To Shoot or Not To Shoot…

My Facebook post from yesterday concerning a scouting camera photo of a 10 point Wisconsin buck generated an avalanche of responses regarding whether or not the deer was a “shooter”. In other words, was the buck a trophy? Well, after reading the numerous responses, I’d have to say that opinions on the matter are pretty much equally split. I also have to say that a select few people on both sides of the argument believe steadfastly that their views on the matter are 100% correct.

Also, judging from the posts of several individuals, state game departments would be wise to start managing their deer herds strictly from a trophy standpoint…because “deer hunters are willing to spend huge sums of money to kill big deer”. I’m sure there are others who agree with this train of thought. State wildlife agencies should forget about trying to manage for numbers and instead implement management policies based solely on producing trophy class bucks. Wouldn’t

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that be great?!

Some hunters would prefer that state wildlife agencies manage strictly for trophy deer.

Some hunters would prefer that state wildlife agencies manage strictly for trophy deer.

In a word, no, it wouldn’t be great. Quite honestly, implementing such management policies could well spell the end of deer hunting, and hunting in general. Remember this, it takes money–a LOT of money–for state wildlife agencies to operate effectively and efficiently. While the idea of managing strictly for trophy bucks may appear appealing on the surface, there’s no way that a select handful of financially privileged hunters are going to be willing to “donate” the tens of millions of dollars that it takes each year to insure that state game agencies can continue to operate at an effective and efficient level.

And then there’s this; if such a policy were to be implemented, what then happens to the millions of deer hunters who can’t afford to chip in their fair share for these new trophy deer management policies and/or who have no intention of adhering to the new trophy deer management policies their home state has invoked? If they don’t have the resources to afford a deer hunt at home, I seriously doubt they’ll be able to come up with the funds to do an out-of-state hunt. So the outcome is inevitable. We’d lose millions of deer hunters and, just as tragic, billions of dollars in revenue for state wildlife agencies. Without adequate funding, wildlife management as we know it will cease to exist. All wildlife, not just deer, will suffer as a result.

In a perfect world we’d all have our little slice of heaven when it came to deer hunting; hundreds of acres of tightly managed ground inhabited by a bunch of giant bucks that never wandered off our property. We’d always have several 4 1/2 year old and older bucks to hunt without having to ever worry about somebody else shooting “our” deer. Unfortunately, for 99.9% of the deer hunters out there, this scenario will forever remain nothing more than a dream.

One more thing. In the event you don’t already know, we are in a constant, daily battle with the anti-hunting crowd. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re winning that battle. Fact is, we’re barely holding our own. Our ability to maintain our current foothold in the war against the anti’s is directly dependent upon sustaining hunter numbers. Unfortunately, we’re not doing real well in that battle either. Hunter numbers continue to decline almost yearly. Unless we can curb that trend, the future doesn’t look very promising. We must all do our part to try to recruit more hunters, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, political views, income level, place in life, etc.

Also, what’s considered “big” in one area may not be considered “big” at all in another area just down the road. For in the end, beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. And everyone has at least a somewhat different definition of beauty. Likewise, what one person considers to be a trophy deer may differ dramatically from what another person considers a trophy. One of my most fond deer hunting memories concerns a doe I shot on my first ever deer hunt. That episode took place in the Wisconsin north woods more than 40 years ago. Yet I can still vividly recall the sights, sounds and smells of the moment. In my mind, that doe will forever be a trophy!

 

If I could ask that you take one thing from these writings, it would be this: We shouldn’t be so quick to convict and condemn other deer hunters for their views on what constitutes a trophy. What one person considers to be a trophy deer may differ dramatically from what another person considers a trophy deer. And what’s considered “big” in one area may not be considered “big” at all in another area just down the road.

Also, just because a whitetail does manage to make it to the magical age of 4 1/2 (which is consider mature) doesn’t automatically guarantee he’s going to boast a huge set of antlers. I spent the first 25 years of my deer hunting career chasing whitetails in the north woods of Wisconsin. There’s zero agriculture in that part of the state, which means the deer live almost exclusively on twigs, grasses and weeds.

Remember, in the end, beauty (and trophy status) truly is in the eye of the beholder.

An Early Christmas Gift From Kansas

Anyone who knows anything about trophy whitetails knows that Kansas ranks as one of the top states for producing big deer. Most of these same people also know that the best time to connect on a trophy Kansas whitetail is during some phase of the rut. So what on earth prompted me to schedule a mid-December bow hunt for a big Kansas buck? Well, to be honest with you, I was thinking this very same thing after the first couple days of my recent hunt.

A scheduling snafu

I’m one of those people who prefers to work from some sort of schedule. This is never more evident than during the hunting season. Because of the run & gun format of our tv show, Jake and I try to establish our hunting schedules well in advance of our first hunts in early September. We then do our best to adhere to those schedules all the way through until the end of the year. For the most part, we’ve been able to stick pretty close to our schedules the past few years.
Jake and I each have our own full-time cameraman. And both of them are avid hunters. Along with having access to some prime big buck property in our home state of Wisconsin, my cameraman, Matt Tande, also has a deer hunting lease in southeast Minnesota. So I know it’s important that Matt has a very good idea of when we’re going to be home, and when we’ll be on the road. That way he can plan his own fall hunting schedule. (Since Matt always films his Wisconsin and Minnesota hunts for us, it’s rather important to Jake and I that he does get some time to do his own thing.

Anyway, as is usually the case, my fall hunting schedule was pretty much set in stone by late August. Most importantly, I was under the impression that my November rut-hunting schedule was set. I was scheduled to do an Indiana bowhunt from Nov. 3rd through the 9th, and then I was going to slip across the border into Illinois for a few days for bowhunting. From Illinois I was heading straight to southeast Kansas for a bowhunt on a newly acquired 15,000 acre lease that Jake and I were part of, along with Gregg Ritz, Don & Kandi Kisky and Jon & Gina Brunson, to name a few.

Without going into great detail about it, Matt and I were just two days away from leaving for our November rut hunt marathon when I received news that an oil exploration team had unexpectedly showed up on our Kansas lease to do some seismic testing. Supposedly, there wasn’t any part of our 15,000 acre lease that these guys weren’t going to be walking and/or driving on. Even worse, they were scheduled to be on the property right through the entire week I was scheduled to be hunting there. So like it or not, I felt I had no choice but to postpone my Kansas bowhunt until after the state’s gun season.

Fortunately for me, Gregg Ritz had drawn a Kansas gun tag and would be hunting our lease the week prior to my rescheduled December bowhunt. After tagging out on a beautiful 8 point on day three of his hunt, Gregg spent another couple days scouting the property and then sent me a text message with his report. “There’s no doubt you’re going to be dealing with a post rut situation when you get down here,” he said. “But that’s not all bad, because the deer are really hitting the food. I’m going to email you a satellite image of the property later today with some spots marked where we saw some other good bucks. Feel free to call me if you have any questions.”

I did, indeed, have some questions for Gregg–which he promptly answered during our phone conversation. What’s more, Jake had arrowed a great buck on our Kansas lease in mid-November. And he had hunted a totally different part of the property than Gregg. Armed with the information supplied by the two of them, I felt like I had a fairly good understanding of more ground than I could personally explore in the five days I was scheduled to be there. I also had every intention of putting out Reconyx cameras in any other area that looked promising.

My cameraman, Matt Tande, was hot on the trail of a monster Minnesota whitetail. So I hated to drag him away from his personal quest to film me in Kansas. After getting everything squared away with Matt in that regard, I decided to ask fellow Wisconsin native Nate Winters if he could make the trip south with me. Nate told me he could make it work, and was at my house before daylight on the morning of December 14th. After patiently waiting for me to remove another five inches of fresh snow from my driveway, Nate and I jumped in my Ford F150 and headed south.

