Here it is, the middle of the 2015 deer hunting season I've dubbed "The Drive For Five". Simply put, I'm striving to harvest my fifth shooter buck in five seasons. When I say shooter buck, I'm referring to 150" or bigger at this point in my hunting journey. To say the least, the season to date has been difficult. I thought I would take a moment and outline some of the obstacles and what I have learned the past several days.
It has taken me a couple of weeks, but I am happy to report the 2015 Season has started out with a bang. Luke spent the week before the Indiana Youth Season practicing and sighting in his .44 mag youth rifle, as illustrated in this photo. We worked hard on making sure he was squeezing the trigger and his group was solid at 75 yards. I wanted to make sure he could hit that distance given that would most likely be the longest shot he would possibly take.
Prior to the '13 hunting season, we walked the property and identified what we felt would be a good stand location in the NE corner of the property. There is a topo feature that looked to be a natural travel corridor given the visible trails. A stand was placed and I cleared shooting lanes. This proved to be a great idea and I shot my '13 buck out of this stand. Even with that success, I started to pick-up a pattern of deer travel that spilled over into '14. This pattern presented a huge obstacle that required I do something and make a change.
For those following the blog, you may recall my Oct. 5th entry on "The Importance of Your #FirstDeer". Well, I'm proud to say that Luke did it! He got his #FirstDeer on Nov. 16th shortly after 10:00 am. See the photos below.
Hunting with a 9 year old can be difficult. It isn't as easy when it comes to scent control and getting to a morning hunt on the edge of a food plot without bumping every deer in the county. As a result, I took a new tactic. Luke definitely wanted a morning hunt, so I had to get creative on how to get him to the stand. I decided to drive him in on my John Deere Tractor. That's right....we drove to the stand using the tractor right at shooting light.
My annual hunting vacation started Nov. 6th. I had scheduled time off through the 16th, giving me 11 full days to try to get the job done. As with past years, it took a few days to put the pieces of the puzzle together. By Nov. 10th, I had most of the information needed setting the stage for a fantastic hunt the morning of Nov. 13th.
The buck I was after was initially named The Trident Buck. This was because his left G2 had awesome mass and was in the shape of a spear. This buck showed up on trail camera Oct. 19th. I had never seen this buck before, but as in past years, this was about the time for new bucks to take up residence. He definitely became a regular with seven different visits documented on all four property trail cameras (see photos and video below). These visits helped me pattern the buck and develop the strategy needed to get the opportunity. That opportunity came on Nov. 13th and he proved his name needed to be changed. Meet the Iron Buck!
I wrote the following from the stand on Nov. 11th. The pinnacle of the season happened in the immediate days following, but I wanted to present in chronological order. There will be two other posts following this that details our successful hunting season. Thanks for following......Andy
This is officially the midpoint of my annual time off to hunt. It seems that each year while spending hours in the woods there are moments where I begin to question why? Why get up at 4 am? Why suffer when it is cold, rainy, or windy? A Twitter message summed it up best.....spending days on a 27" platform in a tree is a different kind of crazy. So I thought I would take a moment to reiterate why the deer hunting quest.
My top draft pick for the '14 season is the college senior shown below. As with most ready to make the jump to the pros, there are several questions that will require us to wait and see. I think this guy has a lot of up side, but everything must fall into place for his success to end up on my wall next season. His rookie season could even require some bench time, causing me to wait until his second year as a pro. Here is a list of things that must go right:
As mentioned on a previous blog, the number of deer has declined. This has obviously caused the number of bucks to drop drastically. I pulled the camera cards on Dec. 28, which had sat since Dec. 8th. Upon reviewing all of the pictures, this was the biggest buck captured twice four days apart. Hopefully other mature bucks will filter into the property and be added to the draft board for the '14 season.
Since purchasing the property in 2006, I was fortunate enough to harvest my third buck yesterday. I started hunting hard on November 4th, on stand through each day. As previously blogged, it was shaping up to be a difficult hunting season.
This buck was first noticed on the property on Nov. 6th (see video below). The buck visited the watering hole at 1:00 pm (didn't change the clock on the camera after end of daylight savings time as it reads 2:00 pm). This helps confirm that bucks do travel in the middle of the day. Since he approached from the west to the watering hole, I had a pretty good idea of the route he was going. There were one of two options. Over the years, I have come to realize that bucks travel on my property in a circular pattern. They travel through the food plots on an east to west or west to east line. That means they either circle from the north or south. I believe this has a great deal to do with the topography of the property. I gambled that he was working the north side.
As a result, I had been hunting the stand on the NE corner of the property since it was producing more sightings than any other on the property this season. This also has to do with the topography, plus the stand concealed me very well. The down side is that I had no shots further than 20 yards.
