May 24, 2011
Trophy hunters know consistently harvesting mature bucks takes the right equipment, experience and lots of dedication. But the one simple concept that led me to my best buck ever was my preseason effort to locate him. I purposely set out in early 2010 to find more and bigger bucks than I had in the past. I normally hunt multiple states, so time is at a premium during October and November. In past years, my plan in Ohio was to hunt several farms in October, harvesting some does, and then based on sightings and sign, narrow my efforts down to a farm or two. This approach has worked well for me on 140- to 150-class whitetails but not top-end, Boone & Crockett bucks. I decided I needed a different strategy because that caliber of buck simply doesn't exist on every farm.
I began by networking with friends, landowners and even outfitters to get permission to hunt new properties and basically cast a wider net. After many tanks of gas in my truck and considerable time with a plat book in hand, I had gained access to several new farms by late spring. My next step was to put out trail cameras and essentially take an inventory of the available bucks. I ran a circuit of seven Moultrie trail cameras over Trophy Rock mineral licks across four counties in Ohio. In my experience, bucks crave minerals in the spring and summer and will frequently hit these spots, sometimes several times a day. This sounds fun but requires a lot of time, effort and planning. In my case, the rewards would be worth it for several reasons. First and foremost, I love all the work involved with bowhunting trophy whitetails. It's a passion of mine. Second, I own a network of hunting Web sites -- NextHunt.com, HuntInfo.com and American-Hunter.com -- so some of the experience, pictures and tips can be shared with my readers as well.
By June, I had pictures of eight bucks that were showing shooter potential but only two that might be Booners. I started hanging my Lone Wolf stands and made a point to swap SD cards from cameras about once every 3-4 weeks and at midday. I try very hard not to bump these mature deer any more than necessary.
By the time I checked trail cams in July, it was becoming obvious one of the two largest bucks was a truly special deer. This buck was growing the most perfect and largest 10-point rack I had ever seen. I figured my camera must be near his core area since he often came by in daylight. If this pattern would just hold, he would be killable. I was beyond excited. How many days until bow season?
In August, it was interesting to see his pattern shifting to more nocturnal activity. At this point he was easily a 185-inch-plus typical, with long tines and main beams. This was going to be the buck on which I was going to focus all my efforts, starting with early season.
My early-season set-up for this buck was simple. The buck seemed to be bedding on the east side of a rectangular-shaped woods. There was a low point in the fence where the farmer had told me he often saw deer. This was on the west side of the same woods near an inside corner and where the trail cam was positioned. I had already hung two Lone Wolf stands near this fence crossing, one to the north and one to the south, which gave me some options to play the wind. Unfortunately, neither of them allowed me to hunt with the prevailing southwest-westerly winds we commonly get in early fall. I had to have an easterly wind. Of course, when opening day arrived, the wind was northwesterly. So I took my daughter hunting instead. She shot a nice doe, which was an awesome way to kick-off the season!
Fortunately for me, a cold front was moving in and a northeasterly wind was forecast for Sunday, September 26. It was finally go time! I was standing in my Lone Wolf by 3 p.m. that afternoon. The wind was cooperating but on occasion, swirled between gusts. That was scary. Fortunately, I had gone through my normal, albeit slightly obsessive, scent-minimizing efforts including washing all clothes in scent-free soap, hanging them outside for two days, showering with Dead Down Wind body and hair soap and then dressing outside. Did I mention I put a clean nylon seat liner over my truck seat and replaced the floor mat too? Lastly, I was wearing lightweight ScentLok Base Slayers and gloves. I prayed this elaborate combination of scent-reduction tools would not let these random swirls betray me.
By about 6 p.m. I had not seen anything but squirrels. If this buck was coming by, it probably wouldn't be until after 7 p.m. based on his pattern. My gut told me to be ready, and I pulled my Hoyt from the bowhanger and rested the lower cam into the cargo pocket of my pants. As the sun was getting low and the shadows grew I saw movement to the north of me. My heart jumped but I didn't flinch. A group of five or six does was heading my direction. They browsed around in front of my stand for a few minutes when the lead doe's head snapped up and looked east.
Out of the underbrush stepped the giant 10-pointer, and he was headed towards one of my shooting lanes. I instantly drew my Hoyt AlphaMax but he walked right through the lane, aggressively bullying the does. He stopped about 30 yards out, browsing and facing directly away. No shot, so I decided to let down. Within a minute or so, the buck turned and headed down the trail that crossed the fence. I drew back again as he passed behind a large maple. I followed him as he walked to 15 yards quartering towards me. I settled the pin high on his left shoulder. I think he stopped and I instinctively touched my TRUball release. I was in that zone where it all just happens on autopilot and you rely on the countless hours of practice. The arrow hit home and he bolted, crashed through the fence and went down within sight. It happened so fast and so perfectly I was in shock. He was down! I had been standing for about four hours and I had to sit down and thank the Lord for the opportunity to harvest the most beautiful buck I had seen in nearly 30 years of hunting whitetails. After a few minutes I climbed down and ran over to get my hands on him. His rack was even more massive than I thought. No ground shrinkage here! I used my Gorilla tripod and Canon digital camera to take some great pictures. The sunset was fire orange so the background was perfect. I guess some things are meant to be.
In late November, I had the buck officially scored by a Pope & Young scorer. The rack tallied an official net score of 190 2/8 inches as a typical, likely enough to rank second all-time in Ohio for P&Y typicals. The current Ohio typical P&Y record buck tops 198 inches. What makes this buck's rack so unique is how large, massive and clean his 10-point frame is. There are only two tiny kickers on the entire rack. It has an inside spread of nearly 25 inches, main beams of roughly 29 and 31 inches, G2s of 12 inches and mass over 6 inches. Regardless of score, harvesting this giant whitetail was a dream come true for me!