Any serious deer hunter knows timing and location are everything. However, putting the two together is far easier said than done. At least, it is for most of us. Some hunters seem to always be where the big bucks just magically appear.
And Matt Portscheller is one of those hunters.
By the end of the 2014 season in Illinois, Matt's friends were thinking they should start marketing him as "the buck attractor."
Now, I should preface this with an important point: Matt hadn't taken a buck for two years prior to the 2014 season, so he doesn't always have the golden touch. His 2013 season had been particularly frustrating, due to the nocturnal habits of the trophy buck he was after.
That Marshall County deer's rack appeared to be over 200 inches, at least on the nighttime trail camera photos. Matt knew the buck was continually using the area he was hunting, but the beast simply refused to show himself in shooting hours.
At the close of the 2013 season, Matt had become very familiar with the buck through photos. But he still didn't have one daylight photo of him, much less a visual sighting. It was at this point that Matt started planning his strategy for 2014. His main thought was, I have to find a way to catch this buck in the daylight, even if it means hunting his bedding area.
NEW YEAR, NEW RESULTS
On opening weekend of the 2014 bow season, Matt shot a doe. When he checked the trail camera near the new stand location, the giant buck from the previous year had passed by. Again it had happened outside legal shooting hours, but it was just before dawn.
The weekend after Matt took the doe, he hunted one morning but saw no deer. He didn't hunt the stand again until Oct. 12. The setup was right on the edge of what he thought was the giant buck's bedding area. The habitat was thick, with a maximum shooting distance of only 25 yards. As a bonus, adjacent to the stand were several white oaks that appeared to be dropping fresh acorns.
Matt didn't hunt on Sunday morning, Oct. 12, due to rain. But in mid-afternoon Matt's fiancé, McKenzie, talked him into going hunting anyway. As she pointed out, it wasn't raining that heavily — and under those conditions, Matt could very quietly sneak in to his tree stand. So Matt decided to give it a try.
Of course, by the time he got to his stand, he was sweating and wondering, Why am I hunting today? It's too early in the season — and too hot.
Regardless, Matt was finally situated in his 15-foot ladder stand at 4 p.m. He knew the light rain that had helped him sneak to the stand now would make it impossible to hear a deer walking, so he periodically scanned the area, looking for any movement. To entertain himself, he was checking his fantasy football and texting friends on his phone, all the while thinking, I should have stayed home to watch the game.
Around 4:50, that mindset quickly changed. Matt happened to look below his stand into a patch of tall grass — just as a big buck stood up! The deer started working his way toward the stand, eating acorns along the way.
Mr. 186 5/8 INCHES
As the buck moved into the thick cover with his head down, Matt remembered his failure from the previous season and didn't take his eyes off the deer. The archer slowly reached for his PSE X-Force bow. The wind was good, and the buck was continuing to move slowly toward the stand.
"I was frantically looking for an opening that was big enough to get an arrow through," Matt says. With the buck drawing ever nearer, he finally discovered an opening only 8-10 inches across out at 25 yards. It might be sufficient. Meanwhile, Matt also was wondering which buck was walking his way. I think this is the big buck from last year, he concluded. But regardless, he's a shooter!
Trying to calm down, Matt told himself, I can make the shot. The buck took a couple of steps, and Matt came to full draw. He then had to hold the bow for a minute, which "seemed like an hour." In the next moment, he released and sent a Gold Tip arrow with the Rocket Meatseeker 3-blade broadhead on its way.
When the arrow hit, the buck didn't move. He just looked around, walked a few steps, turned and started walking toward the stand!
I missed, Matt immediately thought. As he nocked another arrow and started to draw, the buck — now just 15 yards away — looked up at him. But by the time Matt got drawn, the buck was crashing to the ground! With a sigh of relief Matt thought, I guess I didn't miss after all!
The bowhunter immediately started calling friends and texting one who was hunting just down the road. Buddies Nate, Matt and Gary were very excited and volunteered to drag the giant buck to the truck if Matt would manage the flashlight for the trek. In view of the fact the buck field-dressed 240 pounds and the truck was 200 yards away, Matt knew he'd have the easy job. He waited a few minutes before getting out of his stand to tag and field-dress the buck.
The archer's first thought upon reaching the deer was, He's even bigger than nighttime photos made him appear. And he is indeed. With over 40 inches in circumference measurements, main beams of better than 25 inches and 11- and 12-inch G-3s, the rack is huge all over.
Matt was at a loss for words as he finally got his hands on the buck he'd never before seen in daylight.
If you could say the story of this great deer had any downside — however minor — it concerns his net score. The giant has 14 1/8 inches of abnormal points. For Pope & Young a buck can't be measured as a non-typical unless he has a minimum of 15 inches of abnormal growth.
Matt's buck thus must score as a typical. He has a gross typical score of 186 5/8 inches, so if you add the 14 1/8 inches of abnormal antler, the Portscheller buck is a 200 6/8-incher. Matt still wonders how he kept his composure with a giant buck like that within bow range, but he did. Fortunately for the hunter, he had to see the great buck only once in daylight to put it all together.
For Matt this easily could have been the conclusion of a memorable season. But after taking off for a month, he decided that with the rut in full swing, he should get back into the woods. So Matt hung a portable in a new spot on the property where he'd taken the giant. This new stand was atop a hill overlooking a picked corn field.
Mid-morning on Nov. 15, Matt saw a good buck along the edge of the corn. Grunting did no good; the buck moved away, looking for a doe. A few minutes later, Matt saw a really good 8-pointer coming out of the field. He grunted and got an immediate response, with the buck heading for his stand. When this buck hit an opening at 44 yards, Matt tried to stop him with a grunt — but the deer didn't stop. So Matt led him slightly and released. The buck ran to the bottom of the hill and fell over!
Matt was in a state of shock; his second big buck of the season was on the ground within sight of his tree stand. This was no small feat during an Illinois hunting season in which the typical bowhunter was seeing only a third of the normal number of deer, due in large part to two consecutive years of EHD.
While watching the 8-pointer on the ground, Matt heard other deer running through the leaves. He turned and saw two more bucks. Just for the fun of it, he grunted — and both came running to his stand. They looked around, stomped and snorted, easily within bow range. And according to the hunter, each was at least as big as the one he'd just shot.
Matt then called his buddy Nate. When Nate answered, he said, "There's only one reason you're calling me. You shot another buck, didn't you?"
Indeed he had. Matt's second of the season was an 8-pointer with a gross typical score of 145 2/8. Like Matt's first buck of the year, the 4x4 has main beams over 25 inches long. His circumference measurements totaled over 31 inches, with 10-inch-plus G-2s. After putting the second buck of the season the ground Matt thought, This is the best bowhunting season I've ever had.
The giant 8-pointer alone would have made it a great season for any bowhunter. But when you consider that was Matt's second buck of the year, and by far the smaller of the two, calling it his "best bow season" seems to be putting it a tad mildly.
But Matt wasn't yet quite done. Tagged out on bucks, he decided to help some friends improve on their season. Matt was sitting in his truck with a friend a week later when a big buck ran right by the truck at midday.
Then, as the hunters walked into the woods to check a trail camera, a big 9-pointer apparently heard them walking and came running toward them. It was at this point Matt's friend said, "Why is it that everywhere you go, big bucks show up?"
I guess that really is the definition of a buck attractor!