At about 8:30 am, a lone doe crossed to the north of my stand going towards the east. A few minutes later, a 1.5 year old buck followed her exact path indicating she was a hot doe. My hope was this would be a mature buck, but that was not the case. I started to think the morning was going to be a bust, when I heard another deer approaching. Upon glassing the buck, I could see immediately it was the main frame 8 point with a few kicker points. This was the biggest buck I had seen this year on the property, either on stand or via trail cameras. As a result, I made the quick decision to shoot at this one.
He followed the exact path of the doe, which meant my shot would be 20 yards. I picked up the bow off of the hanger and the routine that bow hunters practice took over. I drew and placed the pin behind the shoulder and tracked him until he eventually stopped right on my trail to the stand. He was quartering away from me and just barely in the shooting window I had. There was a tree to my right that if not careful could become an issue.
I released the arrow and the shot made an extremely loud POW! It sound as if I had missed and hit a tree directly. However, the shot looked good and I was confident that it was a kill shot. After the buck ran off, not limping, I started to rationalize that the shot must have passed through the kill zone and hit the opposite shoulder. If that were the case, I couldn't figure out why he ran off without limping. Upon climbing down from the stand, I could not find my arrow anywhere. This was evidence that maybe I did stick it in the opposite shoulder and hoped the tracking would be short.
The shot was made at 8:45 am and I waited 2 hours before going after the buck. It took 40 yards before finding any blood or hair...not a good sign. I then began to find blood and white hair. Now it was getting interesting. The blood trail became heavy with a lot of blood being lost. At about 150 yards, I had to make the decision to either back out or continue trailing. There was no evidence of the buck bedding down, but I did find two areas where he stood. I also found a set of weeds that had blood at high levels and in a spraying pattern, possibly indicating he was blowing blood. Could this have clipped a lung? I was hopeful.
I elected to continue tracking the deer. He began to take the low road sticking to the edges of ridges and valleys. Fortunately, he did not leave the property and actually turned back south following the creek. At one point, he entered the creek going back and forth and crawled through some dense brush. The blood trail continued to be heavy. With that amount of blood, it was clear the deer was going to die so I pressed on.
Fortunately I found him about 100 yards later. He was just on the other side of the creek and was walking around a point. Convention wisdom is to simply back out on a shot like this, which is probably what I should have done. However, it worked out and I was able to eventually find him at about 1:30 pm.
Upon investigating, my shot was a liver pass through shot. I never did find my arrow and believe it must have glanced off of a log on the ground which resulted in the sound I heard. I do plan on looking more later on to see if it can be found.
The buck was the biggest bodied buck I have shot. His live weight was 260 lbs., with field dressed weight of 210 lb. I haven't put a tape to the rack yet, but he will not score high given he is a main frame 8 pointer. I like the split brow tine and the two kicker points and believe he is older than 3.5 years. How much older than 3.5 years old needs to be determined once the jaw bone is removed. I hope to send the teeth into a lab for confirmation, but have heard that this process is a little costly.
In conclusion, I feel fortunate to harvest this mature buck. I've been told to shoot the biggest buck on your property each year and I believe this was it. There is obviously the possibility that the rut would have brought through a bigger buck. However, the sightings and trail cameras were telling me this was the biggest buck so I took the opportunity on this mature 8 pointer. Now on to hunting with the kids and trying to thin the doe heard.
I want to thank my wife and kids for putting up with this addictive hobby. This definitely is a stress reliever for me and becomes more a part of me each year. Tom and Cindy Rothrock at Lonesome Elk Archery are good friends and continue to provide a good bow set up for me. Todd Crane of Crane Excavating for helping with the habitat improvements. I also want to thank countless others that share their stories and talk with me about hunting throughout the year.
Stay safe this season and keep checking back. We will begin in a few weeks to work on plans and property improvements for '14.
It's early November and the season is presenting some interesting challenges. It has been a while since I have written anything, so I'd thought I take a few minutes and provide an update on what is going well and the mistakes I believe were made.
Let's start first with the successes. The watering hole put in earlier this year has been huge. The deer are hitting it regularly and the 2.5" of rain received a week ago have it full. I've seen it first hand from the stand two nights ago and the trail camera is capturing visitors throughout the day. As the rut hits it's stride, I expect the bucks to catch a quick drink before they continue their chase.
Another success has been the new stand placed in the NE corner of the property. I have sat there twice and observed multiple bucks traveling unaware of my presence. It allows easy access and is located where the topography funnels deer. The bucks were not shooters, but will quickly mature if they make it through the gun season. It is close to a staging area where chasing during the rut will heighten.
