I’ll never forget the sun glistening off the largest rack of the four bucks that were challenging each other in the meadow west of my treestand. That was during the waning 2010 archery season.
It was close to 11 a.m., and I’d just come down from my treestand within in a copse of pines when I saw them. To prevent being seen by the randy quartet, I actually crouched and jogged down the tractor path to the east side of the small farm in Ontario County, N.Y., about four miles northeast of Geneva.
I had never seen four bucks at one time while hunting, and I had never seen such a large set of antlers either. The deer were almost 200 yards away and moving behind trees, so I couldn't get an accurate point count.
Plus, my main objective was to get out of there without being seen.
I have hunted that farm for more than a decade, many times with my nephew and lifelong hunting partner, Brad. We have harvested several deer from the property over the years, including a 9-pointer that I had mounted two years earlier. I also took a couple of deer during the archery and blackpowder seasons in recent years. It is shotgun-only in this part of Ontario County during the regular gun season.
For the 2010 season, we originally were planning to hunt the opening day of gun season on some public land to the south. We hunt the Green Mountain National Forest near Hector, N.Y., and at Sampson State Park in Romulus.
Once I saw these bucks, especially the big one, that mindset changed. We were in our stands at the farm before the sun came up on opening day and several other times as the season progressed. My oldest daughter, Marla, also enjoys hunting deer and joined us on Thanksgiving morning. The three of us saw no deer on the farm through the entire 2010 gun and blackpowder seasons.
We were very frustrated as we cleaned our shotguns and stored them away for the next year.
For the 2011 season, I put up another treestand in a large pine tree in a hedgerow that borders the southern boundary of the meadow where I had seen the four bucks. I was very careful during the 2011 archery season not to overhunt the farm and to make sure I was as scent-free as possible. I even washed the inside of my pickup, including the floor mats, with a scent-neutralizing soap.
Even so, I saw only two does and one 7-pointer during the archery season, which was not very encouraging.
My vivid memory of seeing those bucks in 2010, especially the big one, kept us excited about the opening day of gun season. Brad had also seen a huge buck before dawn at this farm about four years earlier, but we never saw it during shooting hours.
I have had some success in past years hunting over mock scrapes made with a dripper and doe urine. During the summer, I read articles extolling the virtues of licking branches and mock scrapes. That inspired me to purchase some olfactory gland scent and doe urine for the dripper, to make a mock scrape complete with licking branch doused with the glandular scent.
I also read some studies that suggested deer can’t distinguish human urine from deer urine.
There were two active scrapes on the farm that I enhanced with pre-orbital scent-doctored licking branches. Also, every four or five days from the middle of October to the middle of November, I peed on the two real scrapes and on the mock scrape. I added the olfactory scent to the overhead licking branches every other time.
After two weeks, I noticed a gradual increase in deer activity at these scrapes and, because of that, continued to freshen up the scrapes with my own urine. At about the fourth week, seven days before the gun opener, the scrapes really showed some increase in use. One of them, about 200 yards to the east of the pines, had deer feces all over it!
That was the first time I’d seen that.
I also saw some very large tracks out by the meadow. We knew bucks were there, too, as we also saw some fresh rubs.
Brad and I were in our treestands for the gun opener. Marla and another daughter, Mia, joined us for a traditional Thanksgiving morning hunt. Mia also went with us on another afternoon hunt before Thanksgiving.
We saw no deer during those three days. Our frustration mounted as it sounded like hunters on nearby farms were getting some consistent shooting.
When Saturday came, Marla was supposed to hunt again with Brad and me. It was a big disappointment to me when she chose to sleep in, but Brad and I headed off to the farm well before first light. I chose to go into the stand that Marla always sits in for that morning. Brad actually had to keep my spirits up the night before, saying, “You’ve got to be in the woods to shoot ’em.”
It was a warmer-than-usual morning, so I wore only one pair of gloves and left my cold-weather gear in the truck. We were in our stands at least half an hour before daylight. I was still bummed out that we had not had any shots for almost two full seasons and that Marla didn’t come to hunt that day. (She lives six hours away and can’t come home much anymore.)
I was looking to the east at about 7:30 when I sensed something to my left. I turned slowly and saw that a buck had come down the tractor path from the meadow. It was heading for one of the scrapes and licking branches I had enhanced about 50 yards to the right of my stand. As it went behind a couple of trees, I stood up in my ladder stand, adjusted my sling and got ready for a shot.
The buck stepped out and was about 55 yards away behind a small bush that had lost its leaves. I did not know how big a buck it was; I knew only that it was a good one. I put the crosshairs just behind its front leg and squeezed the shotgun’s trigger.
The big buck shuddered after my first shot, and then took a few steps. It did the same after my second shot. It fell dead about 30 yards in front of my stand after the third.
Brad was about 120 yards away in his stand when I yelled, “Big Buck!”
We both quickly got down from our stands. When I reached the buck, I saw LOTS of antler, including almost identical drop tines. When I counted nine points on one side, I knew I’d shot the big one.
Brad arrived moments later and couldn’t see the deer as it was in the tractor path behind me. “Where’s the deer?” he asked. He thought it might’ve run off because of the three shots.
I said, “Right behind me.”
I asked him to count the points to see if he got the same number as I did. He said, “I got 18. What did you get?”
I said, “That’s what I got, but it just didn’t seem right?”
Neither of us had ever seen a deer in the woods with drop tines, let alone 18 points.
Soon after the reality set in of actually harvesting this buck of a lifetime, we took some pictures, field-dressed the deer and loaded it into my truck. I honestly still wished that my daughter had come with us to hunt that morning, because she might have got him, as she is a good shot.
I am very fortunate and thank the Lord that the deer chose that time to walk down the path from the meadow. It was definitely worth the wait.
It weighed 158 pounds at the deer processor.
— Photos Courtesy of Mike Canale
Hunter: Mike Canale This article was published in the August 2012 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.
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