Tiny Places, Big Bucks
September 22, 2010
This veteran bowhunter has enjoyed great success hunting small woodlots sometimes no larger than 10 acres in size, and in 2007 this strategy landed him one of Iowa's best bucks of the season!
Kevin McDonald of Marengo, Iowa, arrowed this massive main-frame 6x6 on a small tract during the peak of the rut in November 2007. With 18 scorable points, the giant officially netted 180 typical B&C points, taking first place at the Iowa Deer Classic in March 2008.
Of those who know Kevin McDonald, few could disagree that he is anything less than hardcore when it comes to hunting whitetails. The 45-year-old public service worker isn't your average hunter. In fact, I'd be more inclined to say that he lives and breathes hunting wary whitetails 24/7, 365 days a year.
Last year, Kevin spent 32 straight days trying to close the deal on a big main-frame 12-pointer. It was the same deer he'd had a close encounter with the season before. In November, patience and persistence paid off for the 30-year veteran bowhunter with not only his biggest buck ever, but also the largest known typical taken by bow in Iowa in 2007.
According to Kevin, the key to his success begins with aerial photos and topographical maps, locating the small pieces of satellite cover that many hunters overlook.
"I know a lot of hunters concentrate on big blocks of timber, but I focus more on finding those out-of-the-way places that mature bucks are more likely to seek out when hunting pressure builds," Kevin said. "The types of places that attract my attention are rarely more than 10 acres in size. An example might be a small woodlot, a brushy draw, a fence line, or perhaps a CRP field. In yet another case, it might be a tiny 2-acre woodlot well outside the city limits but close enough to an inhabited building where the 200-yard law comes into play. In other words, the deer can't be hunted with a gun.
"This was the case in 2006 when I had the big 12-point within 55 yards. Originally I had planned to hunt with a muzzleloader. But I couldn't because a farmhouse fell just inside the 200-yard envelope. Had I been hunting with a muzzleloader, it would have been an easy shot.
"Another way to locate areas that have the potential for harboring a mature deer is by listening to other people, regardless of whether they hunt or not. In fact, that's actually how I discovered the general area where I ended up shooting my big buck. Pete, a good friend, told me about a big buck that he spotted on the way home from church one Sunday. Had it been anyone else, I might not have given it a second thought, but considering the source I began scanning aerial photos, trying to determine where the deer might have come from. That summer I spent a lot of time knocking on doors, and it paid off with three new places to hunt."
After the preliminary homework is complete, the next step is finding the most likely travel corridors that link these pieces of satellite cover together. To do that, Kevin employs a method of ground scouting that he calls "reverse sign reading." Take a rub line for example; instead of following it to find out where the deer is going, Kevin works backwards to determine where the deer came from. Likewise, he does the same with big tracks to try to find their point of origin.
"Like most serious hunters, I shed hunt in the spring, but I don't put much weight on where I find them," Kevin continued. "Sure it's nice to find a big shed, but other than knowing that a particular deer survived, I'm not convinced there's much else to learn."
THE 2007 SEASON
Before the season, Kevin had set up half a dozen stands in different locations based on hunting various wind conditions. He began hunting the 15th of October. During that first week, Kevin had an opportunity to shoot a 160-class 8-point, but he chose to pass on the shot because it was so early in the season.
Three days later, Kevin spied a big deer heading toward a cut cornfield right at dark. At first he thought it was the same 8-point, but through the binoculars he realized it was in fact the giant 12-pointer.
"On the afternoon of the 24th, I saw the big buck again, this time following a doe down the fence line," Kevin said. "The doe had stopped near the fence not more than 10 yards away, apparently contemplating crossing. The buck came within 30 yards and stopped, quartering to me. I remember thinking the shot was too risky, so I held off drawing. Suddenly, the doe turned and walked straight away, taking the buck with her. It happened so fast I didn't even have a chance to draw. I could have kicked myself. I had the deer within range and blew it by not being ready.
"There was a sharp increase in rutting activity the following week, so I continued hunting the same general area. I rotated between stands to avoid burning any of them out," Kevin related.
