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Splitting the Difference

John Bennett

With stands at each ends well as the middle of a long field, choosing one is easy if you're carrying a gun ... or if you're in love with a particular spot.

By Lisa L. Price
Photo courtesy of John Bennett

Ohio carpenter John Bennett had his choice of three stands when he headed to the wispy Medina County cornfield on Dec. 7, 2008. One of those was a ladder stand within feet of where he'd seen a couple of giant whitetails during bow season. But he didn't go to it; he opted for the same place he'd been sitting when he saw those deer, a stand he likes to call "Old Faithful."

It's been there 15 years.

"The field is 400 to 500 yards long, and it's about 100 yards wide," he said. "The stand I like to hunt is situated toward the middle."

That's okay during the firearms season, but it's hit-or-miss for bowhunting.

When the season opened that year, John didn't hold out much hope for his favorite spot. He doubted the neighborhood whitetails would visit the field.

"It was planted in corn, but it didn't do very well," he explained. "It was very thin ... so thin that when deer were in it, you could easily see them.

"What corn was in there, the deer had destroyed, and it was so bad that the farmer had nothing left to cut," he added. "But it seemed they were in there feeding every time I was there."

John's job as a carpenter often keeps him away from home for days at a time, and even when he is working locally, his hunting time is often just an hour or two squeezed into the end of a day.

John's preview of the coming attraction happened during the Ohio archery season.

"I saw this buck for the first time about a month before I actually got it," John said. "It was while I was bowhunting, and it was actually with a bigger buck."

John got to watch the bucks for an agonizingly long time. Both of the big boys, moving separately, trotted around with lowered heads, scent-checking various knots of does in the field.

"I was ready, just watching all of them mill around, thinking that, at any time, all the shifting would bring one of the bucks within shooting range," John said. "Each of the bucks got within 50 yards, but I consider that too long a shot."

Eventually, the two bucks exited the far side of the field, passing almost directly under a ladder stand.

Nevertheless, John stuck to his favorite stand, and he was in it whenever he could find time, ever hopeful that he'd get a chance at either of the bucks.

When archery season ended, he was understandably chomping at the bit for the firearms season, when both shotguns and muzzleloaders are legal.

"Ever since I got a blackpowder gun, I don't hunt with the shotgun anymore," John said. "I shoot a muzzleloader topped with a 3x9 scope."

John practices with the gun often, at various distances ranging from 60 to 200 yards.

"You have to learn how the gun will perform at the longer yardages," he said. "At 200 yards, you definitely will have a drop."

On Dec. 7, the last day of the gun season, John got home around 3:30 in the afternoon. Moving as quickly as he could, he changed into his hunting clothes, grabbed his gun and headed to his stand. Almost as soon as he arrived, he started seeing deer.

"In 45 minutes, I saw 21 deer," he said. "I wasn't there long before I saw an 8-pointer, and then another 8-pointer, both of them decent but not what I was hoping to see."

When a 7-point buck walked almost directly under his stand, John froze. He knew that if there was one warning snort, the field would empty. But the young buck continued into the corn stalks, joining the feeding pair of 4x4s and three does also nibbling through the remnants.

"Then I saw a doe running like she was being chased. She was trying to mix in with the other deer," John said. "Then I saw 13 does moving across the back of the field, all together. It was pretty neat.

"But I was thinking: does, does, does," he added. "Where's that big buck?"

Question asked, question answered. One of the bucks he saw during archery season strutted out into the field. The buck had a question to ask, too: "Where's my hot doe?" Moving deliberately, it stepped toward the herd of females.

"From where it walked out, it was already a good distance and instantly walking away from me," John said. "I got it in my scope, but there were branches in the way."

John had missed a deer years earlier by hitting a limb.

Subscribe Today!"I was going back and forth -scope, eyes, scope, eyes - and just not seeing a clear shot," he said. "Then something made a ruckus in the woods, and the buck turned to look in that direction."

That's all John needed. Although it was about a 180-yard shot, he knew how to make it count.

"I checked with my eyes one more time, and then got the scope where it needed to be," he said. "There was the big ka-boom of the gun, a brief silence, and then this great ka-whap of the bullet hitting home."

The buck fell over dead.

John doesn't use binoculars. Although he'd told friends the buck he saw during bow season had sported 20 points, an honest guess, he wasn't sure anyone believed him.

He was wrong, anyway. The rack carried 22 points.

"I'm hoping to get another big one someday, but I don't mind going years without shooting one," John said. "Before getting that buck, I'd gone three years without filling an antlered tag."

He'll have to make some adjustments next season, though. The tree that supported his favorite stand for 15 years has died.

"I'm not moving from that spot," John said. "I plan to cut down the tree and build a shooting house right there."

• Hunter: JOHN BENNETT
• Official Score: 185 5/8
• Composite: 204 1/8
• Blackpowder
• Irregular

-- Reprinted from the July 2010 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.

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