Anyone who can remain in his stand after this kind of morning deserves a crack or three at a decent buck.
Turning one's last vacation day and shelling out for a nonresident hunting license and deer tag are small prices to pay for a much-needed change of scenery. But when a frustrated Jesse Ferree paid that price in 2012, he got more of the same.
The Indiana hunter, weary of hearing gunshots and seeing more hunters than deer where he hunts close to home, decided to extend his weekend by spending Monday on a friend's place across the Ohio border.
Jesse had no reason to believe his chances would be any better, since he'd never hunted the property, but he didn't think it could be any worse than he'd experienced that week in Indiana.
He'd gained access to the friend's land in June 2012. He visited it in August, hung a stand and set out a trail camera, which he checked twice.
Only one shooter buck mugged for the camera (on Halloween) from August through mid-November, so he was not very excited about the potential.
On Nov. 24, a Saturday, he decided to use his last vacation day for the opening day of gun season in Ohio. He texted his boss and got permission to take off the following Monday, Nov. 26, and then called his buddy to tell him he'd be on the farm that day.
"He told me that another of his friends would be out there in a treestand about 150 yards from mine," he said.
"I set my alarm for 3:15 a.m., because it takes about 45 minutes for me to drive to the property," he continued.
"When I arrived, I parked the truck and waited a little bit so I could meet the person who was going to be hunting close to me, to introduce myself and to make sure he knew where I was going to be."
As dawn grew nearer and the other guy hadn't arrived, however, Jesse decided not to wait any longer. It was still dark when he settled into his stand.
At daybreak, he started looking around at the unfamiliar scenery. That was the first time he'd hunted there.
When he looked at the tree line and field edge behind him, he noticed a truck was parked only 30 yards from his tree, on the neighboring property.
"I then saw a ground blind about 150 yards from me in the cornfield, but up against the property I was hunting," he said. "After seeing that, my confidence took a nosedive.
"I kept scanning the area, and I saw a yearling walking through the woods. I watched until it disappeared," he added. "And then, half an hour later, I saw orange in the direction of the other hunter's stand."
While Jesse was watching the guy, two bucks ran into the set-aside they were both facing.
"I slowly raised my binoculars and started to assess them," Jesse said. "One was a big 6-pointer, probably a 3 1/2-year-old. The other buck had at least five points on one side, and the other side was a mess.
"While I was trying to get a better look at its weird rack, I practically saw a hole open up in the deer, followed by a loud boom. Both deer took off running," he added.
Jesse watched the buck with the weird rack fall about 75 yards into its retreat. The 6-pointer stopped and looked, and then it took off southward.
When the other hunter started searching for blood, Jesse waved him over and told him he'd seen his buck fall.
"He was very excited when I told him, and we walked out to the downed animal," Jesse said.
"We talked for a few minutes, and I told him I would help. He walked to his truck, drove it up to the deer, and we loaded it. I told him I was just going back to the stand and would sit for a little while longer."
Back in his tree after the man left, Jesse heard leaves rustling and looked over to see the hunter on the adjacent property walking to his truck. The man got in and drove it back to his blind.
"I watched him load a doe and his blind, and then he drove right past me again on his way out to the road," Jesse said.
"I was to the point of leaving, to stop wasting my time and go home," he added. "But I decided to wait a little bit longer, since everyone else had gone."
About 45 minutes later, Jesse looked out into the set-aside field and saw a doe running toward him. Well behind her was a buck with a colossal rack - not running, on her tail, but walking toward her.
"I stood slowly while my heart was hammering inside my chest. I grabbed my shotgun and rested it across the bow-holder, and then watched the buck through the scope from 90 yards.
"Meanwhile, the doe was getting closer to me," he said.
"I decided to hold off until the buck was closer, since it looked as if it would follow the doe's trail. While waiting and watching, my knees started to shake. Under my breath, I was saying 'OH MY GOSH ... OH MY GOSH ... OH MY GOSH!'"
The buck closed some of the gap, and then it started grunting and making a growling noise. It was about 10:45 and warming considerably, and the wind and thermals were shifting.
"I saw the buck become uneasy before it veered off, and that's when I squeezed the trigger," he said. "For all I could tell, I missed, because it didn't flinch.
"Without giving it a second thought, I shot again at the fleeing buck, which disappeared into the woods about 100 yards from me," he added.
When the deer didn't fall, Jesse's heart fell into his gut.
When he sat down to relearn to breathe, he heard three gunshots from the neighboring property, more specifically: from where the buck had run. And his heart sank from his stomach to his toes.
"Before I got down, I gauged where the buck had been walking and where it ran. After finding no blood in two passes, I got back into the stand and reset my landmarks," he said.
"When I began grid-walking the field, I found blood. I was excited until I realized it was from the buck the other guy shot that morning. And then I concluded that I must've missed after all.
"On my way back to the stand, I came across a little blood inside the woods, in a spot nowhere near where the other guy's buck had traveled," he continued. "I tracked the blood for about 50 yards before it stopped."
At that point, sure that he'd hit the deer, Jesse went back to his stand, took off some clothes, and resolved to walk through the entire 20 acres, if necessary, even though he couldn't shake the memory of those three shots he'd heard.
During his slow search, he found a few more drops of blood. When he reached the heart of the property, the woods opened up a little.
"Close to 2:30, almost three and a half hours after I first shot the buck, I'd methodically covered about 200 yards," he said. "I was 70 yards from the end when I saw a big brownish rock at the woods edge. Even through binoculars, it looked like a rock. But then I leaned hard to the side to peer around some tree trunks, and the buck and I locked gazes."
For the third time that day, Jesse tasted bile. The deer had to have been watching him in mostly open woods for at least 45 minutes.
"There was no tree I could use for a rest, so I took an offhanded shot," he said. "The buck jumped from its bed and ran uphill into a cornfield. Yet another opportunity botched, I thought."
As Jesse skulked to the cornfield, the whole sad scenario replayed in his head. When he reached the edge, however, he spotted the buck lying on its side about 60 yards into the stubble.
"That was truly the worst and best day of hunting I've ever had," Jesse said. "I'm convinced that the only reason the buck thought it was invisible there at the end, which gave me one last shot, is because I covered those woods so slowly."
Hunter: Jesse Ferree
BTR Score: 184
– Photos Courtesy Jesse Ferree
This article was published in the October 2014 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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