We went from snow and below zero temps in northern Wisconsin to temps pushing 70 degrees in southeast Kansas!

Some eleven hours later Nate and I pulled into the parking lot of the Super 8 hotel in Arkansas City, Kansas. A little after 9 o’clock the next morning we drove the 25 miles to my lease to put up stands for the first evening’s hunt. We also did a bit of scouting and put out several Reconyx cameras. To put it very bluntly, the next couple days were nothing short of depressing. To begin with, we saw very few deer. And the ones we did see appeared extremely skittish. Worse yet, the three Reconyx cameras we’d put out hadn’t captured a single photo of anything even closely resembling a shooter buck. With daytime high temps already in the upper 60’s (and predicted to hit 70), post rut conditions and the arrival of the full moon, I knew the odds were stacked against us.

After yet another fruitless morning hunt, and with even less activity in front of the Reconyx cameras, I decided to explore an area where Gregg Ritz had seen a heavy-horned 8 point on two different occasions during his gun hunt. It didn’t take long to figure out why the deer were there. The area was literally covered up with acorns! While the resident beef cattle were eating some of the acorns, the local whitetails were also getting their fair share. I immediately picked out a tree that looked like it would work for our Ameristep stands, hung a Reconyx to keep watch over the acorns and then got out of there.

Our hunt that evening was more uneventful than any of our previous hunts. With very little hope that the camera we’d put out over the acorns the day before would reveal anything exciting, I decided we should cut our losses and head home. “Let’s pack our clothes and get our gear organized in the back of the truck tonight,” I told Nate. “We’ll head out to the property at first light, pull our stands and round up the Reconyx cameras. With any luck, we’ll be on the road back to Wisconsin by 8:30 at the latest.”

By 7:30 the next morning our treestands had been taken down and stacked in the back of my truck. A half hour later, three of the four Reconyx camera we’d put out had been collected and checked (producing zero big buck photos), and were stowed in the back seat. We had just walked to the top of a high hill that overlooked the stretch of river bottom where we’d hung the camera the previous morning when I spotted a doe walking out of the bottoms and into an open pasture some 400 yards below us. Seconds later three more antlerless deer walked out of the cover…followed shortly by a big buck!! These five deer were joined seconds later by three small bucks. As we watched, the herd of whitetails turned and headed directly away from us for a couple hundred yards before walking into some thick cover in the river bottom.

I looked at Nate and said, “I’ll guarantee that those deer are going to bed down right there for the day. And I’d be willing to bet that we’ll have some pictures of that big buck on the Reconyx we put up by those oaks. Let’s go back to the truck, get everything we need for a stand site and go ahead and set up in that tree we looked at yesterday. Then we’ll head to town, check back in at the hotel and look at our Reconyx pictures. Just so you know, though, we’re staying even if we don’t have a single picture of that buck.” As it turned out we didn’t have a ‘single picture’ of the big buck. We had over a dozen!!

I love when a plan comes together!!

The sun was still nearly two hours from setting that evening when we spotted our first deer. The 1 1/2 year old three point buck initially walked right to the oaks in front of us, but then suddenly spooked and ran off. A couple minutes later he was back. But once again he appeared to get nervous. This time, however, he stared hard into the river bottom where he’d come from. Seconds later I heard another deer walking…and then the big buck we’d seen earlier that morning (and had the Reconyx photos of) strolled into view!
The big 8 pointer continued walking our way until he was within 40 yards. He was closing the distance even more when the small buck suddenly spooked again and ran off a short distance. The shooter whitetail stood his ground, but was obviously on alert. The young buck eventually made his way to the older deer, and then both of them turned and walked some 50 yards straight away from us before stopping. Ten minutes later they were still standing in the same spot.
Because I don’t want to give away too much of what is an amazing sequence of events, accompanied by some incredible footage, I’ll cut right to the ending. Eventually, the young buck walked back to the oaks, followed a few minutes later by the very nervous shooter whitetail. After another agonizing few minutes (during which I actually came to full draw and then had to let down when the big deer suddenly turned head-on) I finally got a decent shot opportunity. The 20 yard shot felt and looked good. But after going just 60 yards the big 8 pointer crossed a small river and went out of sight. I immediately made the call to let him go overnight.

It took only about 20 minutes to recover my Kansas trophy the next morning. Unfortunately, the coyotes had found him just before we did. While we did manage to spook them off early enough to be able to do a recovery, take some decent photos and salvage part of the 8 pointer, it was still a tough pill to swallow. I know this is hard to believe, but in my 45 year hunting career, this is the very first deer that I’ve lost any part of to predators.

Despite temps near 70 degrees, post rut conditions, a full moon and hunting a 15,000 acre chunk of ground that I’d never set foot on, I still managed to close the deal on a great Kansas whitetail…thanks to some valuable information provided by Jake and Gregg Ritz!! Like I said, the last 10 to 15 minutes of the encounter with my Kansas whitetail was filled with more twists and turns than I’ve been subjected to by a big deer in a very long time. And just about all of it was captured on film. But you’ll have to tune in to Season 2 of THE HUNT on Outdoor Channel to see it.In the meantime, here’s wishing all of you a very happy and safe Holiday Season!!

<GM>
Gear Used: Mathews Creed XS Bow, Carbon Express Maxima Red Arrows, Realtree Camo, Big Tine Deer Supplement, Nikon Binos & Rangefinder, Reconyx Scouting Cameras, Ozonics, Under Armour Apparel & Boots, NAP HellRazor Broadhead, Gorilla Safety Harness, Ameristep Treestands & Rapid Rails, HS Scent-A-Way, TruGlo Sight & Nitrous Release, Outdoor Edge Knives, YETI Coolers.

It’s TC Time!!

With the month of November winding down, it was time for THE HUNT Team to put aside our bows and arrows (for a while anyway), and break out our TC rifles. After finishing up his Colorado bowhunt early, Jake had some time to spare before having to meet us in South Dakota for a gunhunt. So he decided to head to Montana and hook up with Mike Watkins from Trophies Plus Outfitters. Mike had told him that the whitetails were in full blown rut mode, so finding him a good buck shouldn’t be a problem.

Lots of deer, but where are the big bucks?

While Jake’s first day with Mike did indeed show that the rut was still going strong, it didn’t produce any sightings of big bucks. This same pattern held true throughout the second day of the hunt. “It’s not that we aren’t seeing any deer at all,” Jake told me by phone. “We’re actually seeing close to a hundred deer a day. But we haven’t seen a buck big enough to warrant going after. We still have a day left, though, and I think Mike has an ace up his sleeve. Tomorrow he’s taking us to a different piece of property where he saw some good bucks earlier in the season. I’m confident something’s gonna happen.”

Daylight the next morning found Mike, Jake and cameraman Chad Calhoun glassing one of Mike’s favorite ranches for finding some big buck action late in the rut. But while they did once again see plenty of deer activity, no big bucks were spotted. As they were about to drive away from the ranch, Mike said that there was one more spot nearby that he wanted to check. “My son, Richard, and I have seen and killed some big bucks from that spot in the past,” he told Jake. “Let’s go take a look.”

Once at their destination Mike promptly drove to the top of a high hill and to begin glassing. But before he even had time to get his Nikon spotting scope set up, Jake saw several deer running across the prairie below. “There were one or two antlerless deer and two pretty good bucks,” he told me. “One looked to be a big 8 point and we thought the other one was a 10. But they went out of sight before we could tell for sure.”

In any event, the three men quickly determined that both bucks were shooters. After listening to some last second instructions from Mike regarding the lay of the land in the immediate area, Jake and Chad took off in an attempt to find one or both of the bucks. Hopefully, they’d then be able to plan and pull off a successful stalk.

