by Tim Schlater
In February 2008, my expectations for deer hunting during the upcoming season got a boost when I started seeing a big 14-pointer during some of my evening scouting trips. He was in the company of several smaller bucks and a harem of does, and he often bedded in a CRP field. Toward dark, he always moved to a winter wheat field to feed.
Having obtained permission to hunt the property, I thought it would be awesome to hunt this buck during the upcoming 2008 bow season. Of course, I also realized that 100 things could happen between February and September. I knew he could die from a variety of causes or just plain disappear, never to be seen again.
When mid-March rolled around, I was still watching the same group of deer. Eventually all of the bucks shed their antlers, and I was on a mission to find the big one’s sheds. I felt confident I could find both sides without much difficulty. The area consisted of several open fields with one in CRP, along with some open woods and a winter wheat field as mentioned — no really thick cover to hide an antler. Also, the buck seemed to have a consistent pattern from bedding to his preferred feeding area.
AN AMAZING FIND
So finding those sheds would be easy work, right? Not exactly. I walked the property for the better part of a day, checking every fencerow, every trail and the entire CRP field. I scanned the open fields with binoculars, and I walked the creek. Nothing. Not even a small 3-point side from one of the 1 1/2-year-old bucks! I was disappointed, to say the least.
Then, something amazing happened. As I was driving down the road in my truck, heading for home, I glanced out into the CRP field to my left and thought I saw something white that looked out of place. I stopped the truck, backed up, and used my binoculars to confirm what I had seen. Sure enough, there was an antler about 25 yards out in the field, on a deer trail.
As soon as I picked up the shed, I realized it was the left side off the big buck I’d been watching. The G-4 was broken off near the base, and the antler had a 3-inch abnormal point coming off the G-2. After walking for miles in prime territory with no results, I’d found what I’d been searching for while driving down the road. Figure that one out!
A subsequent search of the area for the matching right side turned up nothing. Later I scored the single shed that I’d found. Allowing a 6-inch credit for the broken G-4 and assuming a conservative 18-inch inside spread, the buck would have scored 164 gross in 2007. Knowing that 20 inches of growth from one year to the next was reasonable to expect, I was excited that I might have the opportunity to hunt a legitimate B&C buck come autumn!
THE CAMERA DOESN’T LIE
In April, I placed three mineral blocks on the property, in hopes of holding the buck on the farm and to provide a mineral supplement for the local deer. I also planned to set out a trail camera later in the summer. looking to get a good photo of the buck. In mid-July, I placed my Cuddeback camera at one of the mineral sites to see what kind of deer activity was taking place in the vicinity.
For two weeks I got dozens of photos, but all the pictures were of does, fawns and small bucks. Then, on July 27, I pulled the flash card and checked it on my computer. There he was! It was only one photo but a good one, and I could tell the buck had added substantial tine length, beam length and mass. The G-2 tine on the right side was forked with a long abnormal point, which gave his rack a truly unique pattern. His beautiful, long tines reminded me of candlesticks. I left the camera at the site for two more weeks and then moved it to another mineral site, but got no more photos of the buck.
In early August I began my evening scouting trips, usually two per week. Immediately I located “my” buck. His evening feeding activity took place in a soybean field along a stream. He was fairly predictable and failed to show up only on a few occasions. He had plenty of company with him: dozens of does, a number of fawns and several bucks in the 130 class. One of the other bucks had four perfect tines on one side and nothing on the other but a long main beam with a crab claw on the end, a very unusual rack.
AN ALL-OR-NOTHING PLAN
When September arrived, the buck disappeared for a month. With the beans starting to turn yellow and other food sources becoming available, this was expected. I’d seen this same behavior pattern while scouting in previous years, yet it still caused considerable anxiety. I wondered if the buck had been shot illegally, had been hit on the road, or had simply moved off the property.
Opening day of archery season arrived on Sept. 27, and still I’d had no recent sightings of the buck. I hunted a few evenings the following week in a stand outside of his core area. I didn’t want to disturb or try to hunt this core area until I knew the buck was nearby. I killed a doe from that stand but never saw the 14-pointer.
Then, on Oct. 5, I decided to spend the evening scouting instead of sitting in a tree. The decision proved to be a good one. About 30 minutes before dark, the buck came out of a CRP field, crossed a stream and entered the same bean field he had frequented back in August. About 12 other whitetails were in the same field, and the beans still had some green leaves on them that were very attractive to the deer.
I quickly sized up the situation and developed a game plan for the next evening. If the buck stayed on this pattern, I figured I might just get an opportunity. The area was nothing but open fields, and I could see only one tree along the stream that looked big enough to hold a tree stand. The buck entered the bean field within 40 yards of this tree, so I knew this was my best chance at getting a shot. I also knew this would likely be my only chance; when I climbed down at the end of the hunt, every deer within 400 yards would be watching me. The stand would surely be burned for a while.
