By Michael S. Dunn
-- I belong to a hunting lease that has a 6-point-or-better rule. Each club member has his own area. I didn't bag a deer in 2006, but I passed up a very good 8-pointer with a tall rack.
When the 2007 muzzleloader season came round, I was in one of my stands, hoping to see the 4x4 that I'd let walk the previous year. I got a chance at a buck with a tall set of antlers at daybreak, but I flubbed it.
I realized later that I was too quick to lower the rifle, not heeding the split-second delay between ignition and bullet flight. I was too keyed in on watching the deers reaction.
I work a 14-14 day hitch on an offshore oil rig (two weeks on, two weeks off). I miss half the season that way, but I'm usually at home during the middle of the week, when other hunters must be at their jobs. There are very few people in the woods when I'm out and about.
I couldn't shake the image of the high-horned deer I'd missed.
I later read a magazine article about rattling up deer. It said one of the best times to try the technique is during the pre-rut. I'd never had much luck doing it, but I thought it couldn't hurt to try again.
I hadn't seen any desirable deer to that point, but I was seeing lots of fresh sign and several young bucks.
On Nov. 19, I took my rattling horns with me to a fixed-position stand overlooking several deer trails and close to the thickets where I suspected the big buck was hiding. The weather was a little warmer than I really wanted, but the wind was in my favor.
As I was making my way to my stand about an hour before daylight, I realized that I had left my rattling horns in the truck. But I did have my Primos rattle bag, along with a grunt call that Buckmasters sent me four or five years earlier. When I reached my stand, I slipped up the stick ladder and waited for dawn.
At the first sign of light, I grunted a couple of times and followed up with some rattling. Shortly after that, a small buck came in and left. I felt good about that hunt.
After repeating my sequence, I saw another small buck slipping out of one of the nearby thickets. I waited about 30 minutes before trying again, and I decided to do it more aggressively.
Only a minute or two later, another young buck came tearing out of a thicket behind me and walked around in front of me. All that was between us was a few pine needles.
I decided to have some fun and grunted at it. The buck answered me with a grunt of its own and lunged forward, looking straight away from meat a nearby thicket.The deer then began side-stepping and backing up, and that's when I realized it was looking at a much bigger buck in the nearby thicket.
The minute I spotted the buck, I knew it was the same deer I'd missed with my muzzleloader. It was in very thick cover, and I had no clear shot! I had to watch it fade back into the trees.
Desperate for another chance, I used the small compact grunt call that Buckmasters had sent me. The deer reappeared in the thicket about 100 yards from me, but it would not come out into the open. I knew that if I was going to take it, I would have to pick a hole through the brush to deliver the .300 short magnum round.
The only shot I had was through the jaw and into the neck, but I took it and the deer dropped. My heart was racing as if I'd never taken a deer, even more than when I bagged my first deer as a teenager!
The deer was 9-pointer with 26 2/8-inch main beams. It scored in the low 140s. After looking back on the hunt, I realize that everything wind, the other bucks and my calls had worked in my favor. I consider this one testament to what can happen if you let young bucks walk.
--Michael S. Dunn