To make a long story much shorter, Jake and Chad did find one of the bucks–the 10 point–bedded in some tall grass with a doe. After sneaking to well within rifle range, they only had to wait for the buck to stand up…and they waited and waited and waited. Mike, who was watching and waiting from his truck, finally decided to see if he could lend a hand. Slipping out of his vehicle, Mike quickly walked behind

a hill and then circled to a point were he knew the buck would smell him. As he suspected, the strategy worked to perfection. The buck and doe both stood up when they winded Mike, and Jake promptly sent a 150 grain Hornady American Whitetail bullet sizzling down the barrel of his TC Dimension, in route to the buck’s vitals.

Jake was down to the last afternoon of his Montana gun hunt when this 10 point whitetail made an appearance.
Jake was down to the last afternoon of his Montana gun hunt when this 10 point whitetail made an appearance.

On to South Dakota

With his Montana gun tag filled, Jake and Chad hurriedly repacked their gear in Jake’s truck and hit the road for Philip, South Dakota, where they were going to meet up with me and my cameraman, Matt Tande. (As a way of showing our appreciation for all the hard work they do for us throughout the season, Jake and I had purchased South Dakota gun tags for Matt and Chad. So with any luck, all four of us would connect on good bucks with Dakota Ranch Outfitters this year.)

The first morning of our South Dakota gun hunts dawned cloudy and cool. Jake and Chad, along with guide Brandon West, headed south toward a prime whitetail area located along the White River. In the meantime, Matt and I jumped in Pat West’s pickup and headed west to observe a stretch of bottom land along the Bad River. Within just a few minutes after getting set up with our Nikon optics, we located a big buck tending a doe several hundred yards away. Actually, the buck was bedded in some knee high prairie grass while he kept an eye on the doe as she fed a short distance away. Initially, the buck appeared to be a deer of interest. But after studying him for a few minutes it became obvious that something was wrong with the buck’s rack. A closer look showed that he was missing his left G-2 tine.

With the busted up buck no longer a possible target of opportunity, we turned our attentions back to the river bottom. As Pat and Matt checked out a couple bucks that were posturing at each other off in the distance, I happened to notice a lone deer in the bottoms right below us. The deer had its head down in some yellow grass, but I swore I could see tines sticking above the grass. Seconds later the deer picked up its head and then there was no longer any doubt. Not only was it a buck, it was a really good buck!

Just as I was pointing out the buck to Pat and Matt, the deer turned and began meandering slowly toward some thick cover a short distance away. As we watched, the buck walked into the cover a couple steps, looked around for a minute or so, then laid down. By that time Pat had the buck centered in his spotting scope. He studied him for a few seconds, turned to Matt and said, “Remember that big 8 point we had the scouting camera photos of back in late September–the one you said you’d like to shoot when you came back for your gun hunt? Well, that’s him!”

This scouting camera photo of "Matt's buck" was taken in late September during my South Dakota bowhunt.
This scouting camera photo of “Matt’s buck” was taken in late September during my South Dakota bowhunt.

After looking at the buck briefly through the scope, Matt and I both agreed that it was indeed the same deer. Even better, the buck was bedded in a spot that appeared to be “stalk friendly”. If everything went according to our plan, we’d be able sneak several hundred yards across a hay field to a fence line that bordered the river bottom cover. Though it was tough to tell from a distance, we figured that we’d be within 150 yards of the bedded buck once we reached the fence line. Then it was simply a matter of waiting for the deer to stand up.

As luck would have it, Matt and I reached our preselected ambush point at the fence line without any trouble. After several tense minutes of scouring the thick cover with his binoculars, I finally heard Matt whisper, “I got him. He’s bedded just to the left of that dead, forked cottonwood tree.” I found the spot Matt was referring to through the lens of the camera and slowly zoomed in. I could see the left half of the buck’s face and his left antler. The old whitetail had his eyes half shut and was chewing his cud.

Twenty minutes later we were still waiting for the 8 pointer to stand up. Then we caught a break. Pat, who was parked on a gravel town road a few hundred yards north of us, decided to slowly drive by in attempt to get the buck to stand up. And that’s exactly what happened. In fact, not only did the buck stand up, he took one step to the right, which put him directly in the middle of small opening. Matt touched the trigger of the TC Venture .300 Win. Mag and sent a Hornady 150 grain bullet to its destination. The South Dakota whitetail took less than a half-dozen steps and went down.

Unbelievably, Matt shot the very buck he had "picked out" two months earlier!
Unbelievably, Matt shot the very buck he had “picked out” two months earlier!

Chad gets his turn…

Meanwhile, Brandon was doing his best to find a big whitetail for Jake. Though they saw plenty of likely looking candidates over the first 1 1/2 days, something always seemed to happen to prevent Jake from closing the deal. The bucks were either too far away, moving too fast, chasing a doe in the opposite direction, on the wrong side of a property line fence or they just simply dropped out of sight.

So with nothing to lose, Brandon decided to try a little different strategy late in the afternoon of day two. With our good friend Brach Pulver available to do some filming on this hunt, Brandon suggested that Chad sit in a ground blind that overlooked a long, narrow hay field. “Brach can film Chad, and I’ll take Jake and go to another ranch a few miles down the road,” Brandon stated. “The way I see it, we’ll be doubling our chances for success by doing it this way.”

As it turned out, Chad and Brach barely had time to get settled in the ground blind before the first deer of the evening showed up. The 2 1/2 year old buck walked slowly across the far end of the hay field and directly to a licking branch (and an obvious scrape). Just as the young buck was finishing up his scent marking ritual, another buck walked into the field. A quick look was all it took to convince both men that this deer was a definite shooter.

Rather than dropping the hammer on his TC Encore Pro Hunter immediately, Chad waited until the big whitetail had finished working the scrape. The big 9 point had walked just a short distance from the scrape when Chad decided it was “go time”. Once again the TC rifle and Hornady ammo proved a deadly combination, and another South Dakota trophy hit the ground!

Chad Calhoun made the most of his opportunity when this great looking South Dakota 9 point showed up.
Chad Calhoun made the most of his opportunity when this great looking South Dakota 9 point showed up in front of his ground blind.

Finally, my turn!

With all this success permeating the South Dakota air, I figured my taking a big whitetail wasn’t a matter of if, but merely a matter of when. (You’d think I’d know better!!) Try as we might, however, we just couldn’t seem to get a decent chance at a big buck. Seeing big deer wasn’t a problem. We saw plenty. Getting one in a position where we might be able to work close enough for a shot was another matter.

And then when we did have a couple bucks close enough for a shot (two big bucks that were engaged in a full-blown, knockdown, very serious fight at the end of day three), we ran out of filming light.

I should mention that I really did have one golden opportunity to take a big whitetail on the last afternoon of my hunt. However, I absolutely “whiffed” three times at 275 yards with my TC Venture from a rock solid rest on my Caldwell Field Pod (not the gun’s or rest’s fault). I could make a dozen excuses for the misses. But it’ll be darn hard to live up to those excuses once we air the footage next year. I missed! No excuses either!!

Which brings us to the last hour of my South Dakota gun hunt…and a quest for an antlerless deer. You see, along with allowing me one antlered deer (either whitetail or mule deer), my license also allowed me to take one antlerless deer. Which I totally intended to do. And it was while we were looking for an antlerless whitetail that we happened across an old mule deer buck that had been on Pat West’s ‘hit list’ since the beginning of deer season. Problem was, he couldn’t get any of his hunters to shoot the buck. But I had no such trepidations about doing my part for herd management!

