Whitetail Head Hunt

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Article Category: Hunting

The buck appeared as a lighter shadow, barely visible on the dense brush on the far side of the food plot. He stood like a statue for a full 10 minutes, cautiously surveying the alfalfa field where several doe and an 8-pointer were already munching on the lush vegetation. I had him centered in the field of my window-mounted spotting scope from 400 yards across a harvested bean field. When he finally stepped out and gave me a good look, I yelped, “Holy Hannah! Would you look at the size of those antlers!” No doubt about it, I was looking at a candidate for Boone & Crocket.

And then the big buck cautiously eased his way right under a tree stand that overlooked the trail he was taking. Unfortunately, my closest bow-hunting client was sitting in another tree-stand on the other end of the property. But if any of the 4 clients I had in camp were willing to spend the next three evenings in that tree-stand, they would get the shot at a buck of a lifetime.

Yet that night at hunting camp in Ontario, I learned that no one was willing to move. One of the four had arrowed his buck earlier in the evening, and the other three reported all seeing “shooters” from their stands. The hunter who was on the same property where I had seen the boomer buck said that he had seen several smaller bucks, and one wall hanger.

However, after much cajoling, he finally agreed that if he didn’t tag one the next morning, he would move to hunt the big buck the following day. And he did spend the next evening in the stand the big buck ambled under but he didn’t see any deer, and he insisted on returning to his earlier stand. To add insult to injury, one of my guides videotaped the huge buck as he walked under the same tree stand the very next evening. I figured there was a good chance someone would take the buck later during firearms season, but nobody saw him. Maybe next year.

There’s deer hunting, and then there’s hunting for trophy bucks. Deer may be found just about anywhere nowadays, but true trophy bucks still are the rare exception. If you really want to tag a trophy, whether you hunt in your own back yard or book a hunt with an outfitter, you need to consider the trophy potential of the hunting area. It doesn’t do much good to hold out for a 140-pound buck in an area where the chances of seeing such a buck are slim to none. You also must honestly consider your own hunting experience, ability, and dedication to the task.

Several years ago, a bow-hunting client who had studied our website in detail for the two years it took him to get an Iowa license said he was locked onto the fact that we’d reported seeing the same 190-class buck each year for several years running. He informed me that he wanted to hunt that deer. I told him that was fine with me, and then I carefully explained that he’d be bow hunting the trails and travel ways that buck used, where he wasn’t likely to see lots of other deer. Some trophy bucks prefer to walk alone.

It’s didn’t take long after the hunter arrived to realize I had a real problem on my hands. He was overweight and suffered respiratory problems that limited his walking ability to no more than a few hundred yards, yet he wouldn’t ride a 4-wheeler, either. He wouldn’t get into a treestand, and he didn’t shoot a practice arrow the entire six days he was in camp. His attitude was poor. In fact, he was totally negative from his home state for 20 years without tagging a single deer.

Not exactly the ideal candidate to stack up against a once-in-a-lifetime buck.

He lasted one day hunting the big buck behind the house and then was ready to shoot at any buck. After missing a nice buck at 20 yards from a pit blind, dug especially for him, he was ready to take any deer that got within bow range.

I spend a lot of time on the phone conversing with clients about just what they want in the way of deer. I’ve had prospective clients specifically ask about the chances of shooting a Pope & Young bow buck, but when I asked, they didn’t have the slightest idea what the minimum size might be, and then admitted they had never given much thought to field judging antlers. If you want a Pope & Young buck, you better be able to tell the difference between a buck that will score 110 and one that will score 125. Either will look mighty tempting in the woods.

I make it clear to clients, especially first-timers, that the only person they have to please on the hunt is themselves. If they are looking to impress me or anyone else, they are on the wrong track.

But if they are serious about taking a trophy buck, one of the things he must realize is that he probably wont see as many deer as the guy who’s just looking to put meat in his freezer.

Every fall, hunters arrive in our camp firmly committed to the idea of only hunting the locations where the big bucks are most likely to travel and be seen, those out-of-the-way places where a hunter may not see many or any other deer during a day on a stand. Usually, this is all fine and good until the second day in camp. After listening to the other hunters describe seeing lots of deer, including some decent bucks, the would-be trophy hunter’s fortitude starts to erode, and he asks to try somewhere new. Occasionally, a hunter learns the hard way about abandoning trophy dreams.

