Rack Magazine

Rifle Season Without Bullets

Rifle Season Without Bullets

By Dale Weddle

Kentucky college student learns the worth of a climber, not to mention public land.

One of the finest whitetails checked in during Kentucky’s 2014 rifle season came off a wildlife management area, but a bullet wasn’t responsible for the hole in its side. Cody Likins, a student at Eastern Kentucky University, shot the animal with his bow.

The Nicholas County WMA is about two hours north of Cody’s home in Laurel County. The 21-year-old heard about it from his Uncle Ken, and he first hunted there in 2013. Shooting a 150-class buck with his muzzleloader was his welcome present.

The following year, Cody started driving up in his spare time and walking around the WMA. It didn’t take long for him to get excited about his prospects. He was seeing between 12 and 15 deer each trip, including some decent bucks.

At the beginning of October, he placed a trail camera beside a trampled deer trail about 150 yards inside a thicket. He immediately got photos of whitetails.

During the state’s early muzzleloader hunt, Cody passed up an 8-pointer that would’ve probably scored 130 inches.

On the eve of rifle season, several members of Cody’s family decided to hunt the WMA with their bows. The area was closed to firearms.

The group consisted of Cody, his father Corey, Uncle Ken and cousins Cole and Matt Likins. Everyone but Cody set up camp in an RV on Wednesday, Nov. 5. They planned to hunt through the following Monday morning.

Cody couldn’t get off work until late Wednesday, so when he got to camp, he just hit the sack.

“On Thursday morning, we all got up early and spread out to hunt different spots. There was probably a mile or two separating most of us,” Cody said. “I was hunting from a hang-on stand that was a 45-minute walk.

“It was a good spot,” he continued. “My uncle had hunted there before and had seen some good deer. When I scouted it out earlier in the year, there was good fresh sign, too — lots of rubs and several trails coming together within a short distance.”

The stand overlooked a corridor between a food source and a big thicket about 100 yards distant.

“I walked in before daylight that first morning, climbed up into the stand and got set. The weather wasn’t cooperating. It was windy and rainy.

“After daybreak, I could hear chasing going on back in the woods, and I knew the rut was underway. I was determined to sit in that stand all day despite the bad weather,” Cody said.

“Small bucks were chasing does off and on throughout the day in sight of my stand. By dark, I hadn’t seen anything I wanted to shoot,” he added.

“On Friday morning, I was back in the hang-on stand before daylight. Around 9:00, there was a light rain falling, and that’s probably why I didn’t hear the buck coming.

“When I caught sight of it, it was coming off a ridge about 75 yards away, headed for the thicket in front of me. I got my binoculars up and got a look at the huge deer.

“It was headed into the thicket with a purpose, probably going to bed for the day.

Rifle Season Without Bullets“There was only one good way for the buck to get into that thicket from the ridge it was traveling, and my hang-on stand was set up too far away for a shot,” Cody said. “After sitting and thinking about it for another day, I knew I had to move.”

That afternoon, he returned to that spot with his climbing stand.

“I moved about 150 to 200 yards diagonally from where my hang-on stand was, right up against the edge of the thicket. After sitting there until dark and not seeing anything, I wondered if I’d messed up, but the move just felt right,” he said.

Cody hiked in well before sunrise on Sunday.

“It was, by far, the best morning to that point,” he said. “The rain had stopped, and the wind had died. Before it was even light enough to see, I could hear deer chasing around me. I could see their outlines, but I couldn’t tell if they were bucks or does. I sat there and listened for probably 30 minutes before I could make out anything.

“About 7:20, a 6-pointer came from directly behind me and moved on through,” Cody continued. “Five minutes later, I heard something else back there.

“When I first saw the buck, honestly, I think I grabbed my heart. There was no doubt how big it was,” he said. “I knew it couldn’t see me, so I got my bow off the hanger, turned around and eased up. The deer was slowly walking toward me.

“When I started raising my bow, the arrow nicked a limb and the buck stopped. I was in a mid-squat position. It stood there for a long time, bobbing its head.

“We kind of had a stand-off in that position for what seemed like 10 or 15 minutes,” he continued.

When the buck resumed walking, it looped wide, which nixed any chance of the 10-yard shot Cody had anticipated. The best he might get would be a 30- to 40-yarder.

“When the deer began trotting slowly, I was nearly in panic mode. It was partially behind some brush, but there was maybe a 6-inch opening out several yards ahead of it. I just focused on that spot, which was a 30-yard shot.”

Almost on autopilot, Cody launched an arrow as soon as the buck walked into the gap.

“The buck did a weird kick, and then ran down a little gully and back up a small ridge where it stopped and started wobbling. Then it just wiped out,” he said.

This article was published in the Jan/Feb 2018 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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