It was almost as if the old muley knew he’d been granted a free pass…that is, until our behavior changed from observers to predators. Then the chase was on. The big 3×4 took his harem of a dozen does and calmly trotted over a nearby hill. The next time we saw him he was a half mile away and on a fairly hard run toward the property line. By the time we finally got in front of him we had logged a couple miles and attempted several failed stalks. Thankfully, the buck wanted no part of the neighbor’s property. Rather than follow four of his does that had already jumped the line fence, he turned and followed another good sized muley buck back the way they’d come from. Matt and I caught up to the two deer a couple hills later, and my TC Venture ended my 2013 South Dakota gun hunt.

Here's the big ol' management muley I shot during the final hour of my South Dakota gun hunt. What a great trophy!!
Here’s the big old management muley I shot during the final hour of my South Dakota gun hunt. What a great trophy!!

 

As for the remainder of the 2013 hunting season, I’m heading to Kansas sometime in the next few days for a late season bowhunt. Then Jake and I are doing a late season bowhunt in North Dakota after Christmas. I know…brrrrr!!! We’ll keep you posted.

Hunt hard, but always hunt safe!!

Gear Used On Gun Hunts:

TC Venture & Dimension Rifles, Hornady American Whitetail Ammo, Caldwell Lead Sled, Caldwell Dead Shot Field Pod, Under Armour Apparel & Boots, Realtree Camo, HS Scent-A-Way, Ozonics, Nikon Optics, Outdoor Edge Knives, Tipton Best Gun Vise, YETI Coolers

Jake Keeps Rolling!

With his Indiana buck skinned, caped and cut up (and on its way back to Wisconsin with me), Jake immediately pointed his Ford F150 in a southwesterly direction and he and cameraman Chad Calhoun began another long trek. Some time earlier this year, Jake and I had been asked by Gregg Ritz if we’d like to be partners with him and some other industry people on a 15,000 acre lease in southeast Kansas. Considering the size of the holding, and the quality of some of the other people involved (like Jon & Gina Brunson and Don & Kandi Kiski), Jake and I jumped at the chance to participate. The only downside of the deal was the fact that we wouldn’t get an opportunity to pre-scout our newly acquired Kansas lease.

 

A Helping Hand…

But then Gregg Ritz came to our rescue once again. After informing him of Jake’s Indiana success, Gregg asked me where he was headed next. When I told him that Jake had four or five days to kill before he had to be in Colorado, Gregg immediately suggested that he head to Kansas. “One of our co-leasers, David Saleme, just arrowed a real good buck on the property yesterday,” Gregg stated. “He’s sticking around until early afternoon tomorrow, so if Jake can get there by then, I’m sure David would be more than happy to show him around.”

After working out the details, I put Jake in touch with David, wished him luck and then Matt and I took off for Wisconsin. I wanted to spend a few days bowhunting my lease at home before our gun opener and then Matt was going to hunt opening weekend of the Wisconsin gun season. So while we headed northwest, Jake and Chad headed southwest.

As luck would have it, Jake met up with David purely by coincidence at a convenience store a short distance from our Kansas lease. “I had just received a text from David asking me where I was, and when I told him that I was at this convenience store he sent me a text me back and said that he’d just left there. So he turned around, came back and introduced himself.” And a few hours later, David had given Jake and Chad a whirlwind tour of the property.

 

A Monster On The Reconyx!!

Though they had looked at a lot of ground in a short period of time, Jake had pretty much decided that he should concentrate his hunting efforts on a couple specific spots, and then put up Reconyx cameras to monitor deer activity in several other areas. One of these areas in particular actually showed a lot of promise, but Jake and Chad ran out of time before they could put up stands. So on the first morning they opted instead to hunt one of the stand sites they had put up right away. Shortly after daylight, Jake passed up a really good looking 9 point. “For a while I had second thoughts about passing him,” he said. “But after climbing down we went and checked the Reconyx in the spot where we didn’t have time to put up our stands…and we had photos of an absolute monster buck! Even though the photos were taken before daylight, we still went ahead and put up our stands.”

These two Reconyx photos convinced Jake and Chad that they needed to log some serious stand time in this spot!
These two Reconyx photos convinced Jake and Chad that they needed to log some serious stand time in this spot!

Jake CO Reconyx II

Because of wind direction, Jake and Chad had to wait until the next morning to hunt the giant whitetail. With the thought that the big deer could show up at any moment, they made the decision to stay put all day. But it wasn’t until just after sundown that things started to happen. First, the same 9 point that Jake had passed the previous morning strolled into view. As Jake was watching the buck, Chad whispered that another, much bigger buck, was walking toward them from behind the tree they were in. One glance told Jake that it was the big buck they had the photos of!

With the 9 point so close, Jake had to take extra care not to move at the wrong time. So with one eye on that deer and the other on the big buck, he managed to get turned enough and in position for a shot. “By now the big buck was well within bow range,” he told me. “But he was either always at a bad angle or behind some brush. He finally walked into an opening at about 20 yards. I came to full draw and absolutely drilled him. The

buck took a couple bounds and stopped, then walked maybe 75 yards and tipped over.” The main frame 10 point has a forked G-3 tine and a sticker off the top of his left beam between the G-2 and G-3. Unbelievably, Jake had just arrowed his second giant whitetail in four days!

With a rack that sports 12 scorable points, Jake's Kansas buck is every bit as big in real life as he looked on the Reconyx photos.
With a rack that sports 12 scorable points, Jake’s Kansas buck is every bit as big in real life as he looked on the Reconyx photos.

Just as they’d done a few days earlier in Indiana, Jake and Chad spent the next day shooting photos of a big buck, and then skinning, caping and butchering. But rather than having to immediately hit the road in route to their next destination, which was Colorado, this time they had an extra day to relax and collect themselves. However, the early morning hours of Nov. 20th found them once again on the road, but with substantially less windshield time in their future. And in fact, they might well arrive at the property they’d be bowhunting in eastern Colorado in time to hunt that evening.

As it turned out, though, Jake and Chad pretty much spent the late afternoon hours looking over the huge working cattle ranch where they’d be hunting with fellow ‘Wisconsinite’ Bryan Skaar. Bryan has actually been bowhunting the ranch for several years, so he was more than a little familiar with the property. Bryan quickly explained which parts of the ranch were best for giant mule deer, and which parts would probably be best for big whitetails.

“It was pretty much what you’d expect,” Jake related. “Bryan explained that the whitetails typically spent the majority of their time in the timbered river bottoms, while the mule deer seemed to prefer the more open prairie ground and rugged breaks. But with both the whitetail rut and mule deer rut in full swing, there really was no ‘typical’ deer behavior being displayed when we got to Colorado. You were just as apt to see giant whitetail bucks cruising around out on the prairie as in the river bottoms.”

Since the rut had the big muley bucks almost constantly on the move, Jake decided to forget about doing the spot & stalk thing and, instead, focus on whitetails in the river bottoms. “Initially, I thought we probably were out of the game,” he said. “Because we did indeed see big whitetail bucks cruising and chasing does out on the prairie all the while we were sitting on our stands in the river bottom that first day. But with no

real game plan for trying to take advantage of what we saw, Chad and I decided to stick with our original decision.”

The next morning found the two men back at their treestands in the river bottom. But after seeing very little deer movement in the river bottom, but all kinds of kinds of activity out on the prairie, Jake made the call to climb down at 11 am. After recharging their batteries with some lunch, Jake and Chad returned to their stand in the river bottom a little after 2 pm. Almost immediately they began seeing big whitetails out on the prairie.

“I was just sick because we were seeing all those big whitetails out on that open ground, but we had no clue how to go about trying to ambush one,” he stated. “Then I spotted a young buck coming our way in the river bottom. I immediately pointed him out to Chad, and he had just started filming when I looked and spotted a much bigger buck standing on a sand bank behind the little buck. Just about the time I spotted him he started heading our way too.”

