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Whitetail Snap Decisions

By Kathy Etling

Whitetail Snap Decisions

Almost any other archer whose trail camera had snapped the photo of a gorgeous 13-point whitetail probably would have been tempted to head out after the animal immediately. Dan Urbas, however, stared at the buck’s 140-class rack, estimated his age at 3 1/2 years, and chose to let the animal mature. “I first saw the buck during the 2002 season,” he recalled. “I decided to ignore that buck, at least for a while, and try to arrow a different one.”

Most of you are probably aghast at Urbas’ snap decision to let the 140-something buck walk. But Urbas’ 2002 bowhunting season ended quite well, thank you. He bagged, at 8 yards, a 160-inch typical that weighed 226 pounds, field-dressed.

Not that Urbas forgot the still-growing 140-class buck — not a chance. But in 2002, that 140-class buck represented a glimpse into Urbas’ bowhunting future, while the whitetail with the 160 rack — which Urbas had dubbed Double-Beam — was his present.

One might say that Minnesota’s Dan Urbas has perfected the art of photographic scouting for heavily pressured whitetails. The man owns numerous trail cameras, which he deploys in midsummer in strategic locations where he believes one or more of them will have a good chance of catching a large-racked buck going about its daily routine. Should a big buck’s image actually be snapped, Urbas will immediately pull the camera out of the area. “It doesn’t go back, either,” Urbas explained, noting that the simple act of repositioning the camera might disperse enough human scent to convince any nearby trophy-class buck to vacate the area. “I try to keep disturbances to a bare minimum,” he said.

Whitetail Snap Decisions
In 2005, Urbas kept his phenomenal big-buck streak alive when he arrowed this 174-inch buck.

Attention to this kind of detail has paid off big for Urbas, a Pennsylvania native who cut his deer-hunting teeth in a state where more deer hunters reside than in any other. When you’re 12 years old, however, like Urbas was when he started hunting with his father, you don’t quibble about the size of a buck.

At 12 years old, Urbas remained blissfully unaware that by hunting in Pennsylvania, he was up against the continent’s most heavily pressured whitetails. Not that he would have cared. The most important thing was that the son was sharing precious quality time with his father. Neither suspected that the good times together would come to an unexpected end just two years later, in 1987, when Edward Urbas died in the prime of his life.

“One of my deepest regrets is that neither of us ever bagged a deer during the seasons we hunted together,” Urbas said. “After Dad passed away, deer hunting became even more important to me. I think that’s why I’m so driven to excel at it; I’m always trying to do my best for my father.”

Urbas becomes reflective when he discusses his dad. “We’d go firearms deer hunting in the fall, and we’d hunt turkeys in the spring,” he said. “I’m grateful for the good times we had, and I can truthfully say we grew closer because of our shared hunting experiences.”

Dan wasn’t the only Urbas who was interested in hunting deer. His brother, Dave, also was enthralled by whitetails, although he preferred to hunt them with a bow and arrow.

“I was more interested in deer hunting than Dave was,” Urbas said. “But archery looked like fun, so I decided I’d try it.”

Dan and Dave joined forces to bowhunt in north-central Pennsylvania. Neither tagged a whitetail there, so they moved their hunting grounds to an area about 30 miles from Pittsburgh. That’s where Urbas used his initial bow, a Bear Whitetail Hunter, to bag his first archery buck. “Dave didn’t want me to shoot a spike or a doe,” Dan explained. “When a doe or smaller buck appeared, I’d have to caution myself not to shoot because Dave would be mad. I finally shot an 8-pointer on Oct. 13, 1992.”

Whitetail Snap Decisions
Five years and counting - Urbas’ 2006 Minnesota whitetail scored 162 inches.

“It’s big enough, but just barely,” Dave Urbas said as he glanced at his brother’s buck.

No wonder Dan Urbas set his sights on one day becoming an expert at taking true trophy-caliber bucks!

As a rookie, however, Urbas was still finding his niche in the whitetail woods. “If hunting pressure where I was hunting became too intense, I soon learned to move elsewhere,” Urbas commented. “I tried to think like a buck, which led me to search for bucks bedded on knobs and along ridgetops, both of which are favored bedding areas in much of Pennsylvania. As a last resort, I’d hunt food sources.”

Urbas’ increasing knowledge of whitetail behavior soon resulted in a buck that ranked 13th of all archery-taken whitetails from Pennsylvania. The deer’s rack grossed 158 inches, netted 152 7/8, and is still listed as Pennsylvania’s all-time number 15. Urbas scored on that particular buck during a downpour. “I spotted the buck 150 yards from my treestand,” he recalled. “I climbed down out of the stand and stalked to within 50 yards of the buck before I shot it.”

Urbas’ eventual graduation from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh led to the young man receiving a job offer from a company in St. Paul, Minn. This opportunity was too good to resist for several reasons, most important the chance to relocate to the heart of Minnesota’s famed big-buck country.

In addition to the 160-gross Minnesota typical, Urbas also arrowed two big Minnesota bucks the following year, in 2003. One field-dressed at 244 pounds and gross-scored 158, while the second tallied 152 and dressed out at 220 pounds.

