“We’re not seeing any deer this year,” has been the outcry of many local neighbors. The work that we put into the two properties that we hunt has undone that phenomenon for us.
The plan done by Neil Daugherty last winter has been brilliant in attracting deer to the property and protecting them from other hunters. Opening day was a steady pouring rain, yet all six of us had deer that we could have shot. We passed many while harvesting six. Ten days later a magical Thanksgiving weekend hunt began that was excellent for everyone. It began Saturday morning with Dave taking his 2nd buck ever, a step up from the spike of 3 years back. He had the 5 pointer amble by his stand with a smaller spike after they filled up on corn and brassica from a nearby food plot at the home farm. The 30-yard shot was true and took the buck down after a short dash.
Two nights later my 19-year-old daughter and her brother went out to the “hot box” at the second property. This past summer much work was done on preparing ground and planting 15 acres of food plots in the central destination food plot area. A mature doe stepped out with her fawn and Sarah met the challenge with a nice shot through its shoulder. It was her fourth deer in as many years.
As dark closed in, a large bodied buck stepped out of the thicket and entered an open area 134 yards from the stand. It was David’s turn to see if he could harvest his first deer. Though the shot was longer than it probably should have been with a 20 gauge rifled barrel, he made a great shot that downed the nice 6 pointer. David was so excited about his first deer. He even enjoyed gutting it and I am sure that he is truly hooked on hunting now. That was music to my ears after he has chosen not to tag along with us during the previous two years of hunting.
We brought the deer back to the farm and had a celebration with the entire extended family followed by a photo op. Both kids were very excited about their deer. The next morning was time for a brand new hunter, Paul, and me to head out to the woods at the home farm.
Hunting success is filled with wonderful memories of hunts, whether successful or not. My buddy Paul and I headed out an hour and a half before first light to make our trek to our stands by walking a circuitous path away from food plots to set up along exiting paths from the plots. The crunching of snow seemed deafening to us, wondering how all the deer in the woods could not hear us. Still we knew this was necessary to be in the woods and have an opportunity at a big buck, or a nice doe.
Paul set up in an elevated box stand at the base of the hillside, about 150 yards above the destination food plot. I was in the swamp on the other side of the same field, about eighty yards off the field where the swamp and woods met. About 30 minutes after sun up there was a deer along the swamp and field edge about 100 yards to the north. A quick glance with the binoculars confirmed that it was a buck. Yes, a really nice buck! Now we are talking, a shooter! He was high tined, heavy, and a little wider than his ears; larger than any of the previous bucks taken off the property over the past eight years. Like a mature stud, he simply stood there and looked this way, then that. Finally he moved forward slowly along the field edge.
Forty yards before he would hit the woods he turned into the thick swamp with speckled alder braches everywhere, and walked directly toward me. It was difficult to follow him even though he was only fifty or sixty yards away. Would he continue straight at me and present an easy 20-yard shot? Or, would he bed down on one of the knolls there and hold me in the stand for another three hours until he moved on? Then there was the steady crunch and splash of a deer walking nearby. Was he that close already?
Looking over the binoculars revealed a doe walking right beneath me. At the edge of the swamp and woods she stopped just as my wife sent a text message. The vibrating phone in my pocket was heard by the doe and her head snapped around, staring at the camo blob in the tree. She began to stomp as I sat like a statue. Would she bust me as the buck that I desired picked his way through the dense brush just 50 yards away and blow what seemed like a likely harvest?
Finally she calmed down and moved on. As she went across the woods she began to trot over my right shoulder, heading for the next piece of dense brush. I thought this would pull the big buck right in front of me. But instead of following her, he headed out into the woods at an angle away from me.
Was he going to be that close but not present a shot? Opportunities on bucks like this do not come often and it was slipping through my fingers. At about 140 yards out he stopped to work a scrape, giving me an open shot at this right shoulder and side. There were some fine branches right near him that might deflect the shot a little. When the shot rang out he darted up the hill. A quick call to Paul alerted him about the buck and that he might see him. Silence fell over the woods as ten, twenty, and thirty minutes passed. Then a shot rang out from Paul’s stand.
“He came right to me, just as you said. You hit him and he was hardly able to walk.” The buck appeared forty yards in front of his box, but he stood there motionless for 10 minutes. Then he moved out of the thick stuff and worked a scrape. Three steps later he stood in Paul’s shooting lane at 30 yards. The new hunter squeezed the trigger and off ran the buck. Like a seasoned hunter Paul marked where the buck stood when he shot and where he ran. He marked the last place he saw the buck.
An hour later I followed the buck’s trail up past the stand and Paul directed me to where he had stood at the shot. There was neither blood nor hair. The two inches of snow should have made it easy to spot blood. The many prints in the snow made it difficult to follow the running buck. At the edge of the thick shrub where the buck disappeared a heavy blood trail began. For 30 yards it was easy to follow, and then stopped as quickly as it had begun. Looking around there was no new sign of the buck or blood. He just vanished. A small 20-foot circle did not reveal where the buck went. In the end, he lay dead 25 yards away, but was nearly impossible to see at the base of a tree in the thick brush and Japanese honeysuckle. The buck was ours!
My shot caught him in the second to last rib and exited one rib back on the other side. It caught the liver and filled the abdominal cavity with dark red blood. Paul’s shot was too far forward in the front of the right shoulder and just missed the lungs, but did leak some blood into them. Mine was the killing shot, and Paul’s put him down. The visual information from Paul led us to the spot where he lay dead. It was our buck. Harvesting him was a team effort and quite the adventure. He dressed out at 142 pounds and was aged at 3.5 years. The funny thing is that my trail cameras never showed a buck of this quality on this property. There seemed only to be smaller bucks that I would pass up to let grow at least another year.
That night Paul went to the “hot box” hoping to get his own trophy buck. About 4:30 p.m. a nice racked 5-pointer stepped out and this time the shot was right on. The 2.5 year old buck dropped in his tracks. Paul was very excited about his trophy, shot his very first year hunting. Three bucks headed off to the taxidermist that night for mounting and to help us re-live the memories for the rest of our lives.
Producing deer of this quality is exciting. All the work and resources that go into managing property like this becomes easier when hunters enjoy success like this. The memories from these hunts will remain vivid for the rest of our lives. We thank God for the opportunity to see and harvest deer like this!