Rack Magazine

Thanks, Betsy

Thanks, Betsy

By John E. Phillips

Ohio’s January muzzleloader season pays off.

As 52-year-old Mike Stanoikovich sat waiting for sunrise in his deer blind, he asked a departed friend for a favor.

“Come on, Betsy. Send me a good buck, because I’m having a lousy season,” he asked the landowner’s late wife, who’d died the previous spring.

Betsy used to tease Mike about holding out for a big one. He had plenty of opportunities to burn his antlered deer tag, but he usually didn’t because none of the whitetails made the grade.

“I was looking for a buck that would score 150 or better,” said the hunter from Brookville, Ohio.

Barely 15 minutes after uttering the prayer, Mike saw a deer he wanted very much. And it was wearing way more than 150 inches of antler.

He hadn’t planned to hunt alone that Saturday morning, Jan. 7, 2017. When he went into his 13-year-old son’s bedroom to wake him, the kid rolled over and announced, “The weather’s too cold. You’re not going to see a buck anyway,” and went back to sleep.

Mike left Jack under the covers and headed out anyway. The late muzzleloader season spanned only four days.

It was 5 degrees when he arrived at his friend’s 200-acre farm where he’d set up a Double Bull ground blind. The hide was in a drainage area between corn and soybean fields, a prime travel corridor.

And the traveling began early.

Just as the sun came up, four does and three bucks entered one of the fields about 300 yards distant. “There was one really nice buck, probably 140 to 150 inches, in the group,” Mike said.

As he was studying the animals through his binoculars, one of the does looked back into the woods. Most guys would’ve thought another deer was about to come onstage, but Mike figured more bad luck was in store.

That doe’s probably looking at a coyote that’s going to run out into the field and spook all the deer, since that’s the kind of luck I’ve been having, Mike thought.

He needn’t have feared the worst.

Ten minutes later, a noticeably bigger whitetail – Mike thought of it as the Betsy Buck – stepped out of the tree line. After looking left and right and then at the deer on the field, it began walking toward Mike’s ground blind.

“I put my binoculars down when the Betsy Buck stepped out of the woods,” Mike said. “I knew it was a shooter, and I’ve learned from bowhunting not to look at a shooter’s rack.

“I knew only that it was big with a good number of points,” he continued. “I raised my CVA Accura and started looking for where I wanted to place the bullet. I remember telling myself, If you’re going to take this buck, you’ve got to do everything right.”

While Mike prepared mentally and physically to take the shot, the Betsy Buck stopped occasionally to look at the other deer in the field.

“Since the weather was so cold, I tried to keep my head inside the blind,” Mike said, adding that he was afraid the buck might see his breath floating out of the window.

Having already ranged several landmarks, Mike knew exactly how far the top-heavy whitetail was from his blind. There was no doubt it was in range and getting closer.

“By the time the buck stepped inside my 30-yard landmark, I already had my muzzleloader to my shoulder and was looking at the deer through my Nikon scope.

“I was concerned because when I raised my rifle, it touched the blind,” he said. “The weather was so cold that the bit of noise carried.”

Nevertheless, Mike squeezed the blackpowder rifle’s trigger as soon as his crosshairs stopped moving.

The resulting cloud of smoke was much larger than usual.

“Once I could see through the smoke, I spotted the Betsy Buck running across the field toward the woods,” he said.

One of the fleeing deer’s front legs was immobile, which worried Mike. He thought the bullet might’ve hit far from where he’d aimed.

The buck chugged uphill for about 30 yards, stopped and wobbled. Before tumbling over backward, it stood on its back legs while Mike was frantically reloading his rifle.

The 26-pointer never moved after hitting the ground, however.

This article was published in the December 2017 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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