July 12, 2022
BREAKING NEWS BUCK
There are no hard and fast rules about the how, where and when it takes to bag a world class whitetail. The same goes for which hunters will accomplish the feat. You don’t have to know a top end buck is in the area you are hunting or even be hunting specifically for a big buck to score on that once-in-a-lifetime whitetail. Sometimes, it simply comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Luck is more often a determining factor in who gets a book buck than skill or anything else.
That’s one of the things that makes whitetail hunting so appealing. Most hunters have the chance of shooting a deer with a big rack regardless of their experience, skill level, where or how they hunt. Older whitetails with the biggest antlers are often unpredictable, and that’s the primary factor contributing to the unpredictability of the variables that will determine who will ultimately tag those unique bucks.
According to most of the advice that’s out there about hunting world class whitetails, for example, it’s not recommended to hunt a stand as often as possible, day after day over the course of multiple seasons, until you shoot the big one. In fact, the opposite advice is usually given: hunt those big buck stands sparingly and only when conditions are perfect.
Opening Day Record
Rachel Wheeler from Stevensville, Michigan, did the opposite, however, to shoot a state record typical among women in the centerfire rifle and shotgun category on opening morning of the state’s firearms deer season in 2020.
According to state record keeper Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM), Rachel’s Berrien County 11-pointer has a preliminary gross score of 180 4/8 and nets 176 7/8. The score is preliminary because bucks that are in the running for state record status have to be panel measured before the score becomes official, and that hadn’t been done when this was written. The Wheeler Buck broke a record that had been in place for 25 years.
The previous state record in that category was a 12-pointer scoring 174 1/8 that Dolores Kassuba from Willis shot during the 1995 gun season in Livingston County. Dolores killed her buck with a 20-gauge shotgun. Dolores was the first woman known to have bagged a buck wearing Boone & Crockett antlers that qualified for all-time listing in national records (minimum score of 170 for typical antlers), according to CBM.
Rachel shot her book buck during 2020 from an elevated box blind built by her and her husband in 2014, when she started deer hunting with a crossbow. They positioned the blind within bow range of a patch of woods (about 25 yards) on the edge of large agricultural fields. That box blind is Rachel’s primary deer hunting spot. Once bow season opens on October 1, she hunts from that blind most evenings and on weekends. She’s an avid deer hunter and enjoys time afield watching deer and other wildlife.
During the 2020 archery deer season, Rachel saw lots of bucks from her blind, but most of them were out of bow range. She said she doesn’t like to shoot beyond 30 yards when bowhunting. None of the bucks Rachel saw while bowhunting had antlers as big as the one she eventually shot with her rifle on the morning of November 15. The big buck was not photographed by her trail cameras, either.
Opening Day Details
On the morning of October 24, Rachel bagged a buck with her Parker Challenger Crossbow from her box blind. The buck had 5 points on his left antler, with one on the base, and 3 points on the right side.
“It was close to 9:00 a.m. when the 8-pointer came out of the woods,” Rachel explains. “He was by himself. He was heading for the corn when I shot him.”
Rachel had a second buck tag, so she continued bowhunting from her box blind after dropping the 8-pointer with her crossbow. She saw more bucks, but none within bow range. Michigan’s bow season ends on November 14, the day before gun season begins. On the morning of the 15th, Rachel returned to her box blind with a rifle to resume hunting for a second buck.
By 2020, Rachel had been deer hunting for close to 20 years. “My mom and dad both hunted,” she says. “It was natural for my sister and I to follow in their footsteps. I started deer hunting with my dad.” Most of Rachel’s deer hunting has been with a firearm during November. She said she hunted a number of years before shooting her first deer, which was a button buck. She shot that young buck when she was 16 or 17 years old while hunting out of a ground blind with her father’s 20 gauge Remington 1100. It was toward the end of firearms season that year when she connected.
“When I started deer hunting, we didn’t have a lot of good places to go,” Rachel remembers. “My parents never shot any bucks that were big. We were primarily hunting for the meat.” Meat hunting has been the main focus of Rachel’s deer hunting. Experience bowfishing with her husband is what led to her taking up bowhunting for deer about seven years ago.
