A Deer Worth Waiting For
By Paul Falke
-- The 2005 bow season in my area of Kansas was a success. I had seen and passed up more nice bucks than any other year prior to 2005. Now I was down to my last evening hunt before rifle season opened.
I farm and live in east central ...
By Randy Webb
-- I was looking forward to the 2006 deer season, but circumstances would change things a lot. I found out in October that my father had lung cancer and that it had spread to his brain. He passed away Nov. 10, and his funeral was the d...
Wall Of Determination
By Nancy E. Flynt
-- I've been hunting for about six years with my husband, Miles. I have had some luck, but I am still learning. This past season, I hunted hard every weekend at the Cypress Point Hunting Club near Bowman, S.C. I was determined to p...
No Deer On This Property
By Marcus McDowell
-- On Sept. 12, 2006, I was blessed with a beautiful baby girl, Mikayli Rose. Mikayli was the first child for me and my wife, Mallory. Spending quality time with family became my top priority.
Mallory and I are avid bow a...
Summertime's Whitetail Bachelor Grouping
By Tommy & Marie Kirkland
-- Heat and humidity reminds us that the days of summer are here. The deer hunting gear is stored away for now. Yet the whitetails we pursue are concealed within the woods, engaged in obtaining nutrition, establishing...
Buck Fever Brings on Asthma Attack
Six Dependable Ways Not To Bag Your Trophy
By Russell Thornberry
-- Here are six predictable reasons why hunters often fail to bag that trophy of a lifetime. With some advance planning, you can make sure they don't happen to you!
1) Long Stocks in Cold Weather
As their eyes met in a ...
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Making The Most Of Montana
By Judy Urbatsch
-- We moved from Alaska, where my family and grandchildren live, to my husband's home state of North Dakota three years ago. This saddened me some, but you have to move where the work is. My husband is an avid hunter, and when he is not working, he is hunting birds, deer, antelope and whatever is in season. So I figured if I want to spend some time with him, I should take up hunting. My husband built me a .243 on a Mauser action. The rifle shot well, but I had a hard time working the bolt when I got a little excited. The first year I hunted all season and shot a mule deer doe and a white-tailed doe. The bucks were hard to find. I told my husband that I wanted a buck the next year.
The second year, I did not have as much time to hunt as I was working at a youth assessment center. I told my husband any buck would do for the first one. As I had trouble with the Mauser, we had decided I needed a new rifle.
After handling several rifles, I settled on a .270 Mossberg SS1. This rifle has an automatic safety and no hammer to cock. My husband said this rifle is almost foolproof. That's just the gun for me!
On the second day of the season, my husband was glassing a deer and he said that it was a buck. The deer took off running and my husband said wait. It was too late. I had all ready shot.
As luck would have it, I hit the buck in the neck and down it went. It was a little 4-pointer, and I vowed then that next year I would get a wallhanger.
The next year, during the 2007 North Dakota youth season, my husband took his nephew, Sawyer, out in the woods. Sawyer took a nice 3x4 mule deer. I accused my husband of loving his nephew more then me as he got him a bigger buck than mine from the prior year.
We did not draw a buck tag this year, but we own some farmland that allows us to get a gratis tag to hunt on our own property. We applied for one and got it. My husband scouted the farm and said there were a couple of decent bucks around, and if I was lucky, I might get one.
We sighted-in my rifle. I use the Remington reduced recoil loads for my .270 Mossberg. The first day at the farm was hectic as deer were running about but none were standing still, so no shots were fired. I got up early the next morning and made some coffee for my husband and packed a lunch and out the door to the farm we went. We saw several bucks, and I missed a nice one just leaving the property.
Then the action slowed, but we didn't have much activity so we decided to have lunch. Appropriately, I had a deer salami sandwich. I told my husband that I was going to nap a little while, as he glassed the surrounding area. I just had fallen asleep when he woke me up and said there was a nice buck crossing. I woke up in a hurry and found a rest, but the deer was still moving. My husband let out a whistle and the buck stopped. I quickly placed the crosshairs right behind the shoulder and touched one off. My husband said you hit him. The deer ran out of sight.
As I have asthma and a pacemaker, this means that I can't get around like I used to, so my husband ran over the hill and watched the buck dart into a grassy gorge. He signaled for me to come over, then we slowly followed the blood trail through the grass. I was having a hard time keeping up, so my husband told me to keep my eyes open and he would go ahead.
He was working his way slowly through the grass when I saw the buck raise his head. My husband had walked right by it. I hollered at Don and said, "I see the buck."
Don told me to finish it off, but the deer was right between us. As soon as he moved out of harm's way, I shot the deer through the chest. I got so excited, I ran over there as fast as I could. This caused me to have an asthma attack, and I could hardly breathe. My husband said nice deer, but next year, you are on your own.
