September 22, 2010
Why hunt far from home when you can kill four trophy whitetails on public land within five miles of your front porch? Arkansas' Frank Foster did just that!
By Clay Newcomb
It was late October 1994 and 25-year-old Frank Foster had located a scrape line that was smoking hot. With bow in hand, he sat anxiously in a ground blind positioned 20 yards downwind of the scrapes. The previous five mornings of hunting had been fruitless with no buck sightings. Now, by 11:29 a.m., Frank was facing the same disappointing results.
Four of Frank Foster's largest public-land whitetails -- a 139-inch 9-pointer taken in 1994 (top); a 158-inch 8-pointer taken in 1997 (rt.); a 178-inch 13-pointer taken in 1999 (lt.); and a 172 2/8-inch net typical taken in 2008 (middle).
Suddenly, a flash of antler up the ridge changed everything. A mature buck appeared and proceeded to work scrape after scrape as he paraded his way toward the scrape directly in front of Frank. As the 139-inch 9-pointer stood broadside at 20 yards, Frank released an arrow from his High Country Excaliber that would mark the beginning of a big buck era.
A UNIQUE HUNTER
In the world of whitetail hunting, context is everything. The varying circumstances surrounding the deer we harvest add meaning and value to hunts that otherwise might be considered ordinary. In the case of now 39-year-old Frank Foster, there is nothing ordinary about his hunting resume.
If Foster lived in the Midwest and had access to private tracts of pristine hunting ground, anyone would no doubt be impressed with his trophy wall. But if I told you he harvested bucks grossing 139, 158, 178 and 182 -- all on public land in the Ouachita Mountains of west-central Arkansas -- would you be doubly impressed? Foster, of Big Fork, Arkansas, has done just that. The most interesting part of his story is that he harvested all of these bucks within five miles of his home!
The Ouachita (Wah-shi-tah) Mountain Region of Arkansas is characterized by thin rocky soils and massive stands of mature timber. The topography varies from rolling hills to rugged steep mountain terrain. Polk County, where Foster harvested all of his deer, consists of large blocks of public land in the Ouachita National Forest. It's an area that is not known for holding large numbers of deer.
FEAST OR FAMINE
In years with good mast, the deer eat well. But times get tough during years when acorns are scarce. No row crop agriculture exists and Ouachita deer simply don't have the year-round nutrition that Midwest whitetails have. However, what these deer lack in nutrition, they seem to make up for in genetics and age class.
Whitetails are protected in these mountains by massive amounts of rugged topography. Simply put, many Ouachita bucks have the potential to reach maturity. The region also harbors good genetics for producing tall tined typical whitetails. In the last six years, Polk County has produced three net Booners, all of which were typical 10-pointers.
In mid-November 1997, Foster spotted a wide, dark-horned buck chasing two does across a private pasture and into the timber. He noted the direction the buck was traveling and surmised that the does would lead him off the private land and into the National Forest.
Having extensive knowledge of the terrain, the hunter knew about some big buck sign high on the ridge in the direction the deer were going. He then walked about 3/4 of a mile to position himself between the deer and the sign.
He sat for about an hour before he saw the two does with the 20-inch-wide 8-pointer in tow. The deer was broadside when Foster's Model 700 Remington .30-06 turned the living legend into history. The dark-horned mountain buck gross-scored 158 inches as a mainframe 8-pointer! Foster had just increased his largest deer by 20 inches. Little did he know that in two years he would do the same thing again!
CLIMBING THE LADDER
Foster's next strike occurred on Nov. 17, 1999, when he decided to hunt an area that he hadn't been to in some time. He arrived at the big clear cut at first light and found his way to a spot where he could see 300 yards across a ravine and over to a corresponding parallel ridge. "I hadn't been there 10 minutes when I saw a big deer come out of the timber on the opposite ridge," Foster said.
The deer proceeded to walk at a steady pace into some thick brush. Then, the lone buck turned and headed back up the ridge the same way he had come. Foster was ready. As the buck entered an opening, he made a loud mouth bleat to stop the buck. At the crack of the rifle, the deer dropped instantly!
"I knew it was the biggest deer I had ever killed," Foster said. "His size blew my mind. I really wasn't expecting him to be so big. He was 17 inches wide, massive and had lots of long, tall points."
At the 2000 Arkansas Big Buck Classic, the buck officially gross scored 178 inches and netted in the 160s. Foster had done it again! He had just increased his largest buck by 20 inches!
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Foster hunts a lot. He works the third shift at a local factory and gets off work at 5 a.m.
You'll find him in the Ouachita woods close to 80 percent of the time on any November morning. On Nov. 10, 2008, he listened to the weather report and heard a welcome phrase -- "Cold front moving in." Foster gathered his gear and headed toward the truck!
"I walked about a 1/2 mile to my stand site in the National Forest just after 7 a.m.," he said. "The spot is located in a big hollow that has several fingers leading out both to and from bedding and feeding areas."
Foster arrived in the flat just after daylight, and climbed into the stand. "I pulled my gun up and put it on my peg," he said. "I got out my rattle bag and was getting everything situated. All of a sudden, I heard the crunch, crunching of leaves. I looked back up a little ridge that and saw a buck. I hadn't been in the stand more than five minutes. All I could tell was that he was a good deer."
The deer was 75 yards out and heading directly toward the stand when Foster squeezed the trigger. He knew he had put a killing shot on the deer but he had no idea how big the deer actually was.
Foster spotted the downed whitetail about 40 yards away. As he walked up to the huge animal, he wasn't prepared for what he was about to see.
Lightning had struck him for the third time! At the 2009 Arkansas Big Buck Classic, the huge typical mainframe 5x5 rack officially gross-scored 182 7/8 inches and netted 174 2/8. The mammoth rack was 17
6/8 inches wide and sported sky scraping G-2s over 12 inches long.
HUNTING TIPS OF A REAL PRO
Having grown up in the Big Fork area, Foster's knowledge of the public land he hunts has been paramount. Over the course of the season, he hunts numerous areas and often doesn't hunt the same stand more than a few mornings in a row. He utilizes other hunting seasons, like turkey season, to cover new ground and look for last year's big buck sign. In the late winter woods, he hunts sheds and scouts for the next fall. He keeps records of big buck sightings and sign that he's found.
Foster prefers to hunt active scrapes in travel areas. In mountain terrain, this includes ridge tops, fingers, saddles, benches, flats and the heads of hollows.
Most of Foster's success in hunting over scrapes has been in the mornings in late October through the first 10 days of November. By utilizing the mountain wind and not over-hunting any single stand site, he keeps his "hot areas hot." Morning hunts during the week on public land can be very productive as most hunters are either at work or in bed.
Amazingly, all of Foster's public-land deer were harvested in the morning!
Foster's three biggest bucks have all been harvested during that magical time in mid-November. Good solid hunting practice accompanied with lots of hours in the "rut woods" has produced unbelievable success for this avid whitetail hunter.