Unfortunately, both deer were coming in from behind Jake. “So I had to get turned completely around on my stand,” he said. “And by then the small buck was

close enough that he caught me moving. He immediately spooked and ran off a short distance. But unbelievably the big buck never flinched. By now he was within 20 yards, so I came to full draw and tried to get lined up on him. I thought the sight picture looked good, but when I released I was shocked to see my arrow fly right over his back!”

Rather than bounding off, however, the big whitetail merely made a few small hops then stood glaring at the small buck. This gave Jake time to use his Nikon rangefinder. “He was exactly 30 yards away,” he recalled. “Luckily, his vitals were centered in a small opening. So I came to full draw, got steady and released. It was pretty much a picture perfect heart shot. He made one jump, walked about 40 yards and tipped over.”

Jake and Chad knew the buck was big. But they were surprised to learn how big he really was. “He’s a basic 9 pointer, but his rack is really heavy and has a lot of character,” he told me. “I’m guessing that he’ll gross score somewhere in the mid to upper 140’s. And his body is absolutely huge too. This deer is a real stud!”

Jake arrowed this stud Colorado whitetail on Nov. 15th. It was his third big whitetail in just 8 days!!
Jake arrowed this stud Colorado whitetail on Nov. 15th. It was his third big whitetail in just 8 days!!

There’s a very interesting sidebar to Jake’s Colorado bowhunt. As they were preparing to leave for their next destination (Montana gun hunt), he and Chad remembered that they had put a Reconyx camera right by the stand where Jake shot his buck. Upon checking the memory card they were shocked to find a beautiful photo of the very buck Jake had shot the previous evening! The big deer had walked past their stand site just a few minutes before the two men had returned for their evening hunt. Apparently, he had made a big loop in the river bottom and Jake ambushed him on his trip back through. Unbelievable!!

This photo of Jake's Colorado buck was taken right at his stand site. Jake shot the deer just a short time later.
This photo of Jake’s Colorado buck was taken right at his stand site. Jake shot the deer just a short time later.

Gear Used:

Mathews Creed XS Bow, Carbon Express Maxima Red Arrow, NAP KillZone Broadhead, Ozonics, Realtree AP Camo, Under Armour Apparel & Boots, TruGlo Sight & Nitrous Release, Ameristep Treestands & Rapid Rails, Nikon Binoculars & Rangefinder, HS Scent-A-Way & Calls, Gorilla Safety Harness, Outdoor Edge Knives, Reconyx Cameras, YETI Coolers.

Big Indiana Buck At The Buzzer!!

To say that the rut has been a little “off” in the upper midwest this year would be a tremendous understatement. Throughout the last few days of October and the first 10 days of November Jake and I had been in touch with whitetail hunters from just about every state in this region. Their reports were pretty much the same–trail cameras were picking up plenty of nocturnal big buck activity, but daylight sightings were few and far between. And actual breeding activity by mature bucks, i.e., cruising, chasing and breeding, was pretty much non-existent. But then along about the 13th of November things took a sudden turn for the better. It was as if someone threw a switch and the rut was on!

Indiana Here We Come!

Jake and I departed northern Wisconsin early on the morning of November 3rd enroute to southwest Indiana. We were going to be hunting with our good friend Mike Bassett. Mike is the owner of Scott Pet Products, and also the man who developed Big Tine deer supplement. So along with being a friend and hunting partner, Mike is also one the primary sponsors of THE HUNT. I’ve actually been hunting with Mike since 2008, but this would be Jake’s first bowhunt in the Hoosier State…and he was pumped! Mike had set him up to hunt a tract of ground approximately 20 miles north of where I’d be hunting. From all indications, it was an awesome piece of property.

The first couple days of our hunts were more or less a feeling out process. Along with sitting a couple stand sites that had been productive on past hunts,

cameraman Matt Tande and I also put out Reconyx scouting cameras in a number of other promising looking spots. After several days one thing became very obvious. The EHD outbreak that had hit this specific area the previous year had taken a tremendous toll on the mature buck population. Still, between scouting camera photos Mike had gotten prior to our arrival, along with some captured by one of our Reconyx cameras, it was apparent that there were several shooter bucks residing on the property. Unfortunately, the big buck we had the most pictures of also appeared to be the most nocturnal.

The numerous Reconyx photos I had of this deer showed that he was moving after dark.
The numerous Reconyx photos I had of this deer showed that he was moving after dark.

Meanwhile, Jake and cameraman Chad Calhoun were finding out pretty much the same thing in regards to nocturnal movement. After spending the first few days familiarizing himself with the property they were hunting and checking the several Reconyx cameras they’d put

out, the two men hit pay dirt…sort of. By day four they had gotten photos of a long-tined 8 point, a main frame 6×5 typical with double brows on one side and triple brows on the other and then another big 8 point with long, banana-shaped brow tines. But while it was encouraging to know that the big deer were all living in the immediate vicinity, it was discouraging to see that they were still adhering to their nocturnal travel patterns.

This is the first big Indiana buck that showed up in front of one of Jake's Reconyx cameras.
This is the first big Indiana buck that showed up in front of one of Jake’s Reconyx cameras.
This scorable 14 point was the next buck to walk in front of Jake's Reconyx.
This scorable 14 point was the next buck to walk in front of Jake’s Reconyx.
And then this long brow tined 8 point showed up.
And then this long brow tined 8 point showed up.

Of course, Jake was giving us daily updates on what was happening with his hunt. In some ways, it was encouraging to hear that every one of the big bucks he had photos of had been taken after dark. Based on his findings, and after talking with several local bowhunters, Matt and I could take some comfort in the fact that we weren’t the only ones dealing with night-time activity. So rather than going into panic mode and stomping all over our property trying to find a spot where we might just see some daytime action, we hung tough to our original spots.

The nocturnal thing remained pretty much constant for the next five days. Then, about a half hour before dark on day nine of our hunt, Matt and I finally got to lay our eyeballs on the big buck we’d been after from the beginning. He was trailing along behind two does and a fawn that had strolled out of a nearby standing cornfield and were now walking down a waterway between the corn and the small clover food plot where we were set up over a buck decoy. The three antlerless deer continued toward us until they reached a small rise in the food plot where they immediately spotted the decoy. They hesitated only briefly before continuing on, with the lead doe walking to within 15 yards of the bogus buck. A quick glance back at the big buck showed he was still coming along on the trail of the three antlerless deer. I remember thinking that this was just too good to be true.

But just that quick things started to go south. First, rather than continuing along on his original course, the old whitetail suddenly did an about face, took a few steps back the way he’d come from, stopped and stood sniffing the ground for a few moments. Then he made a hard left turn and slowly walked into a small woodlot on the far side of the food plot. He stayed just inside the woods and paralleled the plot until he was directly across from us, approximately 100 yards away. The hog-bodied 8 point then stopped and stared out into the food plot and (we believe) at the buck decoy for perhaps 10 seconds. The next thing we knew, he’d swapped ends and was walking way from us. That was the last we saw of him….

After seeing him in real life, Matt and I agreed that this Indiana buck is one of the largest bodied whitetails we've ever seen.
After seeing him in real life, Matt and I agreed that this Indiana buck is one of the largest bodied whitetails we’ve ever seen.

The big boys finally break loose!

Day 12 broke clear and cold, and with it came an encouraging text message from Jake. “Don’t know what you guys are seeing this morning, but all of a sudden we’re covered up in big bucks!” He then went on to tell me that he and Chad were going to go back to camp around 10 am, but they were staying just long enough to recharge their camera and microphone batteries. Then they were headed right back to the woods. I told him to call me when they got of the woods, and he did, explaining that he’d had a big 10 point get by him at 20 yards earlier that morning. “It was very thick where he walked and I only had small openings to shoot through,” he said. “I tried voice grunting and bleating to get him to stop in one of the openings, but he either didn’t hear me or didn’t care, because he never once stopped walking. So after we climbed down I took the time to cut some shooting lanes to the trail the buck was on. Hopefully, he comes back through on that same trail this afternoon.”