We cleaned the deer and took him down to Scenic Sports to get it weighed and entered in the local deer contest. The buck field-dressed at 175 pounds and scored 149 inches. I am now waiting for the taxidermist to mount the buck. I have a spot for him on the wall and lasting memories from this fall. Hopefully we can draw a mule deer tag next year so I can add to my growing collection. I put in for antelope also. This hunting stuff is kind of fun.
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In The Eye Of The Beholder
By William Hays
-- Our trip started with three hunters: Chris, my hunting partner; Mike, my brother; and me. We applied for deer tags for the 2006 Montana general deer season. It was a long wait, but, finally, when we checked the computer it said successful. We all drew a general deer tag (buck or doe) and a white-tailed doe tag. We were going to Montana.
We left California on Nov. 1 and arrived in Montana after a 26-hour drive. That was a very long drive, but well worth it. We met a friend of Chris' that evening and made plans for the next day. Chris and I were going to hunt together and Mike would go with Stan, as he also had an antelope tag.
The first morning, we parked my truck at the beginning of a large cooley, what I call a draw or ravine in California, and made a long drive across the management block area we were hunting, seeing moose, coyotes, whitetails and mule deer. The moose were great to see. They were at the start of our drive. First we spotted one, and then there were two. What a thrill to see two moose in the wild like that. After the long walk, we were picked up by Stan and Mike and dropped off for another long hike.
As Chris and I were working our way up this new cooley, Chris stopped and said that there was a big mule buck lying right there in front of us. We continued moving around the corner of this cooley, when all of a sudden, 50 yards in front of us, was one of the largest mule deer bucks I have ever seen. Being closer to the deer, I took the first shot at the big buck, but missed it by a mile. Then Chris shot. We watched as it walked over the ridge out of the cooley and beyond gun range. Buck fever must have kicked in! I was so close that my rifle barrel could have touched it! I think that level of excitement keeps me hunting year after year.
After another long hike through a cooley, we saw two more bucks and then called it a day to go bird hunting. Even that was exciting as we picked up six grouse. A little later we did an evening hunt and called it quits for the first night.
The next morning, we decided to make one large drive with the whole group to start the day off. We had two more friends from California with us, Todd and Rob. The plan was to make a large drive that covered most of the management block area we were hunting. Mike and Stan started from the back of the area, and the rest of use worked our way toward them from the front. We positioned one person at the end of the cooley that Stan and Mike were coming up, and another person was left off at the end of the cooley that Chris and I were going to work up.
Chris and I made our way through the same cooley where we had missed that big buck the day before. This time, it was empty. When we finally got through with that hunt, Stan and Mike picked us up, but this time my brother had gotten a very nice 4x4 mulie and his antelope was in the back of the truck as well. Chris said to Mike, "At least someone can hit one of these big bucks."
After that, we worked a few more drives and had a couple more big bucks make their escape with no shots fired. After the last drive, we headed to the top of a large plateau. Earlier, Mike and Stan had talked to a couple of hunters that came 200 miles just to hunt the plateau. This made me want to take a little time and look it over. I really wanted a white-tailed buck and they had mentioned seeing one there. Chris and I walked around the top for a bit and did not see anything. We were working our way back to the truck when I asked Chris if it was okay to walk down the side of the plateau and meet him back at the truck. Did I mention that the wind was blowing about 40 mph?
Chris kept working his way back to the truck and I made my way down the side of the hill and started scanning over the edge of this little cooley. It looked like the perfect place for a big old buck to hide from the cold wind. It had to be less then 10 minutes when I walked over the edge and looked down this cooley and spotted a cow trail at the very bottom. To my surprise, I could see this beautiful whitetail rack just glowing in the sun, moving back and forth without the buck having any idea I was standing right behind it. I could not believe my eyes. I could only see the top of the rack as there was some hay between us that kept his body from my view. Being only 50 yards from the buck, I placed the scope on its rack and lowered the cross airs to the back of its head and fired. The deer did not move an inch.
I moved down the little cooley and could not believe my eyes. There lay a beautiful 9-point white-tailed buck. I just sat there for a few minutes and said a little prayer of thanksgiving to God. I walked up the other side of the cooley to see if I could make eye contract with Chris. At this point, with the wind blowing so hard, he had not heard the shot and was standing by my truck. I must have looked like a crazy man in orange jumping up and down waving at him. It must have worked though, since he started driving the truck up the plateau. I was waiting for Chris to stop, but he was confused as to what I wanted him to do. I finally had to run up the hill and get him to back up to where we could take the truck down and retrieve my buck. We pulled the deer out of the cooley, gave each other high-fives, took many pictures, and headed off to show the rest of the party our trophy.
When we finally met up with the rest of the gang, Stan had a really nice 3x3 in the back of the truck. This was more like the trip we all had hoped for during our 26-hour ride to reach Montana. What a second day!
