Smalltown Bucks

Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

By Amanda Baker

Every miss and close encounter brings you that much closer.

I have been deer hunting in Wisconsin for about 15 years. I started with a rifle and took up archery about three years later. I hunt public land and private, and until 2018, the biggest deer I had taken was a small 6-pointer.

Some years, I didn’t shoot anything, and there were several seasons when I was nearly in tears from not seeing anything. Yes, there were also mistakes that cost me shot opportunities. I’ve had my share of lessons learned the hard way, along with some bad luck.

One example happened last archery season during the rut. I saw three shooter bucks and a handful of smaller bucks, and I still wasn’t able to close the deal.

The first shooter walked straight in. He caught sight of a doe and quickly took off after her, never providing an ethical shot. The second buck was quartering perfectly, but when I released the arrow, it didn’t fly true. The fletching had come loose, causing the arrow to go astray. The third and biggest of the three bucks spooked when I turned to shoot. On the bright side, I got to hear a buck roar for the first time, so the day was amazing. Plus, my husband, Marty, filmed it all.

Lessons LearnedGun seasons have been similar. I’d catch glimpses of bucks on neighboring properties or running too fast for a shot. I also recall an instance when my breathing got so heavy the scope steamed up.

I take at least 10 days of vacation every year to be in the woods, in addition to countless hours on weekends and after work before the time change in the fall. I hunt starting in September and every spare minute until late archery closes in January. I’ve sat more hours in the woods over these last few years than I can imagine.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is never question the value of hard work and time spent in the woods, not only making memories with my family, but also enjoying the solitude of what I call tree therapy. You should also study the way deer behave in summer, fall, pre-rut, rut, and even during winter. The heartache of the previous 15 years and tough lessons I learned have made me a better hunter and teacher for my two boys, Gunner and Colt.

The 2018 season was one I can’t describe with mere words. Early archery season found me in the woods many afternoons after work, but I hadn’t taken vacation days since I was saving them for the rut. I saw does and small bucks, but nothing big.

I alternated between two stands, depending on the wind. I only shoot a deer that’s bigger than anything I’ve shot with that weapon in the past. I check trail cameras on the last day of the week that I plan to hunt, usually Sunday. It’s spooky how many times the camera shows that a deer was at the opposite spot from where I sat.

One afternoon in October, it was time to sit in the stand on our food plot because I’d sat in my other stand the afternoon before. Amazingly, I was only sitting for about 35 minutes when I saw a nice 8-pointer step out at about 65 yards. He licked branches and made a scrape before two does came out to eat. As soon as he saw the does, he headed toward them to check them out, and they headed toward my stand to avoid him.

The does passed by, but the buck stopped at about 22 yards, slightly quartering away. I took the shot and watched my arrow bury into his vitals.

I paid close attention and thought I heard him fall. I texted Marty, who soon arrived with our boys to help me track. It didn’t take long.

I was proud and excited and showed pictures to everyone I knew. I couldn’t imagine the year getting any better.

The firearms season opened on Nov. 17, and the Friday night before the first day is very traditional. We play cribbage, have a few drinks and look through trail camera pictures of bucks we’ve collected during the fall.

The general consensus every season is simply – wow! It’s amazing that these deer are actually alive and wandering around the land, but it sure would be nice if someone would see at least one of them during the nine-day gun season.

Lessons LearnedIt’s typically pretty quiet in our area. Early Saturday morning, we meet up again and wish one another luck as we head off to our stands.

I had a couple of does come in and bed down in the frozen swamp about 15 yards from me. As I was studying the woods beyond them, I noticed a deer in the distance with its nose to the ground.

I kept catching glimpses of antler as he passed through clearings, and knew I was going to shoot him if I got an opportunity. This guy was definitely bigger than the small 6-pointer I’d shot the year before, so I stopped looking at his head and focused on getting a shot.

When he got to about 70 yards, the does stood up and acted like they were going to run. I realized he would likely take off after them if they bolted, so I needed to take the shot. The next time he walked through an opening, I got him in my scope and fired. He turned, mule-kicked, made one jump and fell dead.

After the shaking stopped, I got down from my stand and walked up on a buck that hunters’ dreams are made of. It was the biggest buck we had seen in our woods in all of the years I can remember. I’m told it’s been more than 40 years since a deer of this caliber was shot on that land.

We had just looked at the trail camera photos of the buck the night before and all joked that he wasn’t even real – or if he was real, he probably would just lay down on the neighbor’s property where no one hunts and never move for entire gun season.

Lucky for me, he did move, and I was blessed to have a chance to shoot him. And I was able to do it with no bad luck or mistakes! Marty and the boys came to help me get him out of the woods. My sister, dad, and father-in-law and uncle were there to congratulate me and get a look, too.

We were able to get some fantastic pictures, and I am still in shock and not even sure this is real. The buck is a 12-pointer with a 21 3/4-inch inside spread. I estimate he weighed 220 pounds.

Now that I’ve taken such an amazing deer, I might need to change my philosophy on how big a deer needs to be before I will shoot. If I wait for a bigger buck, I might never get another deer with my gun!

I will likely never top, and certainly will never forget, the 2018 season. I never expected to see this deer, but I’m thankful God brought me to this place and blessed me with the experience. I’m also thankful to my family and friends who encouraged me to keep at it through the tough years.

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