Rack Magazine

Poof to Pow

Poof to Pow

By Mike Handley

Okie hunter gets a second chance to throw smoke at a whitetail on the wane.

Blake Whelchel says the nearly 200-inch Oklahoma buck he shot in 2016 was between 20 and 30 inches bigger the previous season, and he has the trail camera photographs to prove it.

Understandably, the 25-year-old from Ada, Oklahoma, was obsessed with the whitetail that was able to avoid him throughout the 2015 season. Blake spent many hours in a deer stand that year, hoping for a second chance at the deer he should’ve smoked in 2014.

Their introduction came in January 2013, when the deer was a mature mainframe 10-pointer. Blake was bowhunting his brother-in-law’s 1,700-acre ranch, where they strive to shoot only 41/2-year-old or older bucks.

“It saw me draw my bow,” he sighed.

The next year, the buck’s rack peaked. It sported at least 25 points and tallied well north of 200 inches, possibly in the 230s.

“It really exploded,” Blake said. “I think it’s because we started putting out a mineral.”

Blake’s second encounter with the deer came on opening day of the state’s 2014 muzzleloader season. When he squeezed the trigger, the percussion cap popped, but the powder didn’t ignite.

“The buck had been on camera every day, always around 4 a.m.,” he said. “Truthfully, I never expected him to come out in daylight.”

Although Blake was caught off guard by the buck’s unexpected appearance, the shot should’ve been a gimme.

The deer was only 75 yards away when Blake’s rifle poofed. Unable to do anything besides try another cap, Blake was digging around in his bag while the deer walked out of his life. It was gone by the time he could put on a new one.

“I was trying to do two things at once,” he said. “I was both watching the deer and looking for a primer. It just took too long.”

Had he been able to add another cap, the gun probably would have fired, which he learned from shooting it to clear the barrel the next day.

The following season unfolded much the same way. The buck was continually mugging for Blake’s cameras at night, but it never showed while the sun was shining.

“I hunted 67 days straight during the 2015 archery season,” Blake said. “I really wanted to get that deer with my bow.”

Their paths never crossed, however.

The 2016 season had a sweeter beginning. Blake actually filmed the buck – still in velvet – on Sept. 10 from his treestand. Although it was still a stud, the rack obviously carried fewer points.

On a rainy Oct. 26, Blake went to the stand where he’d attempted to shoot the buck in 2014. He saw the deer of his dreams chasing a doe at 400 yards, and he spotted it a second time right before dark.

The next evening, Blake parked in a different spot and walked a mile to the old plum orchard where he’d seen the buck on Wednesday. Because there was no stand there, he decided he’d hunker down in a patch of foot-tall grass beside a creek.

He had to cut through about 20 yards of timber to reach the creek bank, and he stopped close to where three draws intersected. Almost immediately, he spotted a doe about 500 yards distant, on the other side of the field.

“She had two fawns with her, and she started blowing,” he said. “They came on into the field shortly afterward. So whatever spooked her must have been in the timber. Before that, I was sure she was blowing at me, and my hunt was over before it started.”

When he was convinced his arrival hadn’t been announced, Blake decided to use his grunt call. He also tried a snort-wheeze.

“I wasn’t sure if the buck I’d seen the previous day was still in the area, so I gave it a shot,” he said. “I knew if he was close enough to hear me, he wouldn’t want another buck challenging him.”

At 6:15 – 45 minutes before dark – the familiar buck stepped out of the same 70-acre tract it had exited on Wednesday, this time in range, only 140 yards instead of 400.

“I think it was looking for the doe I bumped when I was going in,” Blake said.

“I’d reloaded prior to the hunt that day,” he continued. “Because of what happened in 2014, I made sure everything was clean and fresh. I wasn’t about to go through that again.”

His efforts were rewarded with a kapow and a dead buck.

When news of the whitetail’s demise spread, the neighbors told Blake they had eight years of trail cam photos of it, which didn’t surprise him. The animal was practically toothless, though it was still very healthy in body.

“We couldn’t load the deer before we field-dressed it. It had to weigh at least 250 pounds, which is HUGE for here,” he said.

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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