On the third day, we still had three more bucks to take. There were six of us that morning in two rigs. We stopped at the first cooley where Chris and I walked the day one and encountered the two moose. We left one rig there, and Mike and I made a morning drive and worked our way to the pickup point. Only a couple of small bucks and a few does were seen. We then dropped the others off at another cooley and we made our way to the new pickup point, but, this time, we got the call that another big mulie buck was down. We worked are way over to pick them up and found them with a 26-inch-wide, 4x4 mulie. What a beautiful buck. Todd had bagged this buck with Rob and Chris' assistance.
As it was getting late, Mike, Josh and I wanted to hunt some grouse. We bid farewell to Chris, Todd and Rob and went after some birds. The other guys keep hunting, looking for those last two bucks. They decided to make a drive in a new area, which we had not hunted yet. As they were worked there way through the cooley, Rob took the first and only buck he had seen during the trip, a really nice 2x2 mule deer buck. That left them with just one more buck tag to fill. They loaded the buck in the truck and headed out of the block management area, with the rain starting to come down heavy.
On their way out, Chris spotted a group of deer in a creek bed just before they got to the last gate. He got out and headed up a little creek bed where he was able to bag a beautiful 22-inch, 4x4, which had been hanging out with his harem of does. With that, we were tagged out!
Over the next two days, we were able to fill our white-tailed doe tags and take a few more birds. This will definitely be a hard trip to top, but we are going to apply again next year and maybe do better. I would like to thank to Stan, Clarence and Jeremy for their great Montana hospitality and look forward to hunting with them again in 2007.
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The Hunt For The Trail
By Karen Tillman
-- I want to share an amazing deer hunting story about George Gray, a blind gentleman who lives in Cleveland, Texas. He has been totally blind most of his adult life, but he doesn't let that stop him from doing things that he needs or wants to do.
He has a wonderful wife, Bette, who is there to assist him with virtually anything. My pastor, Ralph Castro, is the one who took Mr. Gray to the gun range and set him up practicing at targets.
It took some time for George to master hitting the target. In time, George really got the hang of shooting. Once he was ready to shoot, my husband, Art Tillman, took George and Ralph to his deer lease in west Texas. The hunt happened to take place during a bitter November cold front. Just being able to go on the hunt was enough to fulfill George's desire to hunt.
My husband knew that the deer should be moving. Art had the video camera set up on the feed pen. On the other side of them an 8-point buck appeared out in the open and was headed toward the deer stand. Art and Ralph helped George sit down and ready his gun in the window. Ralph sat behind George and guided him on where to aim.
Keep in mind the only person holding the gun was George. When he had the barrel of the gun lined up on the buck, Ralph told the sightless hunter to take the shot.
Following the shot, Art informed George that he just harvested a buck worthy of the wall. George thought they were pulling his leg. He didn't believe he really got it. So they got out of the stand and had George straddle over the back of the deer and take a hold of his antlers.
He was extremely excited! Our church family had the buck mounted. Ralph and Art then presented the trophy to George during our Christmas Eve service.
While it truly amazing that George took an 8-point buck with a shotgun, the most noteworthy part of the story is that two friends were willing to take the time to help make a dream come true and share the outdoors with a friend.
Make the most of every opportunity you have in life.
Art and Karen Tillman, Porter, Texas
George Gray, Cleveland, Texas
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In It For The Long Haul
By Ricky Thomas
-- On Oct. 2, 2006, eight days before my 8th birthday, my mother took me to our woods to bowhunt white-tailed deer. We sat and watched several does go in and out of the woods, but they were too far away to shoot with my crossbow. Finally, we left the woods around 7 p.m.
The next night, Mom rushed into the house from an appointment and asked if I wanted to try the woods again. She said that my dad was going to take a walk out around the woods, soybean field and cornfield for me. I agreed and hurried to get my camo clothes on.
We got to the hut about 6:30. We weren't there 5 minutes before we saw a big buck walk out of the beanfield and into the hayfield that sits beside our woods. Dad couldn't have gotten very far. "Get ready, maybe he'll come into us," Mom said.
I got down on one knee while she put the crossbow on my shooting stick. She kept asking me, "What is he doing?" We had to whisper.
I told her that he was in my sights. She asked, "Is he broadside?"
I said, "Yes." Then she asked me if I had a clear shot, with no branches in the way, and again I told her, "Yes."
She instructed me to go ahead and try if I had a clear shot. I took the safety off, got him back in my sights, and pulled the trigger. Mom jumped up, asked if I hit him and then looked out the other window.
Mom said I'd hit him, and the arrow was sticking out of him. I hit him in front of the back leg. I know that's not the kill zone, but he jumped as soon as I pulled the trigger. We waited and watched him walk down to an opening of the woods that went out into a cornfield.
Mom was so excited. We waited a little longer before we got out of the hut to go look for blood. We went to the opening but didn't find any blood. Mom told me to go to the top of the hayfield and yell for my dad. I ran up the hill and hollered twice for Dad, but he didn't answer. I ran back to Mom and told her that Dad didn't call back.
