poor shot angle, at a distance of 12 yards from the tree I turned and drug the tarsal gland perpendicular to the runway and hung it on a branch.
When he hit where the turnoff was, he stopped immediately, and started to sniff the ground to locate which direction the intruder went. It took about 5 seconds before he figured it out and turned broadside. As soon as his head had turned to the side I had come to full draw and as soon as his body turned broadside I released the Carbon Express arrow from my Mathews bow.
The shot was a mere 12 yards and true and I watched as he ran about 50 yards, stopped, and tipped over.
He was a beautiful 10 point and thinking back, had I hunted near home until 9 am as originally planned, I would have been too late to kill this buck during his midday movement pattern in search of estrus does.
Decision alterations are interesting because a couple years later on a weekday morning hunt I had planned on hunting until 10 am and was sitting in the tree thinking of all the work I had to do. I got down early at 9:30 am and while untying my bow from my bow rope at the base of the tree, I heard a twig snap over a little hill behind me. Yep, before I could knock an arrow the buck I was after briskly went by me at 7 yards and just kept going down into a swamp.
Altering a hunting plan is something I rarely ever do but hunting during midday and in the rain are at the top of my agenda during the rut phases when in the right types of locations and this location and the weather were perfect for the adjustment.
Michigan 2011 late season 10 point posted September 2017
For the average hunter that doesn’t own or lease a lot of ground, Michigan tops the statistical list of toughest states to take a mature buck. Even with that, I love hunting in Michigan because it is the only state I’ve ever hunted in that presented a serious challenge and of course there are many other eastern, northeastern and southern states that share similar hunting pressure issues.
I’ve often felt that the bucks I’ve taken in states like Kansas and Iowa were freebies. Personal antler criteria’s have been the only thing keeping me from a 100% bowhunting success rate as compared to my actual 89% success rate.
During the early season at home I saw only one 8 point buck that I would have taken had he offered the opportunity, or should I say taken advantage of the opportunities offered.
On a late October evening hunt near a large primary scrape area the 8 point came in and worked the farthest scrape which put him a bit outside my comfortable shooting distance.
Two evenings later I went in early with a freelance pack and set up 18 yards from the scrape he had worked in a beech tree which still held most of its leaves for concealment cover. There were three natural openings from the beech so I didn’t have to deal with shooting lanes.
Just before dark I saw him cruising through the timber on the downwind side of the scrapes and scent checked them. He wasn’t going to come in on his own so I made a couple vocal doe matt’s and he turned and headed towards the scrapes. At 7 yards he stopped broadside and I found a small opening and drew my bow and put my pin on his chest, but it was too dark to tell if there were any small branches or saplings in the way so I let up in hopes he would move forward into one of the clear openings.
He did move into the opening but immediately turned and walked straight away and I will not take that shot. To make things mentally worse, the next morning I hunted the same tree and the 7 yard shot I passed on was wide open.
Our third encounter should have been the clincher had I not been in a rush. This apple tree location had an active scrape lined runway passing next to it which ran along the edge of the timber to the larger scrape area I had been hunting.
Perched an hour and a half prior to first light with the intent of sitting until at least 10am, by 9am I thought of all the work I had sitting on my desk at home and decided to leave early. While on the ground untying the rope from my bow, I heard something in the leaves to my left and looked up to see the 8 point rapidly moving towards me down the scrape lined runway. I stepped behind the tree, finished untying the rope, knocked an arrow and waited for my opportunity to step out and shoot.
He passed by within 3 yards without detecting me, but when he stopped in my shooting lane at a whopping 8 yards, he caught my body movement leaning from behind the tree to take the shot. As most seasoned hunters from pressured areas know, we don’t have the luxury of hunting in fantasy land as seen so often on TV and videos and instead of standing there and wondering what I was, he immediately turned inside out and ran full throttle through the woods.
I knew that as often as this buck was moving during daylight hours that his days would be numbered during gun season and he was taken on opening morning on a neighboring property.
Michigan’s gun season found me in Kansas bowhunting and my son Jon and I both tagged good bucks and the cold reality was that I was facing a Michigan bow season without taking a buck because the likelihood of taking a good buck in Michigan after gun season was close to zero.
I still reloaded my mini-van with gear more appropriate for snow and cold weather as I was certainly going to try for a late season buck.
On the evening of December 4th I went to a place near home that I hadn’t hunted since 2009. This location consists of a rectangular patch of timber surrounded by picked crop fields on 3 sides with an Interstate highway on the other. I rarely hunt this location because it’s mostly mature timber devoid of understudy, but there is some heavy undergrowth at one end with a few apple trees interspersed throughout.
This woodlot gets gun hunted the first couple days, because that’s all it takes to run the deer completely out and into a nearby swamp which I can’t hunt. Back in 2005 I prepped 2 trees for my harness, one amongst the apple trees and the other, a mature white oak, along a small patch of brush that protruded maybe 25 yards out into what was now a picked corn field.
If there were any deer in this timber they would likely be bedded in the heavy understudy amongst the apple trees, so hunting there on an evening hunt was out of the question. Any apples or acorns would be long gone by this late in the season, but even though the finger of brush protruding into the field was small, it acted as a natural funnel into the crop field. I could also enter the oak by crossing the field without spooking anything, so I headed to the oak.
There were a few rubs on the perimeter brush and two inactive scrapes under the low hanging branches of the oak. After two summers of growth, there were some new sprouts I had to cut while ascending the tree but I was surprised to find my shooting lanes still open enough for a shot.
Not a movement until just before dark when a lone doe passed under the oak and continued into the picked cornfield. Within a few minutes I caught some movement in the timber. He wasn’t coming my direction so I made a few loud vocal doe matt’s to get him to stop and pay attention. Once stopped, one more matt was all it took for him to change course and while not directly at me, head towards the cornfield.
As he moved I kept making vocal matt’s, but he held his course without looking in my direction and was in the field before stopping to look around. Through the leafless brush I could just make out the doe on the opposite side of the protrusion of brush, so he couldn’t see her.
Now that I had his complete attention, another vocal matt caused him to turn and walk into the brush where I was waiting for him. At a distance of 12 yards and broadside I came to full draw and made one last matt to stop him. He was not in a shooting lane but was in what looked to be a small opening. The brief thought of what happened early in the season came to mind as I released my Maxima Hunter 300 arrow from my Mathews Conquest bow and it was too dark to see the hit.
Once on the ground I looked for my arrow and blood and found neither. While standing at the shot sight I shined up into the tree and noticed a couple very small branches between where the buck was standing and I was perched that possibly could have deflected the arrow a bit.
I walked in the direction the buck ran for about 20 yards and still found no blood or arrow. The weather was cold and with no blood or arrow to confirm penetration, and having never seen any signs of coyotes in the area, I decided to play it safe and come back in the morning.
The next morning I found the beautiful little 10 point 60 yards out into the picked cornfield so he had only went 80 yards before expiring. The hit was perfect and the arrow passed through both lungs but stopped against the opposite shoulder.
The only down-side was that a pack of coyotes did go through that section overnight and pretty much did my venison in. I tagged him, managed to scavenge a portion of each loin, then ringed his neck with my knife and twisted off his head. When I got home and cut off his antlers the only thing I could think of concerning a picture was taking one holding his antlers on top of my Delta full body target.