In the state of Ohio, hunters are blessed with an extremely long archery season, running from late September to early February. Having already started my season off with a mature six-by-seven mule deer and a nine-point in Indiana, I decided to push Ohio as far as I could. I knew the area I was hunting held many beautiful deer, so I decided to hold out for a unique buck. Over the course of the season, I passed on a few nice eight-pointers, and even a nice ten-point. Not that there was anything wrong with harvesting these deer, but I would rather see them live and grow another year. Besides, I had caught a glimpse of a thick-racked buck off in the distance a few times, and decided that is the buck I wanted to pursue.
The main rut was over by the time this heavy horned buck showed up, I knew I had to be careful. Many seasoned hunters such as Bill Winke and Phillip Vanderpool have taught me about late season hunting; suggesting big bucks stick to patterns, yet are intensely alert during that time of the year. With those tips in mind, I kept my distance and tried to figure out where he was eating and sleeping. Once I saw his regular schedule based on wind direction and other conditions, I slipped in and set up a camera. I planned to let the camera sit for a solid week. At the end of the week, I would have one of two results: pictures, which would indicate he was using that travel corridor; or no pictures, which meant he was using the other potential path in that area. Either way, finding out his exact routine was crucial to my success.
Upon returning from the SHOT show in Las Vegas, I drove straight to my property and checked the camera. There were multiple pictures of the buck, all of which were in the morning. The pictures indicated he was using the other path to enter the cornfield and river at night. Then on his way back to bed the following morning, he utilized the creek-bed where my camera was set up. Near the camera, there was a large dead tree that I decided to use as my first attempt blind. It was elevated, in good position for the SW wind I desperately needed, and soggy enough that chunks could be removed for shooting lanes. Deer passed by the first morning, but not the big heavy horned buck. I also noticed I wasn’t in a good position, as the specific path they were using was fifty-five yards away. Closing the distance was a must. Near the field they were eating in was a cement culvert pipe turned up, the perfect blind. Again, the blind wasn’t in a prime position. When deer came by the first day, they were within shooting range, but were traveling in a way that presented no broadside or quartering away shots. With classes starting up soon, it was time to take bold action.
At this point in the chase, I was very confident the next morning would be the day. My next move was to set up a stand in a lone sycamore tree. Setting up here was extremely risky, the deer would be right on top of me, and there was little to no cover. This was a one shot deal.
It was a wet and foggy day following a substantial rain. Once the morning finally starting to come alive, a rush of adrenaline came over me. Everything was perfect, the conditions were exactly what I needed; I knew this was the morning. I glanced over the field on my left, nothing. I studied the wood line in the distance where he should have been coming from, nothing. I scanned to my right, and out of nowhere there he was, a mere ten yards away! The buck I had been after for three long weeks was so close I feared to blink, much less reach for my bow. My heart was beating so loud I feared he would hear it. The thought ran through my mind, “why in the world did you set up so close, you’ve ruined it.” Much to my surprise, something grabbed his attention and he looked back to his right. I quickly grasped my bow from the gear hook and drew back. As I anchored he started walking again, I waited until he stopped to look ahead for any potential dangers. Little did he know the danger lurked just ten yards away, twenty feet up a tree. My grandfather’s words ran through my mind, “pick a hair and put it there.” My pin steadied, and I released. The arrow hit perfectly, and the buck went blazing through the brush.
I could hardly sit still! The hit was perfect, and it would just be a matter of time before I knelt over his expired body. The satisfaction that came was of a caliber I’d never experienced before. Never before had I stalked a specific buck for weeks on end, or moved locations four times to get close enough. Approaching the deer, I noticed how beautiful he was. His large body rested naturally among the brush. His rack was full of character, striking color and solid mass. I knelt next to him, gave thanks and enjoyed the moment. It was amazing to think about the buck and his life; what he ate, where he drank, where he slept and his keen senses. It’s that instant when we as hunters truly realize why we hunt. We enjoy the natural world and its many beauties. We see sunrises, and we see sunsets. We observe animals go about their daily routine of survival. We experience the many weather conditions that nature has to offer, in some instances all the way to our core. It truly is a spiritual experience for some, and for us here at The Hunting Life, it is a way of life.
If there is one thing that “blades” taught me, it’s that the chase is 90% of the hunt. The other 10% is actually making the shot. The 2011-2012 season is one I will never forget, and one I am extremely grateful for.