She reset the bow and loaded an arrow for me. She told me to sit tight and she would go up and yell for him, but if the buck came back to shoot him again. Mom left and I heard her screaming for Dad.
After what seemed to be a very long time, both my parents showed up. Dad told Mom to go back to the house and round up the troops for a good deer hunt and to get his backpack with his gutting tools.
Dad and I searched and searched for blood. We finally found three little spots. It started to get dark and Mom wasn't back yet. I was getting worried. Mom finally showed up with a couple of flashlights. Dad told us to stay put and he would look for more blood. He found a good trail, and we started to track it. We weaved around trees, up paths, down paths and then the blood trail stopped.
Dad told me to stay put while he and Mom looked around to pick it up again. All of a sudden, the deer jumped up and walked off. We went to that spot to see if there was blood. We got back on the trail again, but the blood drops were few and far between. It was getting later and later.
My sister, Jamie, and her husband, Jeremiah, showed up around 8:30. My uncle finally showed up an hour after that. Then we lost the blood trail altogether. Even though it had rained for several days off and on, the ground was too hard for any tracks. Every once in a while, we would find a slide and a chunk of meat but we couldn't get a good trail. Finally, at midnight we decided to give up the tracking. Mom and Dad said that they would call off work tomorrow and come back up to look for him. Jeremiah and Jamie said that they had the day off and would help, too.
The next day, I had to go to school, but the rest of the family went to find my buck. As mom was going up over the hill in her line she jumped the buck. He just walked about 50 yards and lay back down. She yelled for Dad and Jeremiah. Jeremiah took off up ahead of him and waited until Dad positioned himself. Needless to say, none of us had our bows with us, so there wasn't much we could do about it. We sure were glad to see him still alive because the temperature was about 65 degrees.
We all went back to the house, to get a bite to eat and grab our bows. Dad loaded his muzzleloader and took it just in case we had a mean deer. They went back to the woods where they last saw him go down again. Dad posted Jeremiah and then took Mom and Jamie with him to try and flush the buck out. As soon as Dad and Mom stepped into the thicket, the buck jumped up again and walked away. They looked and looked for blood but could only find a little where he had been.
All of them regrouped and tried to look for fresh tracks but couldn't find anything. Dad sent mom down over the hill around a pond. Grandma took the 4-wheeler and went to the other side of the woods; but saw nothing. Grandma picked Mom up and said that my dad was ready to give up. Mom said, "I'm not giving up, he's in here, and he's alive. Drop me off at the pond." Mom was going to walk way out into the Amish woods and work her way back.
She was just starting the turn when she caught the buck out of the corner of her eye. He was lying down around some trees. He jumped up, staggered about 30 feet and went down. She yelled for dad and took her time walking up to where the buck went down. Mom picked up a stick and threw it at the buck but he didn't move. She walked away in a straight line back to where she thought Dad and Jeremiah was supposed to be, yelling for them the whole way. They finally answered. She led them to the deer.
When I heard my name over the speaker in my classroom, I yelled, "They got him!" Mom was all smiles when I got to the office. They had my deer in the back of the truck packed with bags of ice. We checked him in and then went back home for picture taking. My aunt and uncle came over to see him and took even more pictures.
He is an 8-point buck that weighed around 240 pounds. His rack looks perfect to me. It has a 19-inch outside spread and the antlers are 17 inches long. The longest tine is 4 inches long.
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By James Spillane
-- Tim and I huddled over the large topographical map of the mountain, studying every contour. I pointed to draws and benches, and explained why I thought several areas would make good stand locations for hunting the elusive deep-woods white-tailed deer we have in New Hampshire. Bill Winke had taught me a lot about reading topographical maps over the last two seasons.
The plan for the day was to stalk-hunt through the deeper mountain area we were studying. Normally, I would have wanted to be out in the woods and on stand well before first hunting light, but today I wasn't in any rush, and dawn had come and gone hours earlier. The weather report called for rain showers, and neither of us wanted to be sitting in downpours, nor did we think the deer would be moving about unless someone was making them move. So instead of picking a spot and sitting, we planned to walk the whole area, checking out each potential stand location first-hand. You could only tell so much from a map, but I knew from experience that every place I saw potential on the topographical map, we were bound to find trails and sign. Deer are, for the most part, as lazy as we are. They are inclined to take a gentle slope over a steep one, to travel the easiest path from point A to point B, and to bed themselves down on benches that provide them with a feeling of safety, and some protection from the elements in weather like we were supposed to be getting.
I gathered the rest of my equipment as Tim stepped into the next room for his own preparations, and just then the driveway sensor went off. It rang again. And it chimed one last time. Deer were crossing the driveway, moving up the mountainside. I felt certain it was the group of females that I had seen in the field many nights. Typically, I spotted them feeding in a group of anywhere from three to five deer. The excitement, which had been building as the morning approached, and the hunt, now laid out upon the table, had became a reality.
