The writer returns to the same farm and tree where he took a big buck the year before.
By Russell Thornberry
They say that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, and until late January of this year I believed that was true.
In January of ’03, I rattled in a gorgeous 8-point buck on John Miller’s intensely managed property (www.indiancreekfarms.com) in Bullock County, Ala., and shot him with my bow. Unlike Alabama at large, the doe population on Miller’s property has been trimmed down to optimum proportions. Inferior bucks have been culled and the deer eat exceptionally well year round. Promising bucks are allowed to mature. So all the key elements are in place, and the quality of the bucks harvested reflects the efforts made on their behalf. And there are some whoppers.
In 2003, I had eased into a narrow corridor of dog fennel weeds between two strips of hardwoods and planted pines. After locating a tall, straight red oak at the edge of the corridor, with the planted pine to my back, I climbed up about 25 feet and began rattling antlers. Several young bucks sneaked in to see what the fight was all about, and the big 8-pointer was behind them. He emerged beside a cedar tree on the opposite side of the open corridor, facing me and studying the situation. Then he walked cautiously toward me and stopped behind a lone oak tree. He was still facing me at about 15 yards. The buck chose to pass to his right of the tree, offering me a dream shot.
There is nothing in whitetail hunting as exciting to me as rattling in a good buck and taking him with a bow. That’s whitetail hunting at its best.
When I was invited to return to Miller’s place this January, I was really pumped because I already knew what was possible.
The day before my hunt, the heavens opened and dropped 5 inches of rain. John’s property was still swimming when I arrived. He showed me an area in a dense thicket between two food plots where intersecting deer trails were cut deep into the ground. I found a perfect tree to climb within easy bow range of the intersection and climbed up for my first evening shift.
I rattled about every 30 minutes, attracting three young bucks that evening, but no shooters. The following morning, I rattled again on the half-hour, attracting only a medium-sized 8-pointer – probably a 2 1/2-year-old.
At 10 a.m., I descended and left the climbing stand on the tree. I was about a quarter mile from the tree that I’d used so successfully the year before, so I decided to walk to that area and check for buck sign.
The dog fennel was chin high on a tall man, but, amazingly, there was a circular opening right in front of the tree I had used the previous year. It looked like Mother Nature had kept the thick weeds at bay within practical bow range from that “lucky” tree. There were deer tracks everywhere. I started to walk past the tree of choice when I saw antlers through the dog fennel. A tall-tined 8-point buck was following a doe into the wind only 25 yards in front of me. I was directly downwind of the deer, so I ducked low and backed out of the area. I would bring my climber back to last year’s tree for the afternoon hunt.
I went back and removed my climber and within 30 minutes returned to my lucky tree. To make my afternoon approach as quiet as possible, I decided to go ahead and put the stand on the tree, climb up and hang my bow and rattling antlers in place. Then, when I returned, all I would have to do is climb up and lock my stand in place.
The morning was warming up, so I took off my coat and laid it on the ground a few feet from my tree. I had my bow and rattling antlers in place and was about to climb down when I decided to rattle once and see what might happen. It was 10:45 a.m.
I clattered my antlers together lightly for about 15 seconds and then hung them on a limb. In less than 30 seconds, I spotted the buck’s white antlers slipping through the tangled thicket on the opposite side of the clearing. When it emerged in full view, the buck stopped, facing me, right beside the cedar tree where last year’s buck had emerged – in the exact same spot. Lightning was striking the same place twice.
This buck had slightly longer main beam tines, but shorter brow tines, than last year’s 8-pointer. Though I was mentally comparing the two deer, my mind already was made up about shooting it. If the deer gave me the chance, I was going for it.
What happened next was like reliving a dream. The buck stood for a while beside the cedar tree before emerging in the corridor. Then it walked through the dog fennel until it was standing directly behind the same oak where last year’s buck had stopped. This buck was virtually walking in the other deer’s tracks. I waited for it to choose which way to pass the oak, considering the identical options that had held me in suspense a year earlier.
After another long pause, the buck stepped to its right of the tree and started walking directly toward me. If I didn’t shoot quickly, the deer would run smack dab into my coat on the ground below my tree. I drew, aimed and was about to grunt the buck to a stop when it stopped on its own – now only four paces from my coat.
The arrow passed completely through the buck. Like a carbon copy, the buck stood for a moment trying to figure out what had happened. Then he turned and walked back to the cedar tree on the opposite side of the corridor and stopped near a small trickle of a creek that parallels the thicket.
My policy is that as long as there are signs of life, if there is still a shot available – take it. I figured he was about 40 yards from my tree, and there was a hole through which I could thread an arrow. At the shot, the buck jumped the creek and disappeared. I thought my second arrow had fallen short, but blood on the shaft revealed that it hit its mark.
As Yogi Berra once said, it was Déjà vu all over again.
In retrospect, I believe that the twice-lucky tree is situated in a perfect rattling location, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a hunter could rattle in a good buck from that location every year. I had no idea when I first placed my climbing stand on that tree that it was in such a prime location. And if I have the opportunity to hunt there next January, I won’t be surprised if buck No. 3 comes out right beside that cedar tree on the same tracks as the first two.
This article was published in the August 2004 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.