Rack Magazine

Clay Commander Trades Pellets for Slug

Clay Commander Trades Pellets for Slug

By Mike Handley

Having a Gould point a shotgun at you, if you’re a deer or a clay target, is a good way to get dead.

This is abundantly clear to fans and followers of brothers Aaron and Steve from Alexandria, Minn., who travel the country with their Winchesters to wow audiences with their reflexive marksmanship.

Aaron, capable of busting clays between one-armed pushups, proved last fall that he doesn’t need target loads and choke tubes to bring home the bacon. He can also get the job done with one piece of lead.

That is, if he can find the time away from exhibition shooting to spend in the woods back home. It was Aaron’s early love of hunting that pushed him to master trick shooting, but the latter consumes his life now.

A couple of years ago, it kept him out of the woods during Minnesota’s too-short shotgun season, even though Aaron had extra incentive to don his orange coat and cap.

During the summer of 2011, he heard that a pair of giant shed antlers were found just across the river from some property he hunts during the firearms season with his family. He was sure the buck’s range extended onto their place.

As much as he wanted to, however, Aaron was not able to gun-hunt the riverside property that year. When the season opened, he and his brother were performing in a South Carolina shooting exhibition.

“That was the first firearms deer opener I’d missed in 18 years,” he lamented.

The mild winter that year was perfect for shed hunting, the lack of snowdrifts conducive to prowling the woods. And Aaron’s 11-year-old brother-in-law, Brandon, found an antler that very well could’ve been dropped by a 200-plus-incher.

It might have been the same buck whose sheds were found across the river.

“I knew this was a deer worth pursuing,” Aaron said. “For a couple of days after seeing and taping the antler, it was hard for me to even sleep. I kept dreaming about the buck, even though the season was eight months distant.

“I do not own the majority of the land I hunt,” he continued. “Thus, I have very little control on the hunting practices that take place on these properties.

“Anytime I can, I try to nudge the others who hunt these lands to follow QDMA principles, to at least be selective in the bucks they harvest. My 14-year-old brother-in-law, Josh, seems to share that interest, so I decided to do a little project with him.”

Aaron and Josh created a salt and mineral lick not far from the teenager’s stand. They also put out a trail camera to see what kind of bucks were in the area.

“Josh and I checked the camera a couple weeks later, and the deer had been nailing the salt and minerals. We got more than 4,000 pictures,” he said.

While scrolling through the images, they eventually came across a July 29 shot of a monstrous buck.
“The picture literally brought tears to my eyes,” Aaron said. “I had never seen a buck so impressive in all my life!”

The buck wasn’t among the regular visitors to the lick, but they retrieved three more photographs in the ensuing weeks, the last one when the buck was coming out of velvet.

For the rest of the summer and early fall, Aaron spent many nights looking at aerial photographs of the land and the surrounding properties. Since the sheds had been found both north and south of the parcel with the mineral lick, he knew the buck’s range extended beyond where they could hunt.

Clay Commander Trades Pellets for SlugHe began referring to the big whitetail as the “Red Willow Buck” because it apparently resided in a river bottom full of them.

The fall of 2012 was extremely busy for the Gould brothers. Traveling to and performing at shooting exhibitions left almost no time for hunting.

“As the firearms deer season approached, I knew I had to do something to increase our odds of seeing this deer,” Aaron said. “Since nobody was hunting the buck prior to the opener, Josh and I went out 10 days beforehand to hang some drip bags and make a few mock scrapes at both our stands, which were about 300 yards apart.

“I really hoped Josh would get a crack at the buck, since he’d worked with me, but I admit I wanted a chance at it, too,” he added.

When opening day finally arrived, Aaron sat in his stand from daylight to dusk. He saw does, fawns and a 125-inch 8-pointer that came within 10 yards. The following morning, he saw several does, one being trailed by a 1 1/2-year-old buck.

“Our entire hunting party left our stands at 10 a.m. to stage a few deer drives, which is our custom,” Aaron said.

“No one had been seeing many deer to that point.”

The first man-drive produced nothing, which was very odd for that property. The second drive was held after lunch.

“As usual, I was a walker,” Aaron said. “Two people were assigned to watch the middle of the swamp, which was primarily onion grass and a few cattail patches on top of floating bog. I recommended we put someone there because I’d seen deer there.

“As the walkers approached to within about 150 yards of the standers, I could hear deer moving through the brush in front of the walkers who were in the red willow edge of the swamp to my right,” he continued. “The deer were nervous. They could smell the standers upwind and were trying to find a way out of there.

“Eventually, they decided to make a break, right in front of me,” Aaron said. “First one buck, then a very nice 8-pointer, and then came the Red Willow Buck. I recognized it instantly from the trail camera photos.”

Aaron didn’t have a clear shot, at first. The deer was between him and a stander. But when the line of fire was clear and the animal passed into a 30-feet-wide gap, he squeezed the trigger.

The Winchester Dual Bond slug found its mark, and the buck flinched before disappearing into the cattails.

While Aaron was running toward the high weeds, he heard more shots. His brother-in-law, Josiah Hetland, had ensured the fatally hit deer would go no farther.

The next hour was spent celebrating.

“Although I prefer to stand hunt for deer in the thick cover, a well executed man-drive can sometimes pay big dividends,” Aaron said. “Hats off to the entire hunting party for making this one a great success.

“Without each person in the drive playing his role, I would not be telling this story.”

Hunters: Aaron Gould & Josh Hetland
BTR Score: 243 5/8

– Photos Courtesy Aaron Gould

This article was published in the Winter 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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