The knowledge that deer were crossing my driveway 100 yards away gave me an adrenaline hit, and made the day's possibilities all too real. Here in the Wildlife Management Unit my house occupied, we could still take a doe this morning if we chose. I'm not above taking a doe, and had already taken one this season with my bow. Truth be told, I had never taken a buck yet.
I called for Tim and told him what had just happened with the driveway alarm. I suggested instead of driving the truck up to the cistern and parking closer to the mountain top, perhaps we might want to hunt our way up through the woods on foot. He agreed, as excited as I was about our prospects with deer so close. We just needed to run into them or cut them off.
We hit the woods and climbed our way slowly higher up the mountain, watching for deer as we crossed each side trail. In retrospect, we moved too fast. We made the same mistake all day, in fact. This was Tim's first time hunting the area, so there was no practical way to spread out and then meet up later. I had the GPS and knew the terrain.
Tim was seeing it all for the first time, although the map prepared him for some of the steep terrain we had to deal with. As host, I was constantly hoping the hunting experience was not disappointing to Tim. He had come a long way to hunt here, and I was trying to expose him to as much of the potential the terrain offered as we could fit in one day. I was also making mental notes of the little clues about how the deer were moving around on the mountain as we scouted each area. I marked major rub lines, deer highways, groves of white oaks, and other important clues in the GPS as we went along.
Several times we found ourselves stumbling upon ridge lines and saddles where a beautiful vista opened up below us, allowing a clear view anything that might pass by on the next shelf down, 200 yards below us. The most impressive of these vistas included a rub line, and was at a place where several terrain features came together. It was by far the most promising spot we had encountered thus far to hang a stand.
When we were studying the topographical map this spot had presented itself as two possible stand locations for various reasons (on my map they were designated as potential stands 9 and 10). I had seen sign here in previous years and noted its potential because of the rubs in the area, but I could never hunt it alone. The spot was easily a full mile deep in the woods, over some very rough terrain. Dragging a deer out, if I was successful, was an almost impossible prospect for me all alone. Even if I worked out to the power lines and used them to cut back, the elevation went through variations of almost 200' several times in that mile. In short, it was steep and rough. But the potential!!
To hunt it with two men ... well, that was the only way. And from all the sign I was reading, I felt a morning hunt would be best. This was where we wanted to be before dawn some morning soon.
The saddle edged up to a steeper drop-off where one portion had a slighter grade, allowing deer to angle up the face from below. Another major trail took them back up to the previous ridge, and across the saddle was the rub line, crossing from one mini-peak to the next. This saddle also came at a point where a copse of thick hemlock gave way to an open expanse of hardwoods - mostly red oak and beech. There are mast trees - a major food source in the fall. The signs of deer foraging through the leaves were everywhere under the hardwoods, and the rubs from bucks were all over the hemlocks. Some were torn apart savagely, and one was even broken in two.
The rain never came, and although a part of me wished we had gone out on stand
and hunted as we had originally planned, I was overwhelmed with all the new intelligence I had gathered. I had hours of data to consider for various scenarios of wind and weather, time of day, and type of hunting. After we got back to the house I downloaded the data from the GPS, and over the next few days I poured over my topographical map to help me correlate what the deer should be doing based on terrain with what I saw them doing when we were scouting.
Thanksgiving was approaching, and the season turned from "Any Sex Deer" to
"Antlered Only" in my WMU, as Tim and I planned for an all-day hunt in the far-reaches we had explored. We decided on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, and our destination would be the area we now called "Buck Run Ridge", the spectacular spot where hemlocks met hardwoods, and trails converged from all directions. That saddle between the benches seemed like the most incredible spot, and I was very optimistic that we would see a buck out there. All those rubs were recent and active. We planned to approach the spot by walking down the power lines with our treestands and weapons, then cut in across the side of the mountain, following the GPS.
Tim was set to arrive at my house Friday evening and stay overnight. That enabled us to wake early, shower and dress, and be out to start the long walk into the woods well before first light. Our intent was to actually set up our stands and be in the trees at least an hour before dawn. Legal shooting light starts half-an-hour before dawn, so this timeline would allow the woods to settle down after we walked in and set up.
When that Saturday morning arrived, we both arose and showered according to plan. I made coffee and got dressed in several layers for the cold. The weather had been quirky all season, with some bitterly cold days starting off the rut, and then suddenly turning to balmy warm days that threw a wrench into everything. I remain convinced that the rut was never in full swing this season because of the quirky weather.
Saturday morning returned a chilly bite to the air. I knew that if I were going to sit for the entire day, I'd need the layers. Two layers of Scent-lok clothing, and then my camo pants and shirt, followed by my camo overalls would keep me warm enough. The problem was the long walk out, carrying a steel treestand on my back and a .35 Remington rifle in my hand. My hope was that if I sweated too much, the double layers would hold it in.