Jake and Chad were settled back on their stands by mid-afternoon. Not much happened until around 4:20 pm. That’s when Jake noticed a big buck walking toward them on the old logging trail where they were set up. The big whitetail continued on, then at 30 yards he turned broadside and stopped, giving Jake a great shot opportunity. Unfortunately, as he attempted to draw his bow Jake’s right elbow hit the tree trunk behind him, which prevented him from coming to full draw. He quickly leaned forward a bit, but just as he finally got drawn the buck turned and started walking straight toward the tree where Jake and Chad were perched!

The buck continued to close the distance, and when he got to approximately 15 yards he suddenly turned broadside and gave Jake the chance he’d been waiting for. The arrow struck the big deer perfectly and he ran less than 100 yards before going down for good. Though Jake suspected he had just arrowed the 14 pointer that had been walking in front of their Reconyx camera, his suspicions weren’t confirmed until he walked up on the buck. At that point I doubt there was a happier or more humbled bowhunter in the entire state of Indiana. He and Chad had put in 12 hard days of scouting and hunting in hopes of realizing this exact result. They had taken the exact buck they had targeted from the beginning!

Jake and Chad hunted this buck for 12 days before finally getting the deer to walk by within bow range.
Jake and Chad hunted this Indiana whitetail for 12 days before finally having the deer walk by within bow range.

There was little time for celebration, however, as the two men were overdue for a bowhunt in Kansas. So after shooting photos, skinning, caping and “reducing their Indiana buck to venison”, they hit the road. I’ll fill you in on how Jake’s Kansas hunt went in my next blog.

Gear Used:

Mathews Creed XS Bow, Reconyx Cameras, Ozonics, Carbon Express Maxima Red Arrow, NAP Killzone Broadhead, Ameristep Treestands & Rapid Rails, Realtree AP Camo, Under Armour Apparel & Boots, HS Scent-A-Way, TruGlo Sight & Nitrus Release, Nikon Binoculars & Rangefinder, Gorilla Safety Harness, Outdoor Edge Knives, YETI Coolers.

Goodbye to The ‘Hook Buck’!

Well, after successfully giving both Jake and I the slip during our South Dakota bowhunts, the Hook Buck finally met his match a few days ago. While Wisconsin bowhunter Don Primley did fail to connect on the old whitetail the first time he was presented with an opportunity, he certainly made up for his wayward shot when he was offered a second chance the very next evening.

The Hook Buck went from being daylight active, to being a nocturnal deer...and then back to being daylight active. It was a fatal mistake for the old whitetail!
The Hook Buck went from being daylight active, to being a nocturnal deer…and then back to being daylight active. It was a fatal mistake for the old whitetail!

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Don’s first chance at the Hook Buck came the day after the huge snowstorm that paralyzed much of western South Dakota had finally blown itself out. In Don’s defense, instead of moving through on the same pattern he’d displayed for better than a month (which saw him traveling from north to south), the old deer did a 180 degree switch-a-roo and came walking in from the south. I’m sure that having the big deer suddenly stroll into view just 30 yards away in the “wrong” direction would have been enough to unnerve anyone. On top of that, Don reported that the Hook Buck just seemed to know that something was up. (Funny, that’s pretty much the same analogy that Jake and I used after our encounters with the big whitetail!) He was suspicious, nervous, and appeared ready to bolt at any second. In any event, when Don finally was presented a decent shot, his arrow went wide of it’s mark and the buck ran off none the worse for wear.

It was a different story the very next evening, however. True to the pattern he’d used throughout most of September, the Hook Buck appeared to the north of Don’s stand and eventually worked his way to within about 35 yards. But as was the case the previous evening, the buck just seemed to know that he was being watched. Eventually, though, he offered Don the shot angle he was waiting for and, as the old saying goes, the rest is history.

Anyone who has hunted whitetails for any length of time has heard the

term “ground shrinkage”. Let me assure you, there definitely was no ground shrinkage on the Hook Buck when Don and outfitter Pat West walked up on him. In fact, there was actually “ground growth”. As big as the buck had looked on the dozens of scouting camera photos Pat had captured of him the past month, he was substantially larger in real life. The Hook Buck is one of those deer that, if you had his mounted head hanging on your wall, people would stand in front it with their mouths hanging open and simply stare in silent awe. The Hook Buck is big in every way–with the exception of his net score. But in my opinion, when it comes to really understanding and appreciating the true beauty of very mature whitetails, net score often is irrelevant.

Pat West figures the Hook Buck was 6 1/2 years old. Though his rack doesn't possess a great net score, the old whitetail does possess a ton of character. Check out those quadruple brow tines!!
Pat West figures the Hook Buck was 6 1/2 years old. Though his rack doesn’t possess a great net score, the old whitetail does possess a ton of character. Check out those quadruple brow tines!!

From all of us at THE HUNT, congratulations on an outstanding trophy animal, Don! And goodbye to the Hook Buck!!

 

**For more information about booking a top notch bowhunt for trophy whitetails or mule deer,

log on to Pat West’s website: www.dakotaranchoutfitters.com

South Dakota Deer Don’t Read The Script!

It looked like everything was going to happen according to the “script”. This was our very first sit in South Dakota, and the big whitetail we were after was standing on the other side of a barbed wire fence just 60 yards away. All he had to do was jump the fence and walk another 15 yards closer and the ‘Hook Buck’ would be well within bow range. According to dozens of scouting camera photos our buddy Pat West had captured of this deer the past couple weeks, that’s surely what he would do. But seconds later the trophy animal swapped ends and trotted back the way he’d come from. Just like that, the Hook Buck was gone.

Cameraman Matt Tande and I were both surprised and disappointed at this sudden change in events. Matt was disappointed by the fact that he hadn’t even had time to punch record on the camera before the buck disappeared. And I was surprised by the fact that there was absolutely no reason that I could see for the buck to spook. But before either of us had time to really dwell on our feelings, the old whitetail made another surprising move. He suddenly walked back out of the thick cover and started heading in our direction on a very purposeful walk!

After using pretty much the exact same travel pattern for two weeks, the Hook Buck suddenly changed his routine on opening day of the archery season.
After using pretty much the exact same travel pattern for two weeks, the Hook Buck suddenly changed his routine on opening day of the archery season.

This time Matt did get to punch record on the Sony XD-Cam. And the footage he laid down of the Hook Buck over the next several minutes is stunning. During that time the big deer was never more than 80 yards away. Unfortunately, he was never closer than 65 yards–which means he never came within bow range. Unlike just about every evening during the past two weeks (where he was photographed walking within 30 yards of the tree we were in), it was apparent from the start that the Hook Buck had no intention of walking closer (nor had he read the “script”). After parading back and forth for a while, the old deer eventually disappeared back into the thick cover. Just as well, however, as we ran out of filming light at that very moment.

You know, I’ve always been intrigued by how mature whitetails sometimes just seem to be able to sense predatory threats. No way they’ve heard, seen or smelled an imminent threat. It’s simply that amazingly keen survivalist sense they possess kicking into gear. For lack of a better term, I prefer to say that they sometimes just ESP their way out of danger. And that’s exactly what the Hook Buck did on the evening of September 28th, 2013. Even worse, with the wind forecast to switch to a more southerly blow the next few days, we wouldn’t be able to hunt him again for a while.

It Pays To Have A Backup Plan!

