I used to be a fanatical bowhunter. Going through adolescence, I thought about 3 things, girls, sports and being in the treestand. Playing quarterback as a junior in high school, I broke the metacarpal below my trigger finger and had to learn to shoot my release with my middle finger. That year, on the first day of archery season I shot my first buck with a bow. Later, in college, I would schedule my classes so that I could hunt evenings in the fall and turkey hunt mornings in the spring. I would say that like many of you, I spent a great deal of my time wearing camouflage.
Unfortunately, that all changes as you become a full-fledged adult. Soon after college, I was deployed overseas and had to take a break from my evenings of admiring leaves fall from the autumn trees. Upon returning I found myself in a myriad of other “more important” tasks, such as finding a job, buying a home, coaching football and building a family. Before I knew it, I was on another deployment overseas. By this time, I hadn’t hunted with a bow in over 7 years. With my limited off time while in the
middle east, I began planning my archery comeback. Again, not being any different from the rest of you, my enjoyment and desire for bow hunting returned at a feverish pace. I quickly gave up coaching football and my wife found herself a hunting
season widow. At the same time that I renewed my love of bow hunting; I found another passion, trailcams. Trail cameras have truly changed the way we hunt. As soon I began using my first one, I realized the scouting potential they held. Suddenly one trailcam turned to two, two to three and three to far too many (but I probably need a few more).
Fast forward to 2012, I finally had my arsenal of cameras and was pinpointing some nice bucks on our property in Clearfield County. Unfortunately, one of the biggest bucks I had on camera didn’t show up until the week after archery season ended. All I could do was hope he survived the rifle season, giving me a chance to chase him after Christmas. He never showed up and I figured he was gone.
The summer of 2013 found me placing cameras to see what survived the previous year and which deer had grown up and were ready to be on the “hit list”. Although we do try to be selective on our farm, we don’t have some unattainable “140 inches or more” type of shooter standard. My biggest and least visible buck was great ten point with split G-2’s. He was by far the biggest and most mature buck on the farm. Unfortunately, with all the mornings, evenings and all day sits, he never showed up.
Luckily, I did get to take a nice two-year- old 7 point on a friend’s farm, giving all our bucks an extra year
After not seeing him on hoof in two years, I started to believe that it was going to be impossible to get him on the ground. In fact, I didn’t see any bucks that looked like him on any cameras all year. Obviously, I thought some lucky hunter a ridge or two over got themselves a trip to the taxidermist. At the same time, I was hunting some great bucks on our property. All frequented the same bottom, same mineral lick site as the big 8. This year was different however, I started to centralize my cameras on
paths in this area, trying to figure out their directions of travel. I had also placed two new stands between a great bedding area and my food plots. Another vital piece to my impending success- time off, instead of a day here and there, I scheduled off four days in a row. As my mid-November hunt began, I was ecstatic, driving on a Saturday, to the farm hours before light I realized there was snow on the ground! How often do we have snow on the ground during the rut in PA? That was enough to keep me wide awake with excitement. Minutes into my hunt with the sun still trying to break the ridge line, I saw a big buck about 70 yards away sneaking along the bottom. Like lady friend. After my morning hunt, I was enthusiastic to check some memory cards. They did not disappoint, a nice, big bodied buck with a broken of G2 was on all 3 of the cameras surrounding my new treestand location.
The following Monday, I snuck into the same stand and prepared for what would hopefully be another shot or at least visual of one of the bucks I had been hunting. First light was uneventful and I was preparing to sit down and settle for the long haul (and a few snacks). On the hillside above me, I began to see deer skirting the edge of my food plot and moving downhill toward their bedding area. The sight of a doe trotting in that haunches down, in-heat stance, that every bowhunter knows, brought me back up and I prepared myself for the action. I first noticed the buck’s antlers shining in the barely cresting morning sunlight as he chased the doe back and forth a mere 80 yards away. A few aggressive grunts did nothing but stop him for a few seconds until he returned his attention to his morning date.
As he began to follow her into the thicket, I tried a last ditch effort. I snort wheezed. Although we see a snort wheeze work all the time on television, it has never, ever worked for me. Young buck or old, they stop, look and continue on with their business. This time however, for whatever reason, he stopped, turned and began walking directly downhill toward me! At 15 yards, he stopped broadside and my NAP Killzone blew through both lungs, he fell a mere 25 yards later.
I couldn’t believe it, coming together as fast as hunts often do, I didn’t know who the buck was, how old or where he came from. All I knew, is that he was laying within sight and my hard work had paid off. In fact, I first thought he was a 3.5-year- old that I had been watching all summer. It wasn’t until my taxidermist informed me that he was old, at least 5 but more likely 6 years old, that I started to wonder. I started reviewing old trailcam photos and putting all the puzzle pieces together. Now I can’t be sure, but I believe that he is the exact same 8 point I got on trailcam in 2012. In 2013, at 5 years old, he stretched out into a 10 point and at 6, on his way downhill, became my big 8 again. Keys to my success (even though I didn’t realize them at the time)? Obviously without trailcams, I would have no idea that these deer even existed. In a big pressure hunting state like PA, it is amazing to find out how cunning and sly these old whitetails have become. Another key factor are my food plots.
I don’t see big bucks in my plots all summer long, either they know how to avoid getting their picture taken or they eat elsewhere. Regardless, my goal is to have food almost all year long so that my does and fawns are healthy and don’t need to leave the property. If the does are at the farm in November, so are the bucks.
Lastly, my persistence paid off. Being willing to hunt the same area multiple days, specifically during the rut gives me the best chance of seeing a buck that is using a specific area. If he is on a doe, he may not return to his core area for a day or so, but he will be back. You have to be patient, which for me, is really hard, especially when you aren’t seeing any deer. Every picture I ever got on trailcam of this buck were within 250 yards of my stand. That’s where I saw him, that’s where I hunted. It just so
happens that my stand is between food and great bedding. To wrap it all up, be patient, and if you find that area a big buck calls home, hunt there, especially during the rut! Good luck, stay safe and have a great hunting season.