Tim came downstairs and started dressing as well. He had left his hunting clothes out on the deck overnight to de-scent, and we both had coffee and talked while we finished pulling ourselves together. We tossed the gear in the truck, and within four minutes, we were parked under the power lines. I felt the cold, calm air of the morning nipping at me as I gathered my gear, and thought again about how welcome this change was to the run of strangely warm weather we had been having. Cold and calm weather was exactly what I wanted to get the deer moving and keep the scent down.
Tim and I started the walk in, headlamps guiding us and casting a dim aura as we treaded along the rugged ATV trail. Although the map shows the power lines as a straight line, the ATV trail winds back and forth out of necessity. Some places are too rugged even for an ATV, and the trail escapes the boundary of the line to meander through the forest for a while, eventually coming back around to the line and rejoining it at the base of some steep and rocky cliff. I frequently checked the GPS to see how much further we had to hike before we could cut into the woods. We underestimated the time it would take us to hike in, loaded down as we were with the heavy treestands and other gear. At one point, when we stopped for a breather and GPS check, I looked at Tim in the brightening gloom and told him I didn't think we'd be there an hour before dawn as we had planned.
There was a definite feeling at that point of having potentially ruined a good hunt by not taking into account the rugged terrain and the time it would take us to arrive. After descending and ascending two more peaks, we hit a point where the GPS showed us parallel to Buck Run Ridge, and we needed to cut in. I was sweating under all my layers and pretty out of breath. The last bit of climbing was particularly steep, and the steel treestand was feeling heavier than ever. Several times during the hike in, I reaffirmed that I needed to get myself a lighter climbing treestand for longer-distance hunts like this.
I stopped just in the wood line, and told Tim I had to rest a bit. I wanted to quiet myself down before I tried stalking into the woods. I was afraid that no matter how quiet I tried to be, as tired as I was, I would not be able to sneak into the woods, especially not while carrying this treestand.
"So how are we setting up?" Tim whispered, taking advantage of our rest break.
"Good question." I whispered back to him. "We're just about parallel to Buck
Run Ridge here, and should be about even in elevation. If we work our way in to where that bedding spot was and Cowboy Rock, one of us can set up there. Should be able to watch the bedding area and the hemlock grove where the trees are all torn up with rubs.
ìEither find a tree and get in it right away, or wait until it's a bit lighter to pick out a good tree." I arched my back to stretch it a bit more, knowing I soon had to shoulder the treestand again. The sweat inside my Scent-lok layer was ice cold against my skin, and I shivered inside. "The other person can slowly make his way out to that wide-open spot where the hemlocks give way to the oaks and beech trees. On the ridge there should be a good spot for the second stand, where deer had been disturbing the leaves looking for acorns. The person in that stand should be able to see pretty far down the ridge."
Tim shifted his own treestand on his back. "You take the open area." He looked at me and hefted his shotgun. "You have greater range with your rifle and can cover that open area. I'll take a tree by Cowboy Rock and watch the bedding area and hemlocks."
I nodded. "Okay. Sounds good." I shouldered the treestand and it pressed the ice cold and clammy inner layer of clothing against my skin.
"How long are we hunting until? 9:30?" Tim looked at his watch.
"I don't know." I paused. "I just thought today I could sit all day if I have to. I think we'll sit as long as we need to." Then I thought of one last thing. "Oh, and if I hit the talk button on my radio three times, it means I can't hear you."
Tim had been having trouble with his radio earlier in the morning, since he didn't have an ear piece or microphone. "Okay, how about this: Once means ìattentionî, twice means ìdeerî, and three times means ìI want to talkî"
I nodded my agreement, checked the GPS again and headed into the woods, trying to pick an unobstructed and relatively quiet path through the leaves, fallen trees and thicker crops of young trees. I felt like we were making far too much noise, but part of me thought that at least with two of us walking, perhaps it sounded like four-legs instead of two. Maybe we sounded like other deer. Big clumsy deer, I had to admit to myself.
I knew how the coming light would make me want to rush in and find a stand location, but that be the worst thing we could do. Even though dawn was approaching, we had to maintain a slow pace. I exerted every bit of my self-control to slow my pace and forced myself to stop often. I used those opportunities to check the GPS and look for the best route through the trees for the next 20 yards or so. About 10 minutes later, we reached Cowboy Rock. I looked around with Tim, and he slid his treestand off his shoulders.
"I think I'll go up this tree." Tim surveyed a hemlock standing almost alone with a good view in three directions. It wasn't very tall, but it looked good enough in the awakening dawn. I'm sure that, like me, he wanted to get up in a tree as soon as he could.
I whispered and nodded my head. "I'm going to make my way over to Buck Run Ridge now. I'm going slow and quiet. Good luck!"