Luckily for us, we’d been spending the morning hours checking scouting cameras on several other pieces of property in the area. Interestingly, almost every one of the cameras we checked were producing at least some daylight photos of shooter bucks. One camera in particular, though, was especially “hot”. Not only were we getting photos of two big 10-pointers on a very regular basis, a good number of those photos were being taken in daylight. Even better, the biggest of the two 10-pointers appeared to be the most photogenic and daylight active!

MDGC0136

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It’s interesting how on rare occasions everything just seems to fall into place. On the surface, that appeared to be the case here. The change in wind direction was the first piece to fall into place. The fact that there just happened to be a large, tall and (more importantly) very straight tree (for our stands) within bow range of a very hot staging area was the next piece to fall into place. Of course, the final piece was all the photos we had of the two big bucks. Those photos showed us what time the bucks were showing up, which direction they were coming from and which direction they were going. Seems like a slam dunk, right? Well, maybe…

The temperature was a balmy 84 degrees when we headed to our stands late the next afternoon. Fortunately, there was also a stiff, 20 mph southwest wind to help keep the heat in check. After getting settled on my stand, I took a few seconds to range a few spots where I felt the big 10 pointer could possibly walk when/if he showed up. Most importantly, I made darn sure to double and then triple check the distance to the center of the staging area. My Nikon rangefinder showed it to be exactly 22.5 yards straight out in front of me.

The staging area is located in some very thick river bottom cover, approximately 15 yards off the edge of a lush hayfield. From what we’d been able to ascertain from numerous scouting camera photos, the bucks almost always approached from some thick cover directly behind the staging area. So no reason to believe the pattern wouldn’t hold true on this evening–provided the bucks read the “script”, of course!

The first hour went by fairly quickly, and I had just leaned over and whispered something to Matt when I thought I heard something walking in the tall grass behind our stand tree. I turned to look in that direction and was shocked to see the BIG 10 pointer slowly walking our way on the same trail we’d used to get to our

stand. This certainly wasn’t in the script! The buck wasn’t supposed to show up behind us and then follow our trail to the tree. He was supposed to walk out of the thick cover in front of us and then stand in the middle of the staging area, 22.5 yards away.

So now, with our original script out the window, I quickly got Matt’s attention by hissing, “big buck”! I then grabbed my bow. When I looked at the buck again I saw that he was now only about 12 yards and closing! Fortunately, the 10 pointer then veered off our walking trail and began circling to the left side of the tree. He took a few more steps and I heard Matt whisper, “I’m on him”! (Which is his way of telling me I have the green light.) I waited until the buck dropped his head, came to full draw and grunted him to a stop. I don’t consider any bow shot a “gimme”, but this 10 yarder was pretty darn easy. But after all the 30 yard, 40 yard and longer shots I’ve had to make the past few years, it also was much appreciated!!

This South Dakota buck didn't read the 'script' either. But he did make the mistake of walking within 10 yards of us.
This South Dakota buck didn’t read the ‘script’ either. But he did make the mistake of walking within 10 yards of us.

The big whitetail ran 40 yards after the hit, stopped and looked around for just a few seconds before tipping over. I looked at my watch and saw that it was exactly 5:05 pm. Still two hours to go before the end of legal shooting time and I already had a big whitetail on the ground. Unbelievable!!

Even after all the many years I’ve been doing it, this sport and these animals still continue to amaze me. About the time you think you have a pretty good handle on things, and start to believe you have mature bucks figured out, you realize you really don’t know much at all. Which is exactly why I love what I do so much. It’s an ongoing challenge!!

On to Oklahoma next…

Gear Used:

Mathews Creed Bow, Carbon Express Maxima Red Arrows, NAP HellRazor Broadhead, Nikon Optics, Ozonics, Reconyx Cameras, Ameristep Treestands, Rapid Rails, Realtree Camo, Under Armour Apparel, TruGlo Nitrous Release, Schaffer Rest, Gorrila Safety Harness, HS Scent-A-Way

PostScript: Jake and his cameraman Chad Calhoun had a very close encounter with the Hook Buck last evening. The big

deer showed up and did exactly what he was “supposed” to do. He walked to within 35 yards of their stand site with five minutes of filming light remaining. Unfortunately, the buck stopped and stood at a bad angle, and remained in that same position until Chad ran out of camera light. So they had to let him walk. I swear, the Hook Buck is living a charmed life!!

Up Next: South Dakota Bowhunt

Jake and I have been home since the second weekend of September and, as you might imagine, we are itching to get back after it. And we can’t think of a better place to get that itch scratched than by spending five days chasing whitetails and muleys in South Dakota! (Archery season opens Sept. 28th) While I’ll pretty much be concentrating my efforts on trying to put a good whitetail on the ground, Jake would much rather do the spot & stalk thing for a big muley buck.

Our buddy Pat West from Dakota Ranch Outfitters has been getting photos of some real nice whitetails the past few weeks, including one buck that I’m particularly interested in. A couple years ago Pat nicknamed this deer the ‘Hook Buck’ because his long left brow tine hooked in at the top. As if that didn’t give his rack enough character, this year the old whitetail sprouted three abnormal points off the back

of his left brow tine. Hopefully, the ‘Hook Buck’ will stick with the daytime movement pattern he’s been displaying the past couple weeks. But we all know how things can change this time of year! Thankfully, we’re arriving in South Dakota early, so we’ll have time to scout, hang stands, etc.

Here's a recent photo of the 'Hook Buck'. We've been after this deer for several years.
Here’s a recent photo of the ‘Hook Buck’. We’ve been after this deer for several years

Pat has also been getting reports from some of the local cattle ranchers that there are a fair number of big muleys in the area, so it sounds like there are plenty of “targets of opportunity” for Jake. Despite logging dozens of foot miles and making an uncountable number of stalks, it’s been four years since Jake arrowed his last mule deer buck. But this hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm in the least. In fact, you’d have to talk with him less than a minute to realize that he still harbors a tremendous passion for spot & stalk bowhunting for big muley bucks.

It's been four years since Jake arrowed this 6 1/2 year old muley buck. He's due for another one!
It’s been four years since Jake arrowed this 6 1/2 year old muley buck. He’s due for another one!

Of course, as is always the case, we’re hoping the weather cooperates. Late September in western South Dakota can mean anything from brutally hot temperatures to absolutely perfect early fall weather–or anything in between. About the only thing we’ve not had to deal with the past six years is rain. (I probably just jinxed us by making that comment!) But whatever the case, I guarantee that Jake and I will be

giving it our best shot for five full days!

We’re headed straight to Oklahoma for another bowhunt when we leave South Dakota. We picked up a new piece of property this year, and it’s located just a stone’s throw from the Kansas border. So it certainly should have potential. However, we’re going into it “green”. We haven’t looked at, scouted or even set foot on the property. Hopefully, we can get things figured out during the week that we’re there. I’ll keep you posted…. <<GM>>

Outfitter Info–Wyoming & Montana

Trophies Plus Outfitters

 

Because his camp is located in

Alzada, Montana (which lies just 1 1/2 miles from the Wyoming border), Trophies Plus Outfitters owner Mike Watkins has the luxury of being able to

offer hunts in both Montana and Wyoming. Personally, we can’t think of a better place to start your hunting season than with Mike. A September 1st opener for the Wyoming archery season pretty much guarantees that you’ll be hunting velvet bucks. What’s more, because they haven’t yet been subjected to any pressure, these bucks will be making their way to the alfalfa fields and other feeding areas well before dark–which, of course, dramatically increases your chances for an encounter.

I arrowed this beautiful velvet 8-point Wyoming whitetail on Sept. 4th 2013 while hunting with Trophies Plus Outfitters.
I arrowed this beautiful velvet 8-point Wyoming whitetail on Sept. 4th 2013 while hunting with Trophies Plus Outfitters.

