By Tom Kule
Nov. 7, 2006, was my first day back East after a successful 10-day BLM land elk hunt in Idaho. It was also the first of a 15-day on-call work block. The good thing about being on call is that I can hunt when I want, as long as I’m ready to head to work with little notice. I live to bowhunt the rut, which typically starts in Ohio around Nov. 8. Despite a lack of rest, there was no doubt where I was going to be the following day.
Tuesday morning was a clear, cool 43 degrees. I met up with Joe, a work and hunting buddy with whom I rent a room at a pheasant farm. We proceeded to a friend’s land, 135 acres of hardwoods, cedars and streams surrounded by thousands of acres of corn and bean fields. If you’re a hunter, you just have to love Ohio farmland. This property is prime habitat for bruiser bucks.
The day went well. Joe saw a few bucks and does, and I saw six bucks, including one very respectable 8-pointer. We were excited about the prospects and were planning our strategy for the next day when Joe got the message that he had to work.
Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place? In 2005, the writer took this buck from the same tree on public land that he arrowed a 153-inch trophy in 2006.
As he prepared to leave, we discovered Joe had left his lights on. When I pulled around to give him a jump start, I didn’t have any brakes! There was a crack in my brake line, and almost all the fluid had squirted out. It was already dark, so I decided to wait until morning for a temporary fix before limping the 43 miles back to the pheasant farm. Then I could hunt a couple of hours in the morning.
After the alarm went off the following a.m., I packed my gear and grabbed a 3-D archery target to use as a decoy. I enjoyed another productive morning; I saw five different bucks and six does. There were no shooters, and the decoy seemed to make the deer more nervous than curious. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to go back to the farm to work on the car and prepare for a call from work.
During the ride back, I thought more about the increasing rut activity. It was 2 p.m., and I was roughly 12 miles from the farm. While passing the wildlife management area where I’d shot a beautiful 8-point buck the year before, I got the urge to stop.
I gathered my gear, including the decoy, and headed for the same tree on the edge of the woods where I’d taken the 8-pointer. I positioned the decoy in the edge of a field. After spraying the decoy thoroughly with dominant buck urine, I climbed into my treestand at about 3 p.m.
At 3:30, I heard the sound of light footfalls upwind, right where I expected. There stood a beautiful buck and two button bucks. They stopped to drink from the stream about 60 yards out.
Then the 9-pointer — I had time to count — saw the decoy. He got very nervous and marched back and forth on the other side of the stream with his hair standing on end. I mourned the absence of my video camera. The buck refused to cross the stream, staying out of bow range.
But curiosity got the best of the button bucks. They marched over to meet this new buck while the 9-pointer watched. After a 15-minute standoff, the young bucks actually began licking and grooming the decoy!
The 9-pointer bedded down while I tried to relax and not laugh. The humor of the situation actually helped me calm down a little. Finally, with 30 minutes of legal shooting light left, the button bucks wandered away, and the 9-pointer stood up to cross the stream. I rose and prepared for the shot.
The 9-pointer closed the distance but then stopped to look at the decoy. Once again, he bristled up and got nervous. This time, he turned around and walked directly away, never offering a good shot. With time running out, I began to gather my gear. Before lowering my bow, I decided to take one last look around. I hoped I would see the 9-pointer again.
I looked out across the field and saw a huge-bodied deer 300 yards across the field. I immediately recognized it as a buck. I figured with only about 10 minutes of light left, he’d never come close enough for a shot. I took a look through my binoculars to see if I could count points. As I focused, the new buck spotted the decoy and began to sprint like a quarter horse directly to it.
I scrambled to stow my binoculars, pick up my bow, nock an arrow and attach my release. When I looked up again, the buck was 10 feet in front of the decoy! He began to stomp, hair bristling, as he challenged this intruder. Although he was just 15 yards and standing broadside, overhanging branches prevented a shot.
When the decoy didn’t respond, the big buck began a stiff-legged circle, staring it down. His intention was to get behind the decoy, downwind. Once downwind, the buck flehmmed to wind his intruder. Upon smelling the buck urine, he rolled his eyes, bristled up and let out a loud snort-wheeze. He was now at 20 yards quartering to me.
Branches still blocked all my shot possibilities, and I was afraid to draw. I could see the deer’s eyes the entire time. He finally turned broadside at 17 yards, took three more steps and snort-wheezed again. He lowered his head as if to charge, and then, for some reason, looked to his right. As he turned, I drew, concentrated on the crease behind his shoulder and released my arrow.
Thwack! The shot was true, cutting the buck’s heart in half. He ran 50 yards into the field in a slow circle and looked back at the decoy, confused. Then he dropped.
When I got to the buck, I was speechless. He was so big that I couldn’t drag him by myself. He has 12 points and field-dressed at 243 pounds, giving him a live weight of more than 300 pounds. We rough-scored him at 153 1/2 inches.
Ohio is my idea of archery heaven.
-- Reprinted from the August 2007 issue of Buckmasters Magazine