“My husband did a lot of bowhunting when he was younger,” says Rachel. “He helped me get into it. I wanted to try deer hunting when the weather is warmer. It’s usually cold during gun season in November.” Rachel experienced success the first year she hunted with a crossbow, arrowing a 5-pointer when it stepped out of the woods. The fact that the buck ran no more than 50 yards after the shot reinforced the effectiveness of bowhunting and hooked the lady hunter on that form of deer hunting.
But she wasn’t willing to give up gun hunting. The box blind made gun hunting more comfortable, even when the weather was cold. A rifle also made it possible for Rachel to shoot bucks that had been out of range of her crossbow. That’s why Rachel was in her box blind on November 15 with her Next Level Brand .450 Bushmaster. It’s a good thing she didn’t fill her second buck tag during bow season. If she had, she wouldn’t have been in position to shoot her state record buck.
As for scent control, Rachel said she sometimes uses Scent Killer Gold. The hunting clothing she wears is from DSG hunt gear for women. Rachel was optimistic about filling her second buck tag on opening day of the 2020 gun season. She had seen a lot of bucks while bowhunting that she had been unable to shoot, so she knew the potential of getting a crack at one of them was high. Her previous experience from the blind with a rifle had also been good. After failing to fill a tag with her crossbow in 2018, she shot two bucks with her .450 Bushmaster within 20 minutes on opening morning that year.
It didn’t take long for Rachel to start seeing deer on opening day of the 2020 season, either. A small doe was the first deer to appear. It moved on by the blind. Then a buck appeared at about 8:00 a.m. in a different location.
“When I first saw the buck, he was 40 or 50 yards away along the edge of the woods and in some tall grass,” says Rachel. “I thought he was maybe an 8-pointer after seeing the antlers. Then he started to go into the woods away from me.”
Experience Pays Off
At that point, Rachel’s experience came into play. If she had done nothing, the buck probably would have continued walking away, and she might not have ever seen it again. Realizing she had to do something to try to turn the buck back toward her, she reached for her Primos Can Call and made two estrus doe bleats with it.
Rachel says she’s had the Can Call for a number of years. One year, she used it to call a 6-pointer into the open that she shot after hearing it in the woods behind her. The call also did the trick on the morning of November 15. The buck reversed directions and walked from the woods into a hay field to look for the doe he thought he heard. The exceptional whitetail was 60 yards away and broadside when Rachel pulled the trigger on her .450 Bushmaster to put a bullet through his chest. When the buck walked into the open before she shot it, Rachel was concentrating on killing the deer and didn’t look at his antlers.
Can you imagine how surprised Rachel was when she walked up on the downed deer, and she saw for the first time how big the antlers really were on the whitetail? She was shocked and happy to find out the rack was much bigger, with more points, than she thought! Not only were there more points, the rack had a stick firmly lodged between the tines, too, which she hadn’t noticed.
The trophy class whitetail was probably searching for “hot” does when he walked in front of Rachel, and there’s no telling how far he was from his home range at the time. Adult bucks roam widely in search of does to breed during the peak of the rut. Since the height of breeding activity occurs during firearms season in Michigan, it’s not unusual for unfamiliar bucks to show up during that time. That’s also why bucks respond so well to calls that imitate doe bleats then.
Normally, after word gets out about a Boone & Crockett buck being taken, hunters who have trail camera photos of the deer usually share them with the lucky hunter. That hadn’t happened so far in Rachel’s case, oddly. “I was out there hunting by myself when I shot the buck,” Rachel comments. “I called my husband to ask for his help. After looking at the buck I shot, I got back in the blind to wait for my husband. I still had a doe tag in my pocket.”
The state record whitetail had an estimated dressed weight of 240 to 250 pounds. The deer was thought to be 5 1/2 years old. The antlers have six points on the left side and five on the right. The sixth point on the left antler is on the brow tine. A seventh point near the beam tip on the left antler is not an inch long. Tines must be at least an inch in length to be considered a point.
The left antler is 27 3/8 inches in length, and the right beam is just an inch shorter. The inside spread between the beams is 21 1/8 inches. The second tines are the longest, taping 12 and 12 2/8 inches.