Last fall a group of experienced hunters came to camp, and on opening day of firearms season, I tried to put each of the hunters in a stand where he had a chance at the type of buck he had said he’d be satisfied taking, which varied from a decent 8-point to nothing less than a 10-point scoring 160 or better.I placed one of the more particular trophy hunters in a ladder stand over-looking and open creek bottom and dry pond bed, a location that’s been one of our best trophy producers.

This stand is a bit unusual for a trophy spot, in that it is also a place where a hunter is likely to see a lot of deer. During opening weekend, the neighbors push a lot of deer off their farms, through this natural crossing onto our timbered and protected leases. Even though the hunter saw more than 50 deer move past his stand, he didn’t see any that were “shooters” and decide he wanted a change of scenery. It was his hunt, and his choice, so I moved him to another location the following day.

But knowing the history of the stand, I confidently convinced Dick Metcalf, a knowledgeable whitetail hunter with a number of trophy bucks already to his credit, that this particular stand was one of the best on all our leases. The following morning, I walked Dick into the stand long before daylight.

When I radioed him at noon to check in, he said he’d only seen a single deer. I offered to move him to another stand for the afternoon, but he replied laconically, “Not unless you can pick me up another license.”

Then he explained that shortly before 11, he heard crunching leaves behind his stand. A few minutes later, a huge buck had walked within a few yards of the stand’s base and then had stood surveying the narrow draw, less than 10 yards from the motionless hunter. That’s when Dick’s experience and self-discipline kicked into muscle-locking overdrive.

He sat like a stone as the deer crossed an open bottom and then stopped on a 4-wheeler trail along the far side of the draw. At that point, Dick eased his shotgun into shooting position. At 30 yards, the Buckhammer slug from his 20 gauge Remington 11-87 dropped the heavily antlered 175-point buck and made both Dick’s day and mine.

If you are going to pay for a guided hunt, it only makes sense to listen to what the guide says. I can’t believe how hard it is to convince some clients to rattle and grunt call on a regular basis while they are on a stand, regardless of the time of season. The bowhunter who sat one evening in the stand that I had seen the monster buck refused to rattle or grunt call, because he didn’t have the confidence in his ability and felt he’d do more harm than good. Hogwash. His reticence may have cost him a chance to bring the big buck out of the impenetrable bedding area and within bow range.

Others give rattling or grunt calling a half-hearted try, and when they don’t get immediate results, they conclude that it doesn’t work. They seem to operate on the adage; “If at first you don’t succeed, quit or you might really screw things up.”

A number of years ago during the pre-rut, I spent three mornings hunting a dense river bottom. The first two mornings I rattled and grunt called every 20 minutes from daylight until 9a.m, and several small bucks appeared within bow range along with a very respectable 10-point that, in hindsight, I should have taken a shot at. The third morning I kept rattling, but the only thing I saw was an Opossum that got my heart pumping when he came rustling and rattling the leaves behind my treestand.

I began to think I had burned out the stand by overdoing the rattling and calling, but since the pre-rut was in full swing, I knew that a new buck was likely to be moving along the river bed at any time. I convinced myself to stay for an extra hour.

At 5 minutes to 10, I started crashing the antlers together with a vengeance, scraping the tree and grunting along with the rattling. I was determined to get the message out to any bucks within hearing range that there was competition in their realm, or at least a really entertaining fight to come watch.

I’d just turned to hang the antlers on a hook when the sound of thrashing antlers jerked my attention to the scrape directly below my perch. Where that buck came from, and how it got there without my seeing, I’ll never know. But there he was, in all his fury, thoroughly thrashing the lower branches over the scrape. I managed to get my bow off the hangar without being detected, but my mental faculties shorted out and my self-discipline failed. As the hefty 10-pointer walked up the trail, I hurried an arrow under his brisket, just clipping his hair and sending the buck out of my life forever.

When I climbed out of the tree, I measured that shot at 12 yards. Probably should have taken a little more time with that one. Trophy whitetails have a way of raising hob with even the most persevering and disciplined hunter. I guess that’s why they command our respect.

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