"On the evening of Nov. 5, I had just started lowering my bow when I heard a deer walking behind me. I turned to look, and was surprised to see the 12-point walking along the fence. Unfortunately, it was past shooting hours and I had to let him walk.
"I hunted every day the following week. On the afternoon of the 10th, I hunted near the edge of the alfalfa field again. Around 4:30, a doe appeared near the field edge. Moments later the 12-point came walking out of a small timber. The buck ended up pushing the doe clear across the field. Unfortunately, it was in the wrong direction. And worst of all, they walked right beneath one of my other stands. Let me tell you, that was a big letdown!
"Three days later, I decided to do some 'power scouting' through the small timber. I took my friend, Joe Smith, along to watch one end while I entered from the other. Stalking slowly through the timber, I had just come to a small clearing when a noise drew my attention toward the big 12-pointer standing not more than 15 yards away. He was staring directly at me. By the time it registered, however, he had bounded off. I immediately ran to the timber edge to see where the deer had gone. When I got there, he was gone. Joe hadn't seen the buck either, so apparently he had doubled back.
"On Friday morning, the 16th, I hunted a different area until about 11 a.m. Afterwards, I went to Joe's house for lunch and to shoot a few practice arrows. I'm a real stickler when it comes to the wind, so I'm constantly listening to the weather channel to determine which stand is best suited for the current wind condition. Based on the wind that afternoon, I
decided to hunt one of my southerly wind stands.
Kevin saw this awesome buck in 2006, and he saw the deer several times in 2007. He was finally able to get a shot on Nov. 16, 2007, when the buck was following a doe. Although 6 abnormal points took away from the final score, the highly symmetrical rack nonetheless netted 180 typical inches.
MOMENT OF TRUTH
"I arrived around 1:30 and saw two does right from the get-go," Kevin said. "Much to my surprise, about half an hour later I spotted the big 12-pointer pushing a doe through a brushy draw along the creek. Apparently the doe was in heat, and the buck wasn't about to leave her side. Eventually they both bedded down in the brush.
"I'd been watching them for about an hour when a small 8-point suddenly appeared on the scene. The big buck immediately leaped to his feet and chased him off. Minutes later a second buck appeared. The big buck ran him off as well.
"For over an hour, the buck stood watch over the doe while the two small bucks fed nearby. Eventually, both the buck and doe moseyed toward the timber and disappeared.
"Around 4 p.m., I was surprised to see both the 12-pointer and the doe coming back out of the timber. As the buck got closer, one of the small bucks tried to approach the doe. That's when all heck broke out. At one point, the fighting got so intense between the three bucks that it looked more like a bar room brawl. The buck came within range several times, but I wasn't able to stop him. I did draw once, but he changed direction so fast that I couldn't react quickly enough to get off a shot!
"Shooting light was fading fast, and about the time I was beginning to think it wasn't going to happen, the buck came to a sudden stop. I had just enough time to settle the pin and hit the release. The arrow crunched on impact, and the buck bolted for maybe 60 yards before stopping. A few seconds later, he ran another 50 yards.
"By this time, his head was down and his tail started flickering. I knew then that the shot was fatal. But even so, I prayed to God that he would go down soon. I got my wish, because just a minute or two later he stumbled sideways and fell over. At that point in time, I turned into a total basket case. Even though the deer was obviously dead, I sat until well after dark before climbing down.
"The first person I called was my daughter and hunting buddy, Beth, to share the news. Afterwards I called my good friends Steve Saul, Craig Collins and Joe Smith, who I wanted there for the recovery. I had hunted to near exhaustion, and it was these guys and my wife, Dennice, who gave me the encouragement to keep going. So I can't tell you how thankful I am for all their support!
"I've been an avid reader of North American Whitetail since the first issue was published in 1982. Since then, like so many other whitetail hunters, I've dreamed that someday I might shoot a buck worthy of appearing in the magazine. Needless to say, the 2007 season will be one that I'll long remember!"