Montana’s archery season typically opens during the first week of September. While the odds of taking a velvet buck aren’t quite as good as in Wyoming, Montana’s early opener does guarantee that the bucks will still be “bachelored up” and displaying very predictable and exploitable travel patterns. And just like in Wyoming, the bucks that reside on the ranches you’ll be hunting are virtually un-pressured for most of the year. So you can count on seeing plenty of daylight activity.

I shot this big Montana whitetail on the evening of Sept. 9th, 2013. Just one of many deer I've taken over the years with Trophies Plus!
I shot this big Montana whitetail on the evening of Sept. 9th, 2013. Just one of many deer I’ve taken over the years with TrophiesPlus!

 

 

If you’re looking to start your archery deer season early, then you need to contact Mike Watkins at Trophies Plus Outfitters! By the way, Mike also offers antelope and turkey hunts.

Contact info:

Phone: (406) 828-4512

Website: www.trophiesplusoutfitters.com

 

Got Lucky (Again) In Montana!

In my last blog I wrote about how we got a second chance at a big buck in Wyoming. Well, guess what? The same thing happened again five days later in Montana! After watching two big bucks walk by outside of bow range earlier in the evening, we then had another big buck walk by well within bow range (35 yards). Unfortunately, he walked by on the wrong side of the blind. Matt and I were set up to shoot in front of and to the left of the blind. The big 8-point walked by on our right side. But then, unbelievably, the big deer made a fatal mistake!!

The Story…..

After tagging out in Wyoming on the 4th of September, Matt and I had

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a couple days to scout/observe the Montana property we’d be hunting when that state’s archery season opened on the 7th. What we learned was that the resident whitetails on the ranch were really hammering two alfalfa fields in particular. We spent the first two evenings hunting from a ground blind we placed next to a round bale in the alfalfa field we had seen a couple real good bucks using. There were already close to 20 deer in the field on the first evening, with more deer headed our way, when a very severe thunderstorm (complete with numerous cloud to ground lightening strikes) rolled in and forced us to make an early exit.

We made our way back to the same blind the next evening, and it didn’t take long for things to start going our way. Just 30 minutes after we got settled, a mature doe walked by our blind at 35 yards. A little later a good-looking 2 1/2 year old 8-pointer and a doe showed up on a sage flat straight out in front of us, headed straight toward the blind. However, when the two deer were 100 yards out they veered off their original course and eventually disappeared behind a slight rise. About 20 minutes later two more deer appeared on the sage flat. One look through my Nikon binoculars showed that both bucks were shooters. One was a 10 point that I’d put in the 130″ class. The other was also a 10-point, but substantially bigger–like a 140″-145″ class deer.

Matt laid down some good footage of the two bucks, but when they got to about the 150 yard mark, both deer suddenly locked up and started staring at something to our far right. It was apparent the larger buck was especially nervous, and he eventually whirled and ran back the way he’d come from, taking the other 10-point velvet buck with him. Believe it or not, just a few minutes later another freaky severe thunderstorm rolled in literally right on top of us and ended our hunt early.

Which brings us to day three…

Since the two bucks had been spooked away from what we call the “top alfalfa field”, Matt and I decided to put up a ground blind in the “bottom alfalfa field”. (This field is located pretty much in a river bottom, hence it’s name. Brilliant, huh?) Anyway, after selecting a spot in a particularly lush part of the field, we put up our blind and had the landowner drop a round bale right next to it. We then drove to nearby hay corral, grabbed a bunch of loose hay, took it back to the blind and decorated it enough to make it look like just another round bale.

We’d been in the blind less than 15 minutes that evening when deer started filtering into the alfalfa. A half-hour later, there were 15 whitetails feeding at the far end of the field. Then deer began popping into the field off to our right. About 10 minutes later the first bucks of the evening, both of them 2 1/2 year-old 8-points, strolled out to join the other deer at the “alfalfa buffet”. Finally, some 20 minutes further into our hunt, the first shooter of the evening appeared off to our right. The mid-130’s 10-point (he’d already shed his velvet) spent some time feeding alongside the deer that had come out earlier before eventually picking up his head, looking around, and then walking all the way across the field and into the river bottom on the far side. He never got closer than 100 yards. Strike one!

Matt and I barely had time to curse our bad luck when the big velvet 10-point we’d seen near the “top alfalfa field” the previous evening walked into the field. To make a long story much shorter, the buck alternately fed and walked our way, and eventually ended up passing by to our left…but just outside of my effective bow range. Strike two!

I’m not gonna lie. At this point I was convinced that our Montana hunt was cursed. But I barely had time to accept the notion when I noticed that three deer had walked over a berm 200 yards in front of the blind. A quick check through my binos showed that two of the deer were shooter bucks. Better yet, they were rapidly feeding in our direction. And even better than that, after feeding for just a few minutes, the largest buck suddenly picked up his head and started heading our way on a steady walk!

The big 8-point continued walking toward us, closing the

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distance to 100 yards. But then at about 75 yards, he started angling a bit to our right. And when he hit the 50 yard mark, it was obvious he was going to pass to the right of the blind, in a spot where we weren’t set up to shoot or film (of course)! All Matt and I could do was sit and watch as the big deer strolled by at a mere 35 yards and, we thought, out of our lives.

Once the 8-point walked out of sight, I turned my attention back out the front window of the blind and was surprised to see another big buck standing just 60 yards away. Though the buck was only a 7-point, he was obviously very mature and a great looking deer. I whispered to Matt to get on the buck, because if he came within bow range, I was definitely going to take him. But then both Matt and I noticed that the big 7-point was staring at something off to the right of the blind. Curious, Matt lifted the window flap on that side and excitedly whispered, “The big 8 is right here, 35 yards away. And he’s walking back

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toward the big 7-pointer!”

This big 8 point Montana whitetail made the mistake of walking by a second time.

This big 8 point Montana whitetail made the mistake of walking by a second time.

The best words I know to describe the action inside the blind for the next 10 to 15 seconds are “controlled chaos”! While Matt quietly tried to get the tripod and camera moved to a right side window, I slid off my chair, knelt down and got into position to shoot out the window. Seconds later I heard Matt whisper, “Here he comes.” Then he was there–head down, feeding on the alfalfa. A quick reading with my rangefinder showed him to be 43 yards. But before I could draw my bow, the big deer shuffled ahead several steps. A second ranging now put him at 51 yards. I quickly drew and put the 50 yard pin on his vitals. The sight picture steadied and the arrow was on its way.

I both saw and heard the arrow hit, and knew immediately that it had struck the buck a bit far back. He ran about 75 yards, slowed to a walk and eventually exited the far end of the field. Just to be safe, we let him go overnight and took up the trail at 7:30 the next morning. We recovered the dead buck after a long and tricky trailing job through chest high grass.

Jake quest for a big Wyoming whitetail continues. He has two days left on his hunt and heads home Friday. As for me and Matt, we’re going to be busy pretty much all day tomorrow shooting supplemental footage for our Wyoming and Montana bowhunts. We’ll be hitting the road for home on Thursday. Archery season in our home state of Wisconsin opens Saturday, Sept. 14th. We’ll be hunting there until we hit the road on Sept. 27th for a bowhunt in South Dakota. I’ll keep you posted. ~~GM~~

Gear Used:

Mathews Creed Bow, NAP HellRazor Broadhead, Arctic Cat Prowler, Carbon Express Maxima Red Arrow, Tru-Glo Nitrus Release & Tru-Glo Sight, Under Armour Apparel, Realtree Camo, Ameristep Brotherhood Blind, Nikon Binocular & Rangefinder, Schaffer Opposition Rest, Ozonics.