And this buck’s dark rack wasn’t even its most noticeable feature.
It was the third morning in the stand for Scent-Lok’s Mike Andrews. He had several bucks in his archery sight over the previous two mornings, but the buck he was after, a big 10-pointer, had passed by out of range both days. He couldn’t help asking himself why the buck had changed its pattern the very day he was able to begin hunting.
Just then a twig snapped and Mike looked up to see a big buck that had worked its way in close behind a line of trees. It wasn’t THE buck, but it was certainly worth putting a tag on. The buck stepped into an opening, and Mike sent his arrow on its way. As the deer ran off in its final death run, Mike turned to look into the camera with a big grin ...
Being a Buckmasters cameraman can be fun. But there’s a lot of hard work, early mornings and fruitless hours spent on stand in between the fun times. And when you hunt as much as they do — and make no mistake about it, filming is hunting times two — the days, and sometimes even the deer, tend to run together.
Every once in a while, though, a special buck comes along that captures the hearts of the crew. Whether they harvest it or not, such a deer becomes the stuff of legends, with stories of it being told for years to come as the guys gather at camp.
This is the story of one such buck, nicknamed Chocolate.
Cameraman Jimmy Little first saw Chocolate while scouting for the 2006 Montana season. Jimmy and fellow videographers Mark Oliver, Elliot Allen and Chris Chastain had arrived in early September to prepare for several archery hunts for whitetails and elk.
Jimmy and the guys were glassing the alfalfa and barley fields, hoping to locate a few white-tailed bucks on their morning feeding patterns.
“That early in the season, we’re strictly hunting a feeding pattern,” Jimmy said. “We try to catch the deer as they move between their bedding and feeding areas. They love those alfalfa and barley fields and can be very predictable. In fact, when I first saw Chocolate, he was right under one of our stands from last year.”
Jimmy said the first thing he noticed about Chocolate was his 10-point rack. Then something at the other end of the deer caught his attention.
“Of course we’re always looking for big bucks, so he caught my attention right away,” he said. “He had a big set of antlers, and the first thing that struck me was the dark, chocolate color. Then, when he moved, I realized he didn’t have a tail. Let me tell you something, a whitetail without a tail is very noticeable.”
The crew continued to scout in the mornings and evenings, and “Chocolate” kept to his routine of walking right under the same stand. “We really didn’t have to set up any new stands,” Jimmy said. “We went in during the middle of the day and checked everything for safety and made sure there were open shots to the main trails.
We were really excited about Chocolate, because it seemed like it was going to be a slam dunk. Things look so easy on TV because we never show all the non-productive time on stand, but it’s really difficult to get the harvest of a good buck on camera.”
They were so pumped up about hunting Chocolate that Jimmy had to win a coin toss with Elliot to earn the right to take Mike Andrews to the stand for the first attempt at the deer in mid-September.
Mike had heard the talk about Chocolate and was chomping at the bit. But the buck had other plans. “Chocolate showed up all right, but instead of coming by the stand, he headed ‘Up the Gut.’” Jimmy explained that smart old bucks had been giving them fits over the years by walking up the center of a wide-open field.
It had gotten so bad and happened so many times that they had come up with a name for the maneuver. “It’s wide open, and there’s not a single tree around. Chocolate just took his time and walked up through there like he didn’t have a care in the world. And all we could do was watch.”
Jimmy and Mike hunted Chocolate three days — and watched him go Up the Gut three days — before Mike finally connected on a beautiful 10-pointer. Mike was thrilled. It was his biggest buck ever with a bow, and was only a few inches smaller than Chocolate.
But Jimmy was on a mission.
“Jackie [Bushman] was coming to camp right after Mike, so we devised a new plan,” he said. “We thought we might be able to catch Chocolate by surprise if we moved back in closer to the bedding area to a stand we call Brian’s Stand.”
Jimmy and Jackie hunted two days without seeing a shooter. Then, on the third morning, Chocolate appeared.
“When we first saw him, he was about 200 yards away,” Jimmy said. “And there was no way he was going to come by our stand. We were really just fooling around, but Jackie got out his grunt call to see what it would do.”
Jackie hit the call a few times, and Chocolate looked up but didn’t bite. Then several does ran in and began to mill around right under Jackie’s tree. He kept up an occasional grunt, and between that and the does, Chocolate just couldn’t take it.
“It wasn’t anywhere near the rut, but I guess his curiosity just got the better of him,” Jimmy said. “I have a little trick I like to use that time of year of cutting off a few cottonwood branches and placing them in shooting lanes. I don’t know why, but it seems like deer just have to stop and eat those leaves. I had done that before we set up, and Chocolate came in and stopped broadside at 20 yards to nibble those cottonwoods.”
The rest of the story is, as they say, history. Jackie sent an Easton Axis arrow through the buck’s boiler room, and he and Jimmy watched the buck fall not more than 50 yards from the stand.
It wasn’t until later that Jimmy realized that in all his years of filming with Jackie, and although they had always been hunting somewhere on Sept. 30, it was the first time they had taken a buck on that date — Jackie’s birthday.
“I guess you would have to say that Jackie got Chocolate for his birthday,” he said with a grin.
For Jackie’s part, he credits Jimmy, Mark, Elliot and Chris for the success stories like the one about Chocolate. “They’re the guys who are out there getting everything set up,” he said. “They’re the guys who carry around all that heavy equipment and have to wake up morning after morning to go film. Things look easy on film, but that’s only because of all the work these guys do behind the scenes.”
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This article was published in the September 2007 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.