DAY OF RECKONING
Oct. 6 was sunny and hot. It was 80 degrees with a stiff breeze out of the east. I didn’t know exactly where the buck would be bedded in the CRP field, but I did know that an east wind was the best, as he was least likely to be in the area west of my stand. I also knew half the battle would be to get to the tree undetected. Several deer blowing and flagging would alert the whole herd.
I had 2 1/2 hours until dark as I walked in along a dry creek bed, doing my best not to rattle any rocks as I kept my profile low. To me, this strategy almost seemed more like hunting pronghorn on the prairie than hunting whitetails in the Midwest. I only bumped one doe while sneaking in, and luckily for me, she didn’t alert any other deer to my intrusion.
As I got near the tree, I found a welcome surprise: two waterholes within 50 yards of my stand location. This was the only water left in the otherwise dry creek bed, and I knew it would make my stand site even better.
I reached the tree, screwed in seven steps and hung my Gorilla stand without making much noise. Fortunately, there were no branches to prune. My stand was about 18 feet up in an ash. I wanted to go higher, but a fork in the tree prevented this. I pulled my bow up and got settled in and let the breeze dry the sweat I’d generated while hanging the stand. Finally I was ready for action.
About 45 minutes before dark, deer started to materialize all around me. A 130-class buck and four does came out of a woods 300 yards away. They crossed the CRP field, and the buck came to the waterhole 20 yards behind me. He drank and then moved out into the bean field. Several other groups of does and fawns popped out of the CRP field into the mowed portion of the field and began to feed. Another nice buck, a 10-pointer, crossed the CRP field and joined some does about 150 yards behind me.
One doe came out into the open field directly downwind of me, and I was worried she would blow and put all the other deer on alert. Fortunately, the Scent-Lok suit I was wearing, along with the other scent-control measures I had taken, paid dividends. She looked in my direction and stomped her foot once, but then went back to feeding.
Three does and a 6-pointer began feeding toward me, so I stood in the stand and had my Hoyt bow in hand. They were all feeding within 30 yards in front of me with only 20 minutes of daylight left.
Why is every deer on the farm in plain view except the buck I am looking for? I wondered.
Just then I glanced to my right and saw him about 50 yards away, as he stepped out of waist-high grass into the mowed portion of the field. I knew immediately when I saw those tall candlestick tines that it was him. He walked directly toward me with the wind to his back and no cover at all between us. I shifted my feet slightly, anticipating the angle he was taking and where I expected to get my best shot.
UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
I was concerned the buck might see movement as I drew my bow. I didn’t have long to worry about it, though; within seconds he was at 20 yards, and then 10 yards — broadside. I drew and anchored. To my surprise, he kept walking, totally unaware of my presence. I grunted softly, and he stopped at seven yards. I settled the top pin behind his shoulder and released.
My first reaction was that the arrow had gone a little forward on the shoulder, as I saw part of the arrow shaft sticking out when he made his first leap. The arrow broke off and flipped up in the air as he bolted across the dry creek bed and into the standing bean field. I watched him run 200 yards into the beans, and my heart began to sink, thinking my shot was too far forward in the shoulder.
The buck suddenly stopped and looked back in my direction. I looked down and shifted my body in the tree stand, and when I looked up again he was gone. I knew he couldn’t have left the field that quickly, so I figured he had either collapsed or bedded down. With only 15 minutes of daylight remaining, I felt I needed to get to the spot quickly. I knew he’d be difficult to find in the tall beans after dark.
I climbed down and ran along a fencerow and into the bean field to the area where I thought I had last seen the buck. I searched for a couple of minutes and didn’t find any sign. Then, all at once, I saw white tines sticking up in the beans. He was graveyard dead. My shot had been perfect: right behind the shoulder and halfway up on his body!
END TO A QUEST
The giant had a beautiful 16-point rack and a huge body. For me, it was the perfect ending to a quest that had started eight months earlier. I spent a solemn moment thinking about how fortunate I’d been to have taken this buck and how lucky I was to have the privilege to hunt this property. I tagged him with my temporary tag and headed home to recruit some help. Later, while field dressing the buck, I found my 3-blade NAP Spitfire broadhead and a short piece of arrow stuck in his heart. Thanks to Tim, Joel, Jacob, Sam and Ethan for helping drag him to the truck!
On Dec. 9, 2008, following the mandatory 60-day drying period, the buck’s rack was officially scored by well-known official B&C measurer Ron Perine Sr. Ron came up with 191 1/8 gross and 185 3/8 net non-typical. This was indeed a great buck, and the perfect ending to what can only be described as a dream season!
(Editor’s Note: The author is a field director for Whitetails Unlimited in Hillsboro, Ohio. For more information on the organization, call 866-905-8152 or go online to www.whitetailsunlimited.com.)