Today's weather was ugly with constant rain and high winds. The weatherman predicted rain, but I think he missed the mark on the continued rain throughout the day. The evening hunt proved that having a good set of rain gear is essential for deer hunters. I bought this set a couple of years ago after getting soaked to the bone. If I had followed the forecast, I would not have worn the gear. My gut told me to wear it and it paid off huge.
Now for the bad. The tree stand I placed near the watering hole is a failure. It is completely out in the open and not high enough. I was busted by three different deer walking by. Each of them looked right up at me and spooked. Cutting shooting lanes when installing a stand is always a fine line to walk. I've had sets where I missed shots because I didn't cut enough. This time, I cut way too much and stick out like a sore thumb. The only way to salvage this stand it to move the lock on to the opposite side of the tree and use the trunk to hide behind. Even then, I'm skeptical of getting picked off.
Another mistake I made was with one of the fall protection ropes set. The tree the stand is in, must be higher than normal. The rope is too short making it difficult to attach my backpack and also my harness to the Prusik Knot. I'm made another rope that is 10' longer, which will allow safer and easier use of the stand.
The season is setting up to be a difficult one. I don't have any resident shooter bucks this year and the bucks that normally show up in October when the crops are harvested have not shown up. That means I'm waiting on the transient bucks to arrive with the rut. As a result, I don't have a real plan or a buck patterned as done so the last two years. Both bucks shot the past two years were patterned using the trail camera and on stand observations. The trick is staying close to the does that will attract the bucks, without the alpha doe growing wise of stand locations. I've had this happen before and they ruin everything. A doe will walk out and stare right at you stomping and blowing once they know the stand has been used.
I've got seven more days off of work to hopefully get the job done. I feel like the heat is going to turn up anytime. A hunter has to be in the woods in order to capitalize when the switch is flipped.
Please remember to send me your entries to the ATW Big Buck Contest. More entries are needed. Email your photos and details to email@example.com.
Last weekend I hunted for the first time this season and it involved a new stand. Earlier this year, Jim Ward and I identified a new stand placement that would afford me morning hunts with minimal impact to the bedding areas. The stand is on the NE corner of the property and involves a short trail to the bottom of the tree. It sits along a major trail where deer transition from the neighboring property onto mine.
There were multiple purposes to the hunt last weekend. First, I needed to get my hunting fix. It was a cool October morning and a great time to be on stand. I observed several deer that morning, including a couple of bucks. I didn't get great looks at either buck, but one might have been a main frame eight pointer.
What was interesting about that particular buck was the time and direction he was traveling. We always try to figure out what deer are doing. This buck has me baffled. I spotted him north of my stand with the wind at 7 mph from the SSW. He walked across my entry path and showed no sign of picking up my scent. He was traveling from the west to the east. What makes that fact interesting is that he was up and moving at 8:38 am and heading away from the typical bedding area. Does he have a bed to my east on the neighbor's property? Was he heading to the unpicked bean field on the east edge of the woods to feed? Was he going to hit an oak dropping acorns? Was he just cruising? I don't have answers to any of these questions, but it was definitely out of the ordinary.
The other significant purpose of this hunt was to work out the kinks in my overall hunting process. Preparing my equipment needed to happen. My back pack was out of sorts from the youth hunt. Even in doing this, I still forgot my grunt call. Once I saw the buck, I reached for the call and realized I had left it in my RubberMaid tote. Glad it wasn't a huge shooter.
I woke up later than I should, which put pressure on me to get loaded, cleaned up, and out of the door. Scent control process is something I have to actually do each year to improve and solidify. That was a success with a few adjustments noted as I drove to the property. Next was the dressing and gearing up process at the truck tailgate. Putting on the full body harness needs to be quick and organized. This didn't happen smoothly the other morning.
All of the above meant getting to the stand later than I had wanted. I came home that evening and printed out the sunrise / sunset calendar for October and November. I can now mark down the go / no-go times for leaving the house to get to the stand on time.
Fortunately I was not busted by any deer that morning. That could have happened 1. ) Walking in (good trail and stand placement); 2.) From the buck that was upwind (good scent control techniques), or 3.) From the mix of a dozen does and fawns that filed by within 15 yards on the trail that runs towards the NW. I was able to practice standing still in the ready position to shoot the does. I was able to practice attaching to my fall protection and hanging my lock on stand without making any noise (e.g., metal to metal).
I'm taking off several days in November. The above gives me confidence and makes me feel prepared for entering the woods. I've learned the past couple of years each time I walk into the woods must trigger a switch in my mind. This WILL BE the hunt where I shoot the buck of a lifetime.
Andy Hayes is a devoted husband and father of 4 kids living in West Central Indiana. Outside of his family, his passion is hunting whitetails. He does not claim to be a professional hunter, but simply wants to share what he learns during his quest to improve whitetail habitat and hunt mature bucks.