In 2004, Urbas decided the previously immature 13-pointer would be big enough to hunt in earnest. As summer ripened and a hint of autumn rode the north wind, Urbas’ friends had gone out spotlighting on a piece of property where the archer sometimes hunted. “They told me that they’d shined an 18-pointer,” Urbas said. “I decided to check it out for myself.”

Urbas set up a trail camera not far from where his friends had spotlighted the behemoth buck. The flare of lights, Urbas soon discovered, hadn’t fazed the buck. The newly positioned trail camera captured 11 frames in which the big whitetail was the focus. “Only one frame was good enough to be used to judge the size of the buck’s rack,” Urbas said. “Most of us guessed its score in the upper 160s.”

To properly hunt the area would require a south wind. Urbas was fortunate when, on Sept. 18, the opening of Minnesota’s archery season, the wind was blowing from the south.

The temperature was warm that day — 74 degrees at 4:30 p.m. — when Urbas entered the area to position his treestand. The archer’s objective was to stake out the overgrown apple orchard where the trail photo of the buck had been taken.

Urbas’ remarkable power of observation, especially as it relates to white-tailed deer behavior, led him to select a site 25 yards from the one apple tree with branches high enough above the ground to enable a buck to walk beneath to feed on the apples littering the ground.

At sunset, Urbas spotted a 2 1/2-year-old buck approaching the orchard. The buck fed for a while, but then he left. And the mother deer arrived.

“I looked up and saw the buck I was after,” Urbas said. “It stood completely still on the edge of a thicket about 75 yards away. After waiting for about three minutes, the buck walked out into the orchard and headed directly to the apple tree 25 yards from my stand.”

Urbas waited until a limb partially obscured the animal’s vision before drawing his bow. “As soon as the cam rolled over, I became totally focused on what I was doing,” Urbas said.

The buck fed into an opening and stopped broadside. Urbas held behind the animal’s shoulder, tripped the release and was rewarded by the sight and sound of a solid hit. The buck whirled around and bolted back into the thicket from whence it had come.

“I waited 10 minutes to climb out of the stand,” Urbas said. “At first, I could hear the buck crashing around in the thicket, but everything soon quieted down.

“I walked to the spot where I was supposed to meet my friend, Justin Dreher, and when he pulled up in his truck and noticed my smile, he said, ‘You did not!’ I told him, ‘I did.’ ” The two friends waited about an hour before initiating the search. The buck was dead just 15 yards inside the thicket. Urbas’ NAP Scorpion expandable had penetrated both lungs and come to a rest just inside the buck’s left shoulder.

The huge whitetail had a 14-point rack that grossed 191 inches.

In addition to having taken another 158-gross typical — this one during Minnesota’s 2003 archery season — as well as a 174-gross Minnesota typical in 2005, Urbas captured lightning in a bottle, or on a trail camera, again. When checking his images from Oct. 12, 2006, Urbas discovered that a low-racked, 10-point typical was using the area. The buck was familiar to the man, since Urbas’ cameras had also snapped the animal’s photo in 2005. “The buck’s tines had actually been longer (in 2005), but it now had more mass,” Urbas explained.

Luck continued to dog the archer’s tracks. His first time to hunt the 10-pointer was on the evening of Oct. 14. “It was very cool for mid-October,” Urbas recalled. “I was wearing my warm boots for the first time that season. The wind was blowing from the northwest at about 20 mph.”

Urbas climbed into his treestand and waited. At 5:15 p.m., the buck ventured into the archer’s view at about 40 yards. Urbas blew on his doe bleater, and the buck glanced toward the man before wandering off into a nearby thicket. Moments later, several does moseyed into the area and headed into the same thicket. “I could hear the buck chasing the does through the thicket,” Urbas said. “As the does came crashing out of the thicket and into the open, the buck followed, walking slowly and dragging his feet in the leaves. It was like he was using body language to tell the does that he was the king.”

The buck then proceeded to make a scrape and put its finishing touches on the creation — the coup de’ pee, so to speak — and then entered one of Urbas’ shooting lanes. The archer’s shot rammed home, and the buck dashed 20 yards and halted. It glanced back over its shoulder toward Urbas and then collapsed right there.

Two experts judged the buck to be 6 1/2 years old; its 10-point rack measured 162 inches.

Dan Urbas ventured back to Pennsylvania in early December of 2006, to renew with his mother, Janet, the family’s deer-hunting tradition. The son scored, of course, while hunting with a rifle about 500 yards from where his mother had taken up her stand.

Subscribe Today! Photos of the occasion reveal evident pride on the mother’s face. The son looks happy, too, although slightly subdued when compared with those photos taken with his Minnesota trophies. No one enjoys deer hunting — and succeeding — more than Dan Urbas, and yet his fondest wish for that particular day didn’t come to fruition. “I wish Mom would have gotten that buck,” he said.

Urbas, however, knows there’s always next time. In Janet’s case, that next time will take place this November, when she travels to Minnesota to hunt deer with her son on his home turf.

Don’t be surprised if the next big Urbas buck is taken by Janet. But only after her son has snapped its photo!

-- Reprinted from the August 2007 issue of Buckmasters Magazine

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