After a cat-and-mouse two years of limited nocturnal images, a sudden game camera appearance paves the way for Oklahoma muzzleloader hunter Bill Nadeau to tag a huge Sooner State buck nicknamed Boomer.
As big whitetail stories unfold around the country each year, many factors cited by fortunate hunters as the reason that they were ultimately able to tag their bruiser buck.
From early season travel patterns to a bottleneck during the craziness of the rut to the lure of high energy food in the late season, tried and true whitetail tactics obviously still work. Same for grunt calling, antler rattling, watching a white oak tree raining down acorns, overlooking a food plot, or even guarding a corn feeder in Texas.
But there can be little doubt that one of the biggest game changers in whitetail hunting over the past 10 or 15 years has been the advent — and strategic use — of game cameras.
Take for instance the recent tale of Boomer the Buck, a massive southwestern Oklahoma whitetail tagged during the 2017 Sooner State muzzleloader season by 55-year old Lawton, Okla. hunter Bill Nadeau.
In fact, if it weren't for the various game cameras that Nadeau runs on a couple of properties that he hunts in the state's southwestern corner, he probably never would have known the buck existed.
"When you pull your card the first time and you're slamming through the photos on your computer, it's like you're saying in your mind 'Doe, doe, small buck, coyote€¦' and then suddenly, you stop and you're like 'Oh my Lord!'" said Nadeau of the first photos he got of the buck a couple of years ago.
"When I first saw him, I had no idea that there was a buck of this magnitude anywhere around," added the part-time quail hunting guide and bird dog trainer.
Nadeau is a passionate archer, one that has bowhunted since his middle-teenage years when his U.S. Army soldier dad was stationed in nearby Fort Sill.
"I started the hard way, using the old Fred Bear compound bow," he laughed.
Over the years, Nadeau kept using compound bows to take both whitetails and then elk in the western U.S., eventually adding muzzleloaders to the mix too.
"I've muzzleloader hunted for about 30 years now," said Nadeau. "I started out with a ball and a patch. Even though I now shoot with a scoped muzzleloader, I guess you can say that I've always like shooting deer with some sort of primitive style weapon."
Despite his preference for primitive hunting methods, Nadeau has readily embraced the modern-day game camera and the help that they can provide for a deer hunter.
"Once you locate a buck like that, that's where you need to be hunting," said Nadeau. "Even so, despite knowing that he was around, I felt my odds were small — like one-percent - because I had no other history with this deer other than a few nighttime photos from the three cameras I run on that property."
Even worse, those limited photos of Boomer all came during a small window of time each year.
"I don't run cameras year-round, but I do start putting them back up in early to mid-August," said Nadeau. "The last couple of years, I'd start getting my photos of Boomer in early to mid-September, almost right up until the start of bow season (Oct. 1 in Oklahoma), when he'd disappear again."
After that, it was the sound of crickets for Nadeau as he hoped the buck was still alive and would reappear again. Despite that hope, the hunter never actually saw the deer alive and on the hoof during daylight hours.
"My cameras are positioned in areas of open pasture and some timber," said Nadeau. "I got my first photos a couple of years ago and some more last year, maybe 50 photos in all. I kept moving the cameras around a little bit, trying to figure out where he was coming from."
Despite those efforts, the buck's habits and whereabouts proved to be top-secret. And unlike the previous two years, Nadeau didn't get his usual mid-September images this fall, leaving him to wonder if the buck had been taken by a hunter, hit by a vehicle, or had simply met his demise due to old age.
But that all changed as the 2017 Sooner State muzzleloader season arrived on the calendar.
"All of a sudden, there he was again in front of one of my trail cameras," said Nadeau. "There was a doe there, she would turn and look, and then he would be there. Then in the next photo, they'd both be running."
The images of the buck running the doe like a quarter horse convinced Nadeau that the rut — in his portion of Oklahoma, at least — was kicking in a wee bit early this year.
It also convinced him that he needed to seize his opportunity quickly, even if it forced him to make a slight adjustment in where he hunted the deer.
"The key now was that he was (showing up) in one spot three nights in a row," said Nadeau. "I thought 'Ok, I've got to get you 10 minutes earlier (during legal shooting light), so where are you coming from?' I thought about it and tried to figure out his path, so I moved over a couple of hundred yards from an established stand, made a ground blind and eventually got to pull the trigger. That's the only thing that Bill did right."
On the evening of his muzzleloader hunt — Friday, Nov. 3, 2017 — Nadeau was enjoying a pleasant hunt when a doe suddenly appeared. Moments later, Boomer walked out and the rest is history as the hunter raised his scoped smokepole, touched the trigger, and ended his quest for the ghostly buck just days after Halloween.
When Nadeau walked up on the massive 16-point buck — a 12-point mainframe typical with four kickers — he was speechless.
"After I recovered him, and as I was waiting on some help to arrive, the moon was coming up and I just sat down beside him and enjoyed the moment," said Nadeau. "I just admired him, just praised God, and thanked Him for the opportunity to finally take this buck. It was a moment where I was very grateful, very thankful. We try so hard to do this each fall, but we don't get moments like this very often."
A short while later, Nadeau was sharing the moment with friends and family, including his wife.
"I just got married a couple of months ago," he said. "That's the greatest thing in my life. This deer is great, but he doesn't compare to my wife Connie."
As the crowd gathered around the buck hanging in Nadeau's barn — scales weighed the field-dressed buck at 195-pounds — he had a humorous father-and-son moment.
"My youngest son is 21 and I had sent him a photo of my 160-class archery buck last year," said Nadeau. "At the time, he had said 'Dad, you need to retire, you need to quit, because you're done deer hunting. You win.' So, when I got Boomer, I called him and said 'Hey, let me show you something!'"
When other people admired the buck in the next 24-hours, Nadeau began to realize that the he wasn't the only one aware of Boomer's existence.
"He's obviously my largest buck to date and I'm feeling blessed that I got to take him, but as it turned out, there were several other people chasing him," said Nadeau. "In fact, I got a half-dozen or so messages from people sending me photos of the buck and congratulating me after word got out.
"One guy, a taxidermist, had even named him the Godfather and he had actually been hunting the buck for two or three years," he added. "I asked him if he had ever seen him in daylight and he said no, so this buck was pretty stealthy."
Ghostly, in fact, until a game camera helped Nadeau put his smokepole tag on a tremendous buck nicknamed Boomer during a year of unparalleled deer hunting in the Sooner State of Oklahoma.