"Shoot straight." Tim whispered back. He then focused his attention on the tree as I turned and headed off down the ridge line. I heard the occasional snap of a branch as Tim cleared the low dead ones from his tree and attached his climbing stand. I worked my way just outside of the hemlocks, about 20 yards into the oak and beech expanse, and found a really nice, tall and straight oak tree. A neighboring beech had some branches crossing and almost rubbing the oak trunk about 14 feet up. I could hang my stand there and get a little cover from the beech tree, even though it was devoid of leaves.
I leaned my gun against the beech and hung my stand on the oak tree, slowly working the catches and pins, trying to avoid any clanging of metal against metal. Once the stand was in place, I stalked out about 30 yards away and hung scent wicks on the younger beech as I went. I had gotten out as far as I planned to go setting scent when I heard what sounded like a squirrel in the leaves a way down the ridge. I cursed to myself, realizing I left my gun leaning against the beech tree by my stand. I slowly circled back to the stand, hanging more scent wicks as I went. The first four had been "Doe in Heat;" the second four were "Dominant Buck". To finish, I sprayed a little "Red Fox Urine" around the base of my tree to erase my own scent.
The sound in the leaves persisted intermittently as I attached my pull-rope to the gun, and fastened my feet to the climbing stand. Once I was secure, I worked my climber up the trunk of the oak, spiraling as I ascended so that when I was about 14 feet up and had reached the point where the beech branch gave me some cover, I was also sitting with my back toward Tim's stand. This had me facing down the ridge. The sounds in the leaves came now and again ahead and off to my right. I locked my stand in place, hung my fanny pack on the stand and pulled my rifle up to me.
Normally, I stand my rifle up between my legs when I'm settling into the stand for a long wait. I started to do just that, but the continual sound of the rustling leaves in the distance, or perhaps some other passing feeling I couldn't put my finger on, changed my mind. I held the gun at a more ready position, across the railing in front of me. The woods were calm and silent, save that occasional rustling. Even if I didn't see any deer, I felt it would be a perfect day. I could have sat in that stand until sundown. The beauty of the forest was being revealed as light filtered over the neighboring mountain peaks, and out of the gloom colors in gold and rust were coming to life. I felt incredible. Right then, I was glad I was there.
I reached into my shirt pocket, pulled out my can call and let out a few bleats. I was pretty sure that rustling was a squirrel now. I sounded off a few more bleats before returning the can to my pocket. Not five minutes passed before I saw a deer break the horizon. It was coming across the ridge. Seeing that deer appearing as if from nowhere immediately pumped my adrenaline and I looked closer. I saw antlers! This was my first encounter with a buck in the woods. It stopped about 60 yards out, off to my right, behind some small beech trees. Head down, he was nuzzling through the oak and beech leaves, rooting for buried acorns by a fallen birch tree.
I pulled my rifle around and held it awkwardly off to the right, positioning it and myself for a shot in that direction. My arm started aching almost immediately from the bad angle, but I had to ignore it. I cranked my scope up from 1.5x to the maximum at 4.5x. I could clearly make out four points, and thought perhaps I saw two additional smaller ones, but the small beech trees were obscuring his vital area. I had no shot yet.
I held my aim as long as I could, muscles burning from holding that position on my off-side, but the buck refused to move. My breathing was out of control. I realized I was shaking hard, and I forced myself to slow my breathing down. I needed to collect myself if I was to make any kind of shot. I slowly started to regain some control, yet the buck wouldn't take that one step forward. I had to let down for a minute, but I kept the rifle pointed in its general direction.
I realized in the excitement of seeing the buck that I hadn't let Tim know there were any deer around. I thumbed my talk button on my radio twice. I heard him click back once. I hoped he understood my message, and I thought to myself, if he tries to talk to me I'm yanking the ear piece out. I don't want distractions.
The buck looked up! I froze. Suddenly that buck stared almost right at me. I heard rustling behind me, and I thought about the possibility that there was another buck off to my left. Something got this buck's attention. Something was rustling. But what if I looked away and the buck startled off? I'd lose my chance. The buck flicked its tail and looked down again, but still refused to move. I took that opportunity to quickly glance over to my left. I didn't see anything in the fraction of a second I allowed myself, so I focused on the buck again and raised my rifle.
I placed my crosshairs on the spot I knew the deer needed to step into if I wanted a clear shot. All it needed to do was take one or two steps forward. The buck looked up again, right past me. I kept perfectly still, holding my gun right on it. Again it flicked its tail and looked back down, and I sighed inwardly.
Just as I relaxed a little, the deer unexpectedly took two steps forward and paused. I squeezed my trigger. My .35 Remington exploded in the calm morning air, and the buck seemed to duck slightly. I was breathing heavily again, and shaking. I knew I had hit it, but the buck was slowly walking forward ñ very slowly and almost stiffly. I knew it was a good hit.
But how far would it walk before dropping? And would the deer turn and head down the ridge? I didn't want to drag it up that steep ridge. The buck walked clear of the trees in that slow way it was moving. I couldn't tell if it was truly walking so slowly along, or if it were some trick of the mind where time seems to slow. I chambered another round, and fired once more. The buck dropped where it was standing, as though some giant hand just pushed him over sideways.
I pushed the talk button on my radio and spoke into my collar: "Deer down." I looked at my watch. It was 6:50. One minute before "official" sunrise. I was having so much trouble just breathing, let alone speaking, but I thought of Tim hearing my shots. I knew how excited he must be getting. When I hear gunshots in the woods, it's almost as good as seeing a deer to me. It means someone, somewhere, saw a deer; it reaffirms that they're around, and I feel as though I might be the next one with a shot ñ especially if they get scared my way.
I figured Tim probably felt something like that as I excitedly thumbed the talk button again. "It's either a 4- or 6-pointer. Dropped in his tracks."
"Okay," Tim's whispered response came. "I'm going to wait here for a while and see if anything comes along."
"Right," I replied. "I'll be slowly making my way down out of the tree. I have to be careful because I don't want to slip. Radio silence now." I was still shaking as I attached my pull-rope to my rifle and lowered it to the ground. I felt like my smile was bigger than my face. I reminded myself to breathe as I looked over at my buck, assuring myself this was all real.
After throwing my fanny pack back around my waist, I strapped my feet into the stand, unlocked it, and slowly made my way down the trunk. Reaching the bottom, I kicked my feet out of the straps and bounded into the leaves. I grabbed my rifle, unfastened the pull-rope, and slowly walked toward my buck. I felt like running all the way. I felt like jumping and shouting. But if another buck was around, I wanted Tim to have success as well.
When I reached the buck, the first thing I did was grab his antlers and lift up his head. I counted the points. Five. My guess from the stand was four or six points ... split the difference. It was a 5-pointer, and he looked amazing. I noticed the blood where he dropped. That was my second shot. I looked back to where I made the first shot, and there was a very clear blood trail from that point to this.
In retrospect, I didn't need that second shot. The blood indicated to me that he wasn't walking much further. But I had done what I thought I had to do at the time. As I was looking at the blood, and replaying the whole experience in my head, I heard Tim approaching. I'm sure I was still smiling the biggest smile ever. I greeted him, hefting the antlers again so he could see.
It took us some time to gut and clean the deer, and then we used Tim's saw to cut down a beech sapling. We tied the buck to the sapling, shouldered the load, and walked uphill until we reached my stand. At that point we realized we would never carry the buck, our guns, and our stands out of there together. "Besides," I told Tim, "You still have to come back for your buck after we finish registering this one." Tim smiled, and I stashed my gear with my treestand.
"How much do you figure he weighs?" I looked at Tim after securing my stuff.
"Hundred and five, I think." Tim looked down at the buck. "Hundred and ten, I'm thinking."
I smiled, optimistically. "He's not huge, but he's my first!" After we checked the deer in, and weighed him, we would later find out we had to split the difference again. He weighed 108 pounds.
I shouldered my rifle on one side, the buck on the other, and we started our mile-plus hike out of the woods. Even using the easier access provided by the power lines, it took us well over an hour to get the buck out through that rough terrain. We had to move 40 yards or so at a time, resting frequently and swapping which shoulder was bearing the load. I never want to try and drag a big buck out of that area alone. I'm guessing that the inaccessibility is the reason there are so many bucks out there. I will hunt it again, with Tim.
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By Mike Twente
-- It was the third morning of the second spring turkey season in Illinois. The sky was clear, the sun was shining, and I was sweating profusely due to the fact I finished another fruitless stalk on a gobbling tom in the nearby valley. I was hunting adjacent to a strip mine area near Rushville, Ill. This was my fourth turkey hunting season. Last season I harvested a young jake in the same area.
On this particular hunt, I had almost given up hope of seeing anything. Then I said a prayer that changed my day for the better. Following the prayer, I broadcasted a few hen yelps with my box call. That's when the action began.
As I rolled my eyes to my left, they magically appeared. Not one but two turkeys were walking toward me. I noticed that both were sporting very long beards. The second turkey was much larger than the first and its majestic beard seemed to drag the ground. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to have a big gobbler like this one headed right at me.
My heart was now pounding like I had a bad case of buck fever. I made sure every move was slow and intentional so the turkeys would not see me in their domain. I waited for the bigger tom to stop and then I planned to pull the trigger, but it did not give me a chance to attempt a clean shot.
Then the other turkey stopped in an opening. It was time to decide which turkey to take. No way was I going to pass up the turkey of a lifetime. In a fraction of a second, I decided to take the first turkey. I moved my aim from its head to its neck.
Boom! I don't even remember squeezing the trigger. The turkey was instantly dead.
When I checked him in at the locker in Rushville, he weighed 22 pounds and sported an 11 1/2-inch bushy beard. I really believe my prayer was answered that